Videoconferencing | Feature

3 Tips for Going Beyond the Virtual Field Trip

Videoconferencing is gaining traction in the college classroom as more professors realize the value and simplicity of using this A/V technology to achieve myriad course objectives. Using two way video and audio, individuals, small classes, and large groups alike can interact with a wide range of experts, authors, environments, and sites without leaving campus.

Virtual field trips, expert speakers, classroom-to-classroom collaboration, and online/distance education are just some of the ways that videoconferencing is currently being used in higher education. Here are three different ways to use the A/V technology in the classroom and some useful tips for each setting.

Create a Globally-Connected Virtual Higher Ed Community.
Taking international trips to visit and collaborate with foreign students and faculty is cost prohibitive and time consuming.

Maureen Barry, a student support specialist at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Academic Support Center, found a way around those challenges by using videoconferencing to bridge the gap between American students and their overseas counterparts.

Last year, for example, her first-year American Sign Language (ASL) interpreting students connected face-to-face virtually with students enrolled at RIT's American College of Management and Technology in Zagreb, Croatia. Discussion centered on the students' cultural backgrounds and the similarities and differences between their two schools.

Barry has also used videoconferencing to connect five schools--three in America, one in Croatia, and one in Kosovo--at the same time.

Before each session she proposed several discussion topics--cultural differences, scenery and topography, dormitory living, or first-year student experiences, for example--to the participating schools and then covered the discussion topics thoroughly with the participants.

"Don't just push a project out there and expect everyone to jump on board," said Barry, who uses prompts like, "What is the first thing I want to know about life in X?" to help generate ideas. Propose a few ideas, she said, "and toss them around until you come up with something that everyone likes."

Bring Subject Matter Experts into the College Classroom.
There's nothing quite like an outside subject matter expert to help professors drive home a complicated topic or concept. Rather than flying in experts to handle this task many schools are using 30- to 90-minute-long videoconferencing sessions with guests from around the globe.

"Our first Skype videoconference was with a Ph.D. student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology," recalled Barry. "We couldn't afford to bring him here in person so we set up a virtual session."

The topic was sustainability and students prepared ahead of time to ask the speaker one or two questions about it. One by one they filed up to the microphone and posed their queries and had them answered by the MIT student.

After the session, Barry had her class write down the "good, bad, and ugly" reflections on the experience. Key questions that she asks students to address after each session include:

  • What did you learn from it?
  • What was good about it?
  • What were the difficult and frustrating aspects?
  • Did you take away anything that you can use in your own studies and/or lives?

"This post-thinking is very important and helps students retain the new-found knowledge," said Barry, "rather than forgetting about it as soon as they walk out of the door."

Create a multidimensional experience with graphics, presentations, and social media.
Rev up virtual field trips and guest speaking engagements by getting students to develop their own PowerPoint and graphic presentations around the main subject.

These visual elements motivate students, said Barry, and help them remember what they've learned. Add a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter account to the mix, said Barry, and both collaboration and retention will rise exponentially.

One RIT videoconference incorporated a private Facebook page where students took the discussion off of "real time" and began interacting with one another on the social media site.

On other occasions, Barry said students have created PowerPoint presentations and captioned (so the foreign students could understand them) YouTube videos to share during the videoconferencing sessions.

"Students worked in groups to figure out what they wanted to present and how they wished to present it," said Barry. "Then they came up with the graphics and videos to enhance the videoconference and make it that much more effective."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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