Bedford County Public Schools, TN, Finds Professional Development Over Video Teleconferencing Comes in Many Valuable Varieties
As of 2012, the solution name became ENA Live.
September 21, 2011—Extraordinary things can happen over video teleconferencing, as veteran educator Joan Gray has learned over the past couple of years while growing the Bedford County Public Schools, TN, distance-learning program. Extraordinary includes, but is not limited to, an impromptu country line dance lesson given by a student in Texas to his video-teleconferenced-in peers in Bedford County and New York State at the end of a Career and Technical Education (CTE) marketing class!
“I think that was just great,” says Gray. “And it demonstrates just how interactive and natural video teleconferencing can be.”
A thriving VTC program takes flight
This small, rural Tennessee district launched an ambitious video-teleconferencing (VTC) program during the 2010-2011 academic year as a result of winning three big grants the previous year: a Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Grant, an RUS (Rural Utilities Services) Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant and a federal literacy grant. With those funds, Bedford has purchased a H.323 video-teleconferencing unit with large-screen television for each school, the cloud-based ENA Video Connect video-teleconferencing for the laptop of every principal and content banks from the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). The district’s VTC program is quite robust: with it, students have taken virtual field trips to place such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and NASA, engaged in experiments with an Ontario-based scientist and conversed with a Holocaust survivor; teachers are collaborating and receiving professional development; and administrators are utilizing it to cut travel costs by conducting virtual meetings. As chair of the Tennessee Educational Technology Association (TETA), Gray even uses VTC to connect to her twelve board members. This year alone, the association has saved between four and five thousand dollars in travel expenses, not to mention the time each member has saved in travel!
CILC content and training is “phenomenal”
“We have had some fantastic field trips and collaborations,” says Gray. In order to maintain educational integrity, Gray requires that teachers show how the intended VTC content connects to curriculum and the district’s Student Performance Indicators (SPI). This is not difficult to do with the CILC content offerings, which “is just phenomenal” says Gray. Moreover, she says the CILC provides great support and training.
It’s very satisfying to see it all come together. “To watch fourth-graders actually doing hands-on experiments with a scientist,” says Gray, “that is exciting.”
Gray has been especially excited to see her teachers get valuable training over VTC. “Video teleconferencing just lends itself so well to professional development,” explains Gray. She points to a professional development (PD) session the district’s math teachers recently had for the TI-Nspire graphing calculator and software. About 30 math teachers gathered at each of their respective high schools, with alternative and homebound teachers joining in at the central office, to video-teleconference with the Texas Instruments trainer located in Knoxville.
Travel just doesn’t make sense anymore
“It worked out great,” says Gray. “We’ll definitely be doing follow-up sessions in the future. Whenever you can hook up over VTC, it saves travel time and money, all while attaining the same desired result. It just doesn’t make sense to drive for hours to get to some training, spend an hour actually training, then drive hours back.”
And she emphasizes that there’s no significant compromise in the quality of the experience that comes with that savings. As an example, she points to another professional development activity. The district’s testing coordinator used to drive to each of the 14 district schools to train guidance counselors, proctors and other staff. Now she frequently connects with staff via VTC instead to go over testing procedures, guidelines and security issues. The testing coordinator often uses a PowerPoint presentation and shares documents as she speaks.
“She’ll flash up a PowerPoint and tread back and forth from that to speaking face to face with the others, just like she would do in person,” describes Gray. “It’s no problem.”
A VTC point person per school is critical
Gray points out that the district even does professional development over VTC about using VTC. The district has bought PD packages from the CILC through ENA. In those sessions, the district’s librarians and media specialists are not only receiving VTC training but learning how to become the trainer.
“They’re being trained to be the VTC point person at their individual schools,” says Gray. She stresses how important it is for there to be a“resident expert” at each school to serve as a resource and guide for others. “A lot of times, a teacher with no experience using VTC will be hesitant to try it. But if they have someone to turn to that will show them how to successfully implement it, they will be more confident to try these strategies themselves. It’s a case of ‘help me do it this time and I can do it next time.’”
A one-time connection becomes a fruitful collaboration
Like the spontaneous line dancing tutorial, sometimes the best professional development happens in unpredictable ways. Last year a first-grade teacher in Shelbyville, the county’s largest town, and a first-grade teacher in one of the county’s outlying elementary schools decided to connect over VTC to share student projects. The event went so smoothly that the two teachers have collaborated monthly ever since to share lesson plans, carry out joint class activities and simply learn from each other’s teaching styles.
“That may not be what some consider professional development,” says Gray, “but that kind of collaboration is priceless.”
For more information
For more information about CILC professional development packages and content, click here.
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