Video Teleconferencing Meets K–12 Challenges Head-On
Implementing VTC Could Be That One Small Investment That Reaps the Largest, Longest-Lasting Dividends
As of 2012, the solution name became ENA Live.
Ask a teacher what his or her biggest challenge is in the classroom, odds are you’ll hear one of two things, if not both: engaging and motivating students and meeting the individual learning needs of all students. Ask a superintendent his or her most pressing dilemmas, and you will almost certainly hear the b-word: “budget.”
“These are the kinds of things that teachers consistently identify as the hardest part of their jobs and as things that are important to them,” says Doug Meyer, a consultant for the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). The CILC is a not-for-profit organization in Indianapolis that provides consulting and training in video teleconferencing (VTC), integration, problem-based learning projects, school-community partnerships and effective techniques for the delivery and development of quality programs all focused on VTC. Last year, ENA and the CILC partnered to offer districts professional development over VTC with the ability to access CILC’s catalog of nearly 200 providers from around the world of K–12 standards-aligned content.
Getting at the hardest part of teaching: engagement and differentiated instruction
A former classroom teacher himself, Meyer has spent the last 12 years coaching educators and organizations on how to use collaborative technologies to accomplish their professional development goals.
When he hears teachers talk about the student motivation and differentiated instruction frustrations, Meyer admits that he finds it both “encouraging and discouraging.”
Encouraging because it reflects how much the vast majority of teachers really do care about their students and because help is readily available. He, along with his CILC colleagues and a growing host of educators around the world, believe that collaborative technologies such as VTC are tools that can dramatically improve the classroom landscape in terms of engagement and differentiated learning. Discouraging because teachers can often feel too time-constrained to acquire a new skill or learn a new technology and district leaders often believe VTC is too expensive a proposition though they know it can greatly alleviate transportation, personnel and other resource costs in addition to its stunning instructional potential.
ENA and CILC are bringing video teleconferencing to the people
ENA and CILC have changed that. Just this year ENA has rolled out its own ENA Video Connect VTC solution, which makes use of the computer equipment customers already own, utilizing the network they use daily, while giving them quite powerful conferencing and collaboration features in the bargain. Designed to fill the space between less robust, unsecure Skype-type solutions and extremely expensive, difficult-to-replicate H.323 solutions, ENA Video Connect is an IP-based solution that is simple to manage, reliable and provides high-quality video and audio. “What ENA has done with Video Connect,” explains ENA’s Technical Product Manager Michael Pfannenstiel, “is turn the traditional video teleconferencing model on its head. In the past, schools would invest a lot of money in expensive and often stationary equipment, oftentimes secure a grant to do it, build out a room specifically for it, and finally try to bring people to the video teleconferencing. ENA is bringing video teleconferencing to the people. On their laptops, on their desktops, to their conference rooms and auditoriums, and soon even to their personal devices. The power of ENA’s solution is we can bring video teleconferencing to wherever you are at a lower price, using operating expenses and justifying it with cost savings.”
Same strategies, only better results
Learning to use VTC effectively is not difficult, assures Meyer, and well worth the small investment of time. These are the cognitive steps he asks his students—educators learning to use VTC via VTC, naturally—to take (incidentally, these follow the sequence of training sessions he does for CILC):
- VTC is really nothing new. “As teachers, we’ve done it for years,” says Meyer. “All we’re doing is inviting a guest speaker into the classroom.”
- Just try it. Chances are you’ll love it. “Our hope and goal after the introductory session is that each and every time a teacher sits down and considers something new in their curriculum, they’ll automatically seek out a resource like CILC to see what’s available in the world of VTC.”
- Your same strategies, only better results. Meyer says when teachers combine VTC with the strategies they already use every day, the result is active learning, differentiated instruction, and enhanced engagement and motivation. It’s not just 45 minutes with the Smithsonian. It’s 45 minutes of rich content couched within the teacher’s own lesson. “Teachers aren’t giving up their strategy or role in student learning, but piggybacking their teaching with VTC to give the experience more value.”
