How to deliver virtual excursions

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.


In resent years there has been a move away from hardware equipment like H.323 video conferencing equipment, to software based solution like Zoom, WebEx and Skype.

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 used a fixed unit for these session at the Australian Museum in the Australia’s First People’s education room 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 used 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.


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.



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.


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.



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.



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.



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….



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.



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.



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!


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 ( 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.

Tandberg URI Dialing

Recently I had some fun and games with our two Tandberg Video Conference units at the Powerhouse. It had been report to me that it was not possible to dial into any VMR’s (Virtual Meeting Rooms), DARTs VMR’s included. To dial into a VMR it is necessary to use what is known as a ‘URI Dial String’, this string consists of two parts, firstly some text or a number followed by the ‘@’ symbol then an IP Address or Domain name so,  <text>@<ipaddress>, this is typically implemented by inputting the VMR as the first part of the string then the IP address as the second part.

As you would imagine not being able to dial into the DART VMR is a big problem for us, and since I am still relatively new here I am not really sure how this was achieved in the past, but I set about fixing the problem, and after much back and forth and much googling I came to the conclusion that the firmware in our Tandberg units was way too old!

As it turns out URI dialing cannot be used with Tandberg software version prior to TC4.2 unless the system is registered with a gatekeeper. We do not have a gatekeeper and you would only really need one if you had to implement inbound URI dialing. Cisco only introduced full support for H.323 Annex O (URI Dialing) in TC4.2, we had TC4.1 so could only do IP dialing. Problem is that we do not have a CISCO support contract on our VC units and getting firmware upgrades is usually done through support contract channels.

Tandberg C60 at the Powerhouse
Tandberg C60 at the Powerhouse

Thankfully, if you are in the same situation, there is a way out. You can either go to the trouble of installing gnugk a free gatekeeper application on a seperate server or you can in fact get a firmware upgrade for your unit. CISCO only require that you have a support contract to get the most recent version of the firmeware TC6.3, the older versions TC4.2 and TC5.1.8 are freely avaliable HERE.  You will need a CISCO Tac login to be able to download it, but that is free as well.

There is a step-by-step process to installing a new firmware package in the administrators guide for your system. But basically you will need to;

– Download the package.
– Upload the packaged to the unit using the web interface that your unit provides.
– Wait about 10 minutes for the upgrade to finish and the system to reboot.
– Login to the CISCO Tac and obtain a Release Key from HERE.
– Login back into the web interface and apply the ‘Release Key’ from the maintenance menu.

Be warned though, a firmware upgrade like this is not for the faint hearted, things can go wrong, and if something breaks you will need advanced knowledge to recover from the situation!

So, if you’re brave, go forth, upgrade and enjoy all the new features that you never thought your VC Codec could do!