Learning from a Distance Brings it Home - Tech Learning

Learning from a Distance Brings it Home

A student in Kenosha, Wisconsin commented “If we didn’t have school when it was 19 degrees, we wouldn’t have school all winter!” Videoconferencing and other online opportunities allow learning anytime from anywhere no matter what the weather. Teachers can sign up for online courses and develop collaborative
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A student in Kenosha, Wisconsin commented “If we didn’t have school when it was 19 degrees, we wouldn’t have school all winter!â€

Videoconferencing and other online opportunities allow learning anytime from anywhere no matter what the weather. Teachers can sign up for online courses and develop collaborative projects using a variety of interactive tools. Joan Roehre, the Distance Learning Specialist for Kenosha Unified School District, shared with me how she divides Distance Learning into four main categories:

  1. Credited coursework
  2. Virtual field trips
  3. Interactive one-time videoconferences
  4. Collaborative on-going projects

Credited Coursework

Maybe your teachers need to complete their credentials or Masters and the courses they need are not available or conflict with their schedules. Why not find or develop online courses?

What if you are the college or high school instructor and most of your classes are face-to-face? Consider that most of your students either own or have access to computers and the Internet. The ratio for K-12 students to computers in schools is now 4:1. Universities encourage all students to have their own computer or laptop with wireless capabilities. For those that do not own computers, there are computers in classrooms and labs, Internet cafes, and public libraries. Teachers and students really have no excuse to not participate in an online course.

The initial steps to set up your online course takes time, but once completed it will save you time and keep your materials organized and easily accessible for your students. Components of an online course include:

  • Course syllabus and learning objectives
  • Grading criteria along with rubrics and checklists
  • Course schedule with assignments for each class
  • Links to reading assignments and research
  • Attached files that include templates and other documents
  • Synchronous chats and videoconferencing activities
  • Asynchronous discussion boards
  • Collection of files and evidence of work as portfolios

Your university or district may have contracted with a service provider that offers an online tool with all of the above features. There are other features that supplement what you ask your students to know and do, such as project management, curriculum building, or coaching tools. Some of the online programs available (Blackboard, WebCT, My eCoach, etc.) can be designed to develop online courses along with video and web conferencing tools.

The Virtual School @ Vanderbilt University matches curriculum needs with educational standards and links K-12 classrooms to resources by creating collaborative curriculum projects. Jan Zanetis, director of the Virtual School, co-authored a new book Videoconferencing for the K12 Classrooms available through ISTE. Scott Merrick from the University School of Nashville wrote about how the Nashville Opera created an online videoconferencing course for high school students. Read his “How to write an Operaâ€.

Virtual Field Trips

With today’s limited budgets, you can still help your teachers take their students on field trips. Just imagine going behind the scenes at the NASA Space Center. CILC — the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration, TWICE — Two Way Interactive Connections in Education, and ID Solutions (www.e-idsolutions) are three providers who offer databases of videoconferencing projects including virtual field trips. Examples include visits to zoos, museums, galleries, observatories, science centers, hospitals, and even the Baseball Hall of Fame. Videoconferencing with the Museum of Television & Radio is one exciting field trip that allows you and your students access to the Museum's archive of more than 100,000 programs that illuminate our nation's history and culture. Tim Barshinger from ID Solutions shared a project with the Grossology Exhibit. Know that middle school students will love that!

Professional developers can set up videoconferences to visit classrooms and view best practices. GLEF — the George Lucas Educational Foundation, offers virtual tours of classrooms on their Website. You can send your teachers to this site to view classrooms, listen to testimonials, and read research.

Interactive Videoconferences

Videoconferencing is not only a time-saver, but can be very cost-effective. Instead of my flying to Wisconsin, Kenosha suggested a videoconference so the teachers could meet me. The room was set up so the teachers could see me and my computer. New Haven Unified School District in Union City, CA and other school districts use this technology to interview teacher candidates. Some programs involve classrooms in interactive programs such as the Telejustice Project, a successful learning experience for high school students, developed by Heartland Area Education Agency 11 in Iowa. All the materials, timeline, and activities are available at Telejustice Project. Kenosha hosted virtual visits to authors, scientists, and other experts including:

  • “The Guys†a cooperative, high school outreach play with KUSD students, the Racine Theatre Guild and the local fire departments.
  • Yearlong: Read & Meet- Videoconference Book Clubs that allow students to meet world-renown authors such as Florence Parry Heidi and Betty Ren Wright)

Collaborative Projects

I remember setting up penpals with my students long ago. It’s been some time since I’ve been in the classroom. Now there’s ePals where teachers can set up classroom exchanges with other classrooms around the world. Global Schoolhouse offers collaborative projects for all grade levels including their project registry with over 900 online projects. IEarn provides collaborative projects that make a difference in the world. Joan shared additional collaborative projects from Kenosha that they plan to continue this coming year:

  • “Wisconsin History Mystery†Statewide 4th grade pair-ups to present clues of a Wisconsin Historical event
  • Collaborative projects between Stocker Elementary and students from Eleuthera, Bahamas.
  • A videoconference exchange between kindergarten students in Kenosha and Nashville Tennessee. Classes exchanged songs, riddles and quizzed each other about “what do I wear for recess if it is 20 degrees outside?†and then returned to talk about the similarities with the weather in the spring.
  • 5th grade students videoconferenced with 6th grade students in the middle school they will be attending, asking questions such as “What is the hardest subject in middle school?â€, “What is your favorite subject?â€, “Is it easy to get lost in the building?†and many more. This informal exchange, followed by a field trip to the middle school has substantially eased the minds of nervous incoming 6th graders. This is a great way to connect students who would never know each other. It’s a great mentoring program that Kenosha plans to continue each year.

All of these projects are about connecting people of all ages who would never get the chance to meet each other any other way. I know that the Internet, my listserv, and being part of an online learning community has opened up my world. When I go to conferences, I see people I’ve only met online. This happens all the time at the CUE Conference. At NECC in New Orleans, I met Joan Roehre in person for the first time even though I had been working with her for over a year through our coaching program and videoconferencing. When we saw each other at NECC, it was like we had known each other for years. Joan created a resource site that lists videoconferencing providers, examples and more at J-Ro’s Distance Learning Resources. Professional developers can see what projects are available and how others have used distance learning to support and extend the curriculum.

Email:Barbara Bray


Joan Roehre, created a resource site that lists videoconferencing providers, examples and more at J-Ro’s Distance Learning Resources.

The Virtual School @ Vanderbilt UniversityJan Zanetis, Director

Videoconferencing in K12 Classrooms (book available through ISTE)

“How to Write an Opera†videoconferencing project on Techlearning.com by Scott Merrick

The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration

Two Way Interactive Connections in Education

ID Solutions and Tim Barshinger

The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Telejustice Project with the activities, timeline and handouts

Museum of Television & Radio


Global Schoolhouse




Types of Distance Learning

Tip: A student in Kenosha, Wisconsin commented “If we didn’t have school when it was 19 degrees, we wouldn’t have school all winter!” Videoconferencing and online opportunities allow learning anytime from anywhere — no matter what the weather is like. Teachers can sign up for online courses and

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