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October 24, 2006

Videoconferencing in education

The latest eLearning for Education Bulletin from eMedia (a largely marketing-type email newsletter, but one which is mildly useful for seeing what is currently attracting attention) carries a short item about using the Marratech videoconferencing system in education.  It notes that Marratech have been awarded a contract to supply 3000 Scottish schools and 800k users with their conferencing and collaboration solutions.

Apart from wondering what 3000 Scottish schools are actually going to do with their shiny new videoconferencing tool, the item caught my eye because we use Marratech here occasionally for the Dublin Core / IEEE  LTSC Taskforce meetings (courtesy of the system installed at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden where Mikael Nilsson is based).  It's a nice system, very easy to use, with a freely downloadable dedicated client, embedded shared whiteboard and chat facility - pretty much as you'd expect.

In the past, we also played briefly with the Open University's FlashMeeting - a browser-based videoconferencing tool with the unusual feature of having to electronically raise your hand before speaking.  It sounds odd, but actually is very effective as a way of structuring the meeting once you get used to it, particularly where there are a lot of participants.

I have wondered whether people in higher and further education might benefit from centralised provision of one or other of these tools (or their equivalent) in order that there is a lightweight  and free-at-the-point-of-use shared on-line space for videoconferencing meetings in the way that there is a shared space for mailing lists (JISCMail). Politically though I suspect it would be hard to argue for this given the research community's emphasis on the Access Grid to date, a system that has singularly failed to reach the desktop in any real way as far as I know.

Sometime ago I wrote a short piece for Ariadne looking at the use of VRVS - an open source videoconferencing tool that can also interface to Access Grid rooms. At the time, Brian Kelly at UKOLN asked me why I was promoting a tool with such a poor user-interface.  Looking back, he was absolutely right - as a tool it doesn't compare at all with the equivalent commercial offerings in terms of usability.  (Worried about being unfair to VRVS in writing this blog item I went back to it today to see if things had improved but I'm afraid to say they haven't - for example, VRVS still features terms like Mbone, VIC and RAT very prominently in its user-interface).

Of course, one can do a lot with the likes of Skype and MSN these days but I still think there are scenarios where Marratech (or tools like it) bring significant benefits.


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We are just embarking on a three-way collaboration between Royal Holloway (http://www.rhul.ac.uk), Kingston University (http://www.kingston.ac.uk) and St George's University of London (http://www.sgul.ac.uk) which expects (at this stage anyway) to make use of video conferencing technology.

We are at very early stages, and about to embark on a proper scoping study of what the requirements are, and how the technology might be used. However, my hope is that we can look at how we use it to deliver a rich collaborative environment between staff and students across the three sites. Marratech looks interesting, as does the Flash Breeze meeting environment.

Although I agree with the comments regarding the usability of Access Grid, I have to admit that my only experience of taking part in a session was excellent - the quality of the video etc. was a step up from what I'd experienced before - however, it did need a technician on hand to control the kit - so perhaps this is an indication of ease of use!

Thanks for mentioning Marratech (where I work)

Just thought I would add that we started off as a research project from CDT http://www.cdt.ltu.se and we were also based on the MBONE tools. Our evolution just took a different road than VRVS and other MBONE tools like the ones found in VRVS.

It just goes to show that large project like the MBONE can take many different roads and spawn many different ideas. They are hard to quantify in money and such, but the results speak for themselves, it enabled many ideas to take shape!


Really it is excellent views, so you are continue your learning education process through video or audio conferencing.

That's really a smart and quick sloution for video conferencing, without much efforts and time.

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