Videoconferencing To Bring the World to Students
A city-dwelling student from one school asks a peer living in a rural area whether he gets bored living in a small town. The rural student from another school asks the city kid whether she feels safe where she lives. They aren't on the phone, and they aren't on the same field trip. In fact, they're all several miles apart.
The Berrien Regional Education Services Agency serves Berrien and Cass county K-12 schools with support, a data center, instruction services, special education, and instructional technology. Under the umbrella of instructional technology is a large network of videoconferencing systems that connects 19,000 students from 20 districts to each other and to people and places outside their communities. The 70 schools using videoconferencing range from very small, with as few as 300 students, to those with 5,000 or more, and some teach migrant students during the fall harvest.
The students' backgrounds are varied, but one thing they have in common is that many do not have much awareness of life outside their towns or cities. Videoconferencing becomes an equalizer as well as a window to the world.
The region has a history of being progressive with this technology: the first video conferencing systems were installed in 1999. Janine Lim, instructional technology consultant, is in charge of video technology installation and maintenance. She also troubleshoots connections, and trains teachers how to use videoconferencing, while helping them become comfortable with the technology.
Teaching the Teachers
The effort begins and ends with the curriculum. Lim, who was a teacher herself, warns teachers that videoconferencing isn't done for the fun of it. "I ask them how it matches their curriculum and then we look for suitable programs," she said. She explained there are many resources available to help teachers find programs that will enhance student learning and fit curricula.
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