Less Stress on Employees with Video Conferencing

Re-post article by Amy Canter from ceoworld.biz

Employees in general are great assets to a workforce. Obviously some are better than others, some have more unique skills, and some have different personalities as well as levels of effort that they bring to the table. One thing is certain, however, more companies in recent times are demanding more from their employees than ever before. When you combine that with the fact that the youngest generation entering the workforce prefers flexibility and work life balance over higher pay and benefits, you need to find out how some technologies can truly be seen as an asset to allow you greater access to more qualified candidates.

Legitimate Health Consequences of Travel

The individuals who say that they love to travel are few and far between. The fact is our bodies actually treat traveling and long commutes in general as more of a stress than anything else. When you find people who commute longer to work on a typical basis than those who do little to no commuting at all, the people who commute more actually live less. As the Daily Mail wrote, the health consequences of longer commutes can also lead to increased obesity, higher blood pressure, heart disease and even taking a toll on personal relationships and families.

The key is not to get rid of traveling altogether, because that wouldn’t make sense from any business’ point of view. You clearly need to be able to get your people in front of the faces of key clients and partners, or else you wouldn’t be sending them out in the first place. The response of many companies has been to start putting people in front of their clients by using video conferencing software and applications. By allowing for the same personal contacts and connections, you can literally do all of the internal operations as well as external communications and sales, without ever having to leave the office. The travel trips are minimum, and the sales trips are reserved for special occasions. Plus, with the right video conferencing software, a business even has the added benefit of allowing their employees to work from home. With video conferencing software at the ready, they can truly minimize commuting time and still have the capability of being right in front of a stakeholder’s face on screen in only a few seconds.

Helping to Acclimate a Younger Generation

If you happen to employ individuals that are making long commutes or are supposed to be spending a significant portion of time traveling, you could literally be putting their health at risk. It isn’t just a minor thing either that you can brush under the rug, because you need to consider the millennial generation in general and how they all act. If these younger (and talented) workers want flexibility and a work life balance that works for them more than any other generation ever has before, the truth is you can’t afford to force long travel hours on them. Your talent pool will dry up quicker than you could possibly think and you will lose the benefits that a younger generation brings as well. Or, you could take the time to think outside the box and allow them to use that very technology they know and love as a substitute for constant travel and being on the road when it comes to communication.

With the abilities of video conferencing, you also get something that you can’t afford to miss. As Entrepreneur magazine reports, your younger workforce will want to bring as much to the table as she or he can. By allowing them the ability to use new processes, cutting edge technologies, and be more efficient as well, you are offering your employees a benefit that is far more fulfilling than a few extra dollars in a paycheck would be. The millennial generation seeks out the ability to fit into an organization and be a part of a higher purpose. By giving them technology and letting them run with it, you enable them to do truly take ownership in their role and gain real job satisfaction.

Additional Possibilities for Your Employees

A great benefit that is often overlooked as well is the potential that video conferencing brings. Not only can you truly keep your employees off of the road when it comes to sending them out, but you can also enable them to experience work from anywhere, anytime. As Vegas Inc’s piece states, the younger generation of people will continue to push for flextime and work from home opportunities. This is something that is made that much simpler because of technology like video conferencing.

Top video conferencing experts at Blue Jeans have stated the benefits of having a video conf call is not just from company conference room to client. It can be installed, performed, and utilized efficiently from any workstation in general, so why not allow employees the ability to work from home? This may not be a trend many business owners are completely keen on yet, however, the ability to do so is still an asset. Whether an employee feel under the weather, needs to check in over a vacation, or even wants to catch up on a few things over the weekend, the opportunity is there.

Whatever the plan for an organization actually is, the best strategy is to incorporate some sort of technology into the future. And, when you consider the needs and desires of young people, it only makes sense to see why businesses are adding flexibility to their models, and what amounts to be a luxurious fringe benefit with video conferencing in the standard operational plan. Anytime a company can add more efficiency and flexibility while also taking away stress from their workforce, they have struck gold. Maybe that’s the reason so many companies are turning to new technologies to help them update the business plan.

