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Kangan Institute delivers more than 300 nationally-accredited courses to both local and international students at eight campuses throughout central and northern Melbourne.

Kangan Institute's Centre of Fashion is an exciting department for creative people interested in the fashion, clothing and millinery industries. Courses cover all aspects of clothing and fashion manufacturing from concept, design, pattern-making, manufacturing and promotion through to in house fashion shows.

Alex Trimmer’s company Sosume is an Australian brand with a major social-conscience. Alex’s collections are made of the highest quality organic and natural fabrics and his brand goes beyond expectations to source materials that have the lowest environmental impact.
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This project facilitated delivery of LMT40707 Certificate IV in Millinery LMTML4006A Sketch and prepare millinery fashion designs.

The project involved two video conference sessions between an industry exert and a group of learners. During the first video conferencing session the industry expert presented information to students, provided sample garments for students to view and discussed issues to consider when sourcing sustainable fabrics. In the second session, students presented their work to the industry expert and they discussed their experiences using and sourcing sustainable fabrics.

Sustainability is now a major element in many courses and we thought this project could show others how information on this topic could be delivered.

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The main aim of the project was to identify the most effective method of using an NBN video link in real time between an industry expert and a group of learners.

By targeting a Certificate 3 class we hoped to sample an average group of students with a teacher with average technical skills. If we could identify a process that was effective for that group we hoped the results could be transferred easily to other groups.

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At the beginning of the project the team understood that an NBN connection would provide opportunity to deliver large (file size) resources at high speed over the Internet. We expected to see speeds that were only achievable across our own internal network at Kangan Institute.

Paula McKenry
Sean Norrey
Tim Verkerk

We discussed a number of options about what could be done with a connection like this. A resource that used very high quality images, virtual tours of spaces and resources that used high quality video files. All of these seemed possible, though given the project time frame, we felt that an option suggested by our Fashion Department was the best. Their suggestion was to bring an industry expert into the classroom to discuss sustainable practices in the Fashion Industry.

We had heard that it was possible to stream high definition video over an NBN connection and agreed with the Fashion Department to attempt to stream video of an Industry Expert, Alex Trimmer, directly to their campus live. Our original plan was to attempt a video stream from an NBN site in Brunswick (where the industry expert would be located) to a class at our Docklands campus using our AARNET connection.

Our team had worked on many types of online resources, including video, and felt confident that we could comfortably understand any new technology concepts that this project might throw at us.

Our video experience made us believe that video file sizes would be very large and achieving true HD quality would require an NBN type connection. We understood HD quality video to be a resolution of 1920 X 1080 although another smaller standard 1280 X 720 was also considered HD video.

Serena Lindeman, the teacher of the class involved, had no experience with online video communication in the proposed format though was not ‘afraid’ of technology and used social networking and blogging to keep students informed.
Serena Lindeman

Alex Trimmer had presented at one fashion related conference to a small group, of which Serena was a part, and had no experience communicating with groups of people over the Internet. Alex, like the rest of the team, was familiar with Skype and the problems that Internet video links could present such as dropout and low quality video links.
Alex Trimmer

At the end of the project, looking back, we had all the technical, presentation and troubleshooting skills that we needed and perhaps overestimated potential difficulties.

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Initial problems

The beginning of the project identified two difficulties straight away; the teacher wanted the video conferencing facility to be available in the students’ regular learning environment, and our AARNET connection didn’t meet the requirements of the project. Resolving these issues led the project team to identify that the set-up required for a live video conferencing connection did not have to be as difficult as we initially thought.

The first problem was Serena’s understandable reluctance to move her students from their ‘home’ campus (Richmond) to the Docklands campus to access AARNET for the video conference. If we could organize a video link up with an industry expert why did we need to go to another campus just to take part in it? We had to agree; and there was a much larger problem; our AARNET wasn’t set-up for video conferencing.
When we wrote our original proposal AARNet was identified as a high speed internet connection that offered a video conferencing service. Kangan’s technical support department confirmed that we did have an AARNet connection at our Docklands campus but it is set up for Internet services only and not video conferencing.
Also an AARNet connection cannot provide extra ‘speed’ when it is not connected to another AARNet site. Therefore any NBN site that we were considering would need to be connected to the AARNet network or the Internet connection speed would drop to the speed provided by Kangan’s ISP. This would be about 50mbps and not enough to fulfill the requirements of the project. Therefore AARNet could not offer any greater Internet access speeds.
We needed to change the focus of the project from AARNet and identify an alternative solution.

