In video conferencing terms, everything is bigger in India. When you have a population in excess of 1.3 billion, you need to take full advantage of all the communication methods you can access. That’s especially true when it comes to rolling out a common curriculum across thousands of schools.
The government of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, for example, will this month begin offering classes via video conferencing in more than 1,000 public schools. The classes will be staged at a central source in the capital city of Chennai and broadcast in real time, with live interaction from students across the state.
It’s a good example of the power that video conferencing has to reshape education in the coming decades. However, employing video in the classroom isn’t as simple as just seating students in front of a webcam. For all the promise of video conferencing, there are downsides as well.
To illustrate the complexity of this new educational technology, we’ve put together a list of the advantages and disadvantages of video conferencing in schools.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Video Conferencing in Schools
- Less Personal Interaction
- Technical Issues Can Interfere with Lessons
- Ongoing Costs
- Separates the Haves and the Have-Nots
- Sharing Resources
- Learning Beyond the Classroom
- Creating Digital Citizens
- New Ways of Learning
1. Less Personal Interaction
The downside to having, say, one teacher in charge of teaching several classrooms of students via video conferencing is that it diminishes the opportunity for personal interaction. We’ll stand by the argument that video conferencing’s ability to combine audio and visuals in real-time conversation counts as personal interaction (we dealt with this question in our post on kid-friendly video chat apps), but when you’re faced with a revolving group of 20 to 30 students, there’s precious little time to work one-on-one with the kids. As a result, the danger is that video conferencing becomes a one-way medium, more like a seminar than a class, with scant time allowed for questions and comments from the students themselves, especially if the classes are conducted in large group formats.
2. Technical Issues Can Interfere with Lessons
Relying on video conferencing technology as the basis for learning brings with it a reliance on the hardware, software, and miles of internet connections that make it possible. If you’ve ever sat idle in a video meeting while someone tries to fix the audio or watched helplessly as your video link freezes and drops out, you’ll know there’s always a chance that digital gremlins will derail the entire process.
The same potential trouble lurks within a video meeting staged in a classroom. Only now, you’ve got a teacher struggling to keep the attention of two-dozen students as their lesson plan for the day falls apart.
3. Ongoing Costs
Video conferencing is composed of hardware and software that is in need of continual maintenance and upgrade, just like any other form of school equipment. Webcams and digital screens become obsolete as new technologies emerge–4K video conferencing, for example, is beginning to take hold at the commercial level but requires high-end bandwidth and cameras to be effective. Similarly, new video conferencing platforms with advanced features are released every year that bring new features to the classroom or emerge as the dominant service within a school district.
Of course, new features and capabilities are great, but they bring with them cost and the need for training, which can introduce a new burden to the school budget.
5. Separates the Haves and the Have-Nots
As with the advent of any new technology, there is always the danger that better-resourced communities will gain an advantage over their humbler neighbors. While the internet may seem like an essentially universal commodity, 72% of U.S. school districts don’t have connection speeds high enough to make internet-based learning experiences a central part of the curriculum. In fact, around 2.3 million students attend schools that don’t have reliable internet access at all.
If video conferencing and related technologies become dominant platforms for learning initiatives, there is a chance some students will be left behind.
1. Sharing Resources
The Indian example is a large-scale demonstration of how video conferencing can be used to leverage knowledge resources across schools. The expertise of specialist teachers and the non-core electives they teach can be shared across many schools regardless of their disparate locations. The labor cost can also be shared across institutions allowing expert lessons to be brought to areas that would otherwise not have the population or demand to justify their own courses.
A single teacher sitting in front of a webcam could remain in their office all week and reach out digitally to dozens of classroom and hundreds of students.
2. Learning Beyond the Classroom
Video conferencing is at heart a form of travel. It allows people separated by the tyranny of distance to share face-to-face conversation with the intimacy of friends sharing a park bench. In educational terms, that means using video to take students beyond the walls of the classroom without ever having to leave their desks. It offers the possibility of virtual field trips, conversational interactions with students in other states or nations, and visits to the locations of scientific and cultural investigation. It’s cheaper than any bus or plane trip, and there’s no way anyone gets lost or left behind.
3. Creating Digital Citizens
Students live in a digital world. Their home and social lives are far more likely than not to be littered with smartphones, computers, tablets, and on-demand resources. Central to any school curriculum is the need to prepare young people to participate in the adult world that awaits them after the final school bell rings. That means creating empowered and informed digital citizens who understand the dangers and benefits, the conventions and underlying technology that will govern their future employment and social interaction.
Video conferencing is rapidly growing in popularity and is likely to be a staple of most businesses and means of collaboration into the future. That means it’s important that students are exposed to it from a young age.
4. New Ways of Learning
Video conferencing is a relatively new form of communication and with it come opportunities for new ways of learning. We’ve already seen it employed to completely reverse the traditional educational model through so-called flipped classrooms. This form of learning lets the student first encounter new material on their own, through online, peer-to-peer interaction, and leaves the teacher to offer more in-depth and personalized attention in the classroom.
Video conferencing also offers a more visual learning environment, one that pulls in other technologies such as film, online gaming, and interactive software-based tools. In this way, video conferencing in the classroom is quickly becoming an added feature that can transform solo learning into a conversational and cooperative experience.