What kind of video conference equipment suits your business?

Re-post article by Jesscia M from theonlinecitizen.com

Although it may seem like a simple function to perform – call someone miles and miles away with a little video feed attached – there’s vast array of budget choices and equipment decisions to be made surrounding video conferencing. Today more so than in the past, there seems to be a flavor of video conference equipment for absolutely any size and kind of business – from your newest little startup in Singapore, to the Lion City’s largest and biggest banking giants.

No matter where in the spectrum you and your business fit, if you have clients abroad or work with international employees, you’ll want to invest in today’s video conferencing systems – mostly because they’re nothing like what the industry used to be.

You Don’t Need New Equipment, Just New Software

One of the bigger benefits of the expansion of the Internet is the advent of total connectivity between any and all devices – from smartphones, tablets and computers to your washing machine and refrigerator. The Internet of Things, as it’s called, isn’t the only system on the verge of happening – communication has gotten a serious upgrade as well, making it easy for companies to develop video conferencing technology that can cross-communicate between various different devices.

For small businesses, this is great news – it means they can take advantage of light-weight and fast video conferencing software without having to worry about the hefty price tag of a simultaneous hardware upgrade.

Some Businesses Are Better off with a Dedicated System

That doesn’t mean video conferencing systems are obsolete in today’s world – on the contrary, to produce the proper video and audio quality and host the kind of private networks necessary to safely and securely transfer business files, dedicated hardware and enterprise-level conference suites are recommended. Whatever your video conference equipment provider calls it, there is an actual point to premium services – the biggest point being convenience, and the second-biggest point being security.

A Norton study in 2013 found that Singapore had the highest per capita financial losses on average through hacking – US$1,158 – making the need for better security a clear must. Some businesses may still underestimate the importance of digital security in the modern age, but in a world where hacking and economic cyber warfare is more frequent than one would think, it’s impertinent that large businesses and corporations pay more attention to ensuring that their communications and files are encrypted, and stored safely on dedicated servers deep within well-secured data centers.

The Deal with Video Conferencing in the 2010s

Over the last three decades, video conferencing has gone from being an early technology used by corporations to discuss international business, to an everyday tool for enterprises and small businesses alike. Partially, it’s because of how the technology has become cheaper with time – but partially, the most recent change with video conferencing is to be credited to the inclusion of the cloud.

The cloud is an Internet-based technology that allows various different users to communicate, as well as exchange and host files on dedicated server space kept and held by an independent third party. Acting as a “cloud” that stores and distributes data, high-budget cloud centers keep their files in heavily-secured, constantly monitored data centers to prevent physical damage or theft of the servers and their data. Sophisticated cloud infrastructure also ensures security through high-level encryption on their network.

This is all fine and dandy, but you may be wondering what it has to do with video conferencing.

Why Video Conferencing Is Going Cloud-based

Video conferencing has become more than face-to-face communication – it has become communication of all sorts, including the upkeep of software security and file sharing. The cloud is the perfect way to make video conferencing technology cheaper for small businesses who just want to have access to the power of video conferencing without worrying about the inherent hardware infrastructure usually necessary to run a conferencing set-up, and larger corporations that want the security and ease-of-use that the cloud offers them.

Another major point for companies with pre-existing video conferencing hardware is the IT headaches commonly associated with the constant setting up required to get things running smoothly. As Forbes points out, cloud computing is the default way to run applications – of over 1,000 respondents on a query into the cloud-based industry in 2015, 82 percent have a hybrid cloud strategy, and that’s up 8 percent from last year.

Video conferencing software issues are eliminated with better software and frequent patching, while the hardware offered by newer companies on the video conferencing scene goes through pains to be as simple to implement as possible while retaining the power that, say, Polycom video conferencing equipment possesses. Some companies, like Blue Jeans, even integrate with pre-existing equipment to help businesses upgrade. For instance, a lot of businesses are taking up robust content sharing and live video streaming to connect with their audience, which can only be matched by enterprise-grade video streaming and conferencing technology.

