The Welsh Video Network (WVN) is a not-for-profit centre of expertise, originally created to provide higher and further education institutions in Wales with easy access to telepresence. Today, the WVN supports a range of public sector organisations, helping them to reduce time-consuming and expensive travel while maximising access to scarce resources. Education sites are connected using the Welsh Government’s high-speed Public Sector Broadband Aggregation (PSBA) network, which is also connected to the Joint Academic NETwork (JANET). The JANET telepresence service is free at the point of use and, among other services, provides centralised scheduling, multipoint and gateway facilities.
Philip Davison, video network manager at the WVN, says, “Telepresence in education has great potential, but institutions were discouraged by the complexity of navigating through multiple firewalls. We also recognised that we needed to improve the existing studios to provide more flexible positioning of microphones and remove bulky display screens that prevented teachers and students from moving around freely and naturally.”
During the WVN’s evaluation of a replacement solution, Cisco and its partner, Direct Visual, a Logicalis company, built a demonstration studio that showed how enhancements in telepresence could improve the user experience. Key to its successful adoption was secure navigation through firewalls, allowing totally reliable and smooth conferencing with any organisation. This is supported by the Cisco TelePresence® Video Communications Server, used in conjunction with the Cisco® TelePresence Video Communication Server Expressway. To provide complete flexibility, Cisco Show and Share® Conferencing Software enables people to share and work together on documents and spreadsheets, encouraging better collaboration between institutions, teachers and students.
“We evaluated Cisco products and found they were the best fit for our requirements. What’s more, Cisco and Direct Visual work together very well. Their combined expertise means that we now have a solution that is tailor-made to our needs,” says Davison. “For example, Cisco was the only manufacturer that agreed to provide a Welsh language interface on its telepresence products. Without Welsh speakers in-house, they worked with us on the translations, a great example of engagement.”
Direct Visual designed 54 high-definition studios, which the WVN deployed across 34 educational institutions. Bulky displays have been replaced by high-definition flat panel screens, offering much larger images with lifelike detail. Ceiling-mounted microphones have improved sound coverage, allowing people to move around the studio freely and rearrange furniture to suit different teaching styles. The overall result is a more natural, effective learning experience.
Alison Walker, learning and development coordinator at the WVN, says, “The Cisco solution makes it easier to encourage greater use of telepresence and push the boundaries beyond what can be achieved in a traditional classroom. Recently, a professional artist connected with students to sketch me live on an interactive whiteboard. The artist was exploring how observational drawing from a distance adds a new dimension to art. Although we were miles apart, we were all totally immersed in the experience.”
With institutions being encouraged to increase efficiency, the new solution has allowed the WVN to adopt a shared services model and decrease the number of servers that would have been required from 34 to just 7, reducing hardware costs, cutting energy consumption and making the solution easier to manage.
The quest for efficiency is also driving the creation of larger schools of education. Bangor and Aberystwyth Universities, for example, are joining forces to form the North and Mid-Wales Centre for Teacher Education. Two custom-designed telepresence lecture theatres will enable 120 students to attend each lecture without travelling between sites. The WVN is spreading efficiency by expanding into schools and other public sector organisations, a trend that is expected to continue.
“Cisco has built on our experience to improve and develop its solutions for the education sector,” says Walker. “Combined with the technical and learning support we provide, we expect that to lead to increasingly imaginative use of telepresence within the institutions we support.”
Case Study published courtesy of Cisco.
Direct Visual, a Logicalis company, is a Cisco Advanced Technology Partner for Telepresence, and supplies solutions to a variety of corporate and public sector customers worldwide.