George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Video Conferencing Technology for Collaborative Learning

Using Video Conferencing Technology for Collaborative Learning

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Students Looking at a Tablet

I'm a San Marino High School (CA) social studies teacher who has increasingly sought to connect students in my US Government, World History, and US History classes with the “world-at-large” using video conference technology.

Over the past twenty-four months of experimentation, I have learned that video conferencing technology can provide any/all students with a highly rewarding, innovative, and engaging experience that empowers them to connect to their own learning process. My students connected via video conference with:

  • People in the news
  • People discussed in our textbook
  • Book authors and/or journalists
  • Museum curators and/or staff
  • Subject matter experts
  • Students from other schools
  • Adults willing to hear student end-of-term presentations

Also, this technology is not just for the benefit of the high school social studies student. It spans across all all grade levels and all subject areas, including science, math, etc. It is also conducive to the special education classroom. All benefit from this.

For best results, I suggest using the video conferencing technology listed below:

  • A computer or laptop (rather than a tablet, ipad or iphone)
  • A monitor (preferably a projector and large screen)
  • A webcam (preferably an external, wide angle camera)
  • A microphone (preferably a tabletop microphone)
  • External speakers
  • Google+ Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype
  • Good bandwidth (DSL and cable connections as well as T1 lines are excellent options for video-conferencing connections, though fiber-based connections to the internet will significantly improve the quality of the interactions.)
  • Cabling to the Internet (rather than connecting wirelessly)

I also suggest formatting the video conference similar to that of a television talk show where:

  • The host, preferably a student, opens the video conference by asking a number of introductory questions of the guest(s) before giving the students in the host’s class a chance to ask questions of their own.
  • The video conference should last no more than a hour, as most individuals are willing to commit to a one hour time frame. (If you teach multiple periods of the same course, you can simply brief the other classes on the details or alternately, you could videotape the video conference and then share it with your other periods.)

To ensure that the host and audience members ask the guest(s) high quality questions during the video conference, teachers should do the following:

  • Conduct internet research to learn as much as possible about your guest, then draft a number of questions for students to ask based on what you learned on the internet and what was covered in class.
  • Share the questions you’ve drafted with your students, soliciting student volunteers to ask one or more of the questions.
  • Give your students the opportunity to create questions of their own. I prefer to have students show me their questions to be cleared for approval (this is just a personal preference and subject to your discretion).

Above all, I highly suggest working with your school's technology staff well ahead of the scheduled video conference to ensure that all the technology works as it should. The SMHS/SMUSD technology staff has provided immeasurable support in this regard.

For a brief description of the video conferences my social studies students have benefited from over the past two years, please see the examples below.

Names in the News

Patrick Paschall - the Hyattsville, Maryland City Council member mentioned in a 2015 Washington Post article entitled "Hyattsville Becomes Second U.S. Municipality to Lower Voting Age to 16". Mr. Paschall described the Hyattsville City Council decision in detail and - in response to a question - helped my students strategize how best to convince the San Marino City Council to adopt a similar measure.

Names in our Textbook

Mary Beth Tinker - the petitioner in the 1969 Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines, a case in which the court ruled that Warren Harding Junior High School could not punish Ms. Tinker for wearing a black armband in school in support of a truce in the Vietnam War. The case - which is mentioned in most US Government textbooks - set a precedent for student speech in schools. Aside from describing the case, Ms. Tinker answered questions such as:

  1. Did you ever receive any hate mail for having had your name connected to the case?
  2. To what extent do you think schools should be able to punish high school students for their off campus, online speech?
  3. We read online about something called Tinker Tour USA. What’s that?

Book Authors and/or Journalists

Jonathan Eig - Jonathan Eig is the author of “Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.” Mr. Eig not only told the students about his book, but also addressed questions such as:

  1. What was the hardest and the best part about writing this book?
  2. If your book were to be turned into a movie, who would you want to see cast in the main role?
  3. What’s the title of your next book?