Free and cheaper options like Skype, Google Hangouts are present in the market, but they can’t provide enterprise level video conferencing and live video streaming capabilities to small, medium and large scale businesses. The current paradigm of corporate communication and business solutions have made it imperative for players like Blue Jeans to co-exist with Microsoft’s Skype and Google’s Hangouts, and fill-in the void for contemporary cloud-based video communication requirements.

Saving Money with Newer Video Conferencing Tech

Versus older video conferencing solutions, newer companies offer the same amount of power for as much as a 90 percent reduction in total costs, according to Forbes. Cutting down on the bulk of manpower and equipment needed to run high-power video conferencing technology, and then adding that to the money saved through the cloud by outsourcing digital security and file storage adds up to a mighty cost-effective price tag for absolutely any-sized business.

Leveraging The Power Of Video Conferencing In Marketing

Re-post article by Steve Olenski from Forbes.com

Marketing has been changed dramatically over the last decade by technology, but as that has happened, it has also created a glut of information that can overwhelm clients, who have hundreds of messages to choose from and listen to. So in order to effectively reach your clients, it is almost necessary now to cut through all the other emails, phone calls and texts to ensure that your message gets heard.

At its core, marketing is really about establishing relationships between companies and customers, and the very best way to establish relationships is through honest, face-to-face communications. No technology in the world is more effective at creating these relationships than the collaborative environments and genuine encounters offered by video conferencing

Where video conferencing excels

There are so many ways that video conferencing can be used in your marketing strategy, all of which have the potential to break through the clamor of other communications by using the undisputed king of information modes – video. Video conferencing can open up new communication channels for corporate news, product launches, customer training and even press briefings.

The natural appeal of video accentuates the quality of a presentation, ensuring that all parties have each other’s complete attention. This alone makes it worth its weight in gold, but the visual encounter also allows both parties to stay in tune with the other’s body language, and every other visual nuance, which might lend shades of meaning to the discussion.

The shift toward video conferencing

According to a projection by marketing gurus Gartner Inc., by the year 2017, the chief marketing officer for companies will be spending more money on IT services and technology than will the chief information officer. One huge reason for this is that IT will be the department most closely involved with supporting back-end servers and other technologies used in video conferencing.

As marketing experts realize that video conferencing doesn’t have to be a separate component in their overall strategy, but rather one that can integrate all other aspects of a campaign, its true value is becoming more obvious. All the benefits instantly become apparent after just a few sessions, including the travel savings, productivity increase, sharing ease and face-to-face value.

Vidyo and Mitel Expand HD Video Conferencing Partnership and Announce Integration of MiCollab

Re-post article from businesswire.com

Global OEM Partnership Will Provide Vidyo Technology for Mitel Visual Collaboration Suite

HACKENSACK, N.J. & OTTAWA, Ontario–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Vidyo Inc., a leader in high-quality visual communications and collaboration, and Mitel® (NASDAQ:MITL) (TSX:MNW), a global leader in real-time business, cloud and mobile communications, today announced a global expansion of the companies’ partnership to deliver high-definition video conferencing capabilities to the enterprise. The new OEM agreement extends the original distribution partnership established in 2013 and allows Mitel to leverage Vidyo’s APIs to embed multi-point video, audio and collaboration features inside various Mitel solutions.

The VidyoWorksTM platform is fully integrated into the newly released version of Mitel’s MiCollab, a real-time communications and collaboration solution to provide simple administration and an easy-to-use feature set to enhance the user experience. With Vidyo, MiCollab is now able to provide high-quality video conferencing from any mobile endpoint that is both flexible and scalable, streamlining the business processes to enable easy video conferencing across the organization and beyond. The VidyoWorks integration broadens Mitel partners’ addressable market and incentivizes the channel to respond to increased user demand for high-quality video communication.

