Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 5, Jan. 2006
Cooperating School Districts’ New Links to Learning program creates educational opportunities through videoconferencing
While videoconferencing technology opens a world of possibilities for the K-12 classroom, the vast amount of resources available can seem overwhelming to teachers, who must not only locate content, but master technology and integrate the videoconference into their curriculum.
A program of Cooperating School Districts (CSD), a non-profit consortium of 61 public school districts in the greater St. Louis area, New Links to Learning, was designed to turn classroom videoconferences from challenges into opportunities.
According to CSD Virtual Learning Center Director Ruth Litman-Block, New Links to Learning delivers some full classes, but most of the focus is on using the technology to enhance traditional classrooms.
CSD uses a three-part model for videoconferences, Litman-Block said: students are well-prepared in advance, not just on protocol but also on content; coordinators work closely with the teachers to learn how the videoconference fits in with their curriculum, and teachers will meet with authors or download materials to develop learning objectives and lesson plans; and students then develop projects and share them across the district.
Recent projects have included a partnership with a public library that included a session with an author, a videoconference between Ritenour High School students and an actor and educator at London’s Globe Theater, and a videoconference between students at Mehlville High School and Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem (see below).
“We’ve found that the level of work the students produce is really raised when they’re working with professionals in their topic and then sharing that work with an authentic audience, rather than just writing for the teacher,” LitmanBlock said.
Last year marked the first time CSD has partnered with MOREnet Video Services to provide bridging service, migrating from ISDN to IP.
“Our hope is to expand our footprint to offer these enrichments to people not only in the St. Louis area, but all over the state of Missouri,” Litman-Block said.
To find out more about offerings from CSD’s New Links to Learning, visit csd.org/csdrpdc/virtuallearningcenter/nlnlhomepage.html.
In April 2005, a group of students from Mehlville High School in St. Louis County met with a group of students from Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem to talk about issues relating to community and diversity.
Mehlville students discussed the value of a diverse student population and how they celebrate diversity at their school with their “global coffee house” where students of different ethnicities celebrate their culture. The Israeli students talked about various European immigrants who settle in Israel and the difficulty they have with language barriers and economic struggles.
Both groups were interested in learning about the others’ daily lives and how each group viewed the other before they met “in person” on the videoconference. One Jerusalem student wanted to know whether life in an American high school was really all cheerleaders, football players and proms as it sometimes appears to be on television. The Mehlville students acknowledged those things existed but stressed other activities such as National Honor Society, student government, volunteer work and after-school jobs.
“I think this videoconference was a really fun and amazing opportunity to see how life is in Israel,” one Mehlville student said.
“I am honored to have shared this unique videoconference journey with the students and have the opportunity to voice their ideas to our staff,” said Chris Gerwitz, Mehlville High School Building Technology Coordinator. “I look forward to continuing our discussions with the students in Israel for this school year. It is always exciting to observe the students’ growth with understanding and celebrating diversity.”
Ritenour High School language arts teacher Lucille Van Alstine couldn’t take all her students to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, so she did the next best thing: she brought the Globe to them via videoconference.
On Dec. 6, students used Internet videoconferencing to talk to Patricia Kerrigan, a renowned Shakespeare actress and practitioner Ruth Lewis at London’s Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the open-air playhouse where Shakespeare worked and many of his greatest plays were performed. Students had the opportunity to ask questions about Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. Van Alstine’s students studied The Winter’s Tale this semester, which the Globe presented during their 2005 season.
Van Alstine spent last summer acting and learning at the Globe Theatre in London as one of 20 U.S. drama and English teachers selected to attend “Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance,” a three-week program offered by Globe Education. Participants attended lectures and workshops providing ideas for teaching Shakespeare in the classroom. Participants also attended Globe Theatre productions and studied and performed scenes from The Tempest on the Globe Theatre stage. Van Alstine, the only Missouri teacher selected for the program, attended for free thanks to funding from the English-Speaking Union of the United States.
“We had such fun with this project,” Van Alstine said. “Most importantly, the students exceeded beyond my expectations. Their grades rose and their willingness to do academic work increased immensely.”
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