Imagine bringing a NASA astronaut into your classroom to tell your students about what it’s like to spend a day in the international space station. Does this idea seem far-fetched? It shouldn’t! With online conference and video calling on your side, the sky really is the limit for your class.
This guide illustrates the nearly endless possibilities of an online conference call program for you and your students. It details potential incorporations into classroom lessons, video-based field trips, and even administrative uses. Don’t let distance or restricted budgets stand in your way of exciting lessons — let free web conferencing be your ultimate tool!
How to use conference and video calling in the classroom
Collaborative learning with another classroom is valuable because it’s an exciting way for students to break out of their usual peer surroundings and hear outside perspectives. However, it’s not exactly easy to simply uproot your students and head to another school (or even another classroom down the hallway). So how can you help your students branch out and get exposed to new ideas?
Suppose local government has proposed renovations for what they argue is an outdated, run-down section of the city. It’s caused a stir because it’s home to numerous independent businesses who oppose any changes. You’ve had a class discussion on the topic, but think students could benefit from hearing opposing viewpoints. By web conferencing with another class in your district, your students can have a lively debate about the economic and social benefits of a change, as well as potential repercussions. It will give a completely different perspective — for example, the students at the other school may live closer to the area and have insight into current crime in the region and how they think renovation may help. Or perhaps they’re more familiar with the neighborhood and feel the changes will scare off current clientele. Video conferencing offers an easy outlet for students to exchange ideas and learn from peers they normally couldn’t reach out to.
One of the best things about video conferencing is that distance is of no real concern. So think big — even global! Making an international connection can give students from different cultures the chance to discuss and debate common issues and current events. It can even give them the opportunity to brainstorm ideas on how to solve world issues. American students in New York had an amazing opportunity to conduct a video call with a classroom in Ghana. They discussed topics like Ghana’s first democratic election and the United States’ election of the first African-American president. It’s a wonderful example of giving insight into a different culture while still finding common ground despite thousands of miles.
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Web conferencing also allows access to guest speakers who may not normally be able to lecture at your school. You could give your journalism students real-world perspective by asking a reporter for a major city’s newspaper to have a one-hour live video Q&A session from the comfort of their own office. Sure, you could send a list of questions via email and go over the responses in class, but talking to an expert in real-time can allow your students to develop essential communication skills, even help prepare them for the real world.
Inviting a guest speaker via web conference can even defy schedule conflicts or canceled visits. If a planned speaker has a sudden emergency or faces turbulent travel conditions, re-scheduling is infinitely easier (not to mention more cost-effective!) if you opt for a video chat instead.
You can also ask to link in with another class across the city who’s having an exciting guest speaker. By simply tuning in via video conference, your class can still have the benefit of a live guest speaker without making a costly trip across town.
For example, inviting a video guest speaker from the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance’s Bridging the Gap program could elevate lessons in history, civics, or social injustice significantly. Powerful speakers with first-hand experience in hate crimes, the Holocaust, and the White Supremacy movement can give your students more than a history book could ever offer, especially with the element of live interaction.
Video conferences can not only invite guest speakers into your own world, it can bring students to places and environments they may never get to see up close. One project with a Pennsylvania school brought students to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat to study volcanic activity. The class worked in real-time with a designated “mission commander” who relayed seismic data and reports about lava flow, evacuee progress, and hurricane intensity. Students worked together to analyze the given information, make predictions and suggest courses of action. This is just one example of how to make your lessons come to life in real-world situations with video conferencing!
You could even explore the possibilities of “a day/afternoon in the life of…” lessons. Teach students about government by asking a local representative to let your class peek in on his or her daily routine. It’s one thing to talk about how lawmakers work; it’s a completely different (and important) perspective to have a front-row seat! The potential candidates for this kind of project can be easily found in a friend, relative, or even the parent of a student.
Video Field Trips: Awesome adventures for a fraction of the cost
There are numerous perks to taking a field trip via video conference versus the traditional route. For starters, it’s significantly less expensive: access is often free, and there’s no need to worry about providing lunch or transportation. There’s no mad scramble to find adequate chaperones or risk of students wandering off. There’s also a reduced chance of students acting out since they’re under direct supervision of their teacher. Best yet, video field trips give your students the freedom to be more outwardly enthusiastic than many traditional class trips. It’s tricky, especially for young students, to find the balance between excited and “too loud,” and video conferencing prevents the possibility of disturbing other visitors.
Video field trips may sound limiting, but they can actually be an excellent way for students to gain access that no ordinary field trip could give them. No hospital would let an entire class of sixth graders observe a medical procedure, but Ohio’s Center of Science and Industry videoconferencing programs give participants the chance to sit in on real surgeries. Give your biology students real life application and understandings by watching a live total knee replacement surgery where they can interact with surgeons and medical personnel in a real hospital operating room.
The Smithsonian Institute would be an amazing field trip to take with students, but unfortunately unless you live in the D.C. area, it’s probably not a feasible option for your school’s budget. Luckily, the Smithsonian offers free classroom videoconferences led by museum guides! Your class can participate in programs about art, history, and heritage and get a live view of the amazing works of the institute.
Web conferencing offers great opportunities outside of lesson-planning as well. It can be an easy way to hold parent-teacher conferences with long-distance or traveling parents. If parents work the night shift, a video conference call during your planning period can be a great way to keep them involved in their child’s education. It’s also a great way to hold meetings with administrators or other teachers — even faculty meetings! If a teacher is unable to attend in-person due to illness or time off, he can attend via web conference.
Web and video conferencing can be a great way to network and brainstorm with other educators. Suppose you’re interested in starting a classroom herb garden, but aren’t sure of the best ways to utilize your space. You’ve found a teacher’s blog where she discusses a similar project her class successfully executed and want to know more about how she pulled it off. A quick video conference in which she walks you through her classroom and actually shows you the steps she took can make a world of difference. The possibilities are endless!
Finally, distance learning programs and online courses can also reap the benefits of web conferencing. Educators can offer office hours via web conference to give students a one-on-one, more personalized experience on assignments ranging from term papers, collaborative projects, and presentations. Lectures can also be done via web conference; while it’s helpful to have recorded lectures, it eliminates real-time question posing and can make it more difficult for students to grasp a lesson.
The ways that web and video conferencing can be used in the classroom and beyond are numerous and varied. And it doesn’t have to mean expensive, specialized equipment for every classroom. Many activities can be done on just about any computer or tablet and projected onto a larger screen if needed. Even if your personal classroom doesn’t have compatible equipment, many schools have media centers with everything you need. The biggest task is often choosing just which way you’ll use technology to broaden your classroom’s horizons!
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