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Stuck in the Middle: The Need for Video in Middle Schools

The TANDBERG team recently returned from the National Middle School Association’s (NMSA) annual conference in Indianapolis. As usual, the conference was a hall pass for over 8,000 of the nation’s middle school decision makers to advance themselves professionally and discuss best practices in teaching America’s students during what is considered one of the most important and transformative parts of their young lives.

For this year’s show, TANDBERG had the privilege and honor to do more than just exhibit our products and discuss the money-saving and education-advancing implementations of video teleconferencing (VTC) in education. TANDBERG got to do some hands-on learning by delivering presenters, content and virtual field trips via video in the 21st Century Classroom, a state-of-the art classroom exhibit that the NMSA constructed with the assistance of TANDBERG and other vendors. The first event delivered via TANDBERG VTC solutions was an interactive tour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during the opening reception.

If the Great Barrier Reef wasn’t interesting enough, we spent some significant time discussing the issues facing educators with faculty and staff from America’s middle schools. One of the recurring themes we heard was an almost-universal perception that middle schools are often lacking visibility in the public eye. Literally, “stuck in the middle” between the excitement and newness of elementary school and the ambition and drive of high school, middle schools are often not first priority for new technologies, funding and other resources.

This slight to middle schools, perceived or not, is concerning considering how important those years are to the education and development of students. Luckily, there are programs helping schools with some of these challenges. In a recent Federal Computer Week article, Doug Beizer discussed the grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed to bring VTC technologies to rural areas for distance learning and telehealth applications.

The $34.9 million in grants has been earmarked for 111 projects in 35 states, and has potential to make a significant impact on schools struggling for the resources and technologies they need to educate their students.

VTC solutions enable middle schools to share resources, including teachers, with other schools. This is exceptionally helpful for schools looking to begin or continue teaching fine arts, languages and other subjects where teachers may not be in the budget or available due to geographic location.

VTC solutions also open the door for previously unheard-of educational experiences for students. Through VTC, experts can join classes via video to discuss specific current events, trends or subjects. Students can adventure on virtual fieldtrips to places like rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef – trips that would have been logistically and financially unfeasible without video.

So for all of those middle schools out there, we feel your pain. But help just might be on the way, via video.

High-Quality, Secure Videoconferencing to the Masses in Minutes

In the past, video phone deployments required administrators to spend significant time and resources on planning and logistics, as well as an average of 30 minutes provisioning each device. Multiply that by hundreds or even thousands of users, and businesses looking to mass deploy visual communications faced an immense resource burden driving up IT costs substantially. Clearly, this model is not sustainable.

“Demand for personal video conferencing in the enterprise is growing faster than any other part of the video communications market,” said Scott Morrison, Research Vice President, Enterprise Network Services, Gartner.

Enter Large Scale Provisioning:

With Gartner identifying increased enterprise demand for personal video and predicting that 200 million people will pay for desktop video conferencing by 2015, solutions enabling rapid mass provisioning are key. In the enterprise, organizations of all sizes now have the ability to use a unique infrastructure solution to deploy “out of the box” video conferencing that can be provisioned rapidly and scaled based on enterprise need. This enhances the cost savings promise of visual communications and significantly easing mass deployment of video.

Benefits of Mass Deployment of Video:

The ability to roll out desktop and PC video conferencing to an entire workforce in a matter of minutes – as simply as sending an email and plugging in the devices – delivers immediate cost savings: Not just from reduced IT costs, but also from greater productivity, reduced travel, greater mobility, business continuity and faster decision making. Not to mention the reduced environmental impacts from less travel and easier teleworking that would result.

Watch the below video where Vodafone explains how they have transformed their business by implementing video across their workforce:

Will being able to see who you are communicating with  no matter what type of device you are on or where you are located deliver benefits to you? In what way?

Aloha From AFCEA TechNet Asia-Pacific

The TANDBERG team recently returned from beautiful and scenic Honolulu, HI, home of last week’s AFCEA TechNet Asia-Pacific 2009 Conference, where we demonstrated the additional functionality of the beta version of Movi3 and had TANDBERG’s own Shiva Hiremath discuss best practices in IP implementation to a mostly-government audience at the PACOM VTC Symposium.

The TechNet Asia-Pacific is a great opportunity for IT leadership and operations personnel at defense agencies to discuss best practices in implementation and use of technologies to help them accomplish their missions. This year’s show did not disappoint, with a great turnout of technology vendors and integrators meeting and interacting with military decision makers.

In light of a recent survey that showed many agencies consider cyber attack inevitable, and recent cyber attacks impacting such organizations as the White House, NSA, DHS, the State Department, the Pentagon, Treasury, the FTC, Secret Service and the DOT, it was little surprise to those in attendance that the hot topic of this year’s show was network security and cyber war.

With computers controlling everything from air traffic control towers to electric grids, the need for cyber security is at an all time high. For many defense agencies, the need to keep classified information confidential makes this need even greater.

