Telepresence in the Classroom: Enhancing Breadth and Depth of Learning

June 17, 2011 - 0 Comments

When you hear the word “classroom”, do you think about four walls? Desks and chairs? Maybe you are old school and still imagine a green chalk board – well, those days are over, now it’s more likely to be an interactive whiteboard, right?

If your idea of a classroom is the traditional, you need to check out Charles County Public Schools in Southern Maryland. In 2010, the district introduced telepresence, installing three completely equipped rooms to service the community’s students and teachers. All of a sudden, the classrooms lost their walls, and prior geographic and instructional limitations ceased to restrict learning.

With telepresence , the district can bring in teachers for important subjects in which current instructors may not have specialized expertise. For example, Kaplan instructors based in New York City will deliver advanced placement (AP) statistics instruction through two high school telepresence classrooms. Additionally, a partnership with Duke University will bring AP math and physics to the Maryland schools, and Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment will take students on virtual field trips to study marine biology.

The district also hopes to use a telepresence room in an administrative building for teacher education. With the College of Education at Towson University nearly two hours away, teachers need options for local, high-quality professional development. The telepresence setup has the potential to bring Towson professors to Charles County—and no one has to drive.

Not only will telepresence increase Charles County schools’ course offerings, but it can also deepen students’ learning. In several Minnesota schools, telepresence brings historical figures to life. In a program with the Minnesota History Center, elementary and middle school students engage through interactive video with impersonated explorers and pioneers. The figures take the students into their worlds, sharing their stories and guiding the students through simulated activities like portaging canoes and harvesting rice.

I don’t know about you, but to me, talking to a virtual pioneer sounds more stimulating than reading about one in a textbook. It’s just one of the innovations telepresence brings to education, and I am proud to be part of an ongoing effort that enhances all levels of learning – and makes it so exciting!

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