Critical Reflection #7
Owsten, R. D. (1997). The World Wide Web: A Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning? Educational Researcher 26(2), 27-33.
October 30, 1997.

Owston (1997) notes that, "We have to realize that no medium, in and of itself, is likely to improve learning in a significant way when it is used to deliver instruction" (p.29). I would like to apply criteria outlined by Davies (1995 as cited in Owston, 1997) to Fetterman’s endorsement of videoconferencing (1996), modified to fit my personal context.

According to Davies (1995 as cited in Owston, 1997), when examining technology it is important to ask if the new technology makes learning more accessible and promotes improved learning with a cost not more than existing practice entails. I would like to apply these criteria within the context of my Grade 3 classroom.

More Accessible Learning?
I have WWW access which provides my students with a virtually unlimited database of information. How would videoconferencing make learning more accessible? The difference is that information on the web is generally static, while videoconferencing would enable dynamic learning and promote interaction with an expert, rather than follow a delivery model of education.  Already I can email a question to my keypal in Africa, and I can even include a videoclip of something that we are comparing. With email, though, immediacy and interpersonal connections are absent. With videoconferencing, students are able to access "experts" in real-time without regard for geographical proximity. Videoconferencing decentralizes learning by enabling educators to be located anywhere in the world.

Improved Learning Experience
The one area where videoconferencing could improve learning is in actual, real-time, participation with others far away. The JASON project has been ongoing for several years and allows students from around the world to participate in a real-time scientific expedition. The science class I taught three years ago went to Toronto, where videoconferencing allowed them to manouveur a submarine in Belize. Pretty powerful stuff.

Cost Effective
There are really two issues here: the cost of the hardware and connectivity, and the value that videoconferencing would provide in return for those expenditures.

Videoconferencing can piggyback upon the telecommunications infrastructure that is being developed in many public schools today. Once internet connectivity is provided, additional costs for videoconferencing are minimal. In my classroom, we use a Connectix QuickCam that cost $139.00.

What kind of value can students and educators receive from such a small outlay of capital? Presently, the quality of video transmissions are poor. Bandwidth is slow and busy. Today’s videoconferencing is beneficial to students in that it exposes them to what I believe will be an integral part of their learning experiences later on in life - both in school and out.  What they do now will lay the conceptual groundwork for later learning and utility. There are some present exceptions, such as the JASON project, that will continue to push the limits of interactive telecommunications during this transition from videoconferencing as an emerging technology to whatever its final role will be.

Videoconferencing is one of the next big steps in technology in education. We are almost at a point where sight and sound can be transmitted at speeds which provide seamless communication with between parties at great distances. I will be preparing my students this year by setting up “artificial” learning experiences which will include “videopals” with other Halton students, and possibly even a connection with Greg’s class if the logistics can be worked out!  Once the kids learn how to use the technology, I will monitor the internet to look for appropriate and relevant opportunities to use videoconferencing. I do not presently see videoconferencing as a large part of my students’ education, nor do I see it as one in the near future.