Apr 13

Zoom Video Conferencing

ZOOM VIDEO COMMUNICATIONS LOGO

Recently there has been a bit of excitement in our community regarding using Zoom Video Conferencing as a gateway to reach potential audience that may not have invested in a full suite of Standard Based (H.323) v/c kit. Think of Zoom as Skype on steroids! You can set up a meeting, invite guests, and have them connect simply through their browser. There is no complicated software to install and everything works through the browser without having to install additional software, which is great for companies which have restrictions on such things.

On of the most exciting things for us is that Zoom is free, so anybody you invite to a meeting can use it. And the fact that they provide what they call a H.323 Room Connector. This optional extra can be purchased for a small price of $US49/mo and enables H.323 video conferencing units to join the meeting. Which finally means that we can connect all our v/c units and users together in one big conference!

This all sounds fantastic but there are a few caveats that you should be aware of. Firstly you need to know that DART has (for the moment) put a ban on using Zoom to dial directly into their system. The main reason for this is that the connection that Zoom creates is forced to a connection speed of 6 megabits per second. This is far to fast for DARTs front end points and causes congestion and high usage, resulting in poor experience for other users on the network. To work around this you will need to dial directly into Zoom using your H.323 device so as a result means that it is unusable with DET schools as you need to use DART to connect to them. However as you will read I have been able to work around this using two H.323 devices.

Secondly, unless your guest using the H.323 room connector and a standards based v/c unit, then they will be using their computer which mean they will also be using the webcam and microphone which is included. Generally these built in devices are fairly cheap and are designed to work with just a single person not an entire room of people, so depending on your application the results not be acceptable.

If you really want to take full advantage of what Zoom has to offer you can configure a set up in which you use two H.323 units and a video switcher such as a Tricaster. To do this you would dial the first H.323 unit into DART as you normally would and the second unit would dial into Zoom. In this scenario any schools you need to engage would be connected at the DART end and any ‘special guests’ could be connected to Zoom. Exactly who sees what is controlled by the vision switcher. However, doing this requires quit a bit of technical know how! I have personally done this with a video conference at The Powerhouse Museum and the results where similar to that of a TV broadcast. You can see for yourself HERE.

Is Zoom worth the investment ? Probably….. for $US49/mo I think it’s worth at least trying out, you may find that you have no use for it or your organisation does not have the technical ability for it, but you would not have lost much in doing so. But you may also find that your audience reach has been massively extended and the return will be far greater than the small investment.

Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

 

Mar 23

Dialling H.323 from a mobile device.

Ever wanted to join in a video conference (H.323) from a your phone or tablet? Well it is possible. Start by installing the Polycom RealPresence application for Android or iPhone. Start the application and you should be greeted with a screen similar to this. I am using Android 4.4.4 so your screen may look a little different.

2015-03-23 02.38.54

At this point just enter your email address and click next. Now you will get the following screen.

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At this point you would be forgiven for thinking that you need to sign into some sort of Polycom server or infrastructure, but you don’t need to, just click ‘Skip Sign In’ and you will get this screen.

2015-03-23 02.39.39

Now your in business, you can enter a H.323 IP and dial directly. Test it out your self by dialling one of the VTCTEST numbers.

2015-03-23 02.43.44

Enjoy !

 

Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

Feb 12

Inspiring Stories – Women and Science Symposium

It all started with a discussion my environmental scientist daughter and I had about the numbers of girls opting out of science and scientific careers because of the negative stereotypes. She said it was such a shame that girls by not considering science as option were locking themselves out of some amazing careers. We were talking at the time about some of the scientists I have worked with and have met here at the museum and some of the incredible experiences they have had. She commented, it is disappointing that those stories aren’t common knowledge and available to students making decisions about their future.

From that a small conversation an idea began to germinate, I ran it past a couple of my colleagues who all thought that could have potential. A little more research and contacting some possible speakers my idea of a Women and Science Symposium began to blossom. Another conversation with my daughter who again urged me to do this (or else!) and my idea has now taken on a life of its own.

A newsletter lead me to my final link to my day with how to guide students from school to university life and to employment opportunities through a inspiring conversation with UNSW Australia’s Veena Sahajwalla and the Science 50:50 program, who agreed to come and chair the day also bringing many of her industry partners and having the Sydney launch of Science 50:50.

