Advantages of Videoconferencing in the K-12 Classroom

June 29, 2005

Virginia R. Ewing

Why Videoconferencing?
When technology is used in the classroom, educators and students reap the benefits. Increased academic achievement, efficiency in the operation of schools, and the number of technically qualified students entering the workforce as well as the improved technology literacy, innovative teaching practices, and community relationships are a few of the rewards achieved when videoconferencing is implemented.

Videoconferencing, the telecommunications medium that allows individuals or groups at different locations to meet face-to-face in a real time setting, has found its niche in a world of new and emerging technologies. In the past, distance learning with two-way video and audio was beyond the grasp of many professional and academic organizations. Innovative telecommunications technologies such as ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), and IP (Internet Protocol) compressed videoconferencing systems have lowered costs, making videoconferencing feasible for many colleges, businesses, K-12 schools, and libraries.

K-12 educators view videoconferencing as an extension of the classroom. Intent on preparing their students for personal and professional success, educators are committed to equipping students with the skills needed to compete in the ever changing workplace. Videoconferencing provides an effective teaching medium because it is geared toward the first truly digital generation.

Advantages of Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing in the K-12 classroom is advantageous because it enhances the learning process, increases student motivation and participation, and encourages cultural diversity. It provides access to a vast array of information and resources to better meet students’ individual needs. Student comprehension of difficult or abstract concepts is easily understood through the face-to face interaction of videoconferencing. Positive relationships among educators, students, and community members are cultivated through videoconferencing, and it contributes to the more efficient operation of schools by reducing administrative expense. Videoconferencing establishes a visual connection between real world experts (presenters) and participants (educators, students, and parents). Conversation and body language also are used to enhance communication when educators and students see and hear remote learners in real time.

Educators can meet and match the educational needs and abilities of their students through videoconferencing. The technology supports the shift away from traditional lessons that are short, isolated, and educator centered to a student focused interactive experience. Different learning styles are considered when emphasis is placed upon long-term, interdisciplinary, student-centered activities integrated with real world issues and practices. Various learning styles are addressed by a variety of educational materials available through videoconferencing. For example, animations, audio, graphics, and video clips enhance the visual learner’s learning experience, while audio communications appeal to the verbal or linguistic learner. Kinesthetic learners benefit from audio and video communications, while hands-on activities like the Mars Egg Drop Activity demonstrated via NASA LIVE™ Learning through Interactive Videoconferencing) appeals to all students, including special needs students. Produced by NASA Langley’s Center for Distance Learning in Hampton, Virginia, NASA LIVE™ is a free series of videoconferencing programs designed for K-12 educators and students.

NASA LIVEâ„¢ offers 30 to 60-minute videoconferences between its researchers and students throughout North America and beyond. Educators and students have the opportunity to establish real-world connections with experts in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Through the power of videoconferencing technology, students participating in a NASA LIVEâ„¢ event interact with, and learn from the researchers who play an important role in the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, as well as other aspects of aeronautics and space exploration. Videoconferences, like the ones via NASA LIVEâ„¢, allow educators in different locations to share information, resources, and any costs involved without traveling long distances. Students in various locations can participate in classroom activities without being physically present.

One illustration of effective, synchronous videoconferencing took place via NASA LIVE™ among students from Oxon Hill Middle School in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Princess Anne Middle School, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Via NASA LIVE™, middle school students participated in the first joint NASA CONNECT™/NASA LIVE™ event: “The Nutrition and Exercise Challenge”. Accepting the challenge highlighted in the NASA CONNECT™ program, “Better Health From Space to Earth,” allowed students to work in groups and develop daily meal and exercise plans for individuals with special needs. This hands-on activity provided the students with real world examples of the nature of research and knowledge within NASA’s Office of Biological and Physical Research. More important, document sharing, collaboration of ideas, problem solving, and decision making between the students created a high degree of cooperation, resulting in increased student participation, higher retention of material, and a greater understanding of cultural differences. Upon completion, the students presented their plans to the presentation evaluators, Dr. Scott Smith and Dr. Don Hagan, researchers with NASA Johnson’s Office of Bioastronautics. Without the technology of videoconferencing and knowledge and effort of program moderators Chris Giersch, NASA CONNECT™ Program Manager, and Katrina Townes-Young, NASA LIVE™ Program Manager, this collaborative project would have not been possible.

