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Telepresence: Changing the Face of Education?

- January 9, 2011 - 0 Comments

A recent story in the New York Times about three state schools in Britain connecting students to tutors in India via the Internet has sparked an interesting debate about the use of technology for enhancing education.  On the one hand, the program has offered affordable, one-on-one specialized instruction through a medium that’s popular with students: collaboration technology. However, skeptics argue that the cultural differences could impact students’ learning and that outsourcing tutoring could threaten teachers’ jobs.   While there are legitimate points raised on each side, the larger issue is the role that collaboration technology is playing in transforming the educational experience for students, faculty and administrators.

Having worked in the education sector at Cisco, I’ve seen countless inspirational stories on how video collaboration technology can be successful in breaking down barriers and allowing students to gain a new perspective outside their immediate world. One such example, Kentucky School for the Deaf, uses video collaboration to interact with other deaf students at other schools, an opportunity that is otherwise rare for the students.  East View Middle School in New York has also been using video collaboration technology since 1999 as part of its Global Ambassador’s program, connecting students from around the world to discuss the issues of climate change, pollution, etc. and share perspectives on important topics.  And high school students at Stamford High School in Texas use video collaboration technology to teach elementary students around the world about the cotton industry. This not only allows youngsters to learn more about life in an agricultural town, it also gives the Stamford students the chance to share their knowledge on an industry that drives their local economy.

Today’s generation of students have unprecedented access to information.   With learning no longer confined to the four walls of the classroom, these students are part of seismic shift in the education process. The reality is that collaboration technology is transforming the way we learn, breaking down borders between towns or countries, and giving many students the opportunity to actively be part of a global community.  Telepresence not only lets students witness new experiences, it allows them to be an active participant in it.

What do you think?  Has video collaboration technology enhanced a learning experience for you?  Do you think the technology could further enhance learning in your city’s school system?

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