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Two classes of New Jersey middle school students recently enjoyed a unique opportunity for exchange with their peers. From neighboring towns, the eighth graders live worlds away from each other demographically—one town is largely affluent and white, while the other is mostly low income with a predominately black and Hispanic population. Each class studied John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and they visited each other’s schools to discuss perceptions of the novel.

As reported in The New York Times, the students at both middle schools found the interaction with their counterparts eye-opening and rewarding, both in terms of literary analysis and cultural understanding. The ability to see the text—and life—from a different perspective fostered a rich educational experience.

With telepresence and other collaborative technologies, students are able to mimic the exchange in which the New Jersey youth participated, except they could share ideas with and experience the cultures of peers not only across town boundaries, but also across state lines and country borders. Telepresence enables a real-time, high-definition connection that allows for a quality of conversation comparable to in-person interaction, creating a unified classroom across geographies. The telepresence set-up establishes an environment that feels inclusive and intimate—the students would feel as though they had traveled to each other’s schools. They could see the detail in each other’s settings, in clothes, hairstyles, facial expressions, and other aesthetics that make up parts of a culture.

Imagine the cross-cultural learning possibilities if schools everywhere adopted telepresence. Yes, it’s an up-front equipment investment that exceeds the costs the New Jersey schools incurred to bus their students to the different schools. But, with telepresence in place, schools can host exchanges at any time, to any place around the world. The return on investment is priceless: a worldly student body, an attractive educational tool that engages learners and enables multiple teaching modalities, and an installation that, over time, can lead to savings—why not go on telepresence-led field trips or hook students in to courses taught elsewhere when budgets restrict hiring more faculty?

The possibilities with are endless! Are your local schools using technology to enrich the education of students?

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