Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teleconferencing across Borders: Promoting Literacy-And More-In the Elementary Grades

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Teleconferencing across Borders: Promoting Literacy-And More-In the Elementary Grades

Article excerpt

Child: "Will we really see the children in Costa Rica when we talk to them?"

Teacher: "Yes, they will be on one of the TV screens, and we will be on the other one."

Child: "And we can ask them questions, and they'll be able to answer them right away?"

Teacher: "Yes, but you would need to wait/or your turn. When it is your turn, you will need to press this little button next to the microphone on the table. The camera will be able to zoom in on you, and then you can ask or answer questions."

This conversation, and similar ones, took place between teachers and 3rd- and 4th-graders in Buffalo, New York, as they familiarized themselves with the capabilities of the distance learning room in their school. Going one step beyond pen-pal and E-mail partnerships, the children soon would be able to use modern technology to build friendships around the world as they learned. Since the children were fascinated with video technology, they quickly learned how to operate the microphone buttons, and recognized the importance of sitting still and speaking slowly and clearly. The following article chronicles the experiences of teachers and elementary children from the United States and Costa Rica as they embarked on a journey propelled by a technology of the future--videoconferencing.

Technology in Today's Classrooms

At one time, children communicated with friends through paper cups connected by string. They could not begin to imagine advanced communications. Children today, however, are not even fascinated by radio or black-and-white television. They spend hours on the computer playing educational games, surfing the Web, or sending E-mail messages to friends.

Educational applications for the advancing technology have expanded in the past few years. Schools have access to increasing volumes of developmentally appropriate software to enhance students' learning. Some schools now plan "virtual field trips" to distant places, or invite guest speakers into their classrooms via videoconferences. While not all of the potential problems of technological innovations have been untangled, research is beginning to demonstrate that "technology-rich learning environments contribute definitely and positively to children's success in school" (Hancock & Betts, 2002, p. 11).

In order to provide a technology-rich, developmentally appropriate learning environment for young children, it is important to connect technology to inquiry whenever possible. Therefore, "it is incumbent upon educators to integrate constructivist designs that allow students to explore, question, and discover" (Stafford-Levy & Wilburg, 2000, p. 125). Learners must be allowed to experiment, take risks, and interact freely with the new technology equipment. In addition to carefully integrating technology into the curriculum, educators also should infuse it into assessment and instruction "to create a coherent system of teaching and learning" (Hancock & Betts, 2002, p. 27). With careful alignment of high standards and technology, it is possible for teachers to increase test scores (Cradler, McNabb, Freeman, & Burchett, 2002).

When carefully planned and tailored to the needs of diverse audiences and situations, distance learning opportunities can meet the needs of most students. In low-technology countries, for example, distance education at the primary or secondary level may be correspondence studies or radio broadcasts. In high-technology countries, students take virtual field trips and use handheld computers in their everyday learning. According to Eastmond (2000), "Distance education is seen as an important improvement to education (which is linked to economic growth)by dispersing education to rural areas, providing access to minority groups, increasing the quality of education, and reducing educational costs" (p. 100). Distance education also offers solutions to problems in countries or areas where there is a shortage of classrooms, facilities, and teachers. …

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