Veena50-50 Credit - Tamara Dean

Veena Sahajwalla – Image Credit – Tamara Dean

The 11.30am panel chaired by Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla, features four scientists with a distinct maritime feel. (Well we are a Maritime Museum). Micheline Jenner from the Centre for Whale Research Western Australia, Dr Katy Croff Bell Expedition Leader Vice president and Chief Scientist Ocean Exploration Trust USA via video link and Dr Katherine Dafforn and Dr Inke Falkner both from Sydney Institute of Marine Science. The panellists will discuss their work and different experiences as well as inviting questions from students.

After the first panel presentation, students who visit the come to the museum will be offered a behind the scene, tour of the ANMM conservation lab with conservator Rebecca Dallwitz. The 1.30pm session will feature the launch of Science 50:50 a program that aims to inspire young women to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology so they can succeed in an innovation driven future. Science 50:50 makes the simple point – since half the population is female, why not half the scientists and technologists? By informing and engaging young women with the power of science and technology to solve complex problems and transform lives, and by introducing them to Australian scientists and innovators who are doing just that, Science 50:50 can help recalibrate the gender balance.

Image Credit - Maja Baska 2014

Image Credit – Maja Baska 2014

The session be once again chaired by Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla will feature a keynote speaker, as well as panellists from Science 50:50 industry partners such as CSIRO, IBM, Cochlear, Woolworths, Arrium, Brickworks, Australian Museum Research Institute, Global Product Stewardship Council. Students will have the opportunity to learn about scientific careers beyond university, internships and competitions. A panellist meet and greet will be held at the conclusion of the session for any students who attend the day.

I believe that the day will be in the spirit of International Women’s Day, with the aim to inspire the next generation of scientists, who also happen to be girls to do amazing things.

Women in Science Symposium at the Australian National Maritime Museum

Inspiring Stories – Women and Science Symposium 50:50 project is on 6 March 2015.

Bookings essential bookings@anmm.gov.au or 92983655

2 session are available through video conferencing with DART Connections

Inspiring Stories Women and Science Symposium 50:50 project – 6 March 2015  11:30am

Inspiring Stories Women and Science Symposium 50:50 project – 6 March 2015  1.30pm

 

Science 50:50 – Inspiring Young Women into Science

UNSW_logo

Feb 09

Get roving video conference robots at your school or museum!

There has been much talk around the video conferencing robot at the National Museum of Australia. Developed in collaboration with the CSIRO and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the telepresence robot roving the NMA’s floors has allowed multiple remote schools and libraries to simultaneously connect to an onsite educator to ask questions as well as explore the exhibits themselves using the panoramic cameras that create a 360 degree view with zooming capability. The only issue is that whilst the technology is very exciting the associated price tag makes it difficult for other sites to attain easily.

 

Double Robotics

Double Robotics iPad robot seen in Atlanta at ISTE 2104

There are low cost options that have been roaming educational halls and hospitals for years and represent an exciting way to scale the concept for Australian needs. During my Churchill Fellowship tour I came across a couple of these solutions and was very impressed with how easy they are to operate and the attainable price for implementation. The New York Hall of Science uses a VGO robot as a way for remote learners to interact with summer science camps occurring within the galleries. The learner is able to log onto the robot and control its movement, effectively acting as an autonomous student. There are other models available too; a popular one in schools is the one from Double Robotics that is effectively an iPad rolling on a small version of a Segway. In both cases these VC robots have found uses in hospital systems for bed ridden patients to provide virtual mobility as well as in schools for remote students to participate in lessons. The remote site simply downloads an app and controls the robot from their location. The result is the ability of a remote student to move around the school or similar and interact with classes… not unlike ‘Shelbot’ seen in the Big Bang Theory comedy series! At Fizzics Education we had a Double Robot roaming around our offices for a bit… even my 5 year old daughter was able to control easily although it did freak out my two year old when she moved it towards him :)

Schools have been using these systems to allow sick kids still attend classes, even for students to present their oral presentations to their class whilst on an excursion. The technology also be used as a way of giving visitors a virtual tour of your site before they even step foot on your grounds – as a former boarding school student I reckon this also presents an interesting possibility for families looking to get an idea of where they are sending their kids! Regardless of how you look at it, these robots and other similar products add yet another dimension to an already exciting field for distance education!

Dec 04

Becoming a content provider

At the last Virtual Excursions Australia meeting discussions came back to some of the fundamental questions about becoming a content provider.

