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Introduction

Schools that receive their internet connectivity through HICS -  Hertfordshire Internet and Connectivity Services – have access to advanced video conferencing services, which enable video communication with external establishments in the UK and beyond, using H323 video conferencing technology.

Separate to the HICS video conferencing services are web-based conferencing tools such as Flashmeeting (hosted by E2BN) . These work with webcams and may be a good way to get started with video-conferencing, but will not offer the same functionality as the HICS service.

Example Systems

There are a number of different systems available; their quality depends on price. These examples give an idea of cost, quality and possibilities:

Basic

Flash meeting and webcam

Cheap, cheerful and reliable - a good place to start. A good quality webcam can be purchased from £50 upwards.

Intermediate

Software (eg Polycom RealPresence) and webcam

Runs on a fast PC or Mac. Picture quality depends on webcam. Software and camera bundles cost around £200 upwards.

Top

Set-top unit eg Polycom or Aethra

Top of the range all in one solutions with frills such as ability to zoom and pan camera from remote end. Cost from around £2000 upwards. Now available with High Definition video (HD) – at a higher price!

 

How the Systems Work

Flash MeetingFlash Meeting
What is Flashmeeting?

Flashmeeting is a simple but effective web-based video-conferencing system. It requires no software to be installed (other than Flash and your webcam drivers) and can link you with others around the world. It is provided centrally to schools that subscribe to the Hertfordshire Internet and Connectivity Services (HICS.)

What do I need to use Flashmeeting?

All you need to get started is a web-browser with Flash 8 or higher installed, and a webcam. If your webcam doesn’t have a built in microphone, you will also need a microphone. You may even be able to use a digital camera or digital video camera as a webcam, which you may already have in school.

What can I do with Flashmeeting?

With Flashmeeting you can video-conference, use text-chat, vote and more. Because it is web-based, it means any school with a good internet connection can use it – so you can communicate with schools abroad without many of the technical issues involved with other types of video-conferencing. You can also record your meetings and watch them back. Several end-points can join the conference at one time.

Examples of Flashmeeting use in Schools

St. Luke’s School in Redbourn has been using Flashmeeting to communicate with schools in Germany and Norway. It provides an excellent way for the pupils to talk about their environments and share their experiences with children from other countries.

Read the report on an eTwinning project using Flashmeeting for international school communication.

How do I get started?

The E2BN Flashmeeting page gives you instructions, information and access to a 10 minute non-secure (open) demo meeting room. It also has a little test program that you can use to check whether you have everything in place to use Flashmeeting. If you’d like to give Flashmeeting a try and need someone to conference with, get in touch with Chris Carter at Herts for Learning.

How do I get an Administrators Account?

If you want to be able to book your own meetings you will need to register for a Bookers account, which is paid for as part of your HICS subscription. Follow this link to request an account. Please state clearly that you want a Bookers account, and note it will take a few days to process your request.

Terms & Conditions

Please make sure you read the terms and conditions before you get started:

Software

This uses the power of your computer to run specialised video software. You link directly to the other participants rather than going through a web page. It gives better quality and more features than Flash meeting. The picture and sound quality are largely influenced by the quality of your webcam. One with a built in microphone is recommended. Examples are Polycom PVX and VCON VPoint. Software solutions are generally only suitable for individuals to conference with, not groups.

Hardware (stand alone systems)

The camera, microphone and connections all come in a standalone box that you can plug into a television or digital projector. You connect directly to other users and, if they have a similar system, interact with their camera. It is an expensive set up but improves the experience and might be worthwhile if you are going to have a dedicated room and permanent set up. This technology is suitable for larger group conferences. There are various manufacturers including Polycom and Tandberg.

