Conferencing in the Classroom

Author: Meghan Kennelly

Back when the Internet was really getting started, one of the biggest selling points is what it could do for schools. It could open up the possibility of what some called “digital field trips,” in which figures in science, engineering, and the like could be brought to the students, without said students leaving the school. That didn't quite pan out, at least for a while; now that the technology's improved, students are getting a better chance to do that thanks to conferencing systems.

In one case, a New York teacher was dealing with the departure of a student's family, who was headed for Hong Kong. The teacher and that student's mother got together for lunch, and ultimately figured that they could keep in touch with Skype. Following the teacher's realization that the social studies program was looking to focus on China soon, the idea then emerged to use this as a learning opportunity by getting direct reports from something at least kind of in China.

The end result turned out to work much better than even the teacher expected, and the students not only got a lesson or two in China, but also in conferencing. One eight year old marveled at the possibility to talk to familiar faces without the need for thousands of miles of cable connecting the two parties.

Since a conferencing system can be very simple to set up—it can be just as complex, but that depends on the user—it can even be available to budget-strapped classrooms. A computer with webcam and microphone is all that's really needed, and from there, Skype is a simple download away. There are other conferencing systems as well to consider, but for many, Skype will likely do the job, and there's enough documentation on it to make it easy to work with.

That New York teacher demonstrated, and quite effectively, how conferencing can be put to use to make new value for students. Not only does the end product of conferencing provide value—offering immediate connections to an array of guest speakers that can make content come alive—but the process itself adds value as kids learn some scientific principles with practical applications. Given the increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs seen in some fronts lately, regular conferencing sessions might spark interest in developing the next generation of communications tools as a side effect of using the current generation.

The creative fallout from such ventures could be immense, and that makes conferencing worth considering if for no other reason. There's a lot of value afoot here, and for the price of a few minutes in a school day, it's worth the look.

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TMC Conferencing Zone - "Conferencing Makes a School Day Brighter" - Steve Anderson, Contributing Writer 

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