Investigating options

We looked at other options such as using a Flash based streaming server. The cost was prohibitive and we weren’t sure if we had the skill and the support we would need to set this up at Kangan in the timeframe required.
We looked at more and more basic options and finally chose Skype. This was for a number of reasons:
  • Industry experts, and people in general, are more likely to have a Skype connection than an AARNet, or AARNet like connection and video conferencing facilities.
  • Skype is easy to set up.
  • Skype can provide a HD quality video conversation at 1280 X 720 – This is the same as the AARNet video conferencing solution.
  • HD quality web cams are relatively cheap to purchase around $100-$150 the Kangan technical support department said that to set up a video gateway only, as they don’t currently have one, would cost around $60,000 we would then need to purchase the video equipment to support it.
  • Skype can have up to 10 video connections for a maximum $60 yearly fee – so if students were offsite they could have joined in easily as well. While it is possible to join an AARNet video conference it is not considered easy for the layperson.
  • An AARNet conference needs to specify the potential number of connections upfront, Skype can add more video connections (up to 10) as required.
  • Serena’s students would not have to travel to another campus to take part in the presentation.

Not using the AARNet connection had a few implications.
  • We couldn’t record the video conference. This project wanted to record the presentation so that it could be used in future classes as a resource. Another solution would need to be identified.
  • We needed to find portable computer/video options so we could move to any room at Kangan.

We had Skype installed on our laptop computers and knew that it performed well on those laptops, and these worked with the Kangan infrastructure (network access etc.).

Now we weren’t using AARNet, we could have the students located at their ‘home’ campus in Kangan’s new Fashion Hub. The hub had a large (approx. 2m) LCD touch screen only a few steps away from the students’ classroom. During testing we found that the connections to the LCD screen were exceedingly easy. The video quality was excellent on screen from all cameras available in an iPad, in internal Mac desktop computers in the room or one of the HD web cams that were used. The LCD screen also had very good quality speakers attached.
A part of Kangan Institute's Fashion Hub

We needed to find an alternative for our presentation that would match NBN speeds. The Kangan technical department confirmed that that we could achieve NBN speeds of 100mbps if we were to run the presentation between campuses. While we were assured that we would achieve NBN like speeds we were a little skeptical of this as we felt that to initiate a Skype connection we would need to leave the Kangan network, use an Internet based Skype server and come back to Kangan again. We thought this would mean the loss of the high speed of the local Kangan network.

The team took the advice of the technical department and decided that Alex would present his session from the Essendon campus and the students would participate from the Richmond campus. (When the NBN is available in more locations throughout Victoria, industry experts like Alex may be able to present to students directly from their workplace.)

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Trialing the technology

During trials the team tested multiple configurations including:
  • Multiple computers and cameras (more than 2) – this included a cross campus conversation with one person in our Essendon office and 3 connections in the ‘students’ room at Richmond. This created a lot of audio feedback in the student area due to the many microphones receiving the same signal. We decided that there could only be one microphone running in that room and that it should be a quality microphone that could pick up conversation around the whole room.
  • iPad connections were attempted and, while successful in a two-way conversation, Skype (for mobile devices) could not join a multi-user video conference. It should be noted that the iPad performed extremely well providing excellent video and sound quality. The iPad, and for that matter iPod, iPhone and mobile Android devices etc., should be considered excellent wireless cameras.
  • Connecting the computer to large 45 inch TV screens and this worked well. We found that the students preferred to view Alex (and his sample garments) on the large screen but Alex preferred to view the students on the smaller computer monitor, but the video quality was high on both.

