Video Conferencing in the Classroom Extract taken from DFES report on evaluating Video Conferencing The use of video conferencing in schools is potentially larger than just curriculum considerations and has organisational advantages as well. For example, Myktyn (1999) identifies video conferencing as a tool: • to support disrupted learners • for consultation • for management • for staff development • for the deaf • for social interaction • and for life as well as a tool for learning. Organisational constraints One seemingly obvious conclusion to be drawn from the literature on video conferencing in schools is that there needs to be a valid reason for collaboration between the parties involved, rather than just a ‘try out’ at the technology. Groups placed in front of the cameras who do not have a raison d’être quickly dry up. However, there is also a need for pre-event collaboration of a different order, to make initial contacts between sites, to agree an educational activity as a focus and co-ordinate timetables and timings (see Smyth and Fay 1994). Moreover, issues of location of microphones and cameras and the group size constituted other constraints, with participants being unable to make themselves heard in larger groups. The result was that the lessons slowed considerably as instructions, questions and comments were repeated so that all could hear (see Husu 2000). Thorpe (1998) found that by using smaller groups, placed more closely around the camera and microphone, more effective interaction took place between the students. The issue of background noise has often been raised in the case studies collected by Global Leap (2003), where participants have to learn quickly to mute their microphones when their site is not contributing. Gage (2003) argued that sound and picture quality had management and pedagogical implications with inaudible voices and frame freezing causing loss of continuity. Pupils and video conferencing Attitudes For some pupils, video conferencing acted as a motivator, as well as giving them some control over their own education as they co-ordinated video conferencing sessions with remote others via email (see Eales et al. 1999). This was supported by the limited evidence gathered in the EDSI Superhighways Evaluation, where increased motivation was reported (ConnectED Project and the BEON Project – see Galton et al. 1998). Eales also reported that the teachers involved in the project thought it was the average students who most benefited, as they were able to acquire and demonstrate the new communication skills needed rather than the writing skills that they did not do so well with. A project in Ashcraig School found that video conferencing was a way of minimising the social effects of physical disability and an essential skill for life for children with special educational needs (see Mykytyn 1999). The positive effects of video conferencing on children with special educational needs were also detailed by Thorpe (1998), who found that it helped to reduce isolation and induced them to adopt turn-taking behaviours, rather than interrupting or ‘shouting over’ others. However, not all students have been found to be comfortable with the technology and there was a degree of self-consciousness amongst the experimental group in Eales’ research. This is supported by other projects, where, even though the majority reaction was positive, there remained about 20% of the students who were more unsure of the experience (Gage et al. 2002, Wright and Whitehead 1998). Other negative aspects of video conferencing as experienced by the learners were documented by Tyler (1999) and included the ability of quieter members of the group to ‘hide’ while proceedings were dominated by a few, a lack of real interaction and points scoring behaviour from some quarters. On the other hand, even very young children have been helped to construct new understandings of basic concepts concerned with the weather using video conferencing with other children (Yost 2001). The case studies reported by Arnold et al (2002) suggested that video conferencing is not suitable for all types of learner and that the establishment of fruitful relations between distant participants can be problematic. This was less the case where the learning was of a more informal kind, but some examination class students saw this as a key disadvantage of remote delivery. In the King’s School case study (cited in Arnold et al. 2002) the students recognised that the delivery mode demanded that they become more independent learners, but that they also lost something when they could not interact with the teacher as frequently as in a usual classroom. Case studies cited by Global Leap (2003), especially Arbour Vale and Davenies Schools, suggested that video conferencing was most enjoyed and useful where there was an interactive element, preferably with an international audience. This supports the findings of Cifuentes and Murphy (2000) who reported that collaboration with others from a different cultural background promoted understanding of difference. Attainment In a meta-analysis by Cavanaugh (2001) of distance technologies, the small number of studies that involved video conferencing found no positive effect size on attainment, though there were reported increases in motivation. Indeed, in the case of language teaching, the meta-analysis concluded that the students exposed to distance learning techniquesperformed below those under traditional methods of instruction. However, to learn appropriatetechniques to make the best of the opportunities presented by video conferencing takes time, both for teachers considering the pedagogical implications and pupils engaging in new forms of interaction and collaboration (see Smyth and Fay 1994 and the Richmond Park case study in Mykytyn 1999). This was especially so for the pupils, whose experience of television creates expectations of a passivity in relation to the screen, rather than the active involvement which maximises learning (Pacific Bell 1995). The findings of the EDSI Superhighways Project (NCET 1997) suggested that, although the numbers of pupils involved was small and that there were technical difficulties with the equipment that limited its effects, there was evidence of a potential impact on attainment in, for example, language ability. Equally important, was the exposure that video conferencing allowed to other cultures, whether abroad or in another school within the United Kingdom. Interaction In opening up other worlds to pupils in classrooms, it would seem that there is a great potential for interactivity inherent in video conferencing technology. However, Heath and Holznagel (2002:p.10) suggested that high levels of interaction are assumed to take place rather than been shown to have occurred. They argued that both individual interaction with learning materials and social interactions between pupils and teachers, pupils and others, pupils and pupils need to be planned carefully into video conferencing sessions. Oliver and McLoughlin (1997) found that most learning episodes involving interactive technologies were actually teacher-centred, suggesting that the potential of video conferencing for interactivity was not being exploited. Conclusion The utilisation of video conferencing by schools is clearly at a very early stage and yet, the recognition of its potential for educational interaction between remote participants is well established. However, video conferencing is not confined to a single mode of teaching. Video conferencing provides an avenue for delivery of traditional pedagogies as well as for exploring new ways of educating children and adults. As Noss and Pachler (1999) argue, ICT transforms the relationship between teacher and learner as the idea of the teacher as source of all knowledge is undermined. Moreover, video conferencing extends the reach of the learner beyond the school and requires new ways of engaging with others. The role of teachers in this situation will be to support learners to make sense of the opportunities opened up to them by video conferencing, as they develop ‘new complexities of pedagogy involving, for example, collaborative learning with computers’ (Noss and Pachler, page 207).