Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Beaming the World into Our Schools: Getting into Interactive Videoconferencing

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Beaming the World into Our Schools: Getting into Interactive Videoconferencing

Article excerpt


Some say that the first time they saw videoconferencing was in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, when one of the main protagonists chats with his daughter back at home while he is in a weightless environment on a shuttle to the moon. Now science fiction has become reality and projects are sprouting up globally as the educational community investigates the possible uses of the technology. Videoconferencing has seen increased interest among those involved in tracking the movement of professionals in various fields, hoping to interest students in pursuing scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics careers--the STEM movement.

However, interest isn't limited to those areas. English teachers are meeting with children's authors, social studies students are doing global cultural explorations, and art instructors are using virtual tours of various museums along with docent-guided tours to expose their students to the arts without having to go across town on buses. Holocaust survivors, now in high demand for visitations but somewhat limited in mobility by age, are turning to videoconferencing as a way to continue spreading messages of tolerance.



Educators at tech-savvy schools may have already experienced this most vivid multimedia experience. Those at less technologically sophisticated schools may feel they are on the wrong side of the digital divide when it comes to interacting with others in this manner. Either way, budget cuts at the state level are serving to level the playing field in a way, as funds dry up at an alarming rate for all public institutions.

So with all these exciting activities possible as a result of amazing technological advances, how does a school overcome financial adversity and maintain or build momentum as part of the 21st-century skills movement?

There is an economical way to introduce videoconferencing that involves inexpensive laptop computers and programs such as iChat, Skype, and ooVoo. A technology integration plan shared by a few pioneering districts in my area proves this point. Through it, schools have been able to make a serious commitment to the "new wave" of interactive technology at a minimal cost. Using readily available technological tools, students and teachers are videoconferencing with professionals, enriching the curriculum, and making connections with practitioners in many fields without a lot of investment or training.


As recently as late 2007, I had never had a videoconference, nor did I have a webcam on my computer. When I was invited to present on a different educational topic at a local Computer-Using Educators Tech Fair, I happened to attend a workshop on videoconferencing presented by Glen Cornish. He demonstrated an educational use of iChat, the proprietary software application found on Macs, as he talked live with a music director--in Belgium!

Watching them interact over thousands of miles, I was hooked. After talking with Cornish about what could be done, I left with a new obsession. The next week, I bought a Macbook with an iSight camera and started using iChat with my wife, a graphic designer who'd been an Apple user for a long time. Then I bought a webcam for my desktop PC and started using Skype. I soon bought a tablet PC with a built-in video camera. For under $3,000 of my own funds, I was fully equipped.

Within a couple of months, during the summer of 2008, I worked with Cornish on a videoconferencing project from my classroom. He "beamed" into my classroom and discussed the writing process for filmmaking with my students, and they jointly composed a storyboard detailing a public service announcement promoting our school, Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in the Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District.

This initial success at inspiring my students caused me to cast about for more projects that would engage them. …

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