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  • 1. 1 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> Assessing the Needs of the K-12 Audience in Synchronous Educational Videoconferencing Peter G. Haydock, MLIS Educational Services Manager Milwaukee Public Museum Jason A. Dennison Instructional Technologies Educator Milwaukee Public Museum In Spring 2004, the Education and Public Programming Department at the Milwaukee Public Museum conducted an international survey of educational videoconferencing professionals, K-12 educators and content providers delivering programs specifically geared to the K-12 audience. The survey was designed to identify general attitudes and trends in synchronous educational videoconferencing. The findings indicate that content providers and videoconferencing participants have many similarities in their descriptions of videoconferencing interactivity. However, certain significant differences are present. The subjective definition of ‘interactivity’ complicates the process of program design and delivery for content providers. The principal focus of this paper examines the similarities and differences these stakeholders state in defining interactivity. Electronic Fieldtrips: Around the World in 80 Seconds Room-based videoconferencing has been in use in the business sector for more than twenty years. The education sector quickly adopted videoconferencing shortly afterwards. Cost, lack of content resources and mistrust of the technology hampered wide-spread use until the early 1990’s as small groups of users, primarily in post-secondary institutions, began to incorporate synchronous videoconferencing into fledgling distance education programs. As the decade progressed, and as equipment and communications costs decreased, nonformal learning environments (e.g., museums, zoos and technology centers) began creating video-based programs to expand their audiences beyond the immediate geographical area. Combined with the simultaneous acquisition of videoconferencing equipment by K-12 institutions, synchronous videoconferencing and electronic fieldtrips (i.e., virtual visits and/or tours of nonformal settings) quickly followed. The available literature on videoconferencing as an educational tool is generally abstract and esoteric— and fails to address questions of best practice. Middleton states in his 1997 article, as cited in Motamedi (2001), that the effectiveness of a distance education program “depends upon which criteria are used to evaluate it and who is doing the evaluation” (p. 387). The researchers are establishing through the findings of this survey, and the larger research study to which it is attached, a better understanding of the K-12 educational setting and the potential market which it represents for future technology integration and videoconferencing opportunities. Content providers, in general, must be better aware of the most effective methodological and pedagogical approaches to delivering content via synchronous videoconferencing. As the Milwaukee Public Museum began to define its approach to distance learning and videoconferencing in November 2002, staff had to rely on anecdotal accounts of strategies and methods that had been successful for other institutions. Motamedi (2001) describes that, “[t]he result of either inadequate class preparation or too much teacher ‘air-time’ in videoconferencing can be an inferior and un-motivating instructional experience, such as a ‘talking head’ situation, typical of a television news program. The experience becomes yet another mindless and passive activity equivalent to watching television” (p. 392). This and other examples established that personal preferences, opinions and Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning
  • 2. 2 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> assumptions, but little quantitative support gauged program success. While sources often indicate methods or strategies to avoid, there is little to no indication of which methodological approaches have proven successful or valued. What tools or skills are necessary for a content provider to successfully develop and deliver videoconferencing programming? How can these institutions ensure that there programs are meeting the needs of the K-12 audience? As trained educational professionals, classroom teachers and administrators know what does and does not work with their students. In today’s standards-driven educational environment, it is imperative that videoconferencing programs meet, or can be adapted to meet, state and national content standards. Those responsible for technology integration—whether at the building, district or regional level—are also tasked with identifying content providers and willing teachers who can make effective use of new and existing technologies. Videoconferencing, in K-12 educational settings, is used for many different purposes around the world. In many secondary schools, we see videoconferencing utilized on an on-going basis (once per week, twice per week, etc.) to fulfill course requirements not accessible in a local school setting (e.g., foreign languages, aviation maintenance, art appreciation). The concept of the “one-time” educational videoconference has been historically reserved for extension or enrichment activities, and not as a part of the curriculum itself. What standards of delivery do these audiences require? Interactivity is clearly indicated as one such ‘standard’. Greenberg (2004) emphasizes this sentiment by stating that “research shows that practitioners are most successful when they design the instruction to be highly interactive. In other words, we see from this research that video conferencing both supports interactivity and demands it” (pp. 13-14). How do each of these audiences define that standard? Methods of Data Collection and Sorting As part of a larger research study entitled “Instructional Implications for Educational Videoconferencing,” the researchers consulted with other