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?


Janine said...

This is really interesting Andrea. I think there is a place for both types. Think how much easier it is to do a classroom VC with a room system vs. a microphone designed for a desktop session.

I think also there are always those who are jumping from one technology to the next and whatever is new is always better of course.

But my philosophy is to take what we have access to and use it the best way possible for kids. Realizing of course there are other possibilities, but to work with what we have.

It seems to me that there are some excellent applications still for room based systems; so I don't see them going away anytime soon.

I look forward to hearing comments from others on this issue too!

Chris Larry said...


This is a great post, and something I am struggling with as well. Being on the content provider side I have to say I can't ignore this as it opens up whole markets/states/districts/schools/classrooms that before would never be able to interact with us.

I did an Elluminate (similar to Safari Montage) session with a school last year where I adapted one of our programs. It actually was a great succsess and in some ways less technically problematic than the appliance based model.

To me the "killer app" is when they can have the two systems talk to each other. I have been told that is "close" than I could use my machine to connect to a computer room, or laptop to projector and vice versa.

One thing I was not impressed with was the "Educasting" presentation, but maybe thats another debate.

Andrea Israeli said...

Janine and Chris,
Thank you for your thoughtful and constructive comments. I am not ready to throw my Polycoms and Tandbergs out the window but I think I am warming up to the idea that these new Web-based, video-conferencing tools are another way for providing classes with an ability to make connections.