Bring the World to Your Classroom: Videoconferencing

By Bryan A. Upshaw

My worst grade in high school was in Spanish I. Our teacher was tough, and the pace was blistering. I struggled to learn the vocab, grammar, and odd verb conjugation charts. I found the culture interesting, but the rest of the class was just frustrating and seemingly pointless to my future. Guess what subject I mainly teach now? That’s right – Spanish. What turned my worst grade and most frustrating class into my career?

Getting to see the world outside my little East Tennessee community and building relationships with people who at first seemed so different from me changed the way I saw the world. I was inspired to travel abroad, learn a language, join a local Hispanic church, and live with an undocumented family my last semester of college. Those relationships and experiences made language learning fun and transformed pointless grammar exercises into real-world challenges that unlocked boundaries that separated people.

How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom?

I share my stories with my students and perhaps it inspires some to consider traveling one day, but how can I motivate students right now? How can I show them the world when we can’t leave our classroom? In my opinion, one of the most underused tools in education is videoconferencing. While expensive systems with fancy cameras and monitors can make it seamless, most teachers already have the resources to videoconference. If they have a smartphone, tablet,  or computer, then they probably have everything they need!

As a foreign language teacher, I use videoconferencing in my classroom in many different ways. For example, my friend in Nicaragua, Emanuel, converses with my students. My sister shares stories about her semesters abroad in Nicaragua and Honduras. Another friend, Garret, has talked from Germany about his year abroad in Argentina and how it helped him to learn German and get a job with BMW. My students love hearing stories from guest speakers projected in the front of the classroom. They have fun asking questions and always learn something new. Continue reading

Virginia Leads Way to Online High School Diplomas

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Virginia leads the way to completely online public high school diplomas.1 “Virtual Virginia, the commonwealth’s online high school program, is poised to recruit as many as 100 students to pilot the state’s first full-time online diploma program.” The really good news is that the state is jumping into the virtual with eyes wide open. They’re “set to operate within the program’s existing $4.6 million budget.” They’re also aware that, at this point in time, “the online format suits some students more than others.” They’ve done the homework and learned that “those most likely to succeed in an online school tend to be self-motivated, self-directed students, and their learning style is suited to an environment that involves discussion through posts on message boards.”

It’ll be interesting to watch Virtual Virginia develop in the coming months and years. They’re opening a massive door that remains locked for most school systems in the country. The qualities for success online — self-motivation, self-direction, and active engagement in discussions — are perfectly aligned with those for success in MOOCs and the growing number of affordable online college offerings, which means an open door to college courses and the possibility of earning college credits while still in high school.

The possibilities for learning online are endless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the last vestiges of classroom walls are eventually removed, allowing students to earn high school and college credits via widely available open learning resources such as MOOCs.

The potential for online resource sharing with high school systems in other states (and other countries) is also real, providing an infinitely richer array of courses, interactive opportunities, and experiences. In other words, geographical isolation will become less an issue, and in the early going, it may be a blessing in disguise, hastening the migration to online options. The challenge for administrators and teachers will be to maintain an open attitude toward schooling.  Continue reading