Tech to Connect

by Fritz Geissler, M.Ed.

 "I don't have the time during the day."  "Our budget cuts have reduced travel and field trips."  Such statements are unfortunately all too common. However, while both types of constraints may exist, they don't have to isolate educators from one another or from professional development.  Technology tools can provide real-time access to people around the world and to new learning in a way that was not previously possible.  Use of these tools requires time, but allows for more flexibility in scheduling how and when people come together to learn and collaborate.

Video chat is no longer something from futuristic movies.  Skype, MSN Messenger, and Oovoo are just a few of the free programs that offer video chat services.  If you have a webcam and a broadband Internet connection, you can communicate with someone else in either audio or video.  As a result, planning with another teacher can be done face-to-face at any time without leaving the comfort of your own home. 

Video chat also offers the opportunity to bring professionals and experts into your classroom without anybody having to travel.  For example, the National Archives offer one-hour workshops delivered through video conferencing to schools.  Other professionals are more likely to be available to meet with students for an hour via video chat than to travel to a school.

Further, Elluminate is a web-conferencing tool that allows users to engage in written and audio chat, as well as to share documents and programs during online sessions.  Elluminate also offers an education-focused component, LearnCentral (now called We Collaborate), which offers web-conferencing as well as forums and social networking for educators.  Both Elluminate and LearnCentral (now We Collaborate) allow educators to connect in real time and provide an effective venue for professional development without the need to leave school or home.  LearnCentral (now We Collaborate) also records some of the sessions that it hosts, which can then be accessed and viewed at later dates and times.

Getting started using a video chat program requires a download of the software, which then guides you through the setup.  Within schools, instructional technology personnel, or the instructional technology resource teacher would be able to help with the setup and access from school.  Like most technologies, it is best to first practice and test them out before using them with a class.  As educators become more familiar and comfortable with video chat and web-conferencing tools, the possibilities for and the efficiency of their uses will increase.  Access to other educators and professionals will also increase as comfort and knowledge of the tools increases.