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3 Unorthodox Ways K-12 Teachers Are Using Video Conferencing

Peter Bean
June 16, 2016

There’s no doubt that classrooms have changed a lot in recent years.

Sure, the motivational posters are still hung on the walls beside well-used cork boards, tests are given, homework assigned.

But technology has opened gateways to new educational tools, and schools are leaping at the opportunities.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with video conferencing.

Distance, time, and resources once prevented a truly diverse education for children. Now, however, face-to-face communication can take place with the touch of a few buttons.

Here are a few ways that K-12 teachers are pushing the boundaries using video.

Connecting with Classrooms in Other Countries

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Oftentimes it’s easy to think of collaboration as being limited to people in the same school or same school district.

But what about enabling your students to collaborate with a school on another continent halfway across the world?

It might sound crazy, but many North American-based schools are doing just that in an effort to expose their students to other cultures and viewpoints.

Take George Mason High School as an example. A small secondary school just outside of Washington, D.C., they have a lot of students whose parents work for the U.S. State Department and, as a result, have lived all around the world and are very aware of what’s happening globally.

So to add value to their history, economics, and politics classes, they’ve used video conferencing to collaborate and interact with students from schools in more than 35 countries including South Korea, Zimbabwe, and Afghanistan.

Or St. Thomas the Apostle, a private school in West Hempstead, New York that worked with nonprofit organization Global Nomads Group to connect their classroom with one in Ghana. American and Ghanaian students discussed President Obama’s nomination as the first African-American to do so as well as Ghana’s first democratic election.

According the school’s principal, Christina Teisch, the effort was definitely a success.

“I’ve learned at each videoconference that every child is attentive, engaged, and absorbed in what’s happening,” she said, in an interview with Scholastic.

“The most challenged learner, with the most severe special educational needs, is not gazing out the window, but participating. So that is definitely helping their learning.”

Guest Lecturers/Subject-Matter Experts

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College and universities bring in guest lecturers all the time. Why can’t elementary and secondary schools host guest speakers from around the world to add value to what’s already being taught?

If it’s a matter of resources, it’s true that universities have much more money than public schools but K-12 students shouldn’t ever be denied the opportunity to hear from a subject matter expert, plain and simple — especially on something like cost.

There are all kinds of inexpensive video conferencing options for many subjects.

For example, the Reynolds-Alberta Museum in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada.

Located an hour south of Edmonton with a population of just over 12,000, the museum is able to expand its reach by offering video conferencing packages for classes in grades 3-12.

One package, called “Kites and Crashes”, lets students learn the importance of design and materials for an airplane and introduces them to Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments with the tetrahedral kite.

After a one-hour workshop with a museum employee, students are able to build a kite to take home with them. The bonus? It ties directly into Grade 3 and Grade 6 provincial curriculum standards.

The cost? $125.

Or how about the Royal Botanical Gardens, the largest botanical garden in Canada, located in Southwestern Ontario.

Students are able to engage with educators and scientists and ask questions about biodiversity, conservation, botany, plant ecology, and the environment. Almost like a virtual field trip of sorts.

Teachers are mailed packages with a presentation outline, along with pre- and post-conference activities, and the content satisfies elementary and secondary curriculum in the provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec in Canada as well as the United States and the United Kingdom.

A bit more exciting than reading from a textbook, huh?

And the best part is, the cost is a reasonable $130.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started in your own classroom:

  • Ask your students what their parents do for work – the parent or one of their colleagues could be an easy resource to volunteer 30 minutes of their time for your class
  • Does your school have any professional contacts in other school boards or in the community that could help?

Remote Parent/Teacher Interviews

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Parent-teacher interviews go with K-12 students like peanut butter and jelly. They almost always take place after hours, when parents have flown home after a long day at work and when you’ve already had a full day of teaching and now have to stay late after school.

Right around progress report time, these interviews are critical opportunities to discuss a student’s progress in class, but also any behavioral or social development issues, classroom behavior, or work habits.

There has to be a better way to do them, though, don’t you think?

Hear me out.

Conducting interviews with parents over video conference has multiple benefits:

Easier Scheduling

While your school has probably set specific blocks of time for interviews, scheduling conflicts still arise and last-minute cancellations can occur, even despite adequate planning.

For example, if a parent is kept at the office late or winds up getting stuck in traffic, you can keep your interview as planned with a video conferencing solution that’s interoperable, meaning it can be used on any device, from anywhere. With a few button presses, the parent can be talking to you face to face, either from their desk or pulled over on the side of the road.

Plus, you’re likely saving parents from having to take time off work or hire a babysitter just to attend the meeting! You might find that more parents turn out, too.

Better Accommodation of Special Circumstances

Let’s face it: the divorce rate in North America is over 50%. Split families are common, as well as guardianships.

With an interview over video conference, you’re able to eliminate any friction between family members and focus on the student’s best interests.

Parents can dial into a video conference separately from their own locations without having to be in the same room, or are able to interview separately and without the possibility of passing by each other at the school. The child’s legal guardian or another family member could also step in if needed.

With a video conference you’re also able to bring in additional parties if needed, such as an administrator, an educational assistant, case worker, counselor, or even the student themselves.

Screen Share Documents

Got a report card grade or a paper with a mark that a parent wants clarification on? Share your screen and bring it up right there and discuss, and highlight specific areas where you justified your mark.

Never tried a parent-teacher interview over video conference before? Here are a few tips:

  • Let parents know as early as possible in the year that video’s a meeting alternative and provide periodic reminders as you get closer to interview time
  • Be informative: When inviting parents, give them many times to choose from, and send home copies of any materials you’ll be reviewing so the parents have them as well
  • Use a Reliable Service: Skype and other freemium video services will create headaches if the parents don’t have an account, so opt for a cloud-based video conferencing solution that’s easy to use and only needs a few clicks for someone to join the meeting

Conclusion

One of the great things about video conferencing—especially if you find a quality provider—is that you pay a fixed price and can use it as much as you want.

We only touched on three uses for it in this article, but there are so many more ways to use video conferencing beyond connecting with classrooms around the world, bringing in subject matter experts and conducting parent-teacher interviews.

What are some ways you’re using video conferencing in your classroom?