October 19, 2010, 4:49 PM — When you were growing up, you probably remember most educational videos as z-grade productions like the Simpsons' famous "Amendment-To-Be" film.
But due to to the advent of videoconferencing set up by Internet 2 connectivity, schools are now utilizing video services that actually help students learn. Many Boston-area schools have started using such technology this year thanks to the combined efforts of Harvard, Cisco and BBN Technologies, all of whom worked to bring Internet 2 to Boston and Cambridge schools this past year.
The Internet 2 network has been used by research and academic institutions over the past decade to gain access to high-speed data connectivity whose bandwidth far surpasses commercial Internet connections. As some academic institutions have found that they have leftover bandwidth to throw around on their Internet 2 connections, they have decided to branch their connections out to local schools to help them take advantage of the high-speed network.
Leo Donnelly, the senior technical analyst with Harvard's University Information Systems, says that hooking Boston-area schools up with Internet 2 wasn't too difficult since most schools already had fiber connections running through them. With fiber already in place, Donnelly says that all it took were some switches donated by BBN to get Cambridge schools hooked up.
"Most cities and communities have some type of fiber in the ground," he says. "With a lot of communities it doesn't cross city boundaries but with Cambridge we're able to interconnect, whether it's with school systems or public safety. They're beginning to cross those boundaries."
In addition to Internet 2 connectivity, both the John D. O'Bryant School of Math and Science and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School received donated Cisco TelePresence equipment to help them utilize Internet 2 to get high-definition live video streams beamed directly into classrooms. The O'Bryant School has set up its Cisco TelePresence system in a small auditorium that has microphones installed throughout that can pick up where students are talking and can shift the system's cameras on them so that people on the other side of the video call can see who is speaking to them.
Steve Sullivan, the headmaster at the O'Bryant School, says that having the Cisco equipment on hand will help bring students more in-depth learning experiences that will let them watch events live and interact with the people participating in them.