Vidyo’s HD, software-based video conferencing platform complements Mitel’s unified communications and collaboration video portfolio with premium-quality video capabilities for any device and network. To meet the deployment needs of businesses today and in the future, the combined solution is optimized to be deployed in public, private or hybrid cloud environments.

The VidyoWorks platform enables innovative new solutions and service offerings for a variety of partners to provide additional capabilities and optimizations for new applications.

The VidyoWorks integration into Mitel MiCollab is now complete and generally available.

Quotes

“End customers across industries, are increasingly expressing interest in integrated video communications as a key part of their collaboration strategy,” said Ron Wellard, Chief Products and Solutions Officer, Mitel. “Vidyo is the technology leader in affordable software-based video conferencing solutions and has been an important partner to Mitel for years. This expanded relationship will deliver the highest quality, experience and value to our customers.”

“We are pleased to partner with Mitel on this expanded relationship to answer the demands of existing customers, sustain and grow new global deployments and help win market share in verticals like healthcare and financial services,” said Eran Westman, CEO, Vidyo. “Vidyo’s high quality software-based video conferencing infrastructure provides the absolute best possible experience to all enterprise customers looking for a real-time integrated video communication solution today.”

“We are confident that face-to-face video communication is revolutionary for banking – empowering our members to communicate with our representatives to do business more easily and efficiently,” said Jesse Jantz, VP of Information Systems, BluCurrent Credit Union. “Our members are able to come in to any of our locations, and do a face-to-face video call with our skilled professionals in our central location. Centralizing with this technology enables us to more quickly and effectively service all of our locations without asking members to have to come to our main office. Vidyo and Mitel allow us the ability to offer our members the choice to meet with a virtual advisor, without physically coming into a branch. With just one click of a button, members will be able to connect from their desktop or mobile device in the near future.”

About Vidyo, Inc.

Vidyo, Inc. delivers amazing visual communications and price performance to power customer engagement in line with user expectations to deliver the “human interaction” in the “Internet of Things.” The VidyoWorks™ platform and APIs leverage Scalable Video Coding (SVC) and Vidyo’s patented VidyoRouter™ to deliver scalable video conferencing, collaboration solutions and cloud-based services over public networks at a price comparable to audio conferencing. Vidyo has more than 110 patents issued, and many more patents pending, in more than 65 patent families in various jurisdictions around the world. Learn more at www.vidyo.com, on the blog, or follow Vidyo on Twitter @vidyo and on Facebook.

About Mitel

A global market leader in enterprise and mobile communications powering more than 2 billion business connections and 2 billion mobile subscribers every day, Mitel (NASDAQ:MITL) (TSX:MNW) helps businesses and mobile carriers connect, collaborate and provide innovative services to their customers. Our innovation and communications experts serve more than 60 million business users in more than 100 countries, and 130 mobile service providers including 15 of the top 20 mobile carriers in the world. That makes us unique, and the only company able to provide a bridge between enterprise and mobile customers. For more information, go to www.mitel.com and follow us on Twitter @Mitel.

The VIDYO logo is a registered trademark of Vidyo, Inc., VIDYO and the trademarks of the VIDYO family of products are trademarks of Vidyo, Inc. and the other trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners.

Mitel is the registered trademark of Mitel Networks Corporation.

6 Ways Videoconferencing Is Expanding the Classroom

Re-post article by David Raths from thejournal.com
With instant access to international collaborators, virtual field trips and courses in other districts, learning can happen anywhere in the world.

Three years ago, more than 125 students in three high schools on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska spent the night sleeping at school in order to be awake for a 4 a.m. videoconference with students in Nazareth, Israel. After the students’ virtual meeting, parents arrived at the schools to cook them breakfast. The students showered and went on with their normal school day.

This kind of meeting has become increasingly common as Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools have embraced videoconferencing technology as a way to open up students’ connections to the lower 48 — and the rest of the world.

More recently, Kenai Central High School world history teacher Greg Zorbas and Skyview High history teacher Rob Sparks have had students working on longer-term projects with students in Palestine and Ghana. “Teams made up of students from Ramallah and our school developed conflict trees to understand root causes and effects,” Sparks said. “They posted their work in our Google Community for everybody else to see.”

