Imagine you are reading a book as a class and you could have the author in your classroom to let students ask questions and interact with them. Imagine being able to bring in a Chemistry teacher or professor to conduct experiments that you may not be able to do on your own. Imagine being able to collaborate face-to-face with teachers in your building, district, or around the world without ever leaving your desk. What if I told you there is a tech tool available to every classroom in Utah that will allow these very activities, and more, but very few teachers are using it? This FREE technology is known as Interactive Videoconferencing; you may also know it as IVC, Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, or Acano. Never heard of Acano? It is a desktop conferencing tool available to Utah teachers for free through Utah Education Network (UEN).
We all know that most students learn best when they can immerse themselves in an experience rather than just reading it in a textbook. With this technology, students are able to really interact with a guest speaker or location, all without leaving the classroom. Many museums, zoos, and par ks now offer virtual field trips to their facility where you can learn about various topics, take tours and speak to subject experts. Talk to a scientist from NASA; take a look at exhibits at the Smithsonian; interview the mayor of your city; bring in a musician to perform – the possibilities really are only limited by your imagination!
The equipment needed is a computer, network connection, webcam and microphone (most laptops have these built in), and a program. Some organizations that do this often have a service that they will connect you with, but if you want to do it on your own, you can use any of the programs listed above. A quick plug for using UEN's Acano service; when you use the free Acano client, UEN will help you test it out and make sure it is working on your network from your classroom. There is also a number you can call if you are having trouble and they can help you get it resolved. The cool thing is that the person you are bringing in doesn't need the client, you will just send them a URL link to the event and they can click to join.
There are so many opportunities for expanding the borders of your classroom, it just takes a little organization and the willingness to give it a try. Summer is a great time to make contacts and arrange to have a guest speaker come to your class next year!
If you have questions about getting started, feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.