Subject Matter Experts

Christina Fahad - a Burbank High School mock trial teacher-coach, who’s especially known for her ability to teach the 'hearsay rule'. She teaches it in such a direct way so the students grasp the concept. The goal of this video conference was to give my school’s mock trial team, - which I coach - a chance to learn the 'hearsay rule' from Ms. Fahad’s perspective as an addition to my instruction on this topic.

Museum Curators and/or Staff

Susana Bautista - the Director of Public Engagement at USC Pacific Asia Museum (Pasadena, CA). For this video conference, Ms. Bautista provided my students with a tour of the museum’s 'Ikko Style Exhibit', which highlights the work of master Japanese graphic designer Tanaka Ikko from the postwar period. It reflects on how Japan was changing during this critical time and how Ikko was central to helping form that new image.

Students From Other Schools

Students from CAMS (California Academy of Mathematics and Science) - For this video conference, students enrolled in one of the Academy’s US Government courses (taught by Mr. Gene Almeida) and took on the role of the US Congress. The students in my US Government class took on the role of citizens wanting to amend the US Constitution. The goal of the students in my class - to convince 2/3rds or more of the students in the CAMS US Government course to vote in favor of the proposed amendment.

Adults Willing to Hear Student End-of-Term Presentations

Judith McConnell - a California Appellate Court Administrative Presiding Justice for the 4th District. For the sake of this end-of-term (video conference) presentation, Justice McConnell presided over a mock US Supreme Court hearing with one student in my class serving in the role of petitioner and another student in my class serving in the role of respondent.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

It's a great question and one I get asked often.

For starters, I think the key is just a willingness on the part of the teacher to just reach out, whether by phone or email, being sure to emphasize you are only asking for a one hour commitment. As I said in my article, I've been totally surprised by the willingness of the "world-at-large" to give an hour of their time, especially if they are able to do it remotely.

Other then that, I think it helps if you can get the word out to your fellow teachers, administrators, board members, PTA reps, community leaders etc. Let them know that you are looking for someone to vc with your students. The adults in your community no doubt know lots of "great professionals" and would be more than glad to reach out to them on your behalf.

Lastly, I think it helps if you can provide your potential guest with a list of three or four questions in advance; good questions, questions that the guest will look forward to answering and which can't be easily found online. That may take a bit of work on the teachers part, but it pays off in the long run.

Other then that, feel free to contact me at any time and I'll help you, or any other teacher, find someone to vc with.

Sarah Rose's picture

Yeah, use of video conferencing technology in education sector eliminates distance, invites collaboration, and increases mobility for both the student and the teacher. Various tools like webex, gomeetnow, gotomeeting, R-HUB web conferencing servers etc. are used for conducting classes online.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Anyone interested in video conferencing should view the below

The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), provides consulting expertise in videoconferencing, integration, problem based learning projects, school-community partnerships and effective techniques for the delivery and development of quality programs.

Amy Rosenstein's picture

Great article! I, too, have had much success reaching out directly to authors and experts in different areas. They've been very generous with their time and happy to take part in Skype sessions. Another great way to make connections is through There is a growing number of virtual field trips for all grade levels, and it's really easy to use.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Hi, Amy. Can you please email me? I'd like to interview you in re your book 10 Fresh Ways to Incorporate Technology into Your Classroom. I'm currently interviewing a number of different authors (all having written about ed) and for your interview I'd be sure to ask you about your experience with video conferencing.

Chris Denny's picture

One of my previous jobs included conducting videoconferences around the world with students, so I think this is a great idea. You have provided some great resources for teachers. Here's another place that does videoconferences with schools: The Paley Center for Media.

Obviously they would focus on media and television, but they have several offerings at the moment.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Thank you, Chris. Interesting link. The Paley Center is new to me. Saw something there that I will look into. Much appreciate.

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