These videos present a series of virtual classroom examples set among locations across Canada. Classrooms and studios are connected over thousands of kms. using a variety of networks, engagement methods, and studio technology. The intention is to provide a level learning experience to students both in the room and at the remote location. It was also a goal to improve the AV quality of the experience by employing television studio technology and production techniques.
First example here:
The first event took place on October 25th 2001 and connected the Luscar Digital Recording Studio of the Banff Centre for Continuing Education, Banff, Alberta (Mountain Time) with Ottawa(ET). The studio falls under the jurisdiction of the Creative Electronic Environment (CEE), a unit of the Banff Centre for the Arts that supports the utilization of electronic media by artists and faculty. As the first event in the series, my goals were simple: to experience a connection with a classroom from a remote location; and, develop a feel for the enhancements and inhibitors inherent to this particular method of communication.
The participant group was an undergraduate course in computer music at Carleton University, with approximately 45 students concentrating on a specialized diploma in sonic design and media art. The video conferencing classroom room was furnished with desk mics, 6 large suspended monitors, front and rear cameras, and a control lectern. Clearly retrofitted from a conventional classroom, the space is an excellent example of how not to design a cyberspace portal. All capture and presentation technology was oriented from the ceiling, discouraging a natural feeling of penetration into, and from, a remote location.
Carleton’s facility utilized a V-Tel H.320-based video conferencing unit served by 6 ISDN lines leased from Bell Canada . The Banff system, known as the Client Learning Environment (CLE), is built on a VCON ViGO H.323-based CODEC . This portable unit was developed as part of the BELLE (Broadband Enabled Lifelong Learning Environment) partnership led by the Alberta-based Netera Alliance, with shared funding under the CANARIE Learning Program. BELLE’s objective was to develop a prototype educational object repository. CLE was installed in the Banff’s Luscar Studio for this event. The incompatibility with H.320 was resolved via the University of Ottawa’s Accord gateway that served as the multipoint control unit.
The primary content set for this trial included standard audio and video, but also extended audio inputs and data. The class lesson included a discussion of the video conferencing setup itself, with numerous questions from students regarding its configuration. A Banff associate audio engineer provided a tour of the Luscar studio and fed the CLE a variety of musical projects and test materials. Luscar is built around a Euphonix CS-3000, 56 channel digitally controlled analogue console with a 24-track digital recorder. A demonstration of leading edge computer music software was provided by its developer. The lack of VGA inputs prohibited the connection of a second computer to the CLE. A solution was found by simply utilizing a camera and second monitor. An LCD monitor could be used and the inherent scanning in such a set up would be avoided.
The event was characterized by a 1-2 second perceivable delay that made conversation clumsy, although overall stability meant a natural continuity in the lesson plan. There were occasional freezes and pixilated video effects. The audio suffered when a signal was rich enough to saturate the bandwidth. A test off Luscar’s console sent a variety of instrumental (mono) mixes to the CLE. It was discovered that an overly demanding audio track would cause sound to deteriorate into an indiscernible garble. In addition, inexplicably, the “density” of the mix (number of tracks, signal characteristics) also provoked this breakdown. Microphones left open at both locations also led to intolerable audio.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the experience was the feel of the communication itself. The delay and lack of open microphones created the biggest feeling of detachment. I was unaware of any student reaction during the event, although it was later expressed to me via email (from the proctor) that the class was very engaged throughout. Except for the occasional conversation, which was shut down by neighbouring students, the class was attentive. I occasionally prompted a reaction to insure that participation was holding.