As this section begins to take root and grow I'm hoping to add more information for teachers who would like to try videoconferencing in their classrooms. Check back soon for more information about videoconferencing.

What equipment do I need to Videoconference?

There are several different types of equipment you can use to videoconfernce. One choice you need to make is what type of videoconference would you like to do? If you are just connecting to another school, you might be able to use a small eye ball camera that you can get inexpensively at an electronics store. If you want to connect to a business that provides content online (zoo, museum, etc) then you might need something a little more powerful. There are two companies that I have worked with the most that make videoconferencing units; Polycom and Tandberg. There are other companies that have made or may still make units, but my knowledge of them is more limited, including Pictel, Gentner, and Vthere.



What is the difference between IP and ISDN?

This is a question that should be asked and understood before doing a videoconference. There are two different motheds of sending the signal back and forth forth for the videoconference, IP and ISDN. IP videoconferences use the existing computer network to send the signal back and forth. This requires the unit to be set up like a computer on the network. ISDN is more like a phone call and requires the unit to connect over a special phone line. Below is a quick break-down of the differences between IP and ISDN. There are more differences as well as issues between the to, but these are some of the common questions I've heard.

IP
ISDN
Cost
Free with existing network
Fees like a phone call; long distance, connection fees, per minute, etc.
Connection
As solid as the network it is on
Not dependent on a network, as solid as the phone line (usually VERY solid)
Availability
Common, many providers and schools have access
Not as common, many people are switching over due to costs, but some providers still use it
Normally the two different types of videoconferences will not work together, but with the help of a piece of equipment called a bridge, you can connect IP and ISDN calls together.



How can I use Videoconferencing in education?

Well there are several different ways you can use videoconferencing in a classroom. Here is a brief list with some of the ways I've seen videoconferecning used wth teachers, students, and administration.

1. Content Provider Videoconference Field Trip - This is one that many people think about right away. This would be your videoconference with NASA, MoMA, or the Bronx Zoo. This type of use sometimes involves a charge from the content provider, but in some cases they are frfee. Usually the content provider provides an experience for the students that is based around a topic from the location. The best ones will work with a teacher to make the event custom to the class so the students get the most from it.

2. Classroom to Classroom Collaboration - This can be a fantastic way for students in different areas to get together and have a conversation. This could be read to a friend, share information about where you live, cultural exchange, or anything else where two classrooms can chat. This type of connection is free as the two schools just get together to talk. These can be a lot of fun and very informative for the students.

3. Meetings - Who likes to always have to drive to another location for a meeting? Make sub plans, take time away from the students, go to a meeting and then come back and hope the students are doing what they are supposed to be doing? Well why not videoconference into the meeting. It could be done around times the teacher is already free and without the teacher leaving thier building. It could also mean that teachers in different buildings could collaborate without having to travel, and in some cases these could mean more time for the actual discussions.

4. Cultural Exchange - This does not always mean with another country, but it could be. I've worked with students who have communicated from New York to Colorado. The students have very different views on some things while other opinions were the same. I've also had the chance to videoconferecne with Wales. Again it is exciting to talk to people about their country and learn more about life there. As not all students will travel to a different country (let alone leave the state they live in), videoconferencing with another state or country can help students with global awareness and cultural exchange.