One major part of my position as online learning coordinator for Heartland is to help advocate for the use of videoconferencing. In Iowa, we have our ICN as a backbone for most videoconferencing. But that comes with limitations. You have to relocate to the ICN room (which could be occupied with another class, or even with storage). You also have to schedule the event.
For those seeking a bit more flexibility, Heartland has been expanding its options. For a few years, we have used the Voice-over IP teleconferencing equipment called PolyComm. We have also recently jumped in to the webinar market, as we share web presentation from a distance.
Another option in this is Skype, an extremely popular, free videoconferencing option. It requires a download of the program, creation of an account, and an internet connection. Then, much like Apple's iChat, you can send messages to another Skype user via text, audio (like a phone call) or even video. All for free. And, all cross-platform too.
Skype doesn't end there. You can send phone calls to phones as well, although you will pay for a long-distance rate. Plus there are several other account features that make Skype a formidable option to other telephony options.
In education, there is tremendous potential. I used to participate in the now defunct group iSightEd.com, which was a loose collaborative of Apple Distinguished Educators and college professors and other professionals. We used iChat to videoconference between an expert in the field and my classroom. This worked extremely well when we worked with scientists who were part of the Ishmael Community. Unfortunately, while I didn't have enough experience to perfect the unit, I did hear about other educators who used videoconferencing for their class to meet with marine biologists, even though their school was 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. Or, who used videoconferencing to connect with the author of the book they are reading in class.
Skype offers that versatility in your classroom. Set up a webcam and have the class connect with a professional in the field. Or another class across the country. It is one of the ways to ensure a well-connected, 21st century learning experience.
If you would like, skype me. Contact me about visiting with your class via videoconferencing, be it about 21st century learning, current events, technology, or other topics, and I'll be glad to do it.