There are so many possible uses for simple video conferencing in class - whether it be to speak to another group of students, ask an expert or perhaps make a presentation to another group. Outside lessons use for webinars, meetings, moderation can all save effort, travel and create a useful medium of communication that is more than email and phone, but less than a face to face meeting.
What puts a lot of people off is the hassle and complexity of making video conferencing work well - first time and every time. Sound problems. Camera not working. One of the people can't get the software working...
We chose to use appear.in with Star Classroom because it is just powerful enough, and remarkably simple and reliable.
Powerful enoughAppear.In allows up to eight computers (or iPads or smartphones using the app) to join into a single online meeting with good quality audio and video (that steps down in quality when the connection isn't too good). It allows any of the participants to share their screen with the others. The paid-for version allows up to twelve participants and better quality.
SimpleAll the system needs is for all the participants to go to the same web address using Chrome or Firefox or the app. The first connection requires you to give permission for it to the camera and microphone but that is it. Agree a time and all go to http://appear.in/mymeetingname and you're good to go.
The web version of Skype for Business looks good and works well enough, but has too many issues to get started reliably.
Google Hangouts has got better and better and now is about as simple as Appear.In (you now can just all go to meet.google.com and agree a meeting code in advance for everyone to use). Unfortunately the slightly better quality and ability to add more than eight people is balanced against an annoying habit of constantly switching which participant to show full screen, the swapping being very distracting if it becomes a five or six way meeting with everyone speaking frequently.
There are many uses for the webcam in the Star Classroom design other than video conferencing, but the fact that any wall-display can connect easily to any seven others opens up so many possibilities - it will be really interesting to document how people use them.