Unfortunately, the need to protect classified information and defend networks often overrides other essential technological implementations. One example of this is video teleconferencing (VTC).

VTC solutions allow mission-critical information to pass face-to-face between constituents in the field and strategy planners miles away. By allowing individuals to communicate as if they were in the same room regardless of the distance separating them, VTC facilitates continuity of operations in emergencies, speeds information sharing and expedites decision making.

Unfortunately, with cyber attack and network security on the minds of all defense agencies, firewalls and other security measures are often put in place with little to no consideration for video networks. Luckily, products such as TANDBERG’s Video Communication Server (VCS) allow video data to traverse firewalls and allow both secure networks and VTC capability.

If there’s one thing that this year’s AFCEA TechNet Asia-Pacific 2009 Conference showed us, it’s that sharing information is important, but securing it is essential. At TANDBERG, we say they don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

Video Interviews: Putting Your Best Face Forward

I had a conversation the other day with a former colleague, who, like many others, lost her job several months ago in the economic downturn.  After months of job searching, she found a promising opportunity with a large hospitality company and progressed several levels into the interview process.  The initial interviews were conducted face-to-face, and she did well enough continue through to the next several rounds of interviews.  When she got to the final stages of the process, the meetings with upper level management, who were based outside of the area, were conducted over the phone.  She confessed to me that the phone interviews were awkward, uncomfortable and did not go very well.  Ultimately she ended up not getting the job, and attributed a large part of it to her poor performance on the phone.

A job interview, like any business meeting, is a back and forth exchange of questions and answers.  Responses are not judged just on what is said, but facial expressions, body language and hand gestures, and it goes a long way in showing how confident a candidate is in their capabilities.  How much of that is missed over the phone?

Companies are realizing the shortcomings of conducting phone interviews and are changing the way they hire new talent.  Using videoconferencing technology, they are now able to meet face to face, but without costly and inefficient travel.   One example of this is One Communications, who is using telepresence to make hiring new employees more efficient and less costly.  At TANDBERG, we have implemented a practice of sending out pre-configured video endpoints to job candidates.  The interviewee simply plugs the video unit into a broadband connection and meets with each person, face to face.  When the interview is done, the unit is returned to the company in a postage paid, protected case.  I couldn’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently for my friend, had she had these same opportunities.

Are proposed OPM personnel plans possible?

If you were to speak with HR managers and recruiters for government agencies, or simply read the recent Where the Jobs Are report by the Partnership for Public Service and Monster Government Solutions, you’d quickly see a major problem on the horizon for the federal government. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there’s an upcoming personnel crisis.

According to the report, there are currently tens of thousands of available and unfilled, mission-critical jobs at federal agencies. Think about that for a second. That’s TENS OF THOUSANDS of people missing from the agencies responsible for protecting the country from enemies, educating your children, testing pharmaceutical products before they go to market and influencing the ways your taxpayer dollars are spent.

What’s worse, the federal workforce is aging. As this workforce “grays,” more and more employees are retiring without being adequately replaced, leaving short-handed government agencies with even larger employment gaps to fill.

What’s causing this personnel shortage? Why are people increasingly looking to the private sector for employment even during this ongoing recession? Compensation and the hiring process may be a part of it, but one of the increasingly important things employees are looking for in their jobs is flexibility, and that’s one area where the government has lagged behind.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been fighting for a long time to get government agencies to embrace workplace flexibility and telework as a way to attract new employees looking for flexible work environments, improve the work-life balance of existing employees and keep aging employees in their positions until suitable, experienced replacements are available.

In fact, a recent article in NextGov details some new initiatives that OPM Director John Berry is looking to implement to make the workplace even more flexible. These initiatives include a results-only work environment that allows employees to set their own hours as long as they continue to be productive, accomplish goals and meet deadlines.

Unfortunately, despite all of OPM’s goading, agencies have been hesitant to embrace flexibility and telework, and they’re most likely going to be sheepish in embracing a results-only work environment. At the end of the day, managers in government agencies feel that losing sight of their employees means that they are losing control of them. They dislike the concept of employees going unsupervised and feel that cooperation and collaboration will be handcuffed by a distributed workforce.

Luckily, new technologies like video teleconferencing (VTC) are available for agencies that allow them to embrace telework with no reservations. VTC allows employees to communicate as if they’re in the same room, regardless of how far apart they are. This enables teleworkers to be supervised and still collaborate with their coworkers in much the same way people in the same office could.

By embracing VTC and teleworking, the government can offer the flexibility and improved work-life balance that potential employees are looking for and gain an important leg up on the private sector when it comes to hiring top talent, all while making its workforce more flexible, more efficient and more productive. It can also embrace such revolutionary ideas as the results-only workforce since employees could conceivably set their own hours without ever being unreachable or out of pocket.

Now that’s government working in a new and better way.