Body language and facial expression are paramount when it comes to communication. You can have stories that fire the mind, or formulae that explain how the world works, but without strong communication these ideas can simply become lines in a notebook never to be thought of again.
In the education sector we are trained to be effective communicators. However, as technology permeates into more of our everyday lives, how this impact is achieved has changed. Educators are needing to adapt to a new kind of pupil – a hyper-connected learner who moves between gadgets and utilises multimedia tools.
The last few years have seen a rapid rise in digital tools, games and apps, seeking to appeal to modern learners. However, the important focus for teachers is student interaction and how these digital tools are going to encourage natural communications at the point-of-learning – be that via the cloud or on a mobile or tablet device.
As part of a school’s audio visual set-up, creating that multi-faceted learning experience will ensure that students stay engaged.
Here I focus in on one of the simplest methods to introduce this more interactive learning experience to the classroom: video-conferencing technologies. Here follows 10 ways to bring this digital tool in to the classroom.
Classes from industry specialists
Opening up the classroom to industry experts is a motivating experience for students. It gives the classroom subjects real-life relevance and helps students to see how the information they are studying plays in to their future careers.
Most companies now have time allocated for corporate social responsibility activity, including coaching the next generation of aspiring lawyers, actors or chief executives.
Through video-conferencing you can have access to these individuals wherever they may be located, without occupying much of their time.
Partnering with international schools
Video-conferencing in a classroom offers the prospect of international cooperation without a logistical cost. The old practice of giving students a pen-pal in an overseas school is now more relevant than ever with global commerce booming.
A weekly or even monthly conversational session with a counterpart in Brazil or Turkey, for example, can be easily arranged through video-conference.
This project has a dual benefit of introducing students on both sides to real conversation in their chosen language, as well as letting them explore a foreign culture as it applies to a direct peer.
What’s more, you can more easily interpret what another person is saying when face-to-face, so it cuts down the chances of misinterpretation in another language.
Teachers from different schools can jointly devise a syllabus, or timeline for when each subject will be dealt with together and, according to areas of expertise, they can split the teaching between themselves. This frees up time to give full attention to any questions raised by a student without interrupting the flow of the lesson.
A major challenge in schools is class sizes and most teachers are therefore very time-poor in the classroom. So even though they may want to deliver personalised learning to students, this isn’t always possible. A project like this may help bring more personalised time to teacher-student interaction.
Interviewing with universities
To support students ahead of the next chapter of their lives, video-conferencing gives them the right tools to impress their chosen further education institution.
Not all students will have the ability to interview in person so giving them an option where they can get their personality and answers across clearly, as well as possibly take a virtual tour of the institution, is a real boost.
For students who may not be able to travel to school during times of bad weather, or through illness or disability, but who still have an internet connection, video-conferencing offers a way to keep in touch with classmates, receive a lesson and keep up with work without facing the challenges of working in isolation. Improved internet access has made flexibility in learning an option for secondary schools.
Offering a wider range of subjects
Certain subjects and enhancement courses, though they may be beneficial to students, may not have enough critical mass behind them or the teaching infrastructure in place to support a dedicated slot on the timetable. For example, more obscure languages or courses like “theory of knowledge”. With cooperation and planning, a slot may be found over lunchtimes or out-of-school hours that allows for a class to be taught to a selection of students in different locations.
Providing counsel from a third party
Schools are responsible for providing a certain level of holistic care to the students in their charge. This means going beyond imparting hard knowledge and can mean providing an advice and counselling service as well. In some cases, in-school resources are not enough and a student will either need or prefer external support. Cases where this may apply are medical, social advice (bullying) or even career guidance.
Improving administration across schools
As schools aim to dedicate as many resources as possible to the core function of teaching, streamlining operations is vital. Cutting down on time and using the fastest format possible for administrative meetings is a great way to do this. Department meetings, administrative meetings, and even training sessions and job candidate interviews can often be held over video.
Developing parent-teacher relationships
Regular contact with parents to update them on progress and gain insight into a student’s response to teaching methods can be of great benefit. It is a valuable aid in creating a constructive feedback loop, particularly for children that require extra schooling. However, it is not always conducive to modern working for parents to attend on a given evening. If a parent is unable to make a meeting, video-conferencing can work better than a phone call. Much greater nuance and empathy can be communicated through body language and facial expression.
Reaching underserved communities
A key strand of education is instilling a realisation of the privileged position we in the UK enjoy when it comes to schooling. With video-conferencing, knowledge and expertise-sharing and bringing education to communities that wouldn’t normally have it can be realised. An interesting example of this was seen with a university in the US. It recently used video-conferencing technology to introduce a remote tribe living in the hills of Peru to a world music class in Boston, Massachusetts.
Video-conferencing systems, whether they are web-based, on a mobile device, or installed as part of the school’s IT infrastructure, can play an important role in a creative and engaging learning environment, as well as streamlining the school’s operations.
Technology will never replace the teacher in the classroom – real people impart real learning – but we can build in more flexibility to how this personal communication is delivered.
James Campanini is vice-president and general manager EMEA at the Blue Jeans Network.