Valley Christian Schools (VCS) is a private K-12 comprehensive, college preparatory school located in San Jose, California. VCS is dedicated to helping students discover their God-given talents and abilities at a young age. With the elementary school campus and middle school/high school campus in two different locations in San Jose and executive team members and off-site board members living outside of California, IT Director Michael Annab needed an innovative solution to ensure key school leaders are able to be on-site, “in person” at anytime. We sat down with him recently to find out more on how Beam works to bridge that gap.
Q: How are you currently utilizing Beam(s)? Can you tell us how your Board Members use the technology and how often? Any other ways you see value out of them?
A: One of our executive team, John Cooley, lives and works in Virginia. He attends 3-5 meetings per week using Beam and has for a year now. We also use Beam for board meetings, not only for our Chief Legal Officer (CLO), but for any board members who are unable to make the meeting in person. This has happened on multiple occasions, sometimes due to illness, injury, or travel. The value is not only in allowing remote participation in critical meetings, but also that the participation includes high definition video, impeccable audio, and a video stream that does not falter.
Q: How many Beams do you have now? Do you plan to add more to your fleet?
A: We currently have three in use: two at the middle/high school campus and one at the office of our board chairman.
Q: Now that you’ve been using Beam for a while, how has it met or exceeded your expectations?
A: Beam has exceeded my expectations in every way. First, the video quality is phenomenal. Unlike other, more traditional video conferencing tools, I’ve experienced zero buffering, ghosting, fragmentation, or any video distortion. Traditionally, the trouble with typical video conferencing is the lag, so when one person is talking, the others have to wait for an opportunity to interject. When lag occurs, the timing is off, and you end up with people unintentionally talking over one another, and then awkwardly trying to figure out whose turn it is based on the perception of who started talking first. It makes for a very distracting experience and takes the focus off the purpose of the meeting itself, and instead puts it on the failure of the technology to support the purpose of the meeting.
Q: What stands out to you about the design of Beam? The UI, UX, and hardware itself?
A: The design of Beam is very intuitive and smart. I say that because I was able to drive it without bumping into anything and without any training on my first introduction to Beam. All of our users who’ve controlled Beam agree that it’s phenomenally easy to control.
Q: Any plans for ways to extend your use of Beam?
A: Our international students admissions director is considering using Beam to provide prospective students with the ability to conduct self-directed campus tours from overseas. We are currently using Beam with a remote contractor so he can see the output of programming changes on our Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV).
Q: Any favorite Beam stories?
A: When I first purchased Beam, I took it out into the quad area at lunch to interact with students. The students seemed to really enjoy it and were curious. Many followed me as I drove around the campus. I heard kids trying to explain what it was. One boy said, “It’s an iPad with wheels!”
Q: Does your Beam(s) have a nickname? Ever dress it up?
A: The one we use for executive sessions is called “Virtual John.”
Q: Any tips you’d give for other educational organizations that are interested in using telepresence?
A: The tip would be to do it now. There’s no reason to wait. Anyone using traditional conferencing software can benefit from Beam.
Q. Were there any features that were particularly useful in internal meetings?
A: The best part of Beam is how easy it is to get new users up and running. It’s not a big deal at all, and even though folks tend to be “last minute” about things, Beam and Beam software can easily accommodate.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.