Video Conferencing Service Announcements

Changes to JANET Video Conferencing Service

Users of the JANET Video Conferencing service (JVCS) will probably be aware that on July 28th 2014 the service is changing to 'V-Scene.' Information about the new service, and a short video to introduce it, can be found here: https://www.ja.net/products-services/janet-futures/video-futures

It is advisable that users of the current JVCS read this information and familiarise themselves with the features of the new service. JANET also request that administrators prepare for the migration by:

• checking your own details and make sure that your organisation has enough administrators registered to provide cover
• delete references of video systems no longer required at your organisation
• check that details of users are up-to-date and remove user entries that no longer apply
• put aside some time in the week of 28 July to familiarise yourself with the new interface

Technical

Connections

Here’s a quick guide to the different types of connection and their implications.

Web based (eg Flashmeeting): links over the world wide web. All you need is a browser and, preferably, a broadband connection.

IP address: it is now preferable not to use IP but to use E164 numbers.

E164 number: this is like a telephone number for Video Conferencing units. All schools have a unique E 164 number. Some VC systems have phone books that are populated with all connected users. Or you can dial in the E 164 number if you know it. To start using your E164 number, you will need to register with the Herts Gatekeeper. Info on this can be found here but please contact us for help if you need it.

A Helpsheet is also available to download. Please contact us for help with this.

JVCS (JANET Video Conferencing Service):
JANET is the Joint Academic Network, and they have a video-conferencing service that is used by many content providers. Therefore if you want to use some of the available video-conferenced lessons you may be required to register with JVCS first. If you have been told you need to register with JVCS, please contact Chris Carter.

For further information on JVCS, follow this link:

You can contact Chris Carter (Email:chris.carter@hertsforlearning.co.uk or Tel: 01438 843918) for more information.

The JANET website contains some useful factsheets about video conferencing technologies.

Use of Skype
Skype: Why it’s not possible to use it through the HGfL

Skype is a highly successful Internet service which is used in many homes to keep in contact with family and friends who may be on the other side of the world.  It allows free calls with good quality audio and very acceptable video.  All that is needed is a broadband connection and computer with a web-cam at each end.

Teachers who use it successfully from home for personal calls immediately see the potential for such a service in schools and are understandably perplexed when they find that the service is not allowed through the HGfL (Hertfordshire Grid for Learning).  There have been two principal reasons why we have denied access to this service.  The first relates to concerns over eSafety and the second to the technical nature of Skype and its impact on the HGfL service as a whole.

Although Skype is a secure service in that the transmitted data is encrypted we have not considered it safe.  Just as schools have obligations to manage which individuals are able to physically enter the school buildings to engage with children we also have similar obligations to manage who is able to engage with children on-line.  Now that we have a more differentiated approach to web filtering and many schools have signed up to the WF1 policy, which enables access to sites like YouTube and Facebook, some have asked why Skype too could not be enabled just through that filtering policy.  That is a reasonable argument but after consideration we have concluded that the technical concerns about Skype mean that we still must deny access to it through the HGfL.

Technically Skype is highly sophisticated and rather secretive.  It employs similar technology to that used by the peer-to-peer file sharing services such as Limewire and BitTorrent through which there is so much “allegedly” illegal sharing of music files and videos.  This means that Skype creates a dynamic network made up of its users’ own computers to enable its video and audio streams to travel around the world.  When, as a Skype user, you agree to its terms and conditions of service you effectively agree to allow the service to use your computer as a node on its network not just for the transmission of your call but for any other calls as well.  This may well be a small risk that is reasonable for home users to take but the context of a very large network of nearly 600 sites is very different.  If we were to allow the use of Skype on the HGfL, even if restricted to WF1 users only, the service could make use of any computers across our network.  We would not be able to measure or control this Skype traffic and so it would pose an unquantifiable risk to the performance of all the other services that run over our network.  This is a risk which, at present, we are not prepared to take and so access to Skype remains denied.

This situation may well change.  Most large corporate networks are very wary of Skype for the reasons given above but clearly Skype would like to develop the business side of its service and there may well be future developments that would allow us to change our position.  We will therefore keep access to Skype under constant review.

Chris Seviour
ICT Technical Adviser
December 2009

In place of Skype, why not consider using Flashmeeting?

