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Thursday, June 18, 2015

6 Ways Videoconferencing Is Expanding the Classroom

David Raths, Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology reports, "With instant access to international collaborators, virtual field trips and courses in other districts, learning can happen anywhere in the world."

Photo: T.H.E. Journal

Three years ago, more than 125 students in three high schools on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska spent the night sleeping at school in order to be awake for a 4 a.m. videoconference with students in Nazareth, Israel. After the students' virtual meeting, parents arrived at the schools to cook them breakfast. The students showered and went on with their normal school day.

This kind of meeting has become increasingly common as Kenai Peninsula Borough Schools have embraced videoconferencing technology as a way to open up students' connections to the lower 48 — and the rest of the world.

More recently, Kenai Central High School world history teacher Greg Zorbas and Skyview High history teacher Rob Sparks have had students working on longer-term projects with students in Palestine and Ghana. "Teams made up of students from Ramallah and our school developed conflict trees to understand root causes and effects," Sparks said. "They posted their work in our Google Community for everybody else to see."

Over the last decade, as high-speed Internet has become more accessible, videoconferencing technology has grown more sophisticated and easier to operate. School districts are finding an increasing number of innovative ways to bring students together virtually for meaningful interactions, whether for one-time field trips or more extensive long-term collaboration. Here are six examples of the impact video technology is having on classroom experience.

Connecting Classrooms for Collaborative Projects

What Zorbas and Sparks call their "Classroom Without Walls" program has allowed their Kenai Peninsula students to connect with students in Afghanistan, Israel, Yemen and several U.S. states. But the videoconferencing exploration grew gradually, from the two teachers team-teaching in the same school, to team-teaching from different schools in the same district, to student-to-student collaborative group work.

Zorbas said, "We used videoconferencing to share content between classrooms," but we wanted to take it to the next level. We wanted our students to work together in small groups using videoconferencing. The dynamics of group work is one thing, when you have kids all in the classroom. We wanted two of my students to be working with two of Rob's students and have a videoconference going on as they work."

Using both Polycom RealPresence Desktop and then Microsoft Lync, they moved from videoconferencing with a big TV set for classroom-to-classroom interactions to a setup in which small groups of students have face time with students in another school to work on projects together. (They color-code individual and collaborative work in Google Docs for assessment purposes. Each teacher assesses his own students' work.)

One challenge has been figuring out which technology is best for students' computer-to-computer collaboration. "Recently we have been doing a lot of things with Google Communities with our foreign partners," Sparks said, "and we may try Polycom's RealPresence CloudAXIS in working with students in Ghana. We just keep searching for whatever works best to solve the problem we have."

They're learning about much more than new technology, according to Zorbas. "The combination of videoconferencing and student collaboration has completely changed the way we teach," he said.


Source: T.H.E. Journal