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How Educators Are Using Video Conferencing Technology

December 21, 2012 | Telepresence Options
VideoConferenceEducation__1.jpgA Skype call between a classroom in Sydney, Australia and Yokohama International School in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: betchaboy/Flickr)
With the aid of video conferencing software, students of all ages can learn (almost) anywhere.
Thu, Dec 20 2012 at 3:15 PM
If you've looked up an arcane fact via Google on your smartphone over a dinner discussion, you've taken part in what used to be science-fiction -- access to almost limitless information via the Web, pretty much on demand. But information without context, history and explanation (basically what a good teacher provides) is just that; a trick, a bit of stuff. That's why the newest promise of the Internet regardess of the learner's locale -- for not just information, but communication overall -- may be just as worldchanging as its precedent. Videoconferencing in the classroom just got a whole lot more interesting.
If you think "videoconferencing" and imagine students in the U.S. waving via a large sceen to their counterparts in China, you're behind the times; these days, there are quite a few ways that kids and their teachers can utilize communication software.
Virtual field trips are a growing area where using videoconferencing can be effective (and save school districts plenty of money, not to mention reduce possible liability). And they can be a real boon for kids with disabilities, who might be shut out of visiting certain sites otherwise. According to an article in The Australian, teachers have taken more than 100,000 students on "incursions" (contrasted with excursions) in the past 12 months in New South Wales. Education spokeswoman Carmel Tebbutt told The Australian, "I think everyone would agree that helping children in rural or remote areas visit Taronga Zoo or the Opera House via the Internet is a great idea." While some parents (not to mention kids) are mourning the traditional field trip, going on a virtual trip sometime supplements, but doesn't necessarily replace a real trip; it also broadens the number places students can 'visit' -- moving far beyond their local area and into the rest of the globe.
Video conferencing can also connect students in different countries by creating genuinely collaborative projects, and with the low cost of the technology these days, it's not as much of a logistical challenge for teachers. It's also a lot cheaper, so students can spend time individually speaking with their equivalents around the world. Videoconferencing can also mean accessing classes or programs that may not be available in a particular school's area. (This is a real boon for rural students who may have limited resources in their home schools.)

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