Types of Conference possible through HICS

Conference with another school in Hertfordshire

Schools can call out to, and receive calls from, other Hertfordshire schools using their E164 number. To connect to a school directly both parties need to exchange their unique E164 addresses, via email or some other communication medium before being able to interconnect.

Conference with multiple endpoints in Hertfordshire
If the VC is for multiple parties schools can log into the Hertfordshire MCU (Multi-Point Control Unit,) create a conference and then VC via the MCU’s conferencing bridge. Access to the MCU is via E164 address (0044 03021 3333) For more information on using the MCU, please download this helpsheet

Using the Hertfordshire Video Conferencing MCU

 

Conference with schools within the East of England region
Schools can call directly to, or receive calls from another school in the East of England Region via E164 service or via the E2BN MCUs again via E164 (accessible on 44 or 8888).

To connect to a school directly both parties need to exchange their unique E164 addresses, via email or some other communication medium before being able to interconnect.

Conference with other schools in the UK
Schools can make outgoing calls to other UK schools via E164 number, provided that the other school is registered with a gatekeeper that is connected to the JANET Interconnect (usually via their Local Authority or Regional Broadband Consortium.) To connect to a school directly both parties need to exchange their unique E164 addresses, via email or some other communication medium before being able to interconnect.

Conference with schools abroad
Schools may be able to dial out to establishments abroad if the overseas endpoint has a public IP address that can accept incoming calls. This will depend on their local network infrastructure. Note that Herts schools will NOT be able to receive incoming calls in this way. If the overseas school is registered with a local gatekeeper and has an E164 number, public IP address or has an ISDN connection, it may be possible for the UK school to link with them using Janet V-Scene as a bridge, if the local network infrastructure abroad allows the connection. In this case the Herts school must first be registered with Janet V-Scene and the overseas school must be registered as a guest with Janet V-Scene for each individual conference. To register with Janet V-Scene contact Chris Carter.

Conference with other schools using the Web
Schools can make video / text / data conferences with other UK schools, overseas schools or other 3rd parties using a PC connected webcam and E2BN’s ‘Flashmeeting’ service. This basic service allows multiple endpoints to conference via their web browsers.

School to external resource (via Janet V-Scene)
Schools can make use of external educational resources delivered by video conference, using Janet V-Scene. Schools that wish to use this service must first register their endpoint(s) with Janet V-Scene. Once a conference is booked, Janet V-Scene call out to the school and the Service Provider, and link the endpoints together. Content providers must be approved by Janet V-Scene and set up to use their service. To find out more about Janet V-Scene and how to register with them, please visit this page.

Watch a video about distance learning through video conferencing

Uses of Video Conferencing

Video Conferencing is an engaging and exciting technology that can add an extra dimension to teaching, by bringing the outside world in. Several schools in Hertfordshire regularly use video conferencing successfully in the classroom.

Providing tutorials for sixth formers

There are companies that will provide VC tutorials for small groups in minority subjects

Providing lessons through a consortium

Set up links with local schools in a consortium and bring the students together remotely rather than moving them around town.

Global Leap

You can also make contacts through Global Leap. It’s possible to book videoconferences with organisations like the National Portrait Gallery, Imperial War Museum and so on.

Schools Online

Schools Online is a website funded by the DCSF and managed by the British Council, that helps and supports schools who wish to make partnerships with schools and colleges abroad. You can register your details and search the database for a suitable partner. Partner finding is free for schools and there is lots of information on the site to help you in your project.

Use an Educational Content Provider who provides content to schools via videoconferencing.

Case Study:

Watch a video about distance learning through video conferencing

Linking students with other local students

Develop students’ presentation and communication skills by getting them to run projects with other schools.

Read Case Studies:

Linking students with overseas or far-away students

Carry out projects with overseas students or with distant students in the UK.

Linking students with Universities

Sixth formers can get a taste of lectures and tutorials through video conferences with Universities.