Distance Learning Has a Local Appeal!

A few weeks ago Jean O’Brien, our technology integration specialist for grades 4-6, and Nichole Conjura, one of our sixth grade teachers, had a grand idea to apply distance learning technology to solve a local dilemma. The results have been intriguing.

Recently, one of their students had injured herself and required surgery that promised to keep her on crutches for a few months. This made the science class and science labs a physical challenge for her, as both were located on the third floor and the elevator only goes as far as the second floor.

The two teachers requested web cams and configured an internal connection so that the injured student could participate in the class and the labs via videoconference…from the library on the second floor!

When I visited the class, I was impressed to see that the lab partners of the injured students included her in their discussions and activities as if she were in the class. The camera followed their movements and the process was, to borrow a phrase, “the next best thing to being there.” Though the picture above shows the student as the primary focus on the rrom’s SMART Board, that was more of a photo opportunity than anything else. Generally, the student’s image is on a monitor, situated right between other members of her lab group.

Our district has had experience with videoconferencing, but generally not as local as this current solution! In 2002, our district had a state of the art video conference center and we were thrilled with the powerful learning that took place when our middle school students videoconferenced with the Lakota Tribe in South Dakota and with an historian from the Salem Witch Museum in Massachusetts. We were equally excited as our youngest students participated with other schools around the country for “Read Across America.” We marveled when, during a public Board of Education meeting, we connected to a school deep in China (and let out a collective sigh when, after a second try, we had both sound and video). For now our video conferencing center is mothballed due to space constraints, but the global lessons we learned then have reaped benefits for us now.

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