Video conference with outside content providers report
Video conferencing with outside
content providers report
‘This is a really exciting experience. There is so much potential in
videoconferencing, it really opens it [the classroom] up!’ Head at Eaglesfield Paddle
Taking one part of a 14 week term (between the dates 7/10/05 and 25/11/05), eight schools booked to take
part in 12 VC sessions with national providers. These providers were:
Science Museum Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms
Royal Observatory Greenwich National Archives
Museum of London National Portrait Gallery
National Maritime Museum Wellcome Library
All of these providers were listed on the Global Leap website and initial bookings were made, in most cases,
through Global Leap. Of 12 bