Desktop Videoconferencing


Giving Technology-Proficient Teachers a Powerful Tool for Collaboration

Many exciting developments in Internet-based technologies provide educators with opportunities to expand their repertoire of tools for collaboration. One example is the advent of two-way desktop videoconferencing that promises to have a major impact on education. Recognizing the potential of this technology, a group of university, school district, and business leaders have formed a collaborative team to explore the application of desktop videoconferencing in the classroom. Members of the team include faculty at Utah State University's College of Education through the Center for the School of the Future, teachers and administrators of the Cache County School District in North Logan, Utah, and Sorenson Vision, Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Internet has provided a variety of tools for online collaboration. Static Internet pages, e-mail and threaded discussions have paved the way for asynchronous collaboration between educators and students. Online chats have been an important tool for synchronous collaboration, but these forms of communication are about to be supplanted by the mediums of audio and video. Recent developments have allowed video and audio streams to be compressed into manageable sizes. This, coupled with the proliferation of broadband technologies, has made effective synchronous collaboration possible.

Electronic collaboration is important to consider because it can be done at any time, from anywhere. Further, it allows for a sustained effort where participants can propose, try out, refine, and shape ideas themselves (LAB at Brown University 1999). According to Brown (2000), electronic collaboration can be integrated into the following:

  • Discussion groups
  • Data collection and organization
  • Sharing documents
  • Synchronous communications
  • Online courses and workshops
  • Integrated distance learning tools

It is important to note that one of the goals of this project was to explore how desktop videoconferencing fits into the current landscape of electronic collaboration, not necessarily how it will supplant electronic collaboration as we know it.


Some examples are given of three basic types of collaboration with two-way desktop videoconferencing. The classification system was developed by Brown University (LAB at Brown University 1999), and includes one-to-one, one-to-group, and group-to-group.


(collaboration, technical assistance, counseling, special needs)


Case 1: A cadre of innovative teachers was identified and a two-way videoconferencing system was installed on their classroom computer. This group of K-12 teachers is revising and updating the district technology plan, sharing teaching ideas and lesson plans, and engaging in accountable talk. *


Case 2: We are currently using the system for discussion of School-to-Career planning issues. The School to Careers Committee represents teachers, counselors, administrators and teacher aides from K through 12 levels. In order to carry out the operational goals of the district School to Careers program, desktop two-way videoconferencing has allowed the coordination of SEOPs, apprenticeships, internships, and other related activities. In this program, logistical issues are a concern and desktop two-way videoconferencing presents a viable solution.


Case 3: School Counselors from feeder schools are working together on SEOPs and academic advisement. Document sharing is a powerful feature of the system. Both counselors, through the use of the system, can edit the SEOP documents synchronously. When issues surface about student scheduling needs, a counselor can set up a meeting with a student at the current school site and include the counselor from the student's previous school. This allows for continuity in planning the SEOP.

(classroom, school-to-school, small group meetings)


Case 4: A project has been established between Pat Stoddart, Utah State University, Louise Leatham, Sky View High School English Department, and preservice teachers. The USU professor is able to observe preservice teachers in the classroom, using the desktop two-way videoconferencing system. Further, the professor debriefs her colleague at Sky View and the preservice teachers with the observations, via the system.


Case 5: Professional development activities are conducted between national consultants and educators. For example, Douglas Reeves, a national consultant on standards and accountability, is working with a group of school administrators over the desktop two-way videoconferencing system. The Cache County School District is undergoing a process of aligning curriculum to the teaching process and to testing and assessment. Dr. Reeves speaks to administrators over the system and discusses issues that are faced in the implementation of a system driven by standards and accountability.


Case 6: Resource sharing has unlimited potential. Two classroom teachers from different high schools, J'e Campbell and Kaylene Johnson, teach a multimedia applications class and are dividing software applications to double their teaching power. Each teacher specializes and then teaches to both classes, while the other teacher serves as an assistant. The degree of sophistication of HTML authoring software and design software, such as Photoshop, requires the teacher to spend many hours in training and to find the time to develop the application materials. By dividing up the responsibility, each teacher can thoroughly learn the software applications, and thus do a better job of teaching students.

Case 7: Special courses offer many possibilities. A Russian class will be taught between two high schools. Finding the expertise to teach specialized course material is very difficult. Allowing students multiple accesses to a master teacher is a win-win situation. A special weather class was offered during the fall 2000 at the Cache Alternative High School. Students worked with Dr. James Hack from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Dr. Steve Zsiray on a canyon weather study. Dr. Hack taught and advised the group through the use of a desktop two-way videoconferencing system.


(training and workshops, course delivery)


Case 8: Students at the Edith Bowen Lab School, Utah State University, are working on a collaborative art study project with elementary school students in Clark County, Nevada. Students from both schools, separated by 500 miles, share the expertise of an art specialist who is able to work with the students.


Case 9: Teachers from Sunrise Elementary School in the Cache County School District contact and work with students from the high school teacher's Multimedia Applications class to help with the design of presentations for use in classroom instruction. A first grade teacher who has made strong efforts to integrate technology into classroom instruction established the connection between his first grade students and the high school students from the Multimedia Applications class.


The early results of the project reflect the creativity of the individuals involved in the application of the desktop two-way video communications technology in the classroom. We look forward to reporting future results of the project and to offering a workshop for teachers on the applications of two-way video systems in their classrooms.

*Accountable talk is one of the eight components of the effort-based learning model as defined by Resnick (1995). Accountable talk is relevant discussion related to the teaching and learning process.



Dr. Stephen W. Zsiray, Jr. is the executive director of Curriculum and Instructional Services, Cache County School District, North Logan, Utah, where he coordinates educational technology in the schools. Dr. Zsiray has been involved with innovative educational technology projects for the past 15 years. Dr. Zsiray also serves as an adjunct professor in the College of Education, Utah State University.





Tim G. Smith is the director of technology for the Center for the School of the Future, Utah State University. He holds a M.S. degree in Instructional Technology, and was the Project Manager/Instructional Designer for the Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University. He has also been a Russian language teacher for American Fork High School and Utah Valley State College, Utah. Smith has been instrumental in working with the implementation of two-way videoconferencing systems in schools throughout the country.


E-mail: tsmith@c'



Dr. Richard P. West is executive director of the Center for the School of the Future, Utah State University. He is also a professor of special education and rehabilitation. Dr. West has directed or co-directed more than $12 million in research, training, and demonstration projects during his 18 years at Utah State University. Prior to coming to USU, Dr. West was an administrator in a large metropolitan school district.


E-mail: rwest@c'




Brown, Justine, K. "Videoconferencing Tips and Tricks." February 2000. Converge.


Electronic Collaboration: A Practical Guide for Educators. 1999. Northeast and Islands. Regional Educational Lab at Brown University. The LAB at Brown University.


Resnick, Lauren. 1995 "From Aptitude to Effort: A New Foundation for Our Schools." Daedalus, 124(4), 55-62.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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