Session One

The first presentation started off well. The connection worked first time and Alex was engaging and shared many valuable and interesting learning points about sourcing sustainable fabrics. We planned to record the session that was scheduled to last for 20 minutes.
The initial setup included:
  • Windows based laptop computers
  • Vodburner video recording software for Skype
  • Microsoft LifeCam Studio HD WebCam
  • Good quality Audio Technica AT2020 USB condenser microphone
  • Tripod
  • Large LCD screen with good speakers
Alex Trimmer during his presentation

Approximately 15 minutes into the presentation the Windows based laptop froze. During testing we had noticed that the video recording software was not completely reliable so we had a backup plan of a Mac computer that was available in our office. Very quickly we realised that the computer itself had frozen and it wasn’t a software based issue, restarting would take minutes and we elected to move straight away to the Mac that was ready to use.

The computer crash seemed related to a poor quality computer trying to process and record two HD signals and eventually the memory (buffers) filled and it crashed – everything. We lost the video recording of the session and there was no software available on the Mac to do the recording – or so we thought. QuickTime would prove to be the perfect solution for the second session. More on this later.

The planned 20 minute session lasted for 55 minutes and Alex commented that it felt like 20 minutes because it was so easy to engage with the students, to see their facial expressions and see how they were reacting to his presentation. We were able to see students’ reactions clearly and hear their questions from all points of the room.

We also noticed that the video, at times, was flipping upside down and back again very quickly. This did happen during testing but intermittently. We tried to track down a problem that Skype or the camera itself may have had, but after a lot of testing, we concluded that Skype only seems to do video at 4:3 ratio, but it tries to support 16:9 (widescreen). We were using a camera that was widescreen format and our guess is that Skype was trying to decide whether to send a 4:3 picture or 16:9. The confusion manifested as a screen flip. Our guess seems supported by discussions on Skype forums where users experience similar issues with widescreen cameras. We can’t be 100% sure of this as testing is difficult because it is such an intermittent event.

We were surprised and pleased that the participants (Alex, the students and Serena) didn’t see this as a problem and felt that it was part of Internet based communications.

The first session included some audio feedback because we had a good quality microphone that could pick up even the smallest sound and a good quality speaker set up that was playing at a higher volume. For the second session we positioned the room microphone further away from the speakers and placed a baffle (chair back) between it and the speakers located on the LCD screen.

Just before the second session we were still trying to figure out a new way of recording video on a Mac as we had abandoned the idea of using a Windows based laptop. During a conversation it was mentioned that the son of a colleague used QuickTime on the Mac to screen and audio capture game reviews that he placed on his blog. We quickly tested this out and found it worked very well and suited our requirements

Mac never failed

Session Two

The second session provided other interesting results. While setting up for the session, the team communicated across Skype testing a camera setup to move around the room so students could present their work to Alex. In the test, the conversation and the video were clear and there was no evidence of video flipping, but there were problems during the actual session. During the first 10 minutes of the students’ presentations the camera was being moved from student to student quite quickly and the Skype video froze about 5 times, and each time meant a Skype restart. This restarting did not take long but it was disruptive. We thought this problem might be caused by the extra camera movement because this made the computer process more visual detail and it struggled with that. (While we were using a Mac computer at Alex’s end we still needed to use a Windows based laptop at the student end as we couldn’t connect a Mac computer to the large LCD screen.)

It was decided that moving the camera around may be causing the issue and so it should be moved more slowly and only when needed. There were no more crashes after the first 10 minutes although video flipping occurred from time to time. It should be noted that after a while we started moving the camera around more but this did not present any further issues. In the end perhaps Skype was having video problems that were unrelated to movement. We couldn’t test this further as the video freezing only lasted for 10 minutes and didn’t occur again during future tests.
Even though the first 10 minutes were a little stilted with the restarts, the quality of the video image was excellent and Alex was able to see clearly the texture and density of the fabrics students had used. The students were really pleased with the feedback Alex was able to give and were confident speaking to Alex and answering his questions.

Alex listeming to students present
Student presenting to Alex
Could see the sewing clearly in this hat
Could see the sewing clearly in this hat

The Mac computer captured all the video and audio exceptionally well and never produced a signal that flipped or dropped out.

