I am not a technology expert, but I am passionate about what can be accomplished with technology in education, especially video technology. Since leaving the classroom in 2000, I’ve been fortunate to specialize in this area. While at Vanderbilt University, I did some consulting with Polycom, which led me into the vendor side, and my fate was sealed when I accepted a position at TANDBERG.
Through the years, my focus has always been on the application of videoconferencing in the classroom. The early 2000’s was an exciting time, and the big news was the conversion of ISDN to IP. Despite this conversion, the barriers continued to outweigh the benefits in the eyes of the majority of K12 schools. Connectivity, cost, and ease of use were all insurmountable barriers. Higher education was better fodder for the sales teams, because they not only had access to Internet2 but deep pockets and even more importantly, sufficient IT support. Happy days reigned for universities who were now able to expand their reach to students in rural areas.
K12 saw a surge of videoconference usage in the mid 2000’s as the federal government began offering R.U.S. grants and allowed eRate monies to be applied to videoconferencing rollouts in eligible schools. The big vendors established grants teams to cash in on these types of opportunities, and the schools prospered, as did the vendors. By 2009, about 1/3 of all U.S. schools had adopted videoconferencing.
While the early adopters in K12 used video primarily for distance classes, as the years rolled along, the Virtual Fieldtrip became a common application, along with the emergence of “collaborations,” kids connecting with kids to work on common curriculum. During these years, organizations, like my own, CILC.org and Polycom’s CAP Space, became the go-to clearinghouses for Virtual Fieldtrips and Collaborative projects. In education the saying “Content is King” continues to be true.
Then, when Cisco acquired TANDBERG, the entire industry seemed to hold its breath for a couple of years. There were no big innovations, no real disruption. Former TANDBERGers quietly left Cisco and began the plans for new, non-h.323 solutions, and Vidyo began creeping into the education space. Today there are so many non-h.323 solutions, it’s hard to keep them straight. And yes, it is a time of disruption–like no one has seen in 10 years!
What does this mean for education? Recall the barriers? Connectivity, cost and ease of use? Poof! Gone! Well, at least the last two. Connectivity continues to be an issue for remote communities, but if we listen to Obama, 99% of all schools will have high-speed connectivity in the next 5 years. We shall see.
As to cost, the use of non-h.323 solutions is gaining traction in both Higher Ed. and K12. Vidyo has a strong foothold in this space as does Bluejeans (Higher Ed) and the contender, Zoom.us. Acano and Pexip are beginning to show interest in the education space. What is surprising is that vendors are still pushing expensive codecs and infrastructure into schools that don’t know any better.
I recently met with a Superintendent of a small district who was so proud that he had just purchased two Immersive Telepresence rooms for distance classes. I couldn’t resist saying, “Sir, you just bought an elephant gun to shoot a mosquito.” Actually, somebody needs to take an elephant gun after the salesman that pulled that sale off. For the same cost, or less, they could have put a cloud based solution in every classroom in the district!
How about this for ease of use: can you click a link? The days of complicated infrastructure and the need for a team of network engineers to make things work are gone.
So, to me, the time is right, FINALLY, for educational organizations to get onboard to connect students to world-class resources and experts! It is time for students and faculty to collaborate with their peers anywhere, and from any device.
Going forward, I hope to share great stories on how educators are using video to improve the student experience. I will also be checking in with some of the “disruptive” solution providers to find out how they are working with the education vertical.