  • What equipment do I use?
  • Should we charge for our sessions?
  • How much should we charge?
  • How can I make sure my sessions interactive?
  • How many students or classes can be involved in a session?

The difficulty with most of these questions is that there is no right answer and depends on your organisations content, audience and purpose.

However these guideline will help you make an appropriate decision for your organisation.

Equipment

All state schools in NSW have H.323 video conferencing equipment, usually Polycom or Tandberg units. Victorian schools are also rolling out H.323 platform equipment. The advantage of this equipment is the ability to send multiple content streams – main camera, second camera or document cameras, Powerpoint presentations, and content from a DVD.

In terms of equipment the next questions is do I install a fixed unit or a portable unit on a trolley. A portable unit gives you the flexibility to move spaces; into a different office or classroom or even into a gallery or exhibition space. This is also a useful option if you have competing programming demands on your space. However a fixed unit can reduce your set up and pack down time and allows you to create a themed space.

I use a fixed unit for our Indigenous Australians session and it creates an amazing atmosphere.

Derek from the Australian Museum presenting the Totems workshop

Derek from the Australian Museum presenting the Totems workshop

For other sessions I use our mobile unit which allows me to get close to some of our incredible specimens.

Karen form the Australian Museum presenting Giants from the past

Karen form the Australian Museum presenting Giants from the past

To Charge or not to Charge?

The question of charging also varies; some organisation are mandated to deliver free programs, other have to cover additional staff costs and therefore have to charge. Projects that have been developed with grant funding will usually be free during the funding period.

Currently in Australia session prices range from free up to $350 for the high end unique experiences. You can see that there is a big variation and cost recovery is something to consider when setting prices. I believe offering a range of free and charged sessions is a good option and provides the greatest opportunities for schools to connect with your organisations content.

Remember if your content is high quality schools will pay to connect with you, free session also don’t automatically book out.

The other challenge we discussed at the meeting was the issue of schools booking a place in your session and not showing up. This seems to be more common when sessions are free. Some content providers find that if there is a small charge on their session instead they get less no shows. This is something to consider and trial.

Interactivity

There are many different ways to make a video conferences interactive and you need to find options that work for your content. I’ve created a list of a few different options you can try.

  • include short activities
  • incorporate actions or movement
  • have group answers eg. get everyone to answer simple questions together
  • create artworks during the session
  • run experiments
  • include a quiz
  • leave plenty of time for questions

There are many other ideas but this list is a start. You can also combine options depending on the type of session you are running.

How big should I make the session?

This depends on the type of session you are running. If you want a detailed discussion with an expert, then  1 or 2 classes is appropriate. If you have a special high profile guest, then you will want to open up the bookings to multiple schools. If you have over 10 schools try using Twitter or a messaging channel to get questions in, this will make the session feel more interactive without disrupting the flow.

I generally limit class number to 4 – 6 schools for the sessions I deliver. This has been determined over the last 5 years of delivering programs. However we limit the numbers of schools when we have designed sessions with more discussion.

 

I hope this information helps you get started and Virtual Excursion Australia content providers are happy to help out if you want more information.

Dec 01

Virtual Science Club

In May and June 2014 a number of Virtual Excursions Australia members were involved in a video conferencing science club that brought students from across Sydney to do science experiments in an informal after school session in 3 Sydney libraries.

Coordinated by Fizzics Education, Sydney Olympic Park and Greater Western Sydney GIANTS Football Club, the 7 week program linked hands on science experiments with leadership and life skills.

Each week guests from a number of Virtual Excursion Australia members were able to join the sessions whereby the students could learn all about organisations such as the Australian Museum, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, ReefHQ, Australian Fossil & Mineral Museum, State Library NSW, Powerhouse Museum, Macquarie University and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Video Conferencing Science Club presented by Fizzics Education with special guests from the Australian Museum

Video Conferencing Science Club presented by Fizzics Education with special guests from the Australian Museum

This science club represented the first of its kind in Australia and showed the strong potential for collaborative technologies to bring together distant communities together to learn about their world and culture in a real time environment.

Check out the video of the program at Vimeo – Video conferencing science club

Thanks to Blacktown Libraries, Auburn Library and Hurstville Museum & Gallery for hosting the students!

For further information about how you can get involved please contact Ben Newsome at Fizzics Education.

