Video conferencing, also known as distance learning, enables teachers and students to expand their learning network beyond the walls of the classroom. Educators have found many ways to utilize video conference technology, including connecting students with field experts, textbook authors, or students in other schools collaborating on a project. It has also become more common for professors to allow students to participate in a class via video conference, enabling them to earn credits not offered in their school or neighborhood.
Carla Schutte, a technology specialist, says that videoconferencing works particularly well in elementary schools with project-based learning or research activities which may involve multiple conferences between groups.
Video conferencing prepares older students "for a globally connected world where walls and distances are no longer significant factors to keep people apart," says Janna Gilbert of the Potter's School.
School-supportive video conferencing technology
The Potter's School, a leader in home education, utilizes Click to Meet Desktop conferencing to serve the needs of over 1,300 home-schooled juniors and seniors in 40 countries. CU-SeeMe, freeware developed by Cornell University, is also used by many educators. Skype 5.3 for Windows is yet another application that is easy to use and inexpensive to set up.
Video conferencing for schools follows a similar protocol and framework as businesses utilizing this technology. Document sharing, desktop views and whiteboards are all handy tools that can be used by educators or guest speakers to enhance the experience. All it takes is a high speed internet connection, a video conference service and a webcam or stand alone camera and tripod. One application that works well for video conferencing, document sharing and slide presentations is PGi's iMeet.
Many colleges and high schools have built dedicated rooms for video conferencing or invested in the equipment necessary to enable video conferencing in a regular classroom. Regardless of which technology is used, educators that use video conferencing can expect to see an improvement in student interest and grades. This justifies the costs associated with purchasing hardware and software, a relatively small investment which yields great returns.
Video conferencing for teacher training
Video conferencing is an invaluable tool for professional development. Current or future teachers can benefit from interaction with experts in the field of education, school administrators, veteran teachers and behavior and curriculum specialists.
As a viable alternative to field placement, video conferencing enables education students to observe and interact with schools anywhere in the world. During a video conference, education students can take advantage of the opportunity to comment, discuss and ask questions on classroom proceedings as they occur.
Schools invest big in distance learning
In 2000, Princeton, Oxford, Stanford and Yale invested a combined $12 million for distance learning programs under the leadership of the University Alliance for Life-Long Learning. Among other things, the Alliance provides online courses, interactive seminars and multi-media programming for alumnae of these top schools.
In the decade since then, schools across the globe have added their own investments to new technology that supports video conferencing for distance learning. In addition to the growing number of distance learning opportunities offered within a college campus, the number of online courses and degrees available has also grown.
Colleges Without Classes now works with 263 accredited colleges and universities to offer over 4,000 different degrees. These courses rely heavily on video conferencing to equate the experience with classroom learning. Of course, with video conferencing already in place, it's a snap to make use of the other benefits video conferencing offers — connecting with experts in the field and collaborating with people around the world to gain a true global education.
We've previously written an overview of video conferencing options geared toward smaller businesses, including schools. Follow this link for several free video conferencing options, or check out this handy beginner's guide to video conferencing cameras.
Know of other tips for video conferencing for educators? Leave us a note in the comments below.
Photos: PGi; Sarah M Stewart/Flickr
Editor's note: PGi is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.