Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What We Need - More Videoconferencing

"There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate." This quote is from Thomas Friedman's column in the NY Times on Nov. 20 as he speaks of "The Global Achievement Gap" by Tony Wagner, Harvard.  The article goes on to say countries that rank higher than the US have teachers in the top 1/3 of the class.  The article includes references to the Race to the Top to give money for innovative ideas in education. Change is needed.


Some educators like problem based learning as a way to engage students in learning, collaborating, and thinking skills.  Adding videoconferences to these collaborative efforts brings in communications over time and space and brings our students face to face with students from other cities, states, countries.  Imagine!  


One of our second grade classes meets monthly with a class in Michigan to share math problems.  The students work in their groups and individually and then share their answers with the other class.  Along the way, these students polish math skills, have some fun, learn about another community (geography, weather), hear accents, and make friends.  They are learning to work with others, step one.  As they grow, these classroom to classroom activities extend and increase experience in working with others (who may not be just like them) - it becomes a standard learning technique -- listening to others and valuing opinions of all people involved.


Imagine - middle schools and high school students using videoconferencing to discuss and learn about environmental problems or social problems.  Students using these skills to discuss and offer solutions to today's problems - isn't that what we want?


Videoconferencing collaborations use all of these skills - critical thinking & problem solving,  communications, and collaborations.  Add some multimedia, blog or wiki for scheduling, posting schedules, information sources, and you have a mix of learning that changes, allows for updating, and continued collaboration.  


After 28 years in public schools, two sons who attended public schools, and eight years working with videoconferencing, I continue to see, daily, the needs of our students, and I feel that videoconferencing offers many opportunities to develop these skills.