Dec 01

Video Conferencing lessons learned in the United States

Ben Newsome from Fizzics Education shares insights from his amazing journey through the United States

Earlier this year, Ben Newsome of Fizzics Education travelled for seven weeks in the United States to investigate the use of videoconferencing in science education. Visiting 16 science centres, museums, zoos, aquariums and school districts across North America as a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship. Ben met with many distance educators who shared insights and techniques on how to produce outstanding science & technology video conferencing lessons for remote learners.

Among Ben’s findings were:

  • Learning how to incorporate animated games & live dissections into marine biology video conferences at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Los Angeles.
  • Visiting Alaska to learn techniques in remotely teaching ecology at the Alaska SeaLife Center and Alaska Zoo
Darin Trobaugh from Alaska Sea Life Center

Darin Trobaugh from Alaska Sea Life Center

 

  • Touring the Canadian badlands to learn how palaeontology is taught via IVC at the Royal Tyrrell Museum
  • Speaking with the talented team at the Centre for Interactive Learning & Collaboration in Indianapolis & the Central New York Regional Information Center on video conferencing installation and best practices
  • Immersion in the simulated learning environments at Rochester Challenger Learning Center and the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory plus spending time with the distance educators at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the International Spy Museum, Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Complex
  • Touring Washington DC galleries & museums offered by the Smithsonian Institution
  • Discovering robotic video conferencing technologies being used at the New York Hall of Science.
  • Learning how social disadvantage and isolation can be overcome through the use of collaborative technologies
‘Vinnie cam’ from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

‘Vinnie cam’ from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Ben met many video conferencing content providers at the Center for Puppetry Arts as well as leaders of the educational video conferencing community at the International Society for Technology for Education conference in Atlanta.

Following his Churchill Fellowship tour Ben has made many recommendations to improve the delivery of videoconferencing in Australia. These include that professional development in collaborative technologies needs to be ongoing in the school system and should be embedded into pre-service teaching courses at Universities. Video conferencing should wherever possible be incorporated into all mainstream teaching & learning sequences to enrich the K – 12 curriculum, particularly as significant investment has already been made to install H.323 systems in over 3000 Australian schools.

Ben also recommends that where possible mobile H.323 systems also be installed into all schools, libraries, hospitals, retirement homes & juvenile justice sites if funding was available, to ensure better access to educational experiences from around the world regardless of key learning area.

Full report can be read here: www.churchilltrust.com.au/media/fellows/To_investigate_best_practice_in_science_education_B_Newsome_2013.pdf

Nov 21

MARS ONE – A One Way Ticket To Mars

MarsOne

Meet Some Australian Mars One Candidates

HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT MARS ONE — the ambitious project that is under way to send the first humans to Mars? The plan is to send 4 people (2 women and 2 men) in 2024 — and it’s one way! They won’t be coming back. They will be Martians.

Some 200,000 people from all over the world applied for the chance to be one of the first humans on Mars. That number has been narrowed down to about 750, including some 25 Australians. Eventually the number ill be reduced to a total of 24. These candidates will undergo many years of extensive training and eventually 4 will be chosen by a TV audience as part of a reality style TV show to be the first to go.

So, what kind of people are these Australians? What would you ask them if you had the chance? What makes them want to go to Mars and give up life on Earth? What about their families and friends? Why do they think they should be chosen? What training will they need? How will they survive and cope in the tiny habitation modules? What if something goes wrong? What characteristics would they look for in team-mates? How is all of this affecting their daily life now?

This video conference gives students the opportunity to meet and ask questions of a number of these ordinary (or, some might say, extraordinary) Australians who have made it to the second round of the Mars One selection process.

This is a free video conference event
hosted by the Powerhouse Museum
10:30 – 11.30 am (EST) Thursday 27th Novemeber 2014
Bookings Close 24th November 2014
BOOK NOW at dartconnections.org.au

Nov 02

Dinosaur Day 2014

The Australian Museum has been involved in the ClickFest video conferencing festival since it started in 2011 and is proud to be part of this exciting event. ClickFest will be launched with Dinosaur day on 3 November 2014.

Join Winny the Australian Museum’s Muttaburrasaurs as she opens ClickFest and Dinosaur day.

winny roar

Dinosaur Day – Meet Winny

Time: 10:00

The Australian Museum launches the 2014 Dinosaur Day with Winny our Muttaburrasaurs. Come along to meet Winny to learn more about Australian Dinosaurs. Winny Saurs is a life size Muttaburrasaurs dinosaur puppet and she takes you on a journey to explore her world. You will be transported back 100 million years into Cretaceous and discover what life was really like for the dinosaurs.

