The coronavirus pandemic has changed the landscape of nearly every aspect of daily life, and schools aren’t exempt from that. COVID has introduced remote learning as a new reality for many people. VoIP phone systems have helped to make the transition to a new normal a little easier.
In addition to cheaper business phone plans, VoIP offers so many cloud phone system features that benefit schools making the transition to remote learning, such as including vastly expanded conference and video conferencing capabilities, and a wide array of other features that new VoIP users soon come to see as indispensable to their daily routines.
VoIP features vary between VoIP providers, and cloud-based service providers add even greater convenience and advanced features, but all IP phone services offer the same important benefits in greater manageability of communications for schools that the early adopters in other fields have realized. We’re going to show you which VoIP features can benefit your school most, and which providers offer the best range of features that fit your school’s needs.
VoIP Features for Schools
VoIP for schools offer all of the same functionality of business phone systems, plus many additional important features that enable faster, more efficient, and versatile communications. These state-of-the-art tools help education system administrators and staff keep pace with the communications behaviors and expectations of today’s tech-savvy parents, students, public agencies, media services, services providers, and others.
Compare the functional features that business VoIP providers offer that can benefit schools. Popular providers include RingCentral, Vonage, Nextiva, GoToConnect, 8×8, Dialpad, Mitel, among others.
|Call Recording||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Department Auto Recording||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Automated Group SMS||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
Online fax sends scanned paper documents or digitally created documents in a digital file format from your computer or mobile device via the internet. The modern online faxing alternative to traditional faxing requires feeding paper documents into a stand-alone fax machine to send and physically removing received paper documents from the fax machine after they are printed out. Online faxing lets you fax securely and directly from your school office, classroom, home, off-campus meeting, hotel room, or anywhere else with strong internet bandwidth.
Features and Benefits of Online Faxing
- Large File Transfers — Online faxing lets you send files of more than 100 pages, high-resolution photos, videos, audio files, and large workbooks of spreadsheets. Without this, it can be difficult or impossible to transmit files over a certain size limit.
- Group Delivery — The system automatically sends a message to each addressee’s inbox. Send paperless faxes to many different teachers, parents, student groups, or other large groups of recipients simultaneously as needed. This feature alone can yield potentially significant increases in school admin office team productivity over the course of a school year.
- Electronic Signatures — Sign received or sent faxed documents digitally. This is essential in today’s standard practice at most cost-conscious institutions. Transmitting forms through electronic channels, saves a lot of time and money for schools, compared to using slow and costly paper mailing or hand-to-hand transfers.
- Mobile Faxing — Receive document transfers from anywhere there is internet access. Online fax capability enables busy school administrators to avoid processes of having employees back at the office fax items for them while they’re out of the office.
- Increased Privacy — Faxes sent online can be delivered to your email inbox, instead of to your school’s office fax machine, for increased delivery speed, convenience, efficiency, and protection of sensitive information.
Video conferencing systems enables video communication among many people in different locations, allowing teachers, students, parents and administrators, vendors, etc., to meet from their various locations, but they all have the sense that they’re in the same room. Video conferencing is mostly through digital ISDN and IP transmission systems, which can deliver tons of data created from the cameras and mics during use. These systems provide ultra-high-quality images and audio, making it seem like really being in a face-to-face meeting.
The new Internet-based systems also require much less hardware and installation expense than previous generations of video conferencing technology. State-of-the-art telepresence systems produce high-fidelity audio and video for better, more life-like experiences in seminars, presentations by guest speakers for colloquia and other featured teaching events.
Features and Benefits of Video Conferencing
- Desktop Video Conferencing — Easy to use and very affordable, this conferencing option can be launched by simply downloading and installing an app. It allows anyone to host video conferences directly from their desktop at school or home. You just need a webcam, a microphone, loudspeakers (to ensure high-quality calls), and a reliable internet connection. You can also make and receive calls from mobile devices, allowing you to conduct video conferences from almost anywhere.
- Telepresence Video Conferencing — Phones and networks are connected with cameras positioned above conference tables and monitors to provide a sense of actually being in the room with meeting participants. This offers a high-quality experience.
- Reduced Travel Costs — You can meet with people in distant locations while sitting at your desk at school or home. This cuts significant costs on gas and public transportation.
- Increased School Staff Productivity — Emails, instant messaging, and even phone calls are much more likely to end in misunderstandings because there’s no face-to-face communication to help interpret meaning from important nuances. Video conferencing helps participants focus better, be more clearly understood, and move forward more quickly to making decisions and on to the next steps of administrative projects.
- Improved Communications — Video communications allow participants to see one another’s facial expressions and interpret common body language. Adding visual cues only helps both sides understand the topics at hand. School officials can hold meetings in real time, helping teachers and staff feel much more connected with the school.
