Monday, January 22, 2007

My Day with the Big Guys

This past Saturday I gave a videoconferencing training at a High School. For me this is somewhat new territory as my work experience with 9th-12th graders and their teachers is not very extensive. This was a new high school that opened three years ago. The high school has a state of the art distance learning room. The room contains a Tandberg 2500 rack mounted system, 4 hanging zenith monitors, 5 cameras (one over each monitor and one in the rear of the room called the “instructors camera”, a drop down projector (it literally comes out of the ceiling) and a switch controlled screen. In addition there is a wall mounted plasma screen. There is also a touch control panel to operate all the previously mentioned equipment and a high resolution document camera. From what I gathered the system has rarely been used. They did a videoconference with the Museum of Television and Radio last spring but the connection experienced some technical difficulties. The school administration feels that they want to make a concerted effort to get the room up and running. I was asked to come in and help in getting the room operative and train the teachers on integrating the videoconferencing into the curriculum. I came in a few afternoons to familiarize myself with the equipment. After all I am use to a polycom or Tandberg that sits atop a monitor and a lone remote provides all the magic. I am use to one microphone placed in a central position not a roomfull of mics planted in the tables in a theatre like setting. The room uses only ISDN lines an indication of how long we have come in the past few years. Now ISDN is becomming a disability as more systems are using IP.

On Saturday I met up with four teachers from the school. Three of them taught Social Studies. A very good curriculum for videoconferencing. I showed them my trusty powerpoint that highlights the myriad of opportunities for videoconferencing with their students. We talked about about the challenges of using the equipment. It may be neccessary to modify the room to make it more user friendly. Five cameras is great but we all agreed that one camera in the front of the room is what is really needed. Then everyone got to use the equipment. We made a test call to the New York Institute of Technology and saw their parking lot and heard the music from their FM "hard rock station". It's difficult to find "a live person" to connect with on a Saturday. Then it was off to the library to search the databases for some good programs. The teachers were very enthusiastic about the Global Nomads website and were anxious to sign up for their programs. One of the teachers found a World War II project that involved interviewing veterans. And then it was time for the piece de resistance, the Paul Hieronymus Jeopardy game. This time put together by Ashton Graham from El Paso, on the great state of New York. I had a wonderful day with the big guys. I'll keep you posted on the fate of their Distance Learning Room.

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