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The author of two books, 12-year-old Adora Svitak published her first, Flying Fingers, at the age of seven. In addition, she has spoken at some of the nation’s pre-eminent education conferences and taught students around the world via her video conferencing programs. Most recently, she spoke at the TED conference.


What do you think of when you hear “video conferencing?” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) meeting with GE executives over TelePresence in 30 Rock? Big corporate boardrooms? Or maybe, just maybe … a classroom of fourth graders?

Believe it or not, there are almost 30,000 video conferencing systems in U.S. schools, service centers, district offices, and departments of education. Many are used every day to connect students around the world.

The ways that video conferencing can enhance the educational experience are numerous. Ginger Lewman, director of the Face2Face program at the Turning Point Learning Center in Emporia, Kansas said that video conferencing has been used “as an essential learning opportunity for the past four years.  We’ve been connecting with students across the U.S. and the world to bring religion, geography, history and service learning to vibrant life.”

But how exactly do you use a video conferencing system in education? Below are five ways to use video conferencing in the classroom.

1. Connect with Experts

Turning Point Learning Center makes frequent use of video conferencing, and Ginger Lewman remarked, ”It allows our students, ages 10-14, to begin to develop not only essential communications skills, but also an acute awareness of global issues. It is always a joy to get to talk with experts and peers face to face and in real-time!”

I use distance learning every day to talk to students about the importance of reading and writing. Schools request programs from “content experts” to hear about a certain area of study. For example, knowing that writing was a weak point for their students, New Market Elementary teachers Miss Brown, Mrs. Deck, and Mrs. Ramsey participated in my video conference, “Personal Narrative Writing: Acing your State Writing Assessment & Beyond.” New Market Elementary’s media specialist, Nancy Kochert, said that “students left the session very excited and chatting about Adora’s age and abilities.”

Such responses are typical of fun and productive video conferences with content providers or experts. Content providers could be individuals, museums, non-profits, and learning centers.

2. Virtual Field Trips

Any school field trip usually requires a lot of preparation — there’s the food, then the transportation, then the mischievous students, and most importantly, making sure not to lose anybody. It’s a whole lot harder to “wander off” when your field trip is on a screen in front of you.

Whether to a museum or a zoo, virtual field trips are becoming increasingly common in video conferencing schools. According to an article from Scholastic Instructor magazine, Pennsylvania’s Mt. Lebanon School District was able to offer its middle school students a chance to see a volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Scholastic Instructor described the video conference:

“In e-Mission: Operation Montserrat, a ‘mission commander’ at the center interacts live with the students, relaying reports about lava flow and evacuee progress, showing video clips of ash clouds over the island, and sending seismic data and information about hurricane intensity to students’ laptops. They analyze the information, make predictions about risks, and suggest courses of action.”

In a quote from the magazine article, instructional technology coordinator Aileen Owens said, “Kids don’t find studying rocks exciting. That changes when you make learning come alive like this.”

3. Working Together

Students in a classroom in, say, Wyoming, could connect with a classroom in Wisconsin and work together on a collaborative activity. While in the past, collaborative activities might be limited to one classroom or one school, video conferencing allows students in multiple schools around the world to work together on relevant issues.

One benefit of such an exchange would be that you might receive different views and fresh ideas from a class of students who are miles away, than you would from someone you’ve known for years. The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration dedicates an entire section to collaborative activities, both for educators and students. Topics range from “Impact and Challenges of Rural Water Pollution” to “Transportation of the Future.”

Interactive Videoconferencing: K-12 Lessons That Work, by Kecia Ray and Jan Zanetis, offers another example: “Employability Skills and Distance Learning: Michigan Students Come to Ohio.” Michigan’s Galien High School connected with the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center in Ohio to grow a deeper understanding of the job application process through collaboration. 

Collaborative activities typically work toward a practical goal (such as cleaning up rural waters) while helping students develop organizational, collaborative, and leadership skills. 

4. Accessing Previously Unavailable Courses

Some schools, especially those in rural areas, aren’t able to offer advanced or detailed courses that their students might need. Even those in more populated areas often lack enough teachers in certain subject areas. Many schools could benefit from having an extra course over distance learning that they might not be able to offer otherwise. Instead of having to commute long distances between different schools, teachers would be able to instruct over video conferencing.

What’s more, “previously unavailable courses” can mean some pretty exotic content. You might have dissected squids or made model skeletons, but how many times have you seen a live knee replacement surgery in science class? At COSI (Center of Science and Industry) in Columbus, Ohio, showing live knee replacement surgeries over video conferencing is nothing new.

Video conferencing is a powerful medium for giving students unparalleled access to places (or procedures) they could have only dreamed of in the past.

5. Teaching the Teachers

I not only speak to students over video conferencing, but also to teachers, providing a “kid’s eye view of the classroom.”

Because learning is a continual process for teachers, and teachers must a
cquire a certain number of professional development hours (a percentage of which should be dedicated to technology) to maintain certification, video conferencing offers a convenient way for many school districts to meet these requirements. In addition, even students can learn from their teachers’ professional development — once, I spoke to teachers in Florida’s Broward County School District while students looked on.


Although these may all be school solutions, you can apply many of the same principles to business as well. When it comes to connecting with experts, why not set up a video conference with your consultants instead of flying them in?

If your company has far-flung offices, connect them with video conferencing instead of paying for expensive flight tickets. You could connect to previously unreachable markets (like education, or an international market), and provide professional development and training for new employees. Video conferencing breaks down boundaries — inside the classroom and out.

See also: The Youngest Speaker at TED Advocates “Kid’s Eye View” [INTERVIEW]

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More tech and social media resources from Mashable:

3 Ways Educators Are Embracing Social Technology

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9 Tips for Enriching Your Presentations With Social Media

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