Are you there, caller?
We have been able to imagine the video call since we became comfortable with the phone, which wasn’t actually that long ago. The history of video conferencing (VC) technology is a complex one and from what I understand a financially vested one. For this reason, the high definition, luxury telepresence systems are prohibitively priced, certainly from the edtech complex perspective. Did anyone see any at BETT?
And yet, basic lo-fi video calling is freely available through Skype, and the “conferencing” functionality is very cheap.
I have had no experience of VC in the classroom. It is not something which is easily proposed, not only due to technological barriers, but because there is an issue of child protection, safeguarding and privacy which makes the prospect rather risky unless it is a guaranteed win.
For this reason, solutions provided by VCFL, Janet, and Mina Patel seem like a good option for schools. The environment is safe, centralised and policy-approved. The methodology is geared toward schools and teachers who are curious but cautious. In this sense, Janet will cater to the needs of a general audience.
How can this benefit our classrooms?
The Skype's The Limit
I can imagine three ways in which VC could be useful and exciting in the classroom. This was reinforced to some extent by Mina’s presentation in this session.
1. Bring other worlds into the classroom
Even a basic VC tool such as Skype is the perfect way to make this happen. A geography lesson about Kenya can be enlivened if a comrade schoolteacher in Kenya is willing to go to the Maasai Mara and Skype-cast it to my classroom. And we could do the same for him or her.
We know that Skype is now available on most mobile phones and this will only increase as other tools such as Google Talk evolve into video chat and beyond. This will also reduce or dependence on expensive infrastructure-based VC systems.
2. Connect with experts
As Mina pointed out, we are only a phone call away from some very passionate people from the world of art, music, technology, sport. Video-based interviews, question and answer sessions and inspirational speaking would work well in the classroom.
3. Connect with other pupils in the global village
As pupils work with each other on homework, projects, and tasks in micro learning communities, they can also explore the macro community of the global classroom. The idea of scale applies to people as well as things. They could work in a different with different classrooms across the world. These skills are important and will continue to be so.
Toward an open and free platform?
To me, the VC language is weird. Why do we still call it video “conferencing”? A conference, to me, suggests busy people in suits in a large room, which means business deals and money. I feel that the grassroots technologies of Skype and and other VOIP startups will change the landscape radically. When I was living in Bangladesh a few years ago, Skype was banned and blocked for several months because the state-owned system, BTRC, couldn’t accept the idea of free international calls, never mind video calls.
Learning communities and Skype
Since Skype, again, is the language of the youngest learning generation of digital natives, it is logical to assume that the collective will assimilate Skype and authentic and genuine learning communities, like Sugata Mitra’s Granny Cloud, will grow around the available technology. I am trying to find a classroom in Bangladesh that has Skype capability for an eventual field practice experiment. I am hopeful that it will work because the technology is free and available. I will also contact Janet to ask about how I could do this. I will post more updates on this project next year.