Over the last decade, as high-speed Internet has become more accessible, videoconferencing technology has grown more sophisticated and easier to operate. School districts are finding an increasing number of innovative ways to bring students together virtually for meaningful interactions, whether for one-time field trips or more extensive long-term collaboration. Here are six examples of the impact video technology is having on classroom experience.

Connecting Classrooms for Collaborative Projects

What Zorbas and Sparks call their “Classroom Without Walls” program has allowed their Kenai Peninsula students to connect with students in Afghanistan, Israel, Yemen and several U.S. states. But the videoconferencing exploration grew gradually, from the two teachers team-teaching in the same school, to team-teaching from different schools in the same district, to student-to-student collaborative group work.

Zorbas said, “We used videoconferencing to share content between classrooms,” but we wanted to take it to the next level. We wanted our students to work together in small groups using videoconferencing. The dynamics of group work is one thing, when you have kids all in the classroom. We wanted two of my students to be working with two of Rob’s students and have a videoconference going on as they work.”

Using both Polycom RealPresence Desktop and then Microsoft Lync, they moved from videoconferencing with a big TV set for classroom-to-classroom interactions to a setup in which small groups of students have face time with students in another school to work on projects together. (They color-code individual and collaborative work in Google Docs for assessment purposes. Each teacher assesses his own students’ work.)

One challenge has been figuring out which technology is best for students’ computer-to-computer collaboration. “Recently we have been doing a lot of things with Google Communities with our foreign partners,” Sparks said, “and we may try Polycom’s RealPresence CloudAXIS in working with students in Ghana. We just keep searching for whatever works best to solve the problem we have.”

They’re learning about much more than new technology, according to Zorbas. “The combination of videoconferencing and student collaboration has completely changed the way we teach,” he said.

Making Courses Available Anywhere

For the past three years, most German classes that Marissa Wanamaker teaches at Lincoln High School in Nebraska also have a student or two attending remotely via videoconference. “I have had students from several rural communities,” she said. “It has forced me to rethink how I deliver the coursework every day. I make sure to include the remote students in group activities. My students get excited about working in the remote student’s group.”

The system allowing rural Nebraska students to study German and other topics that may not be offered at their school is a synchronous course exchange that uses videoconferencing and was established several years ago with state lottery funds. Almost 9,000 Nebraska students per year take courses through the system.

When students from a remote school register for a course at Lincoln High, they actually become Lincoln Public Schools students, noted Linda Dickeson, the distance learning manager for Lincoln Public Schools. “They get all the same rights and privileges a Lincoln student gets,” she said, “with their own login and password to resources, and an e-mail account the teacher can use.”

To beef up its infrastructure, Lincoln Public Schools has added 22 LifeSize Video Centers to control, store and stream video to large flat-screen TVs. These videoconferencing setups are mainly distributed in high schools and the district office buildings.

One course, Literature of the Holocaust, is so popular that Lincoln Public Schools has to turn away some remote students. The teacher might have 30 local students, so the district limits the number of remote students to an additional three per section. The videoconferencing equipment is also used within the district to make some courses, such as Chinese, available to schools that don’t offer it. Dickeson said, “We don’t have a systemic way to do intra-district offerings yet, but I think the needs are going to drive that more.”

In remote areas of Nebraska, the system has allowed for course swaps where one school would offer Spanish and another physics, with their students attending each other’s classes remotely. At the end of the year, the state validates all the courses that had videoconference enrollments. The sending school gets $1,000 for the connection, and the receiving school gets $1,000. “That was the motivation for this clearinghouse building up over the years,” Dickeson said. “It has worked out great.”

Nevertheless, the legislation that created the clearinghouse is set to expire after this school year. “We have been camped out with senators over the past year, hoping bills will make it to the floor and give us additional funding,” Dickeson said. “But the synchronous course clearinghouse has proved so successful that even if we don’t get incentive funding, I think it will still be sustained, because it has served a need.”

