Videoconferencing for Schools in the Digital Age

Videoconferencing for Schools in the Digital Age

Marie Martin (Carlow University, Pittsburgh, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch633
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Abstract

Wallis and Steptoe (2006) tell of a “dark little joke” that is bandied about among certain educators. It recounts the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who on reawakening in 2006 after his hundred years’ sleep, experiences utter bewilderment until at last he finds solace in the familiar environment of a classroom, where teaching is going on as it did back in 1906. The story is amusing. The message is blunt. In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, despite ongoing technology-driven societal transformation, schools are still functioning largely in the easily recognizable traditional model of the industrial era (Steinkuehler, 2006; Veletsianos, 2007). The rush to computerize the classroom has generally not brought about a corresponding change of mindset on the part of educators (Cuban, 2006; Spector, 2000; Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, & Gee, 2005; Thornburg, 2003). Schools are failing to address the needs of the Net generation of learners (Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007; van ‘t Hooft, 2007). These digital learners who have grown up in a technology-saturated world that has defined and shaped their way of learning find school irrelevant and boring (Mc- Combs, 2000). By drawing on the literature and on case studies from within the experience of the author and other educators in Northern Ireland (NI), this article seeks to demonstrate that videoconferencing, alone as well as alongside other technologies, and used with appropriate pedagogy, can help transform the traditional classroom and make it a place hospitable to the learning needs of the Net generation.
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Introduction

Wallis and Steptoe (2006) tell of a “dark little joke” that is bandied about among certain educators. It recounts the tale of Rip Van Winkle, who on reawakening in 2006 after his hundred years’ sleep, experiences utter bewilderment until at last he finds solace in the familiar environment of a classroom, where teaching is going on as it did back in 1906.

The story is amusing. The message is blunt. In the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, despite ongoing technology-driven societal transformation, schools are still functioning largely in the easily recognizable traditional model of the industrial era (Steinkuehler, 2006; Veletsianos, 2007). The rush to computerize the classroom has generally not brought about a corresponding change of mindset on the part of educators (Cuban, 2006; Spector, 2000; Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, & Gee, 2005; Thornburg, 2003). Schools are failing to address the needs of the Net generation of learners (Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007; van ‘t Hooft, 2007). These digital learners who have grown up in a technology-saturated world that has defined and shaped their way of learning find school irrelevant and boring (McCombs, 2000).

By drawing on the literature and on case studies from within the experience of the author and other educators in Northern Ireland (NI), this article seeks to demonstrate that videoconferencing, alone as well as alongside other technologies, and used with appropriate pedagogy, can help transform the traditional classroom and make it a place hospitable to the learning needs of the Net generation.

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Background

Higher education led the way in the use of videoconferencing in education by introducing it into distance learning courses (Anderson & Rourke, 2005; Hayden, 1999). Although the technology has been available to schools since at least the early 1990s (Cole, Ray, & Zanetis, 2004), it has generally remained underutilized and undervalued (Anderson & Rourke; 2005; Comber, Lawson, Gage, Cullum-Hanshaw, & Allen, 2004). In addition, there is a dearth of specific research on the use of videoconferencing in the K-12 classroom (Anderson & Rourke; 2005; Heath & Holznagel, 2002). However, much of the literature on videoconferencing in higher education is relevant to teaching and learning in the pre-tertiary sector. Coventry (1995) writes that the effectiveness of videoconferencing for learning lies in exploiting its capacity to facilitate effective learning through enabling dialogue. She defines learning as “a social process involving the active construction of new knowledge and understanding through individual learning and group and peer interaction” (Part Two: 1). This resonates closely with how digital learners actually learn (Barnes et al., 2007).

Rowan (2000) identifies a significant barrier to the uptake of videoconference technology by classroom teachers,viz a lack of information concerning the ways in which it can operate within an educational program. She lists three crucial points for teachers wishing to use videoconferencing which, again, would help to engage digital learners: the need for interaction to keep students engaged; the need for videoconferencing to be part of a multimode delivery; and the need for teaching with videoconferencing to be integrated with new teaching methodologies and with appropriate professional development.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Learners: Also known as the Net generation, technology-savvy students who have grown up immersed in technology and whose way of learning is shaped by this

Pedagogy: The science or theory of teaching young people.

Twenty-First Century Skills: Skills required by the global market place, such as communication, ability to work in teams often across cultures, problem solving

Videoconferencing: Audiovisual communication, either point-to-point (between two sites) or multipoint (between more than two sites), that enables interaction and application sharing between people in real time

Talking Head: A teacher who uses videoconferencing in lecture-style format without interacting with learners at the remote site.

Early Adopters: Teachers who embrace new technologies at an early stage and experiment with its use in the classroom.

Virtual Staffroom: Meeting place for geographically separated teachers, where interaction is made possible by videoconferencing or computer technology

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