High-tech whiteboards resemble the conventional dry-erase boards that students are already familiar with, but they are loaded with modern features to facilitate interactive, modern learning. Today’s state-of-the-art interactive digital whiteboards can use their whiteboard teaching aids in ways not previously possible.
State-of-the-art digital whiteboards interact with computer software programs, digital documents and photo files, all by touching the board’s screen. The whiteboard’s touchpad is connected to a computer, and the computer is connected to a projector.
The class instructor can alter information on the board, copy and move it to the next slide. He/she can write on it like on a traditional whiteboard, but the digital board turns the handwriting on the board into text, which can be immediately retrieved for reference during the class session.
Features and Benefits of Digital Whiteboards
- Media Content — Digitized whiteboards are designed to open and interact with electronic files and software programs. They even support a variety of applications designed for use on a computer. The whiteboard can be used to search the internet, help students make stronger oral presentations, play video games, and much more.
- Spotlight — The whole image can be darkened to highlight only a specific area on the whiteboard by just dragging the spotlight to any desired place on the board. This allows the user to direct students’ attention quickly.
- Screen Content Interaction — Classroom instructors and students can interact with information using a stylus pen, or finger to draw, highlight, activate hyperlinks, press on-screen buttons to execute commands in real-time.
- Class Engagement — Students can interact with content instead of just reading lecture notes. Participants can open applications from the whiteboard to create presentations, making them more more interactive and easier to use for the student.
- Reliable Compatibility and Quality — Older versions of whiteboards were notorious for not interfacing as expected with other technologies needed for integrated presentations, and for not working at all with others. Today’s upgraded digital whiteboards reduce the risk of finding yourself unable to connect with other equipment and devices, stuck teaching from your own memory or handwritten notes through key parts of your lecture, without the benefits of the full-scale use of your central teaching tool. Since most lessons are now built around whiteboards, teachers need the most reliable whiteboard technology.
There is no expensive hardware involved in a VoIP system, unlike traditional business-grade phone systems. Your telecommunications system is all hosted by your service provider, meaning that all of the equipment needed for your school’s communications system to operate are off-site, managed remotely by your VoIP service provider.
Features and Benefits of Call Routing
- Extension Menus — Efficient routing saves callers from excessive hold times or repeatedly getting misdirected to wrong departments or individuals. It directs callers to the correct extension for the person they need.
- Auto-Attendants — Callers are directed to faculty members’ and other school employees’ voice mailboxes, or provided with the information they need to either resolve their specific issue themselves or to call back for help.
- Call Queue, Call Forward — Call Queue allows callers to remain on the line while you’re helping a caller on another line, instead of having them leave a message or call later (potentially forgetting to follow up by calling again). Call Forwarding allows school admin employees to direct callers to another number, so when you’re away from the office, connection to you is still seamless.
- Lower Communications Costs — VoIP phone systems reduce schools’ monthly phone bills and eliminate the large upfront investment in telecom systems hardware, wiring, and installation labor costs. VoIP also increases the range of communications, security, tracking and management features. These cost and performance factors make an internet-based phone system a better investment overall than a traditional phone system that is separated from the network of your school’s integrated online communications channels.
- Stress-Free Call Routing — Automatic routing allows alleviates the worry for school secretaries about who is available to take a call and who should receive a call. It even removes the step of connecting callers to extension numbers or tracking intended call recipients. Routing is an important feature for school employees and parents who need to be able to reach school nurses, teachers, supervisors, administrators, and principals.
Automatic Call Distribution
An ACD system is a more sophisticated version of Call Hunting. Instead of going to just one of a selection of phones, the intelligent ACD systems put the correct person on the phone for every call. Instead of linear-based routing, which always connects to the first available extension, the intelligent ACD systems distributes calls either evenly across the phone lines or routes to the most qualified available agent.
The auto-attendant (IVR) directs the call to the appropriate individual. The ACD identifies the caller’s location, the time of day, the language the caller is speaking, and the nature of the issue the caller wants to discuss.
Features and Benefits of ACD
- Conditional/Skill-based Routing — Calls are routed based on date, time, caller’s needs, circumstances in the facility, or other routing conditions. Rules can be set to accommodate if/then conditions. Calls are routed to the individual with the skills that are most appropriate to help the caller. For example, if there are both English and Spanish speakers on staff, the Spanish-speaking caller will be routed to a Spanish-speaking member of the team.
- Overflow Queues — Overflow Queues can be opened up during heavy calling periods or low staffing periods to allow calls to route to school employees who aren’t included in the queue. The new, temporary queue rules, can be set to trigger automatically when long hold times occur or a set maximum rate of calls is exceeded during a time period.
- Group Mailbox — Messages that go into a group’s mailbox can be checked by any member of the group. This ensures the most prompt response for callers who leave messages.
