I ended last monthï¿½s column by saying that I expect to see many more
applications taking advantage of VoIP in 2002. Although I wish I could
accurately predict the future, unfortunately Iï¿½m not Carnac the
Magnificent. However, I do think one potential application shows the true
potential power of VoIP technology. That application is education.
As a concerned and involved parent, I often help my kids with their
schoolwork. This got me thinking about how VoIP could be used in an
educational setting. Could my daughter make use of VoIP to contact her
classmates? Certainly. Each student could download a VoIP client, and then
use it to discuss schoolwork online. (Would they use it? Yes, but not for
schoolwork. Knowing my daughter and her friends, they would most likely use
it to talk about anything but school.)
Then I thought about a coworkerï¿½s son who commutes to a nearby state
college along with other students from all over the area. Now thereï¿½s a
good use of VoIP, I thought. They can discuss class topics, trade knowledge,
and collaborate on projects over the Web. The technology exists today. In
fact, it can be -- and is being -- used by students worldwide.
So why, I thought, isnï¿½t there a large universe of schools using VoIP?
I know schools use the Internet in many different ways. It can provide
information to parents, taxpayers, teachers, students, and prospective
students. School calendars, policy and procedures, homework assignments,
upcoming events, and special announcements are just a few examples of how
schools use the Internet.
But what about learning? How can schools use VoIP to assist their
students? Firmly convinced that using VoIP in the educational environment
was a great opportunity, I began to investigate.
I surfed over to the Web site of the college my coworkerï¿½s son attends,
which happens to be in New York. There are dozens of SUNY (State University
of New York) campuses around the state. They offer access to many online
classes -- from anywhere to any of the campuses. So, for instance, someone
in upstate Watertown can take a class in apparel design offered by the
Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Online discussions and
collaboration are also provided for. All this online activity is impressive,
but thereï¿½s still no VoIP, I said to myself. Sure, the students can talk
to each other using VoIP, but thatï¿½s ad hoc, not integrated into the
classroom environment. Thereï¿½s no ability for live, real-time interaction.
Integrating VoIP into online learning seems to me to be a tremendous
opportunity. Enroll in the class, log on, and then ï¿½joinï¿½ the class
using VoIP. Students could interact with their professors and other students
in real time. They could share information live, both during and after class
-- truly enhancing and enriching the educational process. The technology
exists to do this today. It would only take a conferencing application
tossed together with a collaboration application.
Whatï¿½s missing is the integration -- convergence -- of the various
elements. Certainly students can talk to each other. Yes, they can take
online classes. And there are conferencing solutions with VoIP. But are
these available as an integrated package developed as a complete solution?
Not that Iï¿½m aware of. Today, there are only piecemeal parts of the
Remember a few years back (well, seems like only a few) when the PC was
finding its way into schools? PCs were in the library or resource center,
where students went to use them for specific reasons. Spreadsheets, linear
equation analysis, and word processing were just a few of these special uses
of the PC. The PCs werenï¿½t fully integrated into the educational
environment. In fact, only a few applications were specifically developed
for the educational market segment. So school systems purchased a few PCs
and a couple of applications, installed them, and let students and educators
use them as best they could.
Now think about todayï¿½s educational environment. The PC has truly been
integrated into the classroom. Each subject (even physical education) has
incorporated the PC into the learning experience. In fact, the PC has almost
become the spiral notebook of this era. There are PCs in most every
classroom. And there are thousands of educational programs geared to
students from preschoolers to postgraduates.
What caused this tremendous growth? One major reason was the increased
power and decreased cost of the PC. Other key reasons were the ability to
network PCs and to provide access to the Internet. But I believe the biggest
factor was the development of educational programs. These applications took
full advantage of the PC, networks, and the Internet, combining them into
one invaluable teaching tool. Can you imagine a school system today without
I believe the current use of VoIP in education is just like the early
days of the PC. Schools have the PC and network infrastructure. What they
donï¿½t have is applications that integrate VoIP into this environment. When
these applications become available, theyï¿½ll likely be rapidly adopted --
provided they are integrated solutions, not a mish-mash of what exists
So even though Iï¿½m not a psychic, I can see that education is one area
where VoIP can add tremendous value. The underlying infrastructure is
already there. All it will take is the right applications. Sound familiar?
Jim Machi is director, product management, CT Server and IPT Products,
for Dialogic Corporation (an Intel company). Dialogic is a leading
manufacturer of high-performance, standards-based computer telephony
components. Dialogic products are used in fax, data, voice recognition,
speech synthesis, and call center management CT applications. For more
information, visit the Dialogic Web site at www.dialogic.com.
To The February 2002 Table Of Contents ]