Here are some examples of the video we captured during the second session

http://www.kangan.edu.au/lrd/nbnfashion/ex1.mp4 (mp4, 7.5mb)
http://www.kangan.edu.au/lrd/nbnfashion/ex2.mp4 (mp4, 2.4mb)
http://www.kangan.edu.au/lrd/nbnfashion/ex3.mp4 (mp4, 12.8mb)
We created a display for the project conference in Tasmania which can be seen here:

Additional third trial

The team decided to run a third session in addition to our original proposal because we found that the Brunswick Neighborhood House had had the NBN installed recently.

On arrival at the NBN site we were taken into a room that had about 15 computers, Mac and PC. Luckily Skype was already installed on one of the Macs and we logged in and had a successful chat with the people back at the office in real time. We plugged in our HD camera and moved it around a lot but the connection stayed constant and there was no flipping or disruption to the video. We did a speed test and it showed that the NBN site was accessing the Internet at 97mbps and the Kangan site at only about 7mbps, we assume because of high Internet use at Kangan at that time. The low Kangan speed did not adversely affect the conversation.

What the team learned

During the project our team developed a range of skills including a better working knowledge of technologies (like the AARNet and HD cameras with Skype) and problems that can occur in a live situation such as:
  • dealing with computer crashes or freezing video – does it require a software restart or a computer restart
  • having a backup solution where possible
  • understanding what people expect of an Internet based conversation – they are forgiving of dropouts and technology not working 100%, at least this was the experience of this project
  • understanding that people want the Internet to come to them – Serena “why do we need the students to travel to another campus?”
  • learning about which technologies offer what type of solutions – iPads, while not able to join a multi-accessed video conversation, make fantastic mobile cameras
  • multiple microphones can cause excessive feedback
  • a greater understanding of video streaming in general such as Flash based servers, the cost of video gateways.

What we learned about using the NBN

Make it affordable and easy

We found using a Skype and HD webcam setup to be the most inexpensive way of communicating and within the budget of even the most cash strapped teaching department. Skype is also more likely to be available and accessible than a semi-professional setup such as an AARNet facility or high end video cameras.

Students love it

When we wrote our proposal we thought bringing an industry expert into Kangan ‘virtually’ was a good idea but we had no idea how well the students would react or how connected Alex would feel. Everyone involved, Alex, Serena and the students, all told us that they felt engaged and connected and that facilitating the session online was probably more effective than having Alex present in the classroom. The team had heard about successes in similar projects but until we experienced the success ourselves we didn’t really understand how effective this type of communication could be. One piece of evidence that told us this was that, for the first session we had to go down and collect the students and bring them up to the classroom. But after they had experienced the first session, they were waiting outside the classroom door, eager to begin the second session.

The students appeared very comfortable in the live video environment and presented what they had found to Alex in a very open and conversational manner. Discussions would break out from time to time in the class and Alex was able to step back and let the conversation happen or join in when he had his own point to make. He was part of the group.

It’s less complicated than we expected

After working through a lot of issues with our technical support department and AARNet, we found that the live video conferencing can be accessed easily and inexpensively using Skype and HD cameras. By keeping it simple, we are confident that teachers will be keen to use these facilities with more groups of students.

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The real outcomes of this project were:
  • students’ rapid acceptance of the technology
  • high level of student engagement and connection with the presenter
  • students were very comfortable presenting in this way
  • seeing objects in better than expected detail
  • identifying that high speed connections can be made with minimal cost and time to establish the setup
  • positive teacher response to the simple, easy Skype-HD camera set-up.

Students were comfortable with the new format

The original outcome was to test if the NBN could deliver high quality video across the network, providing a class of students with access to an industry expert without them having to leave their ‘home’ classroom. The project proved that significant amounts of high quality video and audio could be delivered across the network in real time and with minimal outlay in hardware.

All 13 students agreed that the real time link with Alex provided an opportunity to see Alex’s own products and hear about his views on sustainability in fashion.
Our Fashion teachers are keen to provide more opportunities for students to connect with industry experts without students having to leave the classroom.

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7.1 What were the key succeses and what would you do differently?

The highlights of this program were the
  • quality of interactions between students and the industry expert. These were made possible by the high quality of the video link.
  • ease and affordability of the setup. Rather than professional video camera, lighting and audio equipment, we used tools that were more readily available; an HD web camera and a good quality microphone in the classroom so all students could be heard clearly
  • unobtrusive cameras and technical equipment. Using smaller devices ensured that the technology did not interfere with the presentations or worry the students or the industry expert.

