Monday, 23 November 2015

How to make video conferencing truly effective in the classroom

Video conferencing (VC) is not just a communications tool. It has the potential to do so much more. When it's done well it can facilitate some incredible learning experiences for young people. Whether it be a leading environmentalist reporting from the Australian outback, an industry expert speaking from a FTSE100 company boardroom, or a violinist playing at the New York School of Music, high-quality VC technology can bring these experiences live and direct to any classroom in the world.

But what makes the difference? What makes for a successful learning experience using VC technology?

It all starts with having the right hardware, alongside good (at least 1-2mb upload/download) internet connectivity.

1. High-quality and reliable

For any effective VC experience, high-quality and reliable hardware is absolutely critical. Why? Because when you've 30 students in front of you, eager to meet a scientist speaking from the National Space Centre, you don't want audio or video to let you down! You need a HD quality camera, microphone and codec that processes the connection and is reliable every time you use it.

2. Meets international industry standards

All VC hardware systems need to talk to one another.  Proprietary systems, such as Skype, Adobe Connect and Google Hangout don't do this. As a result, these products are not true VC tools for the classroom. They are best used for 1-2-1 communication over short-periods only. And most importantly, they do not meet the H.323 video conferencing standard.

3. Secure and safe connection

E-safety in the classroom is paramount and there are potential dangers in using prioprietry webcam VC systems. In contrast, using the right hardware gives you peace of mind that the connection you are using is safe, reliable and secure. It uses direct secure IP, E164 or SIP connections. In the UK there is  the JISC (VScene) booking service, which allow schools to connect to content providers and to each other using their VC hardware systems. 

4. Interoperable and multi-functional

VC technology should give teachers total control and flexibility.  This includes the ability to bring multiple sites into the conference call and an easy record function. It means being able to control the far end camera, zooming and panning across the classroom, as well as share videos, presentations and other content during the lesson. 

5. Affordable for all

Using high-quality VC hardware gives teachers a huge advantage over proprietorial systems currently available on the market. And it is affordable too. For as little as £2,000 schools can have technology that can be used to enrich every subject in the curriculum. Students are able to learn anything, from anywhere, from anyone! 

Using VCfL systems, schools in the London Borough of Redbridge have been taking advantage of high-quality VC technology since 2012. VCfL's hardware systems are also supporting primary schools in Uruguay, where 1,500 students receive English lessons every week, live and direct from teachers based in East London. And from next year VCfGL will be running a similar project in Brazil.

Watch VCfL's latest video - The Rise of the Global Teacher

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Using video conferencing to support work experience

Last month the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) called for the introduction of compulsory pre-16 work experience for students in England's schools.  It said that work experience for young people should be a "national priority".  The call came following the publication of the BCCs annual business and education survey, which polled over 3,500 employers.  The survey found that 79% of employers believed work experience to be the most important activity to equip young people with the relevant workplace skills.

The BCC said that the government had been wrong back in September 2012 to remove compulsory work experience from schools*.  Some of the teaching organisations agreed.  The NUT said the government had been wrong to downplay the importance of work experience, whilst the NAHT - the headteachers' union - said it supported the business community's call to make work experience available all young people.  They were right to do so.  Work experience programmes have been shown to be highly effective for young people.  Back in 2012, the Educaction and Employers Taskforce found that young people who had 4 or more work experiences whilst at school were 5 times less likely to be not in education, employment or training.

Despite employer and union support it seems unlikely the government will seek to introduce a compulsory work experience scheme anytime soon.  Not only because the government has prioritised a broadly knowledge-based rather a skills-based curriculum - alongside a qualification system and Ofsted inspection framework to match - but because it believes work experience is more important for the 16-19 age group.  For pre-16 students, it has instead turned its attention to improving careers guidance, the latest development being the recently launched Careers and Enterprise Company, the aim of which is to support better links between schools and employers.

However, whatever direction government policy takes, the publication of BCCs survey serves as a timely reminder of the value not just of block work experience placements, but 'work experiences' more generally.  Though work experience programmes have historically been extremely popular with schools and students, they are just one method amongst many - including mentoring schemes, enterprise projects and company visits - to help inspire young people about the world of work and develop much needed skills and abilities.

Technology can play a huge role here, and high-quality video conferencing (VC) in particular.  VC is not just a communications tool.  It has the potential to do so much more.  When used effectively it can facilitate some incredible employment-related learning experiences for young people.  Whether it be helping an environmental scientist to report from the Australian outback, a marketing director speak from a FTSE100 company boardroom, or an engineer demonstrate robotics from a car-assembly line, high-quality VC technology can bring these experiences live and direct to any classroom in the world.  And what's more, schools, colleges and universities in the UK can already do this through the Vscene booking service through JISC.

Technology cannot of course replace the valuable face-to-face experience of learning alongside work colleagues in real situations, even if it happens to only be in short periods and you happen to only be 15.  But high-quality VC does afford schools the opportunity to provide whole class experiences to either complement or enhance work experience placements, whether they take place pre or post-16, or both.

*The government did not in fact scrap work experience, but an entitlement for students at Key Stage 4 in England to10 days of what was known as 'work-related learning'.  The entitlement was introduced in 2004 by the then Labour government and removed by the coalition government in 2012.  Work experience programmes were the most common method used by schools to meet the statutory entitlement.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Deputy Mayor of London visits VCfGL

The Deputy Mayor of London, Roger Evans, arrived at the classrooms of Video Conferencing for Global Learning in Wanstead, Redbridge to speak to the London based Remote Teachers and the children they teach English to. The primary school children were sitting over five thousand miles away in their classrooms in Uruguay.

Roger quoted, "This is a very valuable initiative for London, VCfGL is building links between our capital city and exciting emerging markets in South America"

Even though children here in England are on their summer holidays, it is winter in Uruguay and it is still term time as normal.

Roger spoke to the, VCfGL English teachers about their "new high tech jobs" and then to the children in Uruguay over video conference.  The children and class teacher in Uruguay were honoured that he had come to observe their English lesson and that Roger had taken time in his busy schedule to come to speak to them.