content providers, local school district personnel and regional videoconferencing network administrators to identify key data that would prove beneficial in each of their domains. The resulting survey was then distributed to all members of three major videoconference-focused listservs: K12IVC, PacBell ed1vidconf, and the Wisconsin Association of Distance Education Networks (WADEN). The approximate number of individuals subscribing to these listservs, excluding duplicate subscribers, is estimated at approximately 1000. The primary membership of these listservs are mid-end users of videoconferencing technologies. Responses were collected at random and were not tracked. The international survey was made available on-line through the Milwaukee Public Museum’s website at The survey collected data that would characterize the respondent’s understanding of what a “quality” videoconference looks like. The complete survey was composed of 43 total questions, including basic demographic information with the participant’s self-reported role in the videoconferencing process. In order to obtain open-ended responses addressing the nature of ‘interactivity’, respondents replied to the following question: “When you think of ‘interactive’ videoconferencing activities, what five words or phrases define ‘interactive’ for you?” Participants entered responses into five open text boxes, allowing for unhindered interpretation and varied responses. Following the close of the survey, responses were categorized (based on post-closure criteria) and tallied based on the participant’s self-reported role: content provider or developer; classroom teacher; school administrator; and, technology coordinator. Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning
  • 3. 3 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> What the Responses Tell Us Defining interactivity has been central to the discussion of meeting customer and gatekeeper expectations. While the technology of interactive videoconferencing is well established and is maturing and expanding in capabilities along with other technologies, the perception of broadcast quality and impact is highly variable. Quality programming is dependent on the individual reviewing the program and their background. Establishing reference indicators for developing quality programming for consumers is paramount to the continued viability of service providers. A baseline assumption was made about the respondents’ definitional terms and phrases submitted to answer the question “What is Interactivity?” The terms and phrases submitted are assumed to correspond to the most important aspects in the respondents’ views on videoconferencing. Analyzing input from educators, administrators and technology coordinators is an important step in improving the quality of videoconferencing delivered by nonformal educational institutions. Museums rarely have classroom educators to whom they can turn for evaluation of methodological and pedagogical approaches to content delivery. Table 1. Tallied Responses of Participants Participant Group Methods Technology Content Affect Support Media Content Developer (n=15) 31 8 4 14 8 5 Classroom Teacher (n=22) 62 8 14 12 0 7 School Administrator (n =5) 14 2 5 3 0 0 Tech. Coordinator (n= 73) 141 55 20 69 3 43 For all four groups, the methodology used in delivering the videoconference is the most important factor in defining ‘interactivity’ (see Table 1). The methodology responses dominate each group’s input to the survey, ranging from 42 – 59% of the terms listed. ‘Asking questions’, ‘providing feedback’ and focusing on the ‘student interaction’ are factors that rate highest among these groups. Many respondents indicated as part of their responses that talking head programs are not acceptable and are not considered quality programs. Activities during the presentation also rate highly among all of the groups. Discussion was an important factor for videoconferencing, but the discussion as indicated by the terms submitted must be participatory and allow the discussion to proceed in both directions. The high response rate of technology coordinators indicates that they are primarily the interested gatekeepers for school districts for videoconferencing. They are responsible for finding and disseminating information to teachers and administrators regarding the availability of videoconferencing programs. Not surprisingly, technology coordinators are the most interested in the technological aspects of the videoconference of all of the groups surveyed. The primary term listed under the category ‘technology’ is “two-way” using both audio and video. Affect, the emotions generated by the videoconference, are referenced by the technology coordinators relatively more often than any of the other groups. This is an interesting result and can be explained by this group being more experienced consumers. The terms ‘engaging’, ‘fun’ and ‘dynamic’ dominate affective responses used to define videoconferencing by respondents. Over 20% of the terms used by technology coordinators to define interactive fall into the ‘affect’ category. The perceptions technology coordinators have are quite valuable, but conveying enough information to these professionals so appropriate and appealing information is passed onto classroom teachers to have their information-seeking needs are also satisfied. The disparity between technology coordinators and Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning
