Trend Report: Education
Learning in the Age of
when yi honggen appears on a television screen, speaking mandarin,
47 high school students might think they’re not in Kansas
anymore. They are still in their Midwestern classroom, but
thanks to videoconferencing—the technology that drives their
K–12 educators are using interactive interactive Mandarin class—they’re learning a language that will
prepare them for the 21st-century job market.
technology to enhance curricula,
including live feeds with everything “We’re changing the whole paradigm of foreign-language delivery
from astronauts to zoo animals. in Kansas,” declares Carol Woolbright, director of the Greenbush
Interactive Distance Learning Network. “Our students won’t be
competitive in world markets if we continue teaching them only
French and German.”
To launch the new language program, Woolbright worked with
the Confucius Institute at Kansas University and Hanban, the
Office of Chinese Language Council International, to recruit a
young teacher from China who now gives daily classes to high
school students around the state. (He is located on the University
of Kansas campus.) With a waiting list of 15 additional Kansas
schools, Woolbright is looking for five more teachers from China,
along with Russian and Arabic teachers—who will all be streamed
into the classrooms.
Supporting Students, Whatever Their Needs
To transmit audio and video signals from cameras and microphones
to audiences in multiple locations, videoconferencing can involve
ISDN lines or either dedicated or public Internet protocol lines. As
this technology has improved and costs have dropped, schools
are now using it to enrich curricula, offering everything from
Advanced Placement and dual-credit college and high school
courses to virtual field trips and guest experts from NASA, the
San Diego Zoo, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mount Rushmore and
an ancient Roman archaeology site in Valencia, Spain. >>
Learning in the Age of Videoconferencing
>> Distance learning is also used to aid
struggling students. After a principal of a
San Antonio–area middle school became
concerned about 60 children who seemed
likely to fail a state test on measurement,
Marci Powell, president-elect of the United
States Distance Learning Association and
director of education advocacy for AT&T,
proposed an interactive solution. A program
provided by Aquatics Research Interactive,
a nonprofit distance-learning corporation
providing videoconferencing for grades
K–12, demonstrated how divers measure
distance in the water by counting kicks.
By the end of the lesson, students were
computing the volume of the pool using the
Pythagorean theorem. The result: “More than
50 of the 60 children passed that section of
FROM TOP: KELSEY HAMPLE, NICOLE WOLFE
the test,” says Powell.
With no geographic restrictions on connecting State governments are beginning to
students, educators have been inviting recognize the potential of distance learning:
children from around the globe into their Michigan recently passed a law that every
classroom via videoconferencing to chat about high school student must have an online
world politics, to practice speaking a foreign academic experience to graduate. In addition,
language with native speakers and to explore the North American Council for Online
each other’s cultures. “Corporations want to Learning says that 37 additional states are
know how good you are at communicating, actively promoting online learning, especially
teamwork and problem solving, rather in middle and high schools. Education 2.0. With the latest technology
than just your math, reading and science in videoconferencing, students take classes
scores,” says Powell, who thinks peer-to-peer Online classes can also help the student that might otherwise be unavailable to
collaboration via interactive distance learning who has fallen behind. “Instead of having to them, such as an interactive Mandarin class
is “great for teaching those skills.” repeat an entire class, a student can take an streamed into Marysville High School (top)
online assessment test and then complete and Washburn High School in Kansas.
Anytime, Anywhere online modules for just the portion for which
Schools are also embracing online courses, he needs remediation,” says Tom Shively,
or asynchronous distance-learning programs, executive vice president and chief operating
where students “attend” class by logging on officer of American Education Corporation,
whenever it’s most convenient. Beyond the which offers 130 online courses to schools.
knowledge gained, this coursework teaches Online assessments can also give teachers
students to think and work independently, an in traditional classrooms instantaneous
important real-world skill. feedback on which students are failing to >>
Online assessments can give teachers
in traditional classrooms instantaneous
feedback on which students are failing
to grasp which concepts.
Learning in the Age of Videoconferencing
For teachers turning to videoconferencing,
these sites offer a wealth of material—and advice.
>> grasp which concepts. “Teachers can then develop individualized
instruction plans for specific students instead of boring the rest by Two Way Interactive Connections in Education
repeating the lesson,” says Shively. Instead of failing students because (TWICE) (www.twice.cc) provides a directory of
they didn’t master all the standards for a course—and forcing them to virtual field trips throughout the United States,
go to summer school or repeat the entire class the following year—an videoconferencing demos, projects that link classrooms
online course allows them to focus on the portion they did not pass. together, as well as help with technical issues.
Some students do much better in an online environment because Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration
they can e-mail questions to a teacher privately without fearing they’ll (www.cilc.org) allows teachers to search for content
look stupid in front of their peers. They also often develop a stronger providers and collaboration partners, and offers tips on
relationship with an online teacher, who calls the student—and the making the most of videoconferencing.
parent—monthly. Another advantage: Students can work at home
without distractions and peer pressure. At the other end of the AT&T’s Videoconferencing for Learning (www.kn
spectrum, online classes also appeal to superachievers, allowing them .att.com/wired/vidconf/vidconf.html) provides
to do coursework in the evenings or weekends so they can fit in band, information on getting started in videoconferencing.
sports and debate team during the school day. A database offers descriptions for more than 1,300
video courses, and a popular listserv helps teachers
Measuring Success find content providers for specific topics and other
As for the value of interactive curriculum enhancement, educators say classrooms for collaborative projects.
they have anecdotes by the hundreds of students who are motivated
to learn because the content engages them. George Brown, a docent
with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, is credited with inspiring
dozens of children with a one-hour videoconferencing workshop. expense. A fully interactive classroom outfitted with speakers, cameras
To an eighth-grade English class of Lakota Indian students in South and microphones costs as much as $50,000, although federal grants
Dakota—most of whom were in danger of dropping out—Brown can defray half the cost (and less sophisticated setups can be just as
powerfully related how he had vowed to live a productive and happy effective for learning). Schools also have to purchase bandwidth, at
life despite witnessing the atrocities that killed his entire family during about $280 a month.
the Holocaust. The students had previously balked at writing more
than two sentences, but they wrote pages on how Brown’s story had But even then, some teachers are resistant because they think that
affected them—and then invited him to visit their school. videoconferencing is an add-on to a curriculum already too packed
with required instruction. “They don’t know that there are interactive
And after second and third graders in a rural Michigan school read lessons covering the exact content they are required to teach,” and
the classic children’s book Stellaluna—about bats—they connected via that they will save time by not having to reteach concepts that the
videoconferencing to the bat observatory at the Cranbrook Institute children don’t get the first time around, says Powell. To make teachers
of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “They couldn’t stop talking about more comfortable with distance learning, many school districts
the bats,” which they saw more clearly through the camera lens than offer online professional development classes at local universities
by crowding around an exhibit during a field trip, says Janine Lim, so teachers can conveniently take graduate-level or continuing-
instructional technology consultant for Berrien County, Mich. education classes.
“You Want Me to Teach How?” Indeed, advocates are doing everything possible to break down
As with any innovation, not all teachers are ready, willing and able barriers—both philosophical and financial—to distance learning.
to use distance-learning technology in their classrooms. Wainhouse “Distance learning is a great leveler of educational opportunities,”
Research estimates that only 25% of public K–12 schools are equipped contends Woolbright, “and our students deserve the best learning
to offer interactive distance learning. One significant barrier is the environment we can provide.”
To read more about technological trends in higher education
and to find out how AT&T can meet your organization’s
challenges, visit us at www.att.com/edu/.
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