From his office at Fort Hays State University, Kansas, Dr. Gary Andersen is helping guide the future of Saudi Arabia. The Assistant Professor of Advanced Education Programs is mentoring more than 50 teachers in the country on how to better educate their students–the people who will grow to lead the nation.
Given that we live in a digital age where video conferencing has become commonplace in the office, at home, and through our many smartphone apps, it’s not surprising that this kind of connection is possible.
But this isn’t a simple Skype chat between educators or a one-off webinar. What Dr. Andersen is teaching these teachers are complex ideas on how to create “Cultures of Thinking” in classrooms. To convey that kind of advanced knowledge takes time, repetition, and new approaches to how to use video conferencing in education training. As Andersen is (perhaps) proving, video conferencing can be the foundation of a decades-long professional relationship. It can also be a virtual library of information and can let one person guide the work of dozens.
Video Conferencing in Education Training
Video conferencing is already being deployed in a number of ways within the classroom to help teachers maximize their time with students. VC Daily has previously reported on initiatives such as virtual field trips, continuing classes in times of crisis and hardship, and creating video conferencing links between students of different cultures and languages.
It has also been used to convey entirely modern lessons–like the importance of digital citizenship–and methods–such as the flipped classroom, where you do your school work at home and your homework at school.
To educate the educators themselves, however, takes more than digital pyrotechnics or live chats with adventurous scientists. It begins with the video conferencing’s unique ability to bring people face-to-face across distance.
Video Conferencing Supervision
Video conferencing can evolve education training beyond the lecturer and passive audience dynamic. As has been proven in the business world, the fact that video calling is now baked into our smartphones and laptops means mentors and proteges can meet everywhere from the office to the park. Dr. Andersen conducts his lessons during monthly video calls, but he could be chatting face-to-face with teachers regularly and informally. He could become an ongoing presence in their lives, there to encourage, console, and inform as new challenges arise over the course of their teaching careers.
He could even watch over their first hours in front of a class. As the student teachers absorb and attempt to apply Dr. Andersen’s ideas, video conferencing could make it possible for him to hover above them in digital form and watch their real-world work in real-time. With an unobtrusive camera perched on the teacher’s desk, he could watch their class in progress–in fact, all his students could, too, if they join via a group chat–and offer suggestions with a quiet word between lessons.
As soon as the bell rings to end math class, for example, the teacher and their remote colleagues could huddle together to discuss what just happened. It’s a chance to take the formal lessons they’ve learned into the field and practice applying them to unexpected situations.
The core of Dr. Andersen’s work, however, will be in passing on those lessons in the first place, and video conferencing offers new ways to do this.
The Virtual Reality Classroom
Virtual reality technology is now powerful enough to support live video calling. The cost of immersing yourself in an entirely artificial classroom is having to represent yourself in 2D, computer graphic form–but the benefit is a setting without boundaries. Using a virtual space like the recently released Rumii, for instance, would allow teachers to store and access texts and multimedia materials visually. Dr. Andersen could conduct a lesson within the halls of a virtual library while his students walk around in cartoon form, pulling virtual books from the shelves to support his comments. At any time during the presentation, students are free to ask their teacher or each other questions.
Any interesting or confusing texts the students might discover in this virtual world could be exchanged just as easily back in the real-world through the messaging features that come with most video conferencing platforms.
Video Conferencing Is More Powerful than Email
It’s a little-known fact that video call platforms like Skype can send messages larger than anything that can be sent over email. You can, for instance, send 80 times as much data over a Skype chat than you can within a Gmail message. That means it’s easy to share videos, ebooks, reports, and assignments during a video call. With screen sharing, in which one person shares a live image of their desktop over a video call, you don’t even have to send a file–you can just show people what you’re looking at, live.
And, if you’ve got a student group chat going, you can role play with each other to prepare for that future awkward question or those rowdy future students.
Role Playing Online
Video calling doesn’t have to be a bunch of talking heads. Every emotion you generate with your face, hands, voice, and body can be conveyed over the web. So, Dr. Andersen could sit down two remote student teachers, throw them a scenario, and watch with the rest of the class as they zoom out a little on their webcams and put on a full-bodied performance. A platform like Skype, with its built-in translation feature, can even stimulate a debate between people who don’t share a common language (although granted, they’re still working out the bugs in this feature).
In short, video conferencing offers students everything they can get from an in-room lesson, with the bonus of taking that lesson from hundreds of miles away. If people in Dr. Andersen’s position embrace the technology as more than just a visual phone call, it could even improve the way teachers are taught.