Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Successful Multi-Generational Interactive Video Conference Event

On December 10th, 2013, the Mora Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), Kanabec Broadband Initiative (KBI) KBI and East Central MN Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) joined together to present an interactive video conference (IVC) event at the Eastwood Life Enrichment Center (LEC) in Mora, MN. The LEC is a facility run by the Mora HRA as an event center for the residents of the Eastwood senior living complex as well as for community meetings and events. KBI, through the generous support of the Blandin Foundation, was able to outfit the LEC with modern audio/video equipment including a video conference system and high speed, broadband, Internet access (with support from Midcontinent Communications)

Nearly 60 people assembled at the LEC to view an interactive presentation lead by the National Park Service and broadcast live from the grounds of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Mounument at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The presentation included a short documentary about the attacks of December 7th, 1941, an eyewitness account led by Jimmy Lee who was eleven at the time and living on a farm on the northern part of the harbor (a front row seat to the events of that day) and a question/answer session with Paul Heintz of the park service and Jimmy Lee.

It was an amazing "show" and the audience was glued to the screen. Among the participants in Mora were several veterans including John Kirkhuff of Mora who was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the attacks on December 7, 1941. In the video below, John (with help from his daughter Ginny Berg) had just finished providing his own brief account of the events of that day. Take a look and enjoy. Then remember to continually thank our veterans and active forces for their service to our country!

Video Platform Video Management Video Solutions Video Player 

Thank you to the National Park Service, the Blandin Foundation, members of the KBI steering committee, staff at the LEC and ECMECC and all of those who were in attendance for making this a highly successful event that provided a moving experience for many, gratitude to our veterans and generated community interest in the technology that allows for such events to occur. We are already planning the next event which may be a fun (and educational) trip to another warm place later this winter.

I always enjoy seeing kids reactions when they participate in a truly interactive video conference event. I found that with adults it was no different. We can talk 'til we are blue in the face about the difference between interactive learning and passively watching a video but nothing gets the point across better than actually participating in a well planned and delivered lesson. I think 60 people walked out of the LEC that night who can now tell you how much better an interactive experience is.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Google Chromecast - Not Ready for Education?

I had a chance today to play with one of the new Google Chromecast devices. Google bills it as, "The easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV." It sells for $35. When announced, I was quite excited by the price point and the promises of working with desktop computers and mobile devices. Many were thinking this might be a possible solution to displaying content from a mobile device to a projector in a classroom without the expense of an AppleTV or a sometimes flaky connection to a desktop application. Here is what we found...

It was three geeks and a superintendent evaluating the device's potential for education. We hooked it up to a projector with an HDMI input. Very simple to plug into the projector, but know that it requires a power supply or a usb connection for power. Google doesn't show that in any of the promotional materials. Next, one of the others in the room who refuses to read the manual had the device setup and working on the wireless network in a matter of minutes using an Android based tablet. Nice! Very simple!

So, we used the Android based tablet, an iPad, an iPhone and a Macbook to test the functionality. In all cases, using the most up-to-date versions of the Netflix and YouTube applications, we were able to stream content to the projector. Quality looked good and once you started the stream, you could quit the app and move on to other tasks without causing the stream to stop. (though we did have some difficulty reconnecting to the device to shut off the stream) We used the Macbook, with the Chrome browser and the required extension installed, to stream content from the browser. In this case, we experienced some buffering of the videos that we tried and the quality seemed a little lower than when using the Netflix or YouTube apps. We discovered that there is no support (at least not yet) for the Chrome browser on the Android or iOS platforms. So, mobile devices are not currently supported except for the Netflix and YouTube apps. Google documentation indicates that the Chrome browser for Windows (except RT), Mac and Linux is supported. Nonetheless, any browser based content, including Google Apps, can be displayed from a desktop computer, wirelessly.

We found it to have a nice "cool" factor, but that's about where the functionality ended and where the questions about classroom use started. Here are the issues we found that probably makes it difficult to implement in classrooms at this time.

  1. No support for mirroring from a mobile device, regardless of platform.
  2. No security to prevent any device from connecting to it. So, if a teacher were streaming to a Chromecast device and a student had a compatible device, they could start streaming to it effectively kicking the teacher off. No passwords needed. This could be a problem!
  3. No support for browser content from a mobile device.
  4. A few other bugs like the difficulty reconnecting to a device once a stream is started.
These could all be "fixed" by Google in the coming months, but for now, it seems like Chromecast is a nice little streaming media device best suited for household use. It works well with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play (with Pandora support coming soon I read) and with a price point lower than a Roku or AppleTV, it might be an attractive choice for home use. It is NOT, however, a mirroring device suitable for displaying the screen of a mobile device. I haven't read anything from Google indicating that it will ever support mirroring, but with Google, anything can change at any time. 

If you have a different experience or discover additional functionality, please share! I really want this to be a viable classroom tool, but at this point, I don't think it is there.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why Internet Service Isn't Like Utilities - Especially in schools... Yet

I sometimes hear comments about Internet service being like a utility - especially electrical service. Comparisons are made to how electric service was extended to rural areas through cooperatives and subsidies. While I agree that Internet service is fast approaching that "basic need" category like electricity, water, etc., we are some ways off from it having the same ubiquity, level of service and reliability that other utilities have. It is still important to make sure that all students in all areas (urban, exurban, suburban, rural, etc.) have the same fast, reliable Internet services and this continues to require collaborative efforts and, to some extent, subsidies to keep a level playing field.

Electricity is delivered to most every home (save for those who are choosing to be off the grid) through distribution facilities in virtually the same form and with nearly the same reliability in an extremely high percentage of locations. No matter where I am, when I flick the light switch, I get around 120 volts at 60 Hz and the light comes on. Except for extreme situations, I don't worry about whether everyone on my block or connected to the same service provider is using electricity at the same time. If they are, my lights still come on with the same amount of power available to them as if I were the only one using it. Additionally, while costs for electricity do vary by geographic location, it is generally not a large discrepancy.

Internet service, on the other hand still does vary greatly. In some locations, fiber service is available with dedicated bandwidth. In others, providers overprovsion and sell 10Mbps service with actual speeds much less. Speeds in many types of service still vary according to how many people in the same area are using the service. It is still not possible to start up your computer or launch an app on your mobile device and expect a constant, predictable speed or level of reliability from Internet service.

So... Internet service is not ready to be called a basic utility yet. In schools, when community members wonder why you don't just buy the 50mbps service for $59.95 from one of the local service providers - or politicians wonder why they should fund something like telecommunications and Internet service separately (when they don't do that for electricity) from other things, we can explain that to have the reliability and level of service we need still requires a different kind of service level than is available to residents and small businesses.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

We're Back!!

After a significant hiatus, I'm back at this blog. Inspired to participate in this global community by Adam Bellow during his keynote presentation at ISTE 2013. See the video below to be inspired yourself - it is great! I'll also make a concerted effort to tweet more often when interesting things (and sometimes squirrels!) come to my attention as they often do. Follow my tweets @marccjohnson. So, here we go - not sure how often I will post and not sure what I will say - we can all be surprised! Talk to you soon.