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Texas High School Uses Video Conferencing to Bring the World to the Classroom

Del Valle High School teacher Michael Cunningham has found a way to knock down the walls of his classroom and engage his students in rich conversations with other high school students around the world.

Cunningham is using teleconferencing technology from LifeSize. The system enables him to connect members of his speech and debate classes with students at other high schools in the US, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The live discussions are part of a larger initiative to broaden the student learning experience through video technology.

"The purpose [of these video conversations] is to provide a world class education in my school by bringing the world to Del Valle," said Cunningham in an e-mail interview with T.H.E. Journal.

Cunningham, a 28-year veteran educator, first introduced videoconferencing into his lesson plans in 2001. DVHS uses LifeSize's ClearSea system. Cunningham has used the system to stream presentations from guest lecturers as well as to hold moot courts, mock trials and debates with schools around the world.

"Today we had a moot court with the Czech Republic and then a debate with Sisler High School in Winnipeg, Canada," he noted. Earlier this month, his students debated the topic of drug trafficking with students at Findon High School, in South Australia. "And last fall we had a video conference about Iran from Pittsburgh at the same time my students were arguing with Kehrad High School of Iran."

The teleconferencing sessions have given Cunningham's students a rare real-world glimpse into the turbulent social and political environments of their global peers. He recounted a time when a conversation with students at a school in Uzbekistan was cut short because the army appeared for a "crackdown" of local residents. Another time, a discussion with a class in the country of Georgia ended abruptly when Russian troops invaded the region. And just recently, while talking to a teacher at her home in Kiev, rioters took to the streets, protesting the government.

Cunningham sees big opportunity for video conferencing in education, particularly for students at schools in low-income areas. Three years ago, he launched a project called Virtual Teacher Exchange. The program is designed to bring educators from around the globe to teach in the United States, via teleconference.

"It [is] the ultimate concept of bringing the world's best and brightest teachers to schools in urban areas," he explained. The initiative aims to level the academic playing field by providing a way for all students -- at all schools -- to have access to high quality educational content.

"In the 21st century, you do not have to go to the suburbs to get the very best teachers," Cunningham said. "Come to the inner city and we have a faculty that is truly second to none in the world. Why? Because we have brought the world to that school."

About the Author

Kanoe Namahoe is online editor for 1105 Media's Education Group. She can be reached at knamahoe@1105media.com.

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