Overcoming Rural Isolation

It’s no coincidence that some of the most innovative work on classroom videoconferencing is coming out of Alaska, where the vast and rugged geography makes travel and in-person meetings challenging. In addition to the Kenai Peninsula example mentioned earlier, Kodiak Island Borough School District has been working since 2004 to unite its community of small rural schools, said Phillip Johnson, director of Alaskans Transforming Educational Access in Communities and Homes (AKTEACH), which is extending KIBSD’s distance-learning offerings statewide.

The initial goal for KIBSD was to focus on improving math instruction in six fishing villages and one town on a road 40 miles from Kodiak. These villages have populations of 40 to 260 people, and the schools there have enrollments of 12 to 45 students. Eighty percent of the students in village schools are Alutiiq (Russian-Aleut).

“Our village students were not getting the level of education that students in urban settings were getting,” Johnson said, because teachers were asked to be generalists and teach multiple content areas. When the district offered village schools videoconferencing access to a teacher who could specialize, with the village teacher facilitating in a co-teacher model, things began to change. “We began to develop our ‘One School’ concept,” Johnson said. “We are sharing staff and sharing students,” he said. “We aligned all our schools’ schedules and calendars with Kodiak High School’s.”

The district has experimented with several technologies over the years. “We are not married to one technology,” Johnson said. “We use a Polycom system; other courses are offered through Blue Jeans. We have one-on-one instruction happening with Skype for home-school students.”

Johnson said it has been fascinating to watch the impact of the technology on students’ relationships and academic performance. “Actual experiences tend to lend themselves to virtual experiences,” he said. “When we started this program, we recognized the students were not adjusting to the virtual format. They were shy and didn’t like the camera. So we brought all our rural students together for a math and science academy to work on projects together. By the end of that experience, they had developed actual relationships. When they went back to their schools and we started asking them to work in a virtual world again, it had changed the entire experience. They were now willing to interact.”

Students who had had very little exposure to other students around the island started to develop relationships, he said. “We began to see behaviors between students that you would expect to see between students in a brick-and-mortar school: students beginning to go off-task and chatting on the sidelines,” Johnson said. “For me, that was a great problem to have, because the students had come to a point where they were so comfortable with the technology that the tool was no longer the barrier. It was now the world they were comfortable living in.”

In fact, Johnson said, whereas before students from different villages expressed no interest in joining together for team sports, now they play together at the state level regularly and do well. Village students also participate in synchronous orchestra and band classes. They meet with the instructor virtually a few times a week and use Smart Music to support their daily instruction. “Then we fly them in from rural communities for concerts,” Johnson said. “They perform incredibly well. They have met or exceeded the level of their peers, and blend in with all the other students performing. And they are sort of like celebrities, because the Kodiak High School students have seen them virtually and now here they are in person.”

Virtual Field Trips

Not all uses of videoconferencing have to be as extensive as the examples in Nebraska and Alaska. Many school districts have built up a collection of regular “virtual field trips” that their students can take in conjunction with curricular support to prepare the students to appreciate their experience.

The concept of virtual field trips got a big boost on April 30, when President Obama took part in “Read to Discover a World of Infinite Possibilities,” which was part of a virtual field trip series called “Of the People: Live from the White House,” sponsored by Discovery Education and the White House. The April 30 event featured sixth-grader Osman Yaya interviewing President Obama about his favorite books and love of reading.

In another example, over the last several years California State Parks has fine-tuned and expanded a free distance-learning program called Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students (PORTS), which allows more than 7,000 K-12 students each year to enjoy interactive lessons with park interpreters about the natural and cultural resources in California’s state parks.

Lone Tree School, a K-5 school on Beale Air Force Base near Marysville, CA, started doing PORTS classes in 2008 and now does 75 to 100 per year, said technology facilitator Donna Tarble. One of the students’ favorite classes is about tide pools, because the ranger has a remote truck she takes down to the beach, Tarble said. Students can explore Crystal Cove State Park’s fragile tide pools and learn about the biology and ecology of the park’s ecosystem, even though an in-person trip would be difficult to arrange.

