I was pushed today to offer some thoughts on the use of video conferencing and initially it was hard to be anything other than cautionary.
I remembered that when I was teaching back into the mid 90’s there was much chatter about the possibilities of video conferencing which then as now was on the surface a very attractive solution to teacher shortages in certain subjects (physics, languages) and accessing specific expertise in Higher Education. There were also good arguments for broadening children’s appreciation of different cultures and ways of living around the world.
A quick Google search found this Becta report from 2004 that concludes â€œVideo conferencing is currently a relatively underused technology in schools, often pursued by a few enthusiasts and with its educational potential across a wider curriculum still to be fully explored.â€ Although now a few years old, I think this is still relevant today.
Possibly things might be changing! With the development of new Internet technologies that use video and voice over internet protocols, iChat being the best one I can think of, the power to video conference is put in the hands of the learner not the control of the teacher. This development might just be the thing to help video conferencing take off, freeing the teacher to focus on enabling opportunities rather than making the technology work and marshalling students from A to B for high investment, high stakes events.
I would argue that is much better for a student to ‘fire up’ iChat (or the equivalent) to network from their laptop computer (not to mention portable devices!) and engage in an authentic learning activity rather than traipse down the corridor to a dedicated room for a pre-determined video conferencing â€˜eventâ€™.
Some reasons for video conferencing not taking off with the old technology:
1. it s a relatively problematic and challenging experience to set up and run successfully â€“ the risk of failure is relatively high:
2. much planning effort required if a meaningful learning experience is to be developed â€“ that is not just sitting, smiling, and waving at each otherâ€¦.
3. timetabling and class management can be difficult
4. technological issues are always a risk
Although not a reason for video conferencing not taking off, I would also argue that there are questionable pedagogical implications. The rationale for some video conferencing is that Inbuilt into the assumption that we need to see and listen to an expert because he has something important to tell us – a transmission model of education. I understand that it doesn’t have to be this way, but I think that without care this may be the default mode of video conferencing.
Its amusing to see the way my 16 year old niece makes use of the video facility on MSN chat – its just a normal part of her evening to switch on the web cam and use video as part of her normal communication about the usual things that teenagers discuss after having socialised all day at school! Sometimes this even includes catching up with friends about homework. When schools get around to using video-conferencing, the pupils are likely to wonder what all the fuss is about as they’ve been doing it every evening for at least a year 🙂