Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013

By Tim Van Heule, Distance Learning Coordinator - Greenville County Schools

Videoconferencing in K-12 Education: A Program that WorksVideoconferencing is being used around the world in primary education to connect classrooms to each other and interesting places around the world. Greenville County Schools has been a leader in videoconferencing since 2002. Telepresence Options takes a look at a program that works in Greenville, South Carolina along with some "News You Can Use:” A list of the top destinations for videoconferencing field trips.

When I talk about videoconferencing in K-12 education, I like to share with teachers how I grew up in Wyoming. I tell them how the Oregon Trail was close to our hometown and how important the Transcontinental Railroad was to our state. I highlight all of the wonderful things I was able to experience by growing up in Wyoming. Then I talk about how outside of westward expansion, it was hard to comprehend some of the other historical locations in the United States. I discuss how exciting it must be to live in New York and take a field trip to Ellis Island, or to live in Washington, D.C. and visit the Capitol Building. Modern transportation lets teachers take students to all those places and many more, but most traditional field trips are too often and too expensive. That's why videoconferencing is the great equalizer in education. Students and teachers can take a "virtual" field trip and learn about abstract concepts from experts in the field. Best of all, they can get "back" in time for lunch.

Behind the Scenes:

Greenville County Schools in upstate South Carolina has been a pioneer in videoconferencing since 2002. The school system purchased Tandberg equipment and infrastructure to connect the Roper Mountain Science Center with schools across the district. Soon every fourth grade student was participating in a videoconference lesson about telescopes with astronomers at Roper Mountain. The astronomy connection helped the district save instructional time and money on transportation. Given the district has over 71,000 students, these savings were critical.

The district followed up with school-to-school collaborative projects in an effort to aid high school students completing foreign language requirements. In 2008, we began to schedule regular virtual field trips to enhance and enrich the curriculum. What started out as 56 connection requests in the 2008-2009 school year has exploded to over 1,700 connection requests for 2013-2014.

Greenville County students have been fortunate to learn about content from subject experts in Europe, the Middle East, Middle and South America, Australia and across the United States. The district has since added a Virtual Science Lab that provides hands-on science instruction to students at four schools.

Videoconferencing has let our students ask questions directly to experts, making the answers more engaging than a book or other research. Some of our high school physics students learned about the work being done with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Many of our elementary students participated in a dive program with the Reef HQ Aquarium in Australia. Students studying World War II have learned about personal experiences from the men and women who served. All of these connections have brought enriching and curricular-enhancing opportunities to the lives of our students. These connections are real and primary sources that are impacting the quality of education our students are receiving.

It's truly an exciting time for teachers and students who are currently involved in, or who want to be involved in, educational videoconferencing. The cost of HD endpoints has decreased, making them more obtainable through programs like E-rate for schools that prefer a traditional room system. Skype has increased its educational presence with Skype in the Classroom and companies like Field Trip Zoo, BlueJeans, Pexip, and Vidyo are bringing high-quality calls through non-traditional systems. These are just a few of the most interesting developments in the world of educational videoconferencing. The future looks better and better with each new development.

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