- Faster Call Response — Improved caller experience and increases caller satisfaction. During periods of high call volume in your school’s office, callers elect the call-back option, instead of remaining on hold in a call queue. Callers auto-identified as priority callers are routed directly to their assigned contact person, without delay.
- Resource Optimization — More efficient routing allows school employees to focus on resolving issues for callers, instead of spending time trying unsuccessfully to handle problems outside their area of knowledge. The system also uses data from call times, hold times, etc., to help identify areas of inefficiency for training purposes.
The Conference Bridge feature of VoIP allows large groups of people to participate in a phone call. Conventional phone service limits conference calling to a maximum of three people. This advanced system can accommodate hundreds of participants on a single call, all at the same time. Conference bridge calling eliminates communications the problem of long-distance travel, hectic schedules, and financial limits as obstacles to scheduling meetings.
Timely and effective interaction between school administrators, faculty members, other school workers, parents, students, various school services providers, and many stakeholders in the larger community is the central requirement for any successful educational institution.
Features and Benefits of Conference Bridging
- No Setup Required — The conference bridge is implemented by the VoIP provider. Your school needs only a dedicated phone line and the proper audio equipment. Participants will be connected by dialing into the conference bridge, using a phone number and PIN provided.
- Choice of Capacity — Conference bridging technology supports multiple conference rooms and multiple call participants in each. You select the number of conference room and participants based on the model, hardware, and licensing terms you choose.
- Graphical User Interface — Advanced features of better systems include a GUI that enables participants to see who has joined the conference and who is currently speaking. Moderators and call administrators have even more advanced controls providing more information.
- Convenient Attendance — Parents can attend many school meetings without even leaving their workplaces or homes. School district officials save time that can be used to get more done, by eliminating the need to drive to school to attend every meeting in person. Teachers can gain back precious time by meeting anytime, as needed, with parents and district officials when important issues come up.
- Flexible — Participants can dial into the conference call from landlines, smartphones, computers, tablets or other devices. Unlike face-to-face meetings, this allows meetings to be scheduled around needs instead of schedules.
If you have to be out of your school office frequently, out and about on campus or off-site at district meetings or at school-related events away from campus, you need a phone system that allows you to have your messages automatically routed to your mobile phone or other devices. Voicemail-to-Email technology also lets you silently check your messages to capture important calls without interrupting your current meeting.
Features and Benefits of Voicemail-to-Email
- User Interface — Set up personal greetings, add and manage email addresses, change your subscription level, and manage your billing all from an intuitive UI. The UI is accessible from your computer and hand-held devices.
- Works With Your School’s Existing Phone Systems — This feature is compatible with most existing phone services, and your voicemail box comes with U.S. numbers.
- Searchable, Readable Voicemail — Your voicemail transcriptions are highly accurate and are delivered within minutes of the time you receive a message.
- Accurate Transcription and Translations — This sophisticated transcription system combines the high speed of machine transcribing with human transcriptionists who can understand complex technical terms, interpret accents, work through background noise, capture numbers correctly, identify proper nouns, and distinguish other nuances.
- Keeps Parents Updated with Voicemail-to-Email — Having a voicemail-to-email feature can help ensure parents and teachers receive a message regardless of availability. This offers an omni-channel experience in a school setting.
VoIP Equipment for School Phone Systems
So now that we know what to look for when shopping for VoIP equipment and conference room hardware for schools, let’s take a closer look at some of the equipment itself. There’s a wide range in equipment, price, makes, models, and buying options to consider before finalizing a purchase.
We want to make sure you have enough information on each piece of equipment to make the most informed decision possible. More specifically, we’re going to look at VoIP phones, mics, paging/intercom systems, conferencing equipment, and digital whiteboards
VoIP Desk Phones for Schools
This VoIP phone earns high praise from a number of websites for many reasons. One of the most important ones being the price: it’s currently listed at $148 on Amazon. You’ll find that most handsets are meant for businesses, but as we’ve previously discussed, there’s a ton of crossover into the education field.
It has a 4.3-inch, gesture-controlled touch screen interface; it has HD voice quality; and it even lets you manage your Microsoft Exchange calendar, which is great for secretaries who are scheduling meetings with administrators, teachers, and parents.
This VoIP phone is an Android 4.2-based system that runs a large number and a variety of Android apps. Those apps can also be accessed right from the phone itself, making it easier for the phone to integrate with other software already in place.
The phone comes with a 7″ touch screen with 1024*600 resolution as well. This makes it ideal for video conference calls. The Grandstream comes with Bluetooth, USB, SD, HDMI, and a Plantronics-standard headset port. This phone is no longer available on Amazon but is available from various VoIP suppliers.
