Summer for the school-aged is all about sunshine, playtime, vacation, and exploration.
And, apparently, getting just a little dumber.
That’s because the break from the classroom ends the repetitious learning patterns that hardwire new information to the brain, leading to what has become known as summer learning loss.
Statistically speaking, it’s serious stuff.
Over the course of a single summer U.S. students will, on average, lose the equivalent of almost three months of math skills, two months of reading skills, and a month of overall learning.
This, in turn, means the first six weeks of school after students return tanned and lazy from their holidays are spent re-learning old material they forgot while away.
Video Conferencing Saves Summer
Now, no one wants to spend their vacation from school by attending summer classes in the academic internment camp they just escaped, but some form of continued cerebral stimulation is clearly needed.
Video conferencing technology grants the opportunity to bridge the gap between the diametrically opposed states of “in class” and “on vacation”.
More than 30% of U.S. schools are already using video calling equipment, and increased mobile and broadband networks mean more of the country than ever before is set up to carry the two-way, face-to-face conversation.
Students that possess a basic, commercial grade laptop or smartphone with a built-in camera already have the technology at their disposal to meet with their teachers online while they travel to the family’s favorite summer spot.
All it takes is the conversion of current in-school summer offerings to a remote format, or the inclusion of video calling within existing DIY online summer school programs that already let students learn online, albeit without regularly checking in with a teacher in real-time.
The vacationing student could log on to their virtual summer classroom for a couple hours each morning, maintaining their educational edge while spending the rest of their day in frolic mode.
With a smartphone application, the day’s schooling could even be completed during the long car or train ride that precedes the real fun of summer.
This type of summer learning promises to engage students much better than traditional programs. Onsite summer school programs are struggling to capture much enthusiasm from anyone not duty-bound to be there due to poor grades. In fact, one Philadelphia school district recently found only half the enrolled summer students even turned up to class.
A Technological Conversion
The only real hurdle to converting existing summer school offerings to a remote format is getting teachers comfortable with the reversal of the student body dynamic.
Currently, students gather en masse in a single classroom during their summer school experience, where they receive a single message from a single source. With students scattered across the country, perhaps the world, for their summer vacation, that single message must be relayed to a multitude of locations, or a multitude of times to each separate location.
The technology is certainly up to the challenge. Even low-cost video conferencing platforms such as Skype and Google Hangouts, or the emerging free browser-based services, can comfortably handle direct conversation between dozens of video callers.
All that’s left is for teachers to get accustomed to interacting with students who appear as 15 disembodied faces, each in their own chat window, rather than 15 little angels sitting cross-legged at their feet.
The chat windows that those callers inhabit can get pretty small once you cross the dozen participant mark, but many services let you enlarge a featured face to better accommodate direct conversation once a hand has been raised in your remote summer classroom.
A Summer Vacation to Mount Everest
From the student point of view, a remote classroom is a far more traditional experience. Their screens can be set to place their teacher at the center of proceedings, while their peers appear in far smaller windows–which, unfortunately does limit the chances for monkey business.
With the technical means in place, it’s time to take advantage of this new digital connection and experience a few new ways of learning a traditional summer school couldn’t provide–and there’s still plenty of opportunity to share notes, classwork, and homework in real-time through the file and screen sharing common across most video conferencing platforms.
Summer students could take virtual field trips to places such as the Louvre, the White House, the arctic, Mount Everest, or even the moon.
And students could interact together under their teacher’s supervision through the same remote technology that lets gamers from all over the world meet on virtual battlegrounds, football fields, and mazes.
The city of Omaha is so enthused by the advantages of schooling by video conference it’s about to open a virtual school to operate year-round. If it’s possible to deliver a child’s education wholly through video conferencing it’s certainly possible to offer a summer school program over the same tech.
It could mean students come back from their summer vacation both more tanned and more intelligent.