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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.
There are a number of different systems available; their quality depends on price. These examples give an idea of cost, quality and possibilities:
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:
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.
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.
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.
In place of Skype, why not consider using Flashmeeting?
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
Using the Hertfordshire Video Conferencing MCU
Conference with schools within the East of England region
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
Conference with schools abroad
Conference with other schools using the Web
School to external resource (via Janet V-Scene)
Watch a video about distance learning through 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.