VoIP Phone System Microphones for Schools
ClearOne Ceiling Mic Array
Ceiling Microphones would be extremely beneficial for schools for a number of reasons. The first being that they will be out of reach from students, making them less likely to break depending on what age the students are. The second is that they can make the experience of interacting with digital whiteboards more smooth.
This mic offers 360-degree voice coverage, and it also comes with three what ClearOne calls “unidirectional elements” to help reduce reverberations and background noise. These mics are a little pricey at around $428.34 on Amazon.
BeyerDynamic Classics BM 32 B
If you’re looking for something much cheaper, this ceiling mic only costs $152.32 on Amazon. And just because you’re choosing the cheaper option doesn’t mean you’re losing out on quality either. You can still get wide coverage, which, in a classroom, should be more than enough.
One thing to keep in mind about VoIP equipment is that it’s mostly designed for businesses, which tend to have bigger workspaces. The price is also extremely hard to beat for some schools whose budgets might not be capable of ordering tons of expensive mics. This is a great solution for anyone looking to cut costs without looking to sacrifice quality.
VoIP Intercom Systems for Schools
Grandstream GDS3710 IP Video Door System
This system is no joke, which, yes, is a subtle way of saying it’s on the expensive side: $300 on sale on Amazon right now. School violence is becoming more common and security protocols are getting tighter. You want to be sure your schools are secure.
The Grandstream video door system can be used by security teams to ensure everyone entering/exiting the school is accounted for. The system comes with a built-in RFID chip reader for keyless entry, SIP video streaming options, weatherproof and vandal-resistant metal casing, a built-in hemispheric camera of 180 degrees, microphone, and speaker.
This humble intercom system can also be found on Amazon. It doesn’t have the video features like the Grandstream intercom system above, but simplicity is nothing to shrug off. If there’s an active event, the police can take advantage of the intercom system by giving detailed instructions to students and instructors.
Features include: SIP DoorPhone w/ Door/Gate Relay, Power over Ethernet (PoE) Compatible, Use with Cisco, Nortel, Avaya, and Most Modern IP Telephone systems, Call button calls any SIP address or any Valcom Gateway, Automatic Talkback VOX Operation (no Push To Talk button needed), Companion to IP CCTV Cameras, SIP or Multicast Communications, and LED Status Indicator.
VoIP Conferencing Equipment for Schools
Teaching isn’t just about what goes on in the classroom. There are tons of meetings teachers and administrators have to attend to ensure schools are on the same page with each other. In order to make this experience more personalized, we have some VoIP conferencing equipment for schools that can leave a big impact.
This conference phone is $375 on Amazon and comes with features schools will find incredibly useful. The B189 has a 5″ touch screen that makes it easy for teachers and administrators to operate.
Bigger screens typically mean fewer problems. In the middle of a conference using this phone, it’s almost guaranteed that everyone will be heard. Voices can be picked up from a 20-foot radius, and the 96 dBs speaker can be heard clearly from much further away.
Pyle Desktop Gooseneck Mic
This gooseneck mic is an incredibly cheap option ($34.67 on Amazon), which is great for schools and making sure each voice in the conference is heard. Being so cheap, each participant can be given their own mic as well so there’s no need for sharing.
It also includes a base for the microphone along with an LED indicator and an on/off toggle switch, a built-in acoustic pop filter, ultra-wide frequency response, and a high signal output for voice clarity. This mic is also battery-operated, providing for even more flexibility, enabling users to move the mic around the room with them.
This weird, straight-out-of-star-wars-looking camera is a great option for schools because of its 180-degree field of view, affordable cost (On Amazon at $244), HD picture and 30 FPS, and auto-focus feature.
Tons of people judge an experience based on how they view it. If you’re in a conference and the screen has a horrible picture, you’re focusing on the quality of the experience rather than the issues at hand. Subtle differences in the sound or video quality can make all the difference.
VoIP Systems Prepare Schools for the New Normal
Today’s VoIP systems offer a wide range of advanced features, a new level of convenience and communications quality, and financial savings for schools. The coronavirus pandemic brought on remote learning quickly, schools may have needed to spend extra money on things to make that work.
VoIP systems are one way to help cut your overall budget so you can focus on educating students remotely. These systems are also valuable to schools still in-person.
Because VoIP solutions don’t require any costly hardware (unlike standard telephony), or software installation, or on-site maintenance and monitoring, VoIP and virtual phone systems has proven to be a significantly more cost-effective option for schools and other institutions than traditional hardline communications systems alternatives.
VoIP technologies are available in comprehensive packages and in very limited plans delivering only minimal basic communications equipment and services, far less time-consuming and intrusive to install. A cloud-based hosted VoIP system, as opposed to an on-premise system, makes sure you can communicate with staff members, students, and parents inside and outside of your building.
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