Video Conferencing a Boon to Maine Students

(Cross Posted @ Augusta Insider)

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree secured $473,000 for developing video conferencing in Maine schools.  12 vocational schools and technical centers in 11 counties will receive part of the grant.  The video conferencing technology allows a class to be broadcast to anyone over the network.  This broadcast is not one way.  The instructor can see and hear every classroom tapped in.  In a rural state like Maine, the advantages of this technology become apparent quickly.

“Maine’s network of technical schools performs the extremely important tasks of training the state’s workforce and helping Maine adapt to a changing economy,” said Pingree.  “This equipment will help ease some of our large state’s geographical boundaries, allowing teachers and students of all ages to learn from each other, share resources, and collaborate from one end of Maine to the other.”

Maine’s vocational schools offer a wide variety of programs for adults and those still attending high school.  Nursing, early childhood education, metal trades, and forestry are just a few of the programs offered.  These programs are wonderful.  If you know you will not be attending college, these programs can get you right into the work force after high school.  Adults returning to learn a new trade can benefit as well.

Some school districts have employed this technology as well.  MSAD #43, now part of RSU #10, used video conferencing to offer courses in American Sign Language.  The Governor Baxter School for the Deaf broadcast the class to Mountain Valley High School students.  Having worked as a computer technician at MSAD #43, I can attest that the class couldn’t have run more smoothly if the students were actually at the Baxter School.

Politicians and gubernatorial hopefuls should pay attention.  Maine needs to continue expanding this technology to all of its schools.  Expansion may be expensive, but think of the benefits. College level courses, collaboration between schools hours apart, and vastly diversified learning opportunities are just some of the advantages video conferencing could bring to Maine students.  Video conferencing in schools isn’t something Maine can afford to be behind in.

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4 Responses

  1. It’s not at all clear to me why this equipment should be so expensive. Nor am I convinced that it’s really of all that much value.

    There used to be an ATM system (asynchronous transmission mode) in place. That has been mothballed, but some school systems have now replaced that with a Tandberg system. There are probably others, too.

    How often do they actually use any of it? And for what purposes? Does the community have access? How much extra does it cost for people to monitor? How well do students do who use it? Are teachers being replaced? Lots of questions, not a lot of answers yet.

    • I think it is of great value. I’m not familiar with the different type of systems so I can’t speak of specific benefits or costs. In general, video conferencing makes it easier for this rural state to connect. Think of the programs a school could offer from the UMaine system or other schools that they don’t have the staff for. If you wanted to do something on the cheap, I suppose one could Skype into classes. I’m not sure if it would be as successful as a video conferencing system, but I’d certainly like to see some schools try.

      If schools don’t use their tech for video conferencing enough that is likely because they don’t understand how to use it. Not the technical aspects, but the potential. It really wouldn’t cost anything extra to monitor. In my experience, they had a teacher (or perhaps it was an aid) to administer tests, do grading, etc. Only the material itself was done through conferencing. The students enjoy they class and from what I could tell did very well.

      Also I don’t think teacher’s jobs are at stake because of this. This tool helps teachers expand to areas they otherwise couldn’t and collaborate statewide. I suppose some schools could try to cut teaching positions and replace them with video conference classes, but I doubt they’d get far. The MEA would be all over something like that.

      This is an emerging technology. It is part of challenging how we are teaching. I don’t think we know everything we can do with video conferencing and other technology yet. It will enhance the experience, not supplant the fundamentals. I see only positive potential.

  2. School reorganization sounded good in theory, too. The practical implications of any proposal are always the downfall, so I think digging a bit deeper into the history of videoconferencing across the state would be a good thing to do.

    • I don’t this is at all like reorganization in terms of implementation. Reorganization was a poorly thought out rush jobs. It was forced. Guiding schools into better use of their technology does not, and should not, have to be like that mess. It should be well thought out, working with teachers, school techs, principals, etc. for a smooth integration. It isn’t impossible. MSAD #43 had a smooth integration of their new grading software Peoplesoft (which they may or may not still use). It was a complex program that did a lot more than simple grading. The teachers and tech staff worked together and launched the system with no major problems.

      The problem with looking at the history of video conferencing is good to do, but does not contain the answers. You’d probably end up with a better picture of how to waste expensive technology in most districts. It isn’t that this technology isn’t hugely beneficial, it is that most districts likely aren’t using video conferencing to their full potential. I don’t fault them for that. Most people probably don’t take the time to look beyond the obvious.

      I suggest taking a look at Teach Paperless. He really does an absolutely brilliant job of integrating technology into the learning experience in ways we have never considered.

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