School video use has come a long way from the days when expensive video conferencing systems were required to connect students and experts in different locations.

Thanks to new advancements in video technology, students and teachers can hold live, face-to-face conversations with scientists in remote areas of the globe from whatever device they might own. Teachers can choose from a variety of free or low-cost tools to prepare video-based lessons that let them “flip” their classroom. And schools can use any number of products that make video editing and production more accessible for students.

School video use has come a long way from the days when expensive (and clunky) video conferencing systems were required to connect students and subject-matter experts in different locations.

Today, for instance, nearly 37,000 teachers from around the world are using Skype in the Classroom to link up with other classrooms through Skype, the free, Microsoft-owned service for making voice or video calls over the internet.

By registering with Skype in the Classroom, teachers have free access to more than 2,000 collaborative projects, and they can search by subject area for other educators who are looking to connect online. Students can “Skype” with a park ranger in Yellowstone National Park to learn more about topics such as geysers, hot springs, volcanoes, or ecology, for example—or they can find native speakers of Spanish or other languages to practice their language skills.

While Skyping is free, the quality of the video isn’t very high, and the service doesn’t integrate with all devices. For a more reliable video conferencing experience, schools such as Arizona State University and the University of Oregon have turned to a software-based solution from the New Jersey firm Vidyo Inc. to meet their needs.

Vidyo’s software marks an advancement in “telepresence” technology, which is designed to make users feel like they’re in the same room together.

Until now, most telepresence systems have been expensive, fixed-location systems that require dedicated lines. Vidyo claims its software offers the first “personal telepresence” solution, because it can connect users through a laptop or other mobile device from anywhere they might be.

Vidyo’s software makes telepresence much more affordable for schools, the company says—eliminating the need to invest in expensive video conferencing equipment to achieve a high-quality result.

The software reportedly can work with any type of network (3G, 4G, DSL, cable, or fiber-optic) and does not need any proprietary hardware to function—making it a cost-effective option for schools. It also works with whatever existing infrastructure a school might have.