Getting Connected: IP-Based Videoconferencing in K-12 Schools

By Lockee, Barbara B.; Hu, Deyu et al. | Distance Learning, November 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Getting Connected: IP-Based Videoconferencing in K-12 Schools


Lockee, Barbara B., Hu, Deyu, Burton, John, Distance Learning


WHAT IS IP VIDEOCONFERENCING?

Interactive videoconferencing (IVC) has served as a reliable distance education delivery mode for over 20 years, in many cases replacing older conferencing technologies such as satellite-televised instruction and audiographics systems of the 1970s. However, the high-bandwidth, often proprietary network systems that support IVC are facing new competition. The Internet has developed not only as a tool for global information-sharing, but also as a mechanism for efficient and cost-effective telecommunications. The substantial processing power of desktop computers, combined with pervasive network access, has made possible the development of videoconferencing applications that are inexpensive and easy to use. This type of communication system is sometimes called by its technical name, H.323 or Internet Protocol (IP) videoconferencing. The use of the Internet for videoconferencing is rapidly evolving into a widely adopted tool for synchronous learning experiences in K-12 education.

Network access is a necessary component of IP video systems, and the faster the better. Broadband connections can facilitate higher amounts of data flow, which is especially helpful for bandwidthintensive video and audio communications. However, IP conferencing can occur over slower network connections, such as a dial-up modem, but the quality of the videoconference will likely diminish.

Initially, these systems were used for person-to-person communication in business and industry. Desktop videoconferencing rapidly evolved to facilitate a variety of interactions, from one to one, one to many, small group to small group, and so on. Educational organizations were quick to shift away from older, more costly conferencing systems to these less expensive communications technologies. In some classrooms, individual computer stations are used for conferencing activities, while in others, the computer monitor is replaced with an LCD projector so that distant sites and presenters can be seen by an entire class at once. IP conferencing systems afford flexibility, allowing schools to customize solutions for a variety of instructional needs.

HOW CAN IP VIDEOCONFERENCING BE USED?

Compared with room-based videoconferencing systems, IP videoconferencing systems are much cheaper and easy to set up, and are powerful enough to improve communication and collaboration. Thus, a variety of instructional efforts using desktop videoconferencing systems have occurred to advance student learning experiences, especially in K-12 education. The following examples illustrate how IP-based videoconferencing can be used in K-12 environments across different age groups, subject areas, and instructional needs.

COLLABORATIVE ACTIVITIES

The use of an IP videoconferencing system does not have to be complicated. Interested classroom teachers can start out with simple ideas. As an example, the Boiling Water Project (http://www.netc.org/digitalbridges/uses/useeix2.php) utilized a two-way interactive desktop videoconferencing system to link an elementary school classroom in Helena, Montana with a high school science classroom in Portland, Oregon. Students and teachers on both ends boiled water at the same time and used IP videoconferencing systems to share their ongoing experiments. Participants on one side could see the boiling water on the other side and how students on the other side measured the temperature. During the session, students and teachers found that water boils at 212 degrees in Helena but at 202 degrees at Portland. They asked themselves why and found the answer. In addition, they found that they had to agree on a definition of boiling water. The videoconferencing system allowed students to easily collaborate with each other, which they would not be able do otherwise. While being part of the communication, the teachers observed that an activity as simple as boiling water can get students more engaged in the instruction.

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