Primary school students learning through video conferencing

Office Communications Server (OCS) is finding new friends across the educational spectrum – aka Microsoft Lync. We’re hearing good things about it from the University of Plymouth , for example, where it’s used by academics to keep in touch with students away on work placements across the UK and beyond. There’s a full case study in preparation, of OCS in education at University of Plymouth, so watch out for that.

Meanwhile, up the line near Exeter, our friends at Broadclyst Primary School are proving that OCS is just as useful for children between five and eleven – and, of course, for their teachers. As Head Jonathan Bishop says,

“We’ve put it on everybody’s desktop, integrated it with SharePoint, and provided web access to it for children and staff to use as another tool in the raft of tools that we have for communication.”

Currently the children are involved in business enterprise projects -working with partner schools in Holland and the USA on designing, making and marketing a range of products from fridge magnets to cookies. OCS, says Jonathan Bishop, keeps the branches of this global business consortium in step with each other.

“They can set a time when they need to work together in Outlook, then through a multi-way conference call using video and voice they can share screens and work together across thousands of miles. It gives them the sense of a multinational company and develops a very sophisticated skill set - engaging the children in learning”

And closer to home, OCS in education opens up the ability to include children who are away from school.

“My son, who’s five, was at home after having his tonsils out and he was able to sign in and join the story time with his class. We have had children ill in hospital joining in with lessons from the hospital school, interacting with the class and teacher and accessing all their work through the Learning Gateway”

As Jonathan says, that’s really just a taster of the way that children who are temporarily out of school can be involved in learning and interacting with their friends and their teachers.

Broadclyst teachers, for their part, are using OCS in education to collaborate with students and also with colleagues around the world, working and planning together on joint projects. As Jonathan says:

“The potential to save time and money is tremendous. It is a great tool to bring schools closer together and to get home school links working successfully.

P1010245%20smallBroadclyst’s always been at the cutting edge of school ICT and it’s not surprising to find that the school has had a more traditional, hi-tech video conferencing system for some time. The lecture theatre-style Year Six classroom, with a workstation for every child, has video conferencing available on a big screen, and it’s accessible in other parts of the school including the head’s office.

OCS – flexible, well integrated with school systems and available on every desktop - obviously complements video conferencing in schools, but Jonathan and his team haven’t left it at that. They’ve managed to gain the best of both worlds by integrating OCS with their traditional style video conferencing system (older systems use the H323 protocol video system).

“A museum, for example, might have a traditional video conferencing system, but we can bring their high definition images of exhibits here to our children’s desktops. It’s merging the two technologies together.”

Given that there are undoubtedly people out there with traditional hi-tech video conferencing systems in schools, and they are also likely to have OCS either now or in the near future, network managers will presumably be interested in that kind of integration.

The story, throughout, is one of communication driving collaboration, something that Jonathan’s passionate about. Broaclyst’s just become one of the first primary academies, and he sees this removal of boundaries as a pointer to the future.

“Schools will need to work together through these difficult times, and having the technology to underpin collaboration is going to be increasingly important.”

It’s a vision that’s attracting interest in some significant ways – for example the school was recently visited by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Hill.

You can find more about OCS Server/Lync on the Microsoft website

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