Lone Tree has a dedicated videoconferencing room equipped with an LCD screen and a Polycom system. Tarble has taught the teachers how to turn on all the equipment and log in so she doesn’t have to be involved unless there is a technical problem. “Teachers tend to be apprehensive when it comes to new technology,” she said, “but now we use technology so much here on the campus that we have tried to encourage them to take more on themselves.”

Vocational Education

Both virtual field trips and more extensive school videoconferencing programs can give students glimpses of potential careers or help them practice developing skills they may use in the future. Paul Eichelberger, a biology teacher at Jim Thorpe Senior High School (PA), has found a virtual field trip that really resonates with his students interested in medical careers. For the past seven years, his anatomy and physiology students have attended an interactive session (put on by the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio) that allows them to watch a live knee replacement operation. “The students usually say that was the coolest thing we have ever done,” Eichelberger said. “The majority of people taking this class are thinking of going into some sort of medical career,” he said, adding that they appreciate the chance to see physicians in action and to ask them questions.

Synchronous videoconferencing has had a positive impact on a vocational welding program on Kodiak Island, Johnson said. Previously it had been a blended program with some hands-on instruction, but students were flying in to Kodiak for expensive certification tests — and many were not prepared. “I drew a line in the sand and said if we can’t demonstrate proficiency, then those kids shouldn’t come in for testing,” he recalled. “Last year we went to a synchronous welding program and the instructor makes sure the students demonstrate proficiency via videoconferencing before their departure from their rural community for certification testing, and the results have been phenomenal.”

On the Kenai Peninsula, Zorbas and Sparks stress to their students that in addition to learning history, they also are learning 21st century workplace skills by getting comfortable with videoconferencing and collaborating remotely with Google Docs. “Everywhere you look in the workplace you see the use of face-to-face video,” Sparks said. “Most colleges and hospitals are getting into videoconferencing. Five years ago, nobody talked about a videoconferencing coordinator. It wasn’t really a job that existed. Now we work with several of them all the time.”

Including Homebound Students in Class

At any given time, Lincoln Public Schools may have a dozen students using videoconferencing to attend class due to accident or serious illness. Dickeson also said, “Some students have behavioral problems because of anxiety or autism, where some classrooms are overwhelming for them.” When those situations come up, she consults with a special education coordinator to assess whether videoconferencing is an appropriate solution for that student. Lincoln uses a solution called Scopia Desktop. “When we were buying our tools in 2010, one of my criteria — a real dealbreaker — was videoconferencing on the desktop,” she said. At that time, Scopia was the only desktop videoconferencing solution she could find for Mac and Windows. “It has worked well for us,” she added.

Another innovation being deployed around the country is the VGoTelepresence Robot, which gives disabled and immune-deficient students a virtual presence in school to allow them to participate in a full school day from home or the hospital. The student operates the VGo with an Internet-connected computer equipped with audio and webcam capabilities.

Rick Lemke, principal of Durham Public Schools’ Hospital School at Duke University Medical Center (NC), said the district is piloting three VGos in homebound settings and plans to test three in a hospital setting. One of these pilots, he said, “involves a girl who has multiple disabilities, and it has enabled her to participate in a school classroom. She would never have had that opportunity otherwise. It has worked out brilliantly.”

He said research shows that students coming back from serious and long-term health issues have trouble transitioning back to school. “We think this technology can minimize the extent to which the transition is difficult if we can keep you connected with school and peers. If you are a transplant patient and are waiting for a heart, you have time and could stay in class. After an operation, while you are recovering, you are still not going to school, but you could virtually. You could maintain connections and keep the mind rolling academically.”

The six VGos that Durham bought cost about $12,000 each. From one perspective, it is a considerable investment, Lemke noted. “But if it is achieving its intended outcome of keeping these kids in school and they are not falling behind and are prepared to return when medically approved, then it is not much of an investment.”