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November 20, 2017

Guest blogger: David Mazza, Y4Y Educational Technology Specialist

Business, government and education professionals often use videoconferences for training and collaboration. If you’ve attended an online Y4Y Showcase, virtual training or webinar, you’ve participated in a videoconference. It’s a great way to connect people to peers and subject matter experts.

But have you ever used videoconferencing with students?

I recently raised this question with staff from various 21st CCLC programs around the country. Only a few said yes. Others cited possible drawbacks such as the time it takes to organize a videoconference, not having the equipment or skills to organize one, and not knowing how to use videoconferencing to support program activities or student interests.   

These concerns are understandable. However, in my 20 years as a technology facilitator for various education projects, I’ve often used teleconferencing to connect students to professionals and to students in other locations. I’ve seen the benefits, and I think the pros outweigh the cons.

Intrigued by the possibilities? Here are some ideas for overcoming common concerns:

Concern #1: Technology is mysterious.

If you don’t have confidence in your technology skills, or if you’ve never set up a videoconference, you might be hesitant or not know where to start. Fear not. Students know a lot more about technology than most of us, and they usually enjoy being the “tech person.” Plus it gives them a chance to develop real-world skills! Friends and colleagues who enjoy technology are another good resource. If your school or program has a technology specialist, make sure to give that person a call!

There are many types of software you can use for videoconferencing, and some are free. For example, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Zoom all have free versions that you can download and use for two-way audio and video. They are simple to use. You’ll need a laptop with a built-in camera and microphone. You’ll also need an internet connection. Wireless networks can be used, but for the best results, have that laptop hardwired to the network. Get in touch with the internet provider for your school or program site, and let the provider know what you want to do. The provider might have tips or suggestions that will make your life easier.  

Concern #2: Organizing a teleconference seems time consuming.

No one says you have to organize a teleconference overnight. Start small, plan ahead and take it one step at a time. Your to-do list for getting your feet wet might look like this:

  • Check your hardware and internet connection to make sure you have what you need.
  • Look online for short videos that demonstrate free videoconferencing software like Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom.
  • Ask colleagues and students for suggestions about software programs to use, and possible ways to make videoconferencing part of an upcoming project or activity. They might have suggestions, or offer to help.
  • Download a software program you like; play around with it; and practice with a tech-savvy colleague, friend or student.
  • Plan a simple videoconference activity (like using Zoom to connect to a staff member or volunteer at home or down the hall for a virtual game of Simon Says).

Concern #3: It’s hard to think of ways videoconferencing could be truly useful.

Don’t worry. Once you get comfortable with videoconferencing, you’ll come up with more ideas than you need! For starters, try a virtual career exploration project. Videoconferencing can connect students virtually with people who do different jobs in the public and private sectors. Your virtual guests can tell how their school and community experiences prepared them for their careers. (This is a good way to involve students’ parents and other family members, as well as local companies and community partners.) Local companies could do a virtual tour of their businesses. The mayor might Skype in to tell how she prepared for the job and what her workday is like. Parks and museums are also great sources for content that could fit your needs. 

Set Yourself Up for Success

Remember, if videoconferencing is new to you and your site, it will also be new for the students. If you’re using a videoconference to bring a guest speaker to your program, share a short bio about the speaker, make sure students know why the speaker was invited and what topic will be covered, and tell them about “videoconferencing etiquette” (such as paying attention, not interrupting and holding questions until the end, unless instructed otherwise). Be prepared to introduce the speaker, and prepare a few questions in advance for students to ask. Having these questions makes for a smooth start and will reduce the reluctance of the students to ask the first questions.

Look for Ways to Collaborate

Projects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are a natural place to start using videoconferencing. Students in different sites can exchange ideas, work on a project together, and demonstrate their learning. If you have a large group of students, connect your laptop to a larger monitor, if possible, so that everyone can see more easily. Also, connecting external speakers to your laptop will make it easier to hear presenters.  

Don’t Be Surprised if Students Ask for More!

Teleconferencing can be a terrific tool for engaging students and holding their interest. As you get better at using it in your program, don’t be surprised to hear students ask, “When can we do this again?”

Share What You Know

Y4Y is always here to offer help and guidance, and we’d be happy to answer your questions as you begin. We’d also like to hear about your experiences in using videoconferencing with students. What did you do? How did it go? How did your students respond? Please share your ideas and experiences in our online discussion space.

Happy videoconferencing!

Y4Y Resources

Here are a few project ideas from Y4Y to jump-start your thinking about videoconferencing as a gateway to a world of learning:

NASA STEM Challenges. Videoconferencing could connect students to scientists in your community — and to students in other locations who are involved in the NASA STEM Challenges.

Gathering and Sharing Information. This little package of ideas, templates, and a sample activity plan shows how you can connect videoconferencing and other online activities with what students are learning in school.   

Learning in Virtual Spaces. Virtual field trips can enhance learning in social studies, history, science, the arts and more!

 


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