Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm confused. On Monday I went to an EEZ meeting. EEZ, Educational Enterprise Zone, is the closest thing to a distance learning organization for New York and New Jersey VCers. EEZ is a not-for-profit consortium. Members of this consortium are content providers who create programming for K-12 classrooms and learning environments that receive the programming, as well as corporate facilitators who assist with hardware, software and connectivity needs for the various programs that EEZ sponsors. At quarterly meetings members get an opportunity to see state-of-the-art educational technologies and exchange ideas and strategies.

The first meeting of the year saw a demonstration of the software SAFARI Montage® Live! This software lets teachers and students connect from their computers via the Internet. This simple Web-based, video-conferencing tool becomes an easy solution for providing school-to-school distance education. I actually am always very skeptical of these low end connections but I have to say the quality of the videoconference I observed was somewhat impressive. Granted the connection was between the presenter and someone back at their corporate office. Not exactly a room full of enthusiastic students. But the picture was crisp the sound definitely audible (maybe a little tinney). There were features like text chat, live polling, and viewing and sharing files.

And here's why I am confused. The director of EEZ, Stan Silverman, prefaced the demonstration by telling the story of the two blacksmith shops on opposite sides of the road. The blacksmith shop on the left made very high quality horseshoes. The one on the right started selling mufflers along with horseshoes. The shop on the right stayed in business and the one on the left did not because even though the one on the left made better quality horseshoes there were no longer any horses. What does this mean for videoconferencing in our schools? Should we be moving toward sacrificing quality for greater access and lower costs? Is there a breakthrough in the technology that we cannot ignore?

I remember talking to Alan November two years ago at a conference. I was telling him about the things I was doing in videoconferencing. He asked me if I tried Skype. I was taken aback. Here I was talking about serious, high end videoconferencing in the classroom and he's pushing some rinky dink webcam online system. I dismissed it then but two years later I am not so sure. And then, my favorite question, what about Internet 2?