When considering audio and video collaboration tools (also known as telepresence) in education, the following technical factors should be taken into account:
– The scale of the collaboration: How many participants are expected to collaborate at the same time in a session?
– The nature of the collaboration: if there are more than two participants per session, are the participants going to be interacting synchronously or asynchronously? For three or more participants to interact face-to-face synchronously, the software must support multipoint connections.
– What devices will participants be using? PCs, Macs, stand-alone video conferencing units, regular phones, tablets, etc.
– Will content be added to the audio and the video? Do participants need to share their computer screen, a document, a video or music file?
– Does the collaboration software require a server-side component?
– What kind of bandwidth does the collaboration software need?
An educational institution can, for example, need 6-12 simultaneous video calls in a single conference, with a mixture of standalone video conferencing units, Mac and PC computers. At some point during this multipoint call, the presenter may want to show a powerpoint. On the backend, the institution may prefer to have the server-side components hosted offsite. Ideally, the licensing for this would concurrent.
Some examples of telepresence solutions that match and exceed these sample requirements: Polycom CMA, Vidyo Panorama, Microsoft Lync.
In addition, Nefsis is a competitor to the above, however it has no Mac support at this point.
It is worth noting that WebEx, with their Meeting Center product, can support a video conference with up to 7 simultaneous participants (any mixture of Macs and PCs). However, there is no support for connecting from a standalone video conferencing unit. Similarly, ooVoo supports up to 6 simultaneous participants (any mix of Macs and PCs) but, like WebEx, offers no support for connecting from a standalone video conferencing unit. If no document or desktop sharing is required, then ooVoo is free for up to 3 participants. To add up to 6 participants and add document/desktop sharing, there is some added cost.
At the same time, the institution may be interested in hosting webinars where face-to-face interaction is not required or desired. In such a situation, a solution such as WebEx may be best suited. It would allow a few people to act as presenters, while allowing hundreds or thousands to act as viewers. The biggest advantage of a webinar-style solution is that it is very cheap compared to a telepresence-style solution, can be used ad-hoc and allows almost anyone in the world to listen to the webinar without needing any internet connection.