Video and Data Networks for Minnesota Education
What is interactive video conferencing?
Interactive video conferencing (IVC) allows people in multiple locations to see and hear each other in real time using telecommunications technology. There are a variety of different ways to do interactive video conferencing, including use of interactive television, telepresence systems, and desktop applications.
What equipment is needed?
The type of equipment needed depends on what form of interactive video conferencing you intend to do.
There are video conference systems that can be installed in a classroom or moved around a school building on mobile carts. These involve a camera (or multiple cameras), codec (device with software that converts the digital information transmitted into a video stream), a dedicated connection for video conferencing, microphone(s), and monitor(s) for display. Here are some examples of classes set up for interactive video conferencing in the East Central Education Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) telecommunications access region in Minnesota.
Photos courtesy of Jon Larson, ECMECC
Systems like this operate on an H.323 standard for video conferencing. This standard allows video conferencing systems to connect with each other. Major manufacturers for H.323 systems include Cisco, Polycom, and Lifesize.
There are also desktop solutions which allow interactive video conferencing to take place between computers at multiple locations. Your computer needs to have a camera and microphone to transmit the audio and video. The software, often available through subscription, allows you to video conference with others at multiple locations. You can also use a projector, screen and/or interactive whiteboard to display the video conference to a larger audience. Some of these solutions include:
Other options for desktop videoconferencing include free tools such as Google Hangouts and Skype. It should be noted, however, that data traffic for these tools usually travels over the commercial Internet, so the quality of the video and audio transmission depends on the size and speed of your Internet connection.
What is Internet2?
Internet2 is an advanced networking consortium led by the research and education community. Internet2 is both a network of people working together on advanced network applications AND a physical telecommunications network that connects research universities, industry, government, and K-12 education. The Internet2 network provides high speed connections that can be used for video conferencing, transfer of huge data files, and operation of remote instrumentation, such as high power telescopes.
Minnesota school districts that belong to telecommunications access regions are connected to the Internet2 network through their service providers. For more information on Internet2, visit the Internet2 website. There is a specific community devoted to project and applications development for K-20 education. Here is a fact sheet on the K20 initiative for more information.
Your school may be using the Internet2 network and you didn't even know it!
What can I do with interactive video conferencing in my classroom?
Interactive video conferencing literally brings the world into your classroom. Some examples of activities include:
Virtual field trips. If you can't put your students on a bus to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, you certainly can connect with them using interactive video conferencing for a virtual field trip. The Wolf Center is just one example of content providers world-wide that have designed interactive educational content for classrooms. There are many more examples of museums, arts centers, science centers, and government agencies that have educational content designed specifically for interaction with students through video conferencing.
Classroom to classroom collaborations. Perhaps you are a teacher who is looking for another classroom in another school district, state, or country to partner with on a collaborative project with your students. Interactive video conferencing can provide you with unique opportunities for your students to work with peers around the world on topics across the curriculum.
Access to experts. Bring expert speakers into your classroom for your students. With video conferencing your students can interact with marine biologists, judges, scientists, authors, engineers, historians, and others. Think of the possibilities for engaging your students with speakers from just about any field.
Tell My Sons author Mark Weber interacts with students in Clara City.
Photo courtesy of Pete Royer, Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN)
Distance Learning. Minnesota has a reputation for being one of the early pioneers in the delivery of courses across school districts using interactive video conferencing. Our state has had video conferencing networks throughout the state since the early 1980s. With videoconferencing, students are able to take courses in a variety of subjects that their local school district may not be able to offer. Examples of courses offered in Minnesota include foreign languages, American Sign Language, accounting science, psychology, and college level algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, to name just a few.
Where can I find video conferencing opportunities and resources?
We have a number of fantastic content providers here in Minnesota who already have lessons planned for your students. These include:
Another great resource to find content and opportunities for collaboration is the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). CILC provides a searchable data base of content provider programs and collaboration opportunities. Membership is free.
Some other useful sites for finding video conferencing projects are:
Skype in the Classroom is a networking site for teachers looking for other classrooms to work with on projects and delivery of content. All you need to join is a free Skype account. There are classroom collaboration opportunities available for every content area.
Sponsored by Polycom, the CAPspace site provides a searchable data base for classroom collaboration projects around the globe.
MAGPI is the Internet2 center for Pennsylvania. MAGPI has been developing and delivering video conferencing programs for K-12 education for several years. These are open to schools throughout the United States, and many of their programs are free.
TIES is a school district collaborative in St. Paul that serves 48 member districts with professional development, technical services, and more. The TIES InforMNs website has a page devoted to videoconferencing with additional resources, including the Minnesota Internet2 Users' Group (MUG). The MUG group meets on every month on the second Thursday at 7:30 a.m. to discuss video conferencing opportunities and develop projects. Meetings are held using video conferencing.
Who can I contact with questions?
If your school belongs to a telecommunications access region that is part of the Minnesota Educational Technology Networks organization (METN), there are resource individuals in those regions to assist you with video conferencing opportunities. Here is a list:
Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC)
East Central Minnesota Education Cable Cooperative (ECMECC)
Central Minnesota Education Research & Development Council (cmERDC)
SOCRATES (South Central Service Cooperative)
Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC)
Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN)
Itasca Area Schools Collaborative (IASC)
Central Minnesota Education Telecommunications System (CMETS)
320-845-2171, extension 5115
Southeast Minnesota Network (SEMNET)
To find out if you are a member of an existing telecommunications access region, see this map.