Where possible it would be nice to have examples of the material or objects that the presenter was showing for the students to interact with. Perhaps the teacher and presenter could discuss this before hand and the teacher could see if examples were available to pass to students during the presentation.

7.2 Suggestions for improvement that come from your experience.

Our suggestions for improving presentations.
  • 1 Use a large screen.
By using a large screen at the classroom end of the video link, all the students were able to see Alex easily and see the garments he presented in sufficient detail. If Alex was on a standard computer monitor the presentation have not have been as effective and the students definitely would have missed some of the detail in the fabrics that he presented.

  • 2 Use Mac computers
If possible, use Macs at both ends of the conversation. We found the Mac computers handled the video, audio and recording extremely well and they never failed or dropped a connection.

  • 3 Use good quality microphones
A good quality microphone is required to pick up student comments from around the room; we used a $200 USB microphone that did an excellent job. We have since found cheaper microphones (Blue Yeti for example) that perform as well. USB microphones are the easiest to setup.

  • 4 Plan to avoid audio feedback
When using good quality microphones and speakers be prepared for audio feedback, put something solid between the microphone and speakers (eg a chair back).

  • 5 Use good quality speakers
If Alex had appeared on a large screen but the audio was only available through speakers in the computer the presentation would have been laughable. Computer speakers that can provide clear audio across a room do not require a large financial outlay but are absolutely essential.

  • 6 Use a small web cam
Use a small web camera as people are more likely to be nervous in front of a video camera, even more so if that is a large professional camera set-up with microphones and lighting. The small web camera did not seem to make students uncomfortable; they ignored it most of the time and spoke to Alex on the screen.

  • 7 Have a technician on hand
While the setup is relatively easy and technical people are not needed in large numbers it is best to have at least one technical or experienced person available to offer assistance. This allows the teacher to continue the class while any technical difficulties are sorted out. Eventually the teacher would become more comfortable with the technology, be able to trouble shoot issues themselves and run the sessions themselves.

  • 8 Have the industry expert present from their workplace
Having the industry expert at their workplace (when the NBN is available) gives them a little more context and credibility. In our trial one of the students commented “Hey, where did Alex go? Maybe he’s behind that old beige filing cabinet” indicating that participants take notice of the context of the presenter and make judgments about it. Alex also said at least once “I wish I had have brought [an item] but it’s back at work.”

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Keep it simple

Other organisations should consider what they require of a video conference - don’t make the connection specifications more complex than they need to be.

Does the presentation need:
  • extremely high quality video – do you need to hunt around for a great camera or will a web cam do
  • extremely high quality audio – what microphones are necessary, are good quality speakers required because there is a large audience
  • the presenter to be in their workplace – perhaps to demonstrate machinery
  • the audience to interact with workshop equipment – in that case they may need to be in a workshop and a TV screen may need to be located
  • to be recorded – how will it be recorded? Is it enough to record the presentation using a small portable digital video camera or does the entire conversation, with all participants, need to be recorded

The initial proposal of this project was to use an AARNet high speed Internet/video connection, but to use this connection students would have had to travel to another campus. Organising the movement of 20 students, in the middle of a class, to another campus makes a video presentation (planned for 20 minutes) more complex than it needs to be. And if people are unhappy or frustrated when they arrive then the presentation will or be well received no matter how valuable the content might be.

Using basic tools such as Skype and web cams makes a video presentation from an industry expert easier to arrange as they are more likely to have the hardware already. Presenters, especially those that are not used to presenting, may be made more nervous by travelling to a studio type of location with lighting and high tech cameras. Being comfortable in their own workspace with tools that are as easy as possible to use (Skype/web cam) will help them to be less nervous and so engage with the learners more effectively.

Contact Information

For further information regarding this NBN E-Learning project, please contact:
Name: Paula McKenry
Organisation: Kangan Institute, Learning Development
Phone: 9094 3053
Email pmckenry@kangan.edu.au
Website: http://flexiblelearning.net.au


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