Do you know what they eat for breakfast in Brazil?
Do you know what language Mickey Mouse speaks in Japan?
Do you know what they wear to a wedding in Kenya?
These may seem like trivial curiosities, but such enquiries are the start of a journey into a whole other way of life. For school-aged children in a rapidly shrinking world, broad cultural awareness could become one of the most valued assets in their adult lives.
By immersing themselves in the lives of others through video conferencing link ups at school, students don’t simply overcome cultural barriers, they grow up in a world that doesn’t have them.
Face to Face
In December, 2015, Microsoft’s Skype-a-thon brought together thousands of students and teachers from around the world to undertake a virtual trip of more than 3 million miles. It’s a powerful demonstration of how video conferencing has rolled out across the globe.
So, why can’t a quick chat with a peer half a world away be a part of every student’s everyday?
Video conferencing services, even free ones, abound on the internet, and with the advent of browser-based video calling, a simple, scheduled video call can let students share the latent cultural heritage we all possess in our songs, our sporting heroes, our slang, and our gestures.
And, using a more direct approach, experts and teachers on the ground of a globally significant event can relay their experiences to students living elsewhere. It’s the chance to understand not only what happened, but to learn some of the local history behind the event, and see how it affects the day-to-day lives of those that live there.
Further aiding this exchange is the ability to do more than chat, but also find a common space to play.
Many video conferencing services currently offer whiteboard applications that let users write and draw on a common canvas. Taking it a step further, it’s now also common for video callers to be able to remotely access each other’s desktops.
This last development, offered even by some free video conferencing services, gives students the chance to cooperate on tasks and problem solve together. From simple bi-lingual word games, to the type of sophisticated virtual terrains gamers have long stalked, students can bring their diverse talents to bear on a common ground.
With Microsoft currently taking orders for the development edition of its holographic computer, HoloLens, there’s a day in the future when students from dozens of different classrooms could gather around a common virtual table to work on holographic puzzles, build holographic sculptures of their town’s tallest building, or just debate the possibilities for 1D’s next move.
Back in the physical reality of today’s classroom, advances in the visual and audio quality of mobile phone and tablet video conferencing mean previously desk-bound video conferencing interactions can now extend beyond the classroom.
The Pied Piper of Video
Polycom’s SmartPairing technology lets users transfer control of a video conference call to a remote device, letting them leave the meeting room and roam freely in the great outdoors. The service is capable of retaining HD 1080p video on the move, and maintains an ultrasonic link to the home system that means it can also still support file sharing and whiteboarding.
The technology is available for Android and iOS, and the transfer is made with a simple point and swipe motion making it readily accessible.
In the hands of an enthusiastic young guide, mobile video conferencing could take students in one country onto the streets of another to experience in real time the sights and sounds of a cultural festival, feast day, celebration, or even an everyday market on Main St.
Of course, this kind of interaction is dependent on both ends of the video conversation operating within similar time zones. However, there’s a way to bring together students whose school hours are diametrically opposed.
Video Conferencing Through Time
In addition to distance, video conferencing can also eliminate the barrier of time.
The USC Institute for Creative Technologies is working with the University’s Shoah Foundation to create interactive 3D testimonials from Holocaust survivors.
Using USC’s impressive light stages – which were used to create Academy Award winning visual effects in movies including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Avatar – the survivors’ stories were recorded simultaneously by seven cameras. The resulting images are then merged to create a 3D projection on a transparent screen which gives the recording a physical presence.
These recordings are embedded with language recognition technology that cues the video to respond appropriately to broad questions from an audience.
In addition to the obvious benefits of allowing students to engage with culturally diverse speakers long after they have passed, such interactive recordings could bring together students separated by time zones.
Students in Japan, China, or Australia could create detailed biographies for their American peers to access during school hours.
The videos could be exchanged and built upon through a daily Q and A that lets students develop intimate relationships that move the conversation from, “What is your capital city?” to a friendlier, “What’s your favorite food?”.
And then we’d all know what the breakfast of choice is in Brazil.