It’s looking like students in the U.S. must learn to share if they are to get the most out of their education. And they don’t just have to share with their classmates, they must share with every student across their state.
The entire U.S. is facing a severe teacher shortage which is reducing the ability of schools to offer math, science, language, and specialist subjects. In response, more individual schools are using video conferencing to share their teaching resources with their neighbors.
Video conferencing between schools isn’t a perfect long-term solution to the low numbers of teachers entering the profession, nor can it do much to slow the rate of teachers leaving classrooms, but it can better distribute the limited resources on hand. Video conferencing can do wonders to expand a student’s education, but it is basic lessons, not virtual field trips to the moon, that are currently needed.
America’s Teachers are Quitting
Each year, 8% of America’s teaches leave the profession. According to the Learning Policy Institute that compiled that figure, not even a third of those teachers are retiring. This is not just another problem caused by the country’s aging population; these teachers are quitting teaching altogether to join other professions. In general, many are leaving because of low rates of pay, poor working conditions, and a lack of professional support. Sadly, the number of students enrolling in education courses to replace these teachers fell by 35% over the five years of the last reporting period.
A lack of teachers, and, in particular, of certified teachers, is an especially bad problem in rural and sparsely populated areas of the country like Montana, where the starting salary for a teacher is nearly $10,000 per year less than the U.S. average, and the number of uncertified teachers is over seven percent, much higher than the 1.89% average across the country. Similar issues are present in other states considered ‘rural,’ such as West Virginia, which also has a high percentage of uncertified teachers and a low starting salary.
Two Colorado schools, however, have demonstrated a digital solution to at least part of the teacher shortage problem.
Video Conferencing Between Schools Means One Teacher = Two Classrooms
Zoom video conferencing is one of the fastest growing video calling platforms in the world, and one of favorites at VC Daily because of its deep, cheap, and intuitive platform. And it gets an extra point from us for its attempts to help students–especially rural ones–suffering from the teacher shortage.
The vendor has donated its services to the students of two Colorado schools so they can share expert math and science teachers. Twice a week, teachers and students from advanced STEM school Highlands Ranch (school population 1,800) use the Zoom platform to speak face-to-face with their peers 100 miles away in the Arickaree School District (100 students). The groups collaborate on math, computer science, music, and poetry projects, subjects that some schools in Arickaree’s position take years to staff.
It is a model that could be imitated across lesser-populated parts of Colorado and other rural areas in states. What is more, we already have a large-scale template to follow due to the growth of remote medical services provided by video conference.
An Educational Network of Video Calls
In the middle of 2017, the Texas legislature approved the use of telemedicine across the state. The new laws meant people in rural and regional areas could use their smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers to seek out face-to-face medical attention from experts otherwise unable to service such far-flung communities.
Later that same year, the U.S. Senate passed legislation to expand the reach of a University of Mexico telehealth program to provide mentoring services to rural doctors via video conference.
While it’s true that the fields of healthcare and education are very different, and students need continuous, daily lessons rather than infrequent trips to the doctor, the networks established under both telehealth systems contain lessons for setting up a network of virtual classrooms. In our telehealth examples, a medical expert is placed at the center of a web of outlying communities. They are called on as needed, and their services, along with those of other experts, are shared among the participating communities.
The same principle might apply to a video conferencing network between schools. Expert teachers, who wouldn’t need to leave their current schools, could dedicate one day a week to visiting with rural classes. They could conduct half a dozen lessons across their state every week, aided by in-classroom teachers who may have shared expertise in other areas. They could reach even more students if they could teach to multiple groups of children at once over a group video chat.
With a few more generous donations from the likes of Zoom–and with HD quality webcams now available for less than $100–there would be a minimal potential financial cost to this project. At the heart of this solution, however, is the idea that schools need to share their resources. Video conferencing can’t create new teachers, but it can spread the wisdom of those still in the classroom.