Polymedia links Russian schools in distance learning project

Poymedia scooped the InAVative Futures Award in the 2013 ceremony for integration of communication and collaboration technologies in an ambitious project praised for its scale and complexity.

The Krasnodar Territory in Russia covers 75,485km² and has a population of more than five million people, 47% of which live in rural areas. The Krasnodar Territory Education and Science Department was becoming increasingly concerned with how to effectively support rural schools with small pupil sizes. 

Closure was not an option and a distance learning programme to connect 124 schools across the territory was decided on, alongside the introduction of modern communication and AV technologies.

Polymedia was chosen to deploy a system centred at the Kuban State University Resource Center. Here, a server facility for multipoint videoconferencing, as well as servers for recording and archiving classes and training materials, were installed.

Fifty-one “base schools” and 73 “satellite schools” were equipped with videoconferencing and interactive technologies and connected to the Resource Center.

High quality video broadcast is delivered by LifeSize videoconference systems (supporting H.323 and SIP protocols) with bespoke collaboration software, which allows students to see interactive whiteboard content and real-time explanations. 

LifeSize 220 terminal equipment was deployed in every school. In addition to providing videoconferencing, the Express 220 codecs act as the central switcher for each school. The units receive signals from sources including notebooks and document cameras and send them to displays and audio players. 

The signals can be broadcast externally or played within the classroom. Switching is carried out automatically but the user has additional manual control via the codec remote control or on-screen menu.

Cisco routers were deployed for equipment switching and to arrange Wi-Fi access points into each school’s LAN.

A two-way dialogue was promoted using Smart Bridgit software, installed on each teacher’s HP notebook, to allow remote students to interact and contribute to Smart Board content. Polymedia installed Smart Board 885ix systems and Smart Board 685ix interactive whiteboards in each of the 124 schools. 

Smart acoustic systems were included with the whiteboards for sound broadcast and teachers were provided with Smart Document Camera 330’s.  Additional 46” LCD panels with LED backlights were installed to display supporting images.

HP notebooks were employed as the main tool for the operating system and to create educational resources. The notebooks’ video signals are switched through document cameras to LifeSize codecs with the document cameras used as sources or tools to transfer images to the notebooks.

Mobile systems were also developed and deployed for braodcasting public events from schools to students who cannot participate in them. Extron video scaling and graphic format conversion equipment was integrated so any source or display could be connected.

LifeSize Team 220 codecs and two video cameras are used for videoconferencing and Smart Board 885ix’s on mobile stands are used for display and collaboration. 

The most difficult part of the deployment was in meeting the huge hardware and software infrastructure challenges that faced the integrator. Two Radvision Scopia Elite 5230 multipoint videoconference servers, three LifeSize Video Center 2200 recording and broadcasting servers, five HP ProLiant DL320G6 E 5630 RPS servers (with iView and Scopa Desktop Server software installed) and Smart Bridgit hardware and software were installed at the Resource Center.

The servers can be tuned and adjusted using 17” ATEN CL1008MR console monitors with a switch for all eight servers. A Cisco Catalyst 2960S switch controls switching.

Polymedia says it could only create the flexible solution that was required by integrating best of breed equipment from different manufacturers. By combining LifeSize and Radvision hardware and software the integrator was able to reach the maximum possible capacity of the Resource Center.

The resulting solution enables simultaneous transmission of 420 distance lessons both in-school and directly to individuals, using Radvision Scopia Desktop Pro software, as well as the recording of up to 60 lessons in HD quality that can be watched by up to 3,000 users.

A Distance Learning Support Portal was developed to centrally manage support of all services and provide a single access point for lesson broadcasts, training materials and recorded events. To access lessons students log-in to the LifeSize VideoCenter 2200 server and select desired media.

The portal also provides a schedule for distance learning lessons, allows the planning of lessons and subsequent notification, lets users arrange forums and facilitates the distribution of news for local education areas.

Polymedia directly trained the technical operators of the Resource Center as well as 130 tutors and system administrators that regularly use the system. 

Including disabled children and students with health issues that prevent them from attending school was also very important for the Ministry and the system has allowed these disadvantaged students to virtually attend classes and access in-depth educational resources from their homes.

As well as facilitating distance learning within the region, the system is able to provide a richer learning system by connecting students with peers and teachers around the world.

“The new system is also used as a resource for lessons and intercultural communication with foreign schools at skill exchange open classes,” reports N.E. Bairachny, the deputy minister at Krasnodar’s Ministry of Education and Science. “Such possibilities [have become an] invaluable knowledge source especially for studying foreign languages with face-to-face interaction with their native speakers. 

Another surprising benefit was when the valuable education tool was put use in July 2012 during the sudden and tragic flooding that hit the city of Krymsk. The system aided communications in the region; receiving information from field services, holding briefing sessions with the cities of Novorossiysk and Krymsk and helping the regional government to cope with the emergency. 

The Futures Award recognises companies that demonstrate advanced integration skills to deploy innovative and cutting edge technologies. The judges noted that Polymedia had not only achieved this but had done so on a staggering scale. Furthermore, to take products from competing manufacturers to ensure the best technology for each specific task was selected - as well as keeping within budgetary restraints - shows true ingenuity in integration.

This report appeared in What's New Pro AV, a new publication from the creators of InAVate. Click here to read the full magazine including reports from ISE 2013 and associated conferences as well as details of the InAVation Awards 2013.

Aten monitors, KVM switchers
Cisco routers and switchers
Extron scalers and DVI D format converters
LifeSize videoconference systems
Radvision videoconference servers
Smart Board interactive whiteboards, Bridgit software, document cameras, acoustic systems 

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