Lessons Learned
from the Implementation of
Alabama Connecting Classrooms, Educators & Schools Statewide (ACCESS)

Information for Schools Offering Distance Learning Courses through Videoconferencing

  1. When video codec equipment is purchased it should have multi-point capability to connect with at least three other sites.
  2. Touch to speak microphones seem to work best in the classroom setting because they allow the camera to zoom in and focus on the person speaking. The ability to focus on the speaker personalizes the response, especially in a class where there are only one or two students.
  3. Tablet PCs equipped with web cameras and wireless access tend to provide poor quality calls. The wireless access points use hub technology so there is no way to provide quality of service or to reserve bandwidth for any one wireless client. Also, the videoconferencing software is very CPU intensive and requires a high end PC to work effectively.
  4. Each classroom needs to display a sign with its school name on it to make it easier to identify sites during multi-point calls. The sign should be in view of the camera, perhaps placed on a wall behind the students or on the front of the teacher podium/desk.
  5. Local Education Agencies (LEAs) should be prepared with a backup plan for conducting class if the Internet goes down. This should not occur often, but if it does occur, there should be a plan in place to continue classes without Internet access for short periods of time (days, not weeks).
  6. Distance learning teachers should be aware of what a “good call” and “bad call” look and sound like. The teacher or another observer should spend some time in other distance learning classrooms, preferably at other school systems, to have a good understanding of how a good call should look. Teachers are welcome to schedule visits to the Alabama Supercomputer Center in Huntsville for video demonstrations.
  7. Educate everyone that all changes concerning video or network equipment need to be tested and configurations need to be checked to make sure the new setup will work correctly. Changes such as the purchase of new equipment or the use of a different non-ACCESS classroom can affect the system.
  8. Auto negotiating switches should not be used. They have been found to provide lower quality calls than switches where the speed and duplex can be manually programmed to specific values, e.g. 100 Mbps, full duplex. Sites should use switches that allow for the speed and duplex to be set manually.
  9. Schools with “mobile” units must pre-qualify rooms and network jacks for videoconference use. Network jacks marked for distance learning must have their speed and duplex manually set on the MDF/IDF switches. Hubs and auto-negotiating switch ports SHOULD NOT be used for videoconferences.