  • 4. 4 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> teachers is significant enough to consider modifying the discussion once the teacher is engaged in the process. The teacher group lists vocabulary that is categorized as ‘methodological’ more often than any other group. Teachers see videoconferencing as an extension of how they conduct their classrooms. It is important to ask and answer questions, thereby engaging students in the educational process. Teachers also see content and curricular connections as defining interactivity. Without the tie to the curriculum, the videoconference loses value. If access to the teacher is routed through the school administrator, content and curricular suitability rises to a larger level of importance. Activities that tie the session to classroom and school learning outcomes are more important in the eyes of the administrator. The overall lack of response by school administrators (n = 5) is noteworthy. Videoconferencing is primarily a delegated responsibility of the technology coordinator. Administrators do not define interactivity by the media (PowerPoint®, artifacts and experts) but more interested in the affect and methodology. The subset of administrator respondents is too small to draw any conclusion; however, the few respondents did provide some valuable feedback. Content providers or developers comparatively mention terms falling under the category ‘support’ more than any other group. This can be attributed to the multiple protocols and technologies that are used to deliver content. Most content providers need to deliver programs to dozens of different receivers, which can involve an equal number of permutations of protocols. Because the content developer is outside of the traditional educational process, ‘affect’ rises to a higher level of importance. Passion for the content is very important in these settings where content scope is narrower that the content scope of a classroom. Among all other groups, however, responses fitting the ‘support’ category are negligible, perhaps because the other groups see ‘support’ and ‘interactivity’ as distinct from one another. Conclusion In conclusion, method and affect are most important to all respondents in defining interactivity. Model interactive videoconferencing engages students with questioning, activities and opportunities for feedback and dialogue with the presenter. Engaging the technology coordinators seems the most likely route into serving a classroom teacher with interactive videoconferencing services, but classroom teachers expect that students are taught using pedagogically sound methods including activities and thoughtful questioning to engage students. This holds true for their teaching and the guest that they invite or contract with to bring content into their classroom. It is important to understand this as content developers market themselves as content specialists and experts. Teachers do not want a news broadcast for a videoconferencing session. Teachers want interactivity. Well-crafted videoconferencing sessions will create maximal opportunities for students to ask and answer questions from the presenters. Greenberg (2004) recommends “course content and pedagogical methods that are specifically geared to take advantage of the unique capabilities of video conferencing technology. Supplementary materials, coordination with remote locations, remote in-class instructors supporting overall pedagogical goals, creative design of virtual field trips, and gearing learning objectives to the medium” are all necessary for successful, valuable videoconferencing experiences (p. 14). Presenting the content must also evoke excitement and passion from the students. This emotional response is the strength of the nonformal learning center. Museums, zoos and historical sites teach at a more engaging and personal level. The blending of the expertise, objects and artifacts with the methodology of the classroom will ensure success of the interactive videoconferencing session. Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning
  • 5. 5 20th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning 05.06 For more resources click here -> References Greenberg, A. (2004, February). Navigating the sea of research on video conferencing-based distance education: A platform for understanding research into the technology’s effectiveness and value. Wainhouse Research. Retrieved May 29, 2004, from navseadistedu.pdf Motamedi, V. (2001). A critical look at the use of videoconferencing in United States distance learning. Education, 122(2), 386-394. Retrieved February 22, 2004, from the ProQuest database. Biographical Sketch Peter Haydock, Educational Services Manager for the Milwaukee Public Museum has been an educator for over 14 years in formal and informal educational settings. From successfully integrating spreadsheets, presentation software, information research and web page design into the K- 12 classroom to extending learning opportunities through videoconferencing, he has a strong interest in technology-based solutions for meeting educational goals. As a former classroom teacher and graduate research advisor, technology has served as a vehicle for facilitating learning. Under his management, technology has allowed the Museum to service more teachers and students both locally and at a distance. Address: Milwaukee Public Museum 800 West Wells Street Milwaukee, WI, USA E-mail: URL: Phone: 414.278.2716 Fax: 414.278.6108 Jason Dennison is the Instructional Technologies Educator for the Milwaukee Public Museum. Mr. Dennison has worked in the education field as a classroom teacher and building technology coordinator, a federal contractor in Washington, DC, and has most recently been responsible for technology integration for the Education and Public Programming Department at the Milwaukee Public Museum. In addition to his development and delivery of video programming and related curricular activities, he has also presented at numerous technology and museum conferences and has designed an international survey of educational videoconferencing professionals, the findings of which can be found in this paper. Address: Milwaukee Public Museum 800 West Wells Street Milwaukee, WI, USA E-mail: URL: Phone: 414.278.6148 Fax: 414.278.6108 Copyright 2005 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Duplication or redistribution prohibited without written permission of the author(s) and The Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning