Next level videoconferencing for classrooms


by Ann Treacy | August 11, 2009 • “This stuff is cool!” That’s what I heard teachers saying as I was a fly on the wall for some training with treachers to get them interested/involved with using more interactive videoconferencing in the classroom. Video Guidance (local folks) and Tandberg were presenting to a group at Pine Tech in Pine City.

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I used to do training with teachers on how to incorporate web sites and information literacy in the classroom – so it was fun to see how far we’ve come in 12 or so years. My notes from the session might be of interest to anyone related to education. I tried to take in what folks were talking about it highlights some fun uses and some good questions.

Pine Technical has a nice science lab set up with great videoconferencing facilities. There are camera set up around the room so remote participants can pan the room and focus on faces. The microscope is set up to project images on the white board. (Loved that!) Then there are several screens so that students can see participants, desktops, microscopes, telescopes from remote locations.

The main speaker was Lance Ford from a rural school district in Oklahoma. He has done a lot of work with Tandberg in implementing videoconferencing in the classroom. He started by doing his PhD remotely. He’s 4 hours away the campus where he got his PhD. (A sticky issue for me since I move back and forth from Ireland while my husband finishes his PhD!)

Lance works in a small, rural district. Video allows them to offer specialized classes – such as foreign languages. Ten years ago they found that they were not alone in with their high need and low resources – so they hired a language teacher and recouped costs by having teacher offer classes to other schools remotely.

Eight years ago, they started with virtual field trips. They can go to baseball hall of fame, San Diego zoo, interviewed Pearl Harbor survivors… Field trips have been a great way to reinforce the curriculum.

At Pine Tech, they have 5 interactive TV classrooms. They are trying to move away from the talking head method of teaching. The Office of the Chancellor runs meetings via ITV. It saves time and mileage.

Mark Johnson (K12 consortium for virtual ed) said teachers who do well do connect with students. You need to be specific – just like in a real classroom. You can’t have the Ferris Bueller moment. (Anyone? Anyone?) Teachers need to engage. And you need to not talk the whole time. You have to risk the silence to open up the opportunity for students to talk.

The training Lance provides is 10 hours. Teachers start with why would you want to use technology? Then handle the technology. Then practice. They have about 10 hours and that’s enough to get them going. It may take longer to really be proficient with some of the tools; but 10 hours gets you going.

Within a school someone needs to own the technology. A shared resource will not be owned by anyone. So let one teacher be the owner, she can share but she’ll also become the resident expert and go-to person. SO when someone asks – How do I find out about virtual field trips? She’ll point them here:

Right now the system is used on a temporary basis with at-home learners. It’s easy to add adults. They’ve added some folks who are home for a limited amount of time – and who are in high school (not younger kids). They haven’t gone too far with homeschoolers. The technology isn’t the issue – it’s the funding and the policies that might create issues. (Isn’t that so often the case – it sounds a lot like the issue with health care remote appointments!)

Another issue is that current teachers have not been prepared to work with these tools. They were told to teach as usual. Also higher ed teachers expect to be compensated to learn how to teach this stuff. Success so often depends on how teachers have been prepared – but it’s uneven.

Another great feature – teachers and administrators can easily record programs and broadcast live on the Internet or create it into any format you want. The example we saw was offering it as an MP4. Also once it was saved it automatically uploaded to the trainer’s blog – as the video uploaded to the blog is also pulled the meta-data to create a title/credits intro of sorts. Also it sent directly to the trainer’s iPhone.

In fact that demonstration was a great way to see how the different tools are integrated and used in videoconferencing. We also got to see how well it works with Second Life. It was fun to see how easily the videoconference merged in Second Life – in that we could see the videoconference embedded in Second Life.

So often I hear about how students aren’t getting prepared for today’s workforce – but I don’t feel as if that’s as true at Pine Tech. They are using the technology in a way that goes beyond making the old way easier – they are opening doors that were locked when I was a student by teaching in new ways. To me the microscope projected on the screen was the best part. I remember pretending to see the worm heart in biology. What a difference it would have made to have seen it magnified so that I could have put my finger on it and asked – is that it? Now I understand why the remote knee surgeries are so popular for science classes – you can actually see into the knee.

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