- Connecting the multi-disciplinary dots. Let’s say you’re an English teacher, says Meyer, and you’re reading Huckleberry Finn. The novel is chock full of social and historical issues. So now you bring in a sociologist or historian via VTC. Or maybe you discuss the issue with a class studying African American history or social justice. The opportunities for collaboration and problem-based learning are enormous. Once a teacher leads a class down this path, he bets VTC is no longer a “one and done” proposition.
Demand for VTC training is on a steep rise
Monica Cougan, CILC’s director of Business Development and a former middle school mathematics teacher, says she has seen more interest in VTC in the past 18 months than she has seen in all of her 12 years with the center. She and her colleague Tonia Carriger, director of Professional Development Services, point to variety of factors behind this movement: a growing awareness of these technologies brought about by the media and students themselves; an economy that has cut budgets and forced schools to look for more cost-effective instructional and operational strategies; and finally, a mounting crisis in education that is compelling teachers and districts to look for new ways to reach their students and give them the skills they need for success.
“I think we’ve gotten to a tipping point where parents and students are saying we need something different in our schools, we need a different approach,” says Cougan. “Technology is leading the way. As VTC becomes something that’s easy to access by any teacher whenever they want it, that’s going to change the dynamics of the classroom. We’re also getting closer and closer to students being in control of their own learning. Where they are not sitting and getting but driving their own learning, solving problems and preparing for work and life. VTC is one of those avenues that’s allowing students to do that.”
“Deeper and more authentic” learning
The ability to almost infinitely expand your classroom, explains Carriger, is simply too alluring to ignore today, especially with new solutions on the market such as ENA’s Video Connect, a fully hosted, fully featured, multi-person VTC over IP service whose only requirements are a computer and connectivity. “ENA Video Connect opens the door to video teleconferencing to not just people with H.323 equipment, but anybody. That takes the ability of the education community to reach outside the four walls of the classroom and bring outside experts and resources into the classroom to a higher level and a wider range. It adds to the depth and breadth of experiences that you can bring your students. I think it is going to continue to make the educational classroom more expansive, deeper and more authentic.”
One collaborative project, four classes, infinite rewards
As an example of VTC’s potential for fostering learning that is problem-based, student-driven, multi-disciplinary and life-preparing, Cougan describes a recent VTC project that involved four of CILC’s customer schools from states that border Lake Michigan. Four middle and high school classrooms each investigated one aspect in which the lake affected their communities: a biology class looked at how the fish populations and fishing industry were impacted by two invasive species of small planktonic crustaceans, the spiny and fishhook water fleas, that compete with fish for food; an environmental studies class researched the ecological ills caused by an invasive wetland plant called purple loosestrife; an economics class analyzed the Michigan City, IN, tourism industry; and a fourth science class investigated their local garbage dump and how to make landfills more environmentally safe and community-friendly.
The four classes utilized VTC to speak with mayors, state wildlife officials, landfill representatives and scientists; the classes also met regularly over VTC to discuss and share their findings and ideas. Ultimately, each class presented their recommendations to their local governments. “Not only did the students meet and research via technology, share and borrow ideas, and then put those ideas to use in solving problems,” says Carriger, “but so did the teachers. With a project of this nature, professional development for the teachers is happening in an incidental but important way.”
VTC=value, meaning and realness
Meyer cites another example, this of a high school entrepreneur class that a group of non-college-bound students were taking “just for a credit.” The teacher had always asked his students to create a small business plan as a final project at the end of the course. But recently, the teacher decided to use his school’s new VTC capabilities to include a panel of real businesspeople—a group of local bank employees—to judge the soundness of the plans. Instantly, the project had more gravitas for the students but also far more interest. Presentation day came and, one by one, the students showcased their plans until one student who had created a particularly good plan finished and “asked the million-dollar question,” says Meyer. “Would you give me loan to start this business?” The bankers said yes.
“This is the kind of project that has value, meaning and is real,” concludes Meyer. “It might mean a little bit of risk-taking on the part of teachers and a little bit of legwork, but what a pay-off. In fact, it became a potentially life-changing event. In terms of authenticity, does it get any better or more real than that?”
For more information
For more information about ENA Video Connect, please contact your Account Services Manager or ENA Technical Product Manager Mike Pfannenstiel at email@example.com. For more information on VTC professional development and content, please contact ENA Consortium Program Manager Kylie McGee at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 312-6083.