Online Learning | Feature

videoconferencing in K12 is Going the Distance

How one district is using videoconferencing to bolster both course offerings and enrollment in two of its high schools.

This article originally appeared in T.H.E. Journal's November 2012 digital edition.

For years, the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Delaware, where I serve as distance learning coordinator, has offered a select number of AP and specialty courses to our high school students. While it has always been the district's intention to provide students with as many enrichment opportunities as possible before their college or professional careers begin, expanding these classes has always posed something of a problem. A popular AP course offered at one school, for example, may not exist at its sister school across town. Even when instructors can be found, too few interested students might mean the course never gets off the ground.

When our students enter higher education, they are increasingly collaborating through online learning technologies such as learning management systems and video lessons. Knowing this spurred our district to consider using these technologies ourselves, especially in those classes designed to prepare students for the rigors of college.

To this end, Red Clay began offering students in two of our secondary schools--the Conrad School of Science and Technology and Alexis I. du Pont High School--access to AP and other low-enrollment courses via videoconference in the 2011-2012 school year. Now in its second year, the program conferences students into a traditional in-person class at the corresponding school using a suite of technologies provided by Cisco that we used to outfit each school's distance-learning lab. The suite includes the following:

  • Two 72-inch Samsung LCD TV Series 450 monitors in the front of the lab
  • Front and rear Cisco Integrator Package C90 Precision HD (1080p 12X) video cameras (for broadcast mode), with video output through the Extron Signal Processing Control Program
  • Epson Powerlite Pro projectors
  • Three-tiered student seating with 24 ergonomically correct swiveled chairs and student work space
  • Shure SLX wireless microphones placed throughout student work area
  • Twenty-four Dell laptops with Windows 7 Professional (Intel 4.0GB) with wireless internet connection
  • Smart Technologies 685ix & D685ix interactive whiteboards
  • Document scanner/camera and image capture tools
  • Teacher podium with Extron touchpad controls for all equipment

We began the program with 114 students in grades 10 to 12 across both schools, not all of whom participated in the videoconferencing. Of the total number of students enrolled, 47 received the broadcast from the partnering school (41 percent), with the remainder attending the in-person class with the teacher. This year, we've enrolled 148 students, with a similar distribution of in-person and broadcast students.

One of our primary considerations in choosing which courses to offer was to provide students with an expanded number of AP courses to give them a head start in their college careers and, we hoped, some financial savings. In the first year of the program, teachers at the Conrad School of Science and Technology broadcast their World History AP, Comparative Government AP, and Sociology courses to students at Alexis I. du Pont High School. Returning the favor, teachers at Alexis I. du Pont offered classes to Conrad students that included Statistics AP, Legal Process, Military History, and Accounting. Teachers and students at both schools used Blackboard's Edline Course Management System platform, which made collaboration much easier and provided students with 24/7 online access to all course materials.

Working for Students
In order to receive college credit for an AP course, students must score at least three (out of five) on an exit exam. In the first year of the program, almost 59 percent of students scored a three or higher.

Through an agreement with Delaware Technical Community College, students may also receive college credit for the successful completion of the Sociology course, not otherwise an AP course. More than 88 percent of the students enrolled in the 2011 Sociology course received college credit. Furthermore, the collaboration tools used in this program--discussion boards, blogs, wikis, web conferencing, video chat sessions, the Edline LMS--are the same tools used by many colleges and universities.

Tami Soltow, who teaches the Legal Process class as part of the program, incorporates many of the available technology tools and features into the learning strategies of her classes. "Students truly get a realistic approach into the communication and collaboration tools currently being used in the business community," she says. "In our classes, we have conducted mock trials using videoconferencing and utilized the technology to conduct legal research projects." Soltow also introduces her students to academic uses of Google Docs and even Gchat in an effort to expose students to the structure and technologies they will experience in their college careers.

Students, too, have been instrumental in providing program leaders with formative feedback throughout the school year. Showing how adaptable they are to shifts in technology, students have told us via videos, blogs, and tech-rich presentations how they enjoyed the flexibility their distance learning courses provided, the convenience of completing and submitting projects online, and the opportunity to connect with their peers across the district. Their feedback has led to an expansion of the program, currently planned for the 2013-14 school year, to include additional courses and at least two other schools in the district.

Overall, we feel confident that the program is doing far more than giving students an opportunity to earn college credit before graduation. As one student told us during the feedback process, "Many of the students see the distance learning program as more than a textbook and classroom; it becomes a community of 21st century learners."

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