Guest Author, Dan New ~
Calculus students at W.G. Murdoch High School in Crossfield, come to school every Monday, just as any other student. They wander in from the parking lot, place their belongings into their lockers, and grab their calculus materials. When they cross the threshold of their Calculus class, however, what they are greeted with is far from what one might define as a “regular” classroom in today’s educational context. The class features a small room, a single crescent shaped table, a personal laptop and at the focal point of the room, a 36 inch television. As the final bell tolls, marking the beginning of class, the screen beeps and the image of their teacher illuminates the screen. The lesson begins and students intently watch and listen to their teacher on the television, while their laptops mirror the content written by the teacher on the whiteboard.
The Calculus class at W.G. Murdoch is delivered via video conference. Students join a calculus class taught at Bow Valley High School in Cochrane, where I am the teacher. These students connect into the classroom utilizing video conference units, which provide a two-way live video and audio stream throughout the class period. In addition these students utilize a screen share application called Elluminate on their individual laptops, allowing them to see what is written and to write on the interactive whiteboard in the classroom at Bow Valley in Cochrane. Effectively, these students at W.G. Murdoch are wired into every form and avenue of communication that a student in a “regular” classroom might hope to have. These students gain much more than an opportunity to watch a lesson on television, these students are interacting, contributing, questioning, and responding to lesson content, just like any other student should. Through video conferencing, these students are granted the opportunity to engage in instruction that would not otherwise been afforded to them. This is not unlike the opportunities granted to students in rural school is the United States as described in this article, http://thejournal.com/articles/2009/07/23/videoconferencing-engages-students-in-mobile-county-public-schools.aspx
For those of you who have not been part of, or seen a video conference in action, the best way to describe it is like a video phone. It is not so different from what we are used to seeing in the movies, when Spock contacted Captain Kirk from the engine room. Some of you have in essence utilized your own form of video conferencing. There are software tools such as the popular Skype which provides a similar experience to the connectivity of two joined video conference units. The key to this connectivity is that it allows students to hear and watch their teacher at the board instructing in real time. In addition, these students are able to address the teacher and the other students in the class regardless of the geographic limitations between the two parties. However, we need to step beyond the convenience factors associated with video conferencing and utilize it as a tool to enrich our every day instruction.
Think of this video as a… don’t do when it comes to video conference interaction. Although I honestly wonder if I could get away with this. Golf season is just around the corner after all…
In all honesty I would hardly call myself an expert in the area of video conference lesson delivery. I have spent my fair share of hours delivering content using online tools for communication, both synchronously and asynchronously. However, I want to both recognize and acknowledge the unique opportunity this technology has afforded the students in my class. We are now able to move beyond providing a window into the classroom – windows which provided a glimpse into the educational process, but have as yet allowed students to step into the process itself. These windows in the past have been examples posted online, emails back and forth or could have been as advanced as viewing or listening to a podcast. But now, we are giving our students a door into the instructional process. With video conferencing, students are not viewers but real time participants with few, if any, barriers on the depth or intensity of involvement in their learning.
That being said, “Do I believe that in the near or distant future all classrooms should operate under this new avenue?” In a word, “No”. I have already seen first-hand that although this new technology has provided unique opportunities for all of my students, it brings with it its own set of limitations and tribulations not unlike any other piece of technology educators have encountered.. Video conferencing is not a revolution, it is a powerful tool and if we continue to develop and harness its abilities, this tool will continue to allow educators to break down classroom walls and bridge gaps to place students miles away into front row seats in the classroom.
As I continue to step through this “door” with my students in conjunction with several other 21st Century teaching techniques, it is my hope to address what issues and successes I have experienced with video conferencing. I will be continuing to discuss how I have assimilated this new opportunity into my 21st Century practice and what trials and triumphs I have experienced. My secondary goal is to examine how I have integrated many of the tools which my colleagues are addressing throughout this blog in conjunction with my unique classroom environment to create an atmosphere for learning that engages, enriches and empowers my students and their learning.
For more information about video conferencing in the classroom please do not hesitate to contact myself and be sure to check out the Alberta Education brochure for video conference education (http://education.alberta.ca/media/822757/bcinabbrochure.pdf)
Dan New, Bow Valley High School