 

Dinosaur Day – Fascinating Fossils

Time: 13:00

Fossils are fascinating reminders of life in ancient times and provide a window into the past. They can also reveal an amazing amount of information about extinct species and the ancient world. Step inside the shoes of a palaeontologist to use fossil material and modern animals to reconstruct some extinct Australian animals.

 

Further Information: See the Australian Museum website for extra resources.

 

These sessions are being hosted by the Distance and Rural Technologies (DART). DART connections help us by providing a booking system, technical support and marketing to teachers.

Oct 09

Video Conference Checklist

We’ve all been there, you nervously start a video conference hoping that all your equipment works, praying that no one has snuck in and played around with your Tandberg settings in the dead of the night while you weren’t there. You dial the VMR number and ask the magic question… ‘Can you hear me ?!?!’, you hold your breath and never get a response….. booh…. you find yourself on the phone with the remote end for the next twenty minutes trying remove the gremlins that have crawled into your system rather than delivering the fantastic educational experience that you had so meticulously planned.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”center” width=”30%”]…you can always have a v/c without the picture, but you can’t have one without the sound![/pullquote]

Wouldn’t it be better if you could just start the video conference and everything just worked straight out of the gate ? There is a way to achieve this, and it can apply to setups of any size and any type and any organisation. I call it a ‘pre-flight check’.

The basic idea of a pre-flight check is to do technical checks on everything BEFORE you start the video conference. Granted most of us delivering video conferencing are not technical and very few of us have the luxury of having a technical person on standby to help with the set up. So it will pay you greatly to spend a few minutes before an event doing some basic checks on your equipment. Even if you know the state of your gear or your gear has not moved it is still a good idea to check everything is working just so you can eliminate your end as being the problem if an issue does crop up it’s ugly head during your event. Following is a checklist that has been implemented at the Powerhouse Museum, since we have started this process we have had very few technical problems and we have also found that our staff are more confident and know the equipment better as a result.

[important]

1. Check Your Network

Check that you have an IP address. On a Polycom unity The IP address is shown at the bottom of the display when the unit first boots up. On a Tandberg you will see the IP on the top left. An IP address has the form nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn, If you do not have or cannot see an IP address try switching to another network port or talk to your network administrator.

[/important]

[important]

2. Check Your Primary Camera

Check that the primary camera is plugged into the correct port and you are getting a loopback image on the screen.

[/important]

[important]

3. Check Your Secondary Camera

If you are using a secondary camera, switch over to it and check that you are getting a loopback image.

[/important]

[important]

4. Check Your PC

If you are planning to use content sharing from an external PC, then you MUST check that it is working beforehand. There are several things that can go wrong here! Make sure you are familiar with the ins and outs of switching your computer from mirrored or extended display modes and check that you have all the right sort of connectors available to connect to your v/c codec. Exactly how this done is something that I can save for another article….

[/important]

[important]

5. Lighting

This seems like an obvious one, but you should keep in mind that a camera does not perceive light exactly as the human eyes does and low light levels can translate into a fuzzy or graining looking image at the remote end. Conversely high light levels can cause the image to look grey or colourless. Critically review the lighting and check via camera loopback that the lighting is not too dark and not washed out. There should be a nice contrast between each half of the face and skin tones should look natural for onscreen talent.

[/important]

[important]

6. Make a Test Call

Once you have tested the above make a test call to another v/c unit, and test everything again from steps 1-5.

[/important]

[important]

7. Test the sound

Finally, while on the test call confirm that there is two way audio. The sound should be loud and clear and not distorted. Remember you can always have a v/c without the picture, but you can’t have one without the sound!

[/important]

Some v/c setups are easier then others.

Some v/c setups are easier than others.

Another good idea is to use a service like VTC Call Back (http://vtctest.pointsofdata.com/) Using this you can make a test call and it will call you back and check your video and audio is working.

Try to plan the time it takes to do this into your event schedule, I would recommend that you allow yourself at least 15 minutes for the basic checks written above, longer if you have a more complex setup. If you make a good habit of running through this before every event you will save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run.

Keep up the good work !

Stephen Bancroft is an an Electrical Engineer and Computing expert, he has over twenty years experience with internet based technologies and has worked extensively with live sound and broadcast. He is currently writing technical articles exclusively for VEA.

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