Likewise, academic and social skills are improved through videoconferencing. Through group collaboration and interaction, students develop and improve their communication and management skills. As students prepare, present, edit, and provide feedback on projects, their presentation and speaking skills improve. Interviews with field experts, as in “The Nutrition and Exercise Challenge” provide students with opportunities to sharpen their listening and note-taking abilities. For additional information about videoconferences available via NASA LIVE™, access the NASA LIVE ™ website at

Videoconferencing provides students with the opportunity to learn about cultural differences as they work together with other students and adults throughout the world. Cultural diversity and tolerance are promoted as students interact with one another. High levels of interaction are encouraged through synchronous video communications and teaching strategies such as question and answer sessions or project-based learning.

Hence, videoconferencing removes barriers such as time, distance, physical disabilities, cost, personal and professional responsibilities. These are important factors when working with a group of students and on a limited budget. Virtual tours through scientific research centers like NASA, zoos, historical, and cultural sites provide students with face-to-face field trips without leaving their classrooms. Learning from a primary source rather than a textbook, students interact with experts in an otherwise inaccessible field. Experts help validate understanding, provide instantaneous feedback, and introduce practical examples, greatly improving student motivation, because students are active participants. For example, conversation and body language are used to enhance communications when educators and students see and hear remote learners in real time.

Just as students learn by participating in videoconferences, so can educators. Videoconferencing alleviates difficulties associated with staff development programs, by providing unlimited, exciting and inspiring opportunities for professional activities. The following scenario demonstrates how videoconferencing is effectively utilized within a school system. A particular school system requires all of its science educators to attend a one-hour staff development on tracking weather. Scheduling conflicts make it difficult for all educators to physically attend the session simultaneously. The school system sets up a videoconference, or series of videoconferences through a program like NASA LIVEâ„¢ on the requested or selected topic. Scheduling conflicts, time constraints, or location difficulties that normally prohibit some educators from attending the session become irrelevant. Videoconferencing conveniently and efficiently allows educators throughout the system to participate in the staff development activity without leaving their respective schools. The outcome is beneficial for all involved. Educators are also motivated at the prospect of sharing new information with their students and the staff development office is excited with its new staff development project.

Educators not only have the opportunity to attend staff development activities without leaving their home schools through videoconferencing, but they also are able to share teaching strategies, lesson plans, and assessment methods with colleagues nationally and internationally. The characteristic face-to-face communication of videoconferences encourages educators to exchanges ideas and suggestions about which lessons or projects work best in, or out of the classroom. The knowledge and understanding that other educators are teaching related subject matter, the same curriculum, or are experiencing similar difficulties with a particular subject area, validates and encourages collaboration, made easier through videoconferencing. Face-to-face discussions in real time allow educators to resolve problems and discover new ways to teach material in order to better prepare student for success in the workplace.

Through videoconferencing, educators are better equipped to meet students’ individual learning needs by exposing them to previously inaccessible information, resources, and experts. As one of the easiest and most powerful ways to enhance learning, videoconferencing encourages interactivity among educators, students, and experts, discourages passive learning, increases motivation, and promotes cultural diversity. It also removes the obstacles of time, distance, physical disabilities, and cost while connecting educators, students, and community members to a world of unlimited possibilities. Using free videoconferencing resources like NASA LIVE™ provides educators, students, and parents the opportunity to connect classroom content to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics related research and careers. The rewards experienced by educators who embrace and employ videoconferencing are well worth the time spent becoming familiar with a form of technology that is becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Educators must pass this knowledge on if they are to prepare the first and subsequent digital generations for successful roles in society.