Videoconferencing | Feature

Delaware School Expands Student Horizons Virtually

Cape Henlopen High School in Delaware employed a five-step strategy to introduce videoconferencing as an alternative to on-site field trips and guest speaking engagements.

Looking for a way to expand the horizons of its 600 students without leaving campus or breaking the annual budget, Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes, DE, turned to videoconferencing as a viable alternative. Instead of buying some AV equipment and installing it in classrooms, hoping that teachers would use it, the school took a calculated approach to the initiative. First it secured the funding and then it consulted with the various district- and state-level experts about the project. Professional development would come next, followed by the equipment acquisition, installation, and final rollout.

The process took about seven months and was carefully planned out, according to Lori Roe, instructional technology specialist for the Cape Henlopen School District. Roe said the impetus behind the project was twofold: to get teachers to integrate at least two videoconferences into the semester's project-based activities and to encourage students to develop their own virtual field trips and sessions with experts outside of the school.

Secure the Funding First
In May 2011 the district applied for an Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) federal grant. (The proposal can be downloaded in PDF form.)

In the proposal the district emphasized its plan to create 21st century, innovative teaching and learning environments for its high school social studies classes. Emphasis was placed on professional development, said Roe, and on the alignment of the videoconferencing and digital resources with Delaware Prioritized Curriculum in social studies.

The funding would also be used to purchase and install a stationary videoconferencing setup in the high school's media center to serve social studies classes first, said Roe, "and eventually all students and teachers in the district."

Get Everyone Involved in the Initiative
The proposal did the trick. Armed with its EETT grant money, the district started planning out what equipment it would need and how it would handle the professional development piece.

The district's IT department, the Delaware Center for Educational Technology, the state Department of Technology and Information, and engineers from the selected telecom provider were all involved in this process, said Roe. Internal administration, the high school principal, and the teachers were also brought onboard during this phase.

"We really wanted to make sure we were all on the same page," said Roe, "and that everything from the basic infrastructure to the actual usage went as smoothly as possible."

Set Up and Administer a Professional Development Program
Next, the district did exactly what it promised to do in its grant proposal: It trained 10 veteran social studies teachers on the fine art of using videoconferencing in the 21st Century classroom.

"They were all novices in using technology in the classroom," remarked Roe. "All of them were at the 'lower level' of technology integration and innovation." The professional development included four onsite training days hosted by MAGPI, a Philadelphia-based network infrastructure provider for institutions in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Teachers learned about the equipment and how to use it to set up collaborative videoconferences. Additional professional development was provided by the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC) via videoconference and on the teachers' own terms.

"We used some of the funding to buy a content dollar bank so that teachers could go in and search for videoconferences of interest," said Roe. "That helped teachers overcome any apprehension about working with this new AV technology and also gave them hands-on experience with the student videoconferencing experience."

Purchase and Install the Equipment
The videoconferencing setups under consideration ranged in cost from $5,000 to more than $60,000, according to Roe. After reviewing its options, the district decided on a single "hub" unit that was smaller and cheaper than its original choice and housed at the district office.

The instructional AV equipment that the teachers and students would use was installed in the high school media center. Dual screens (one showing input and the other displaying output), one of which incorporates an interactive whiteboard overlay, were installed, and the center's seating was rearranged around those displays.

Schedule and Run the Videoconferences
Two months post-installation, the high school's videoconferences were up and running. Now in use by both social studies and science teachers, the setup has been used to host virtual field trips to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, the home of American president Andrew Jackson, and a stem cell research center.

With about 20 videoconferences under its belt, the school is now planning to train all educators on the equipment at a faculty meeting in late-2012.

"Beyond that we plan to invite other schools in our district to get involved," said Roe, who sees videoconferencing as a viable, modern-day alternative to the traditional field trip. "Our students have gone places they would never have been able to go in person. The global opportunities afforded by videoconferencing are limitless."

Additional information about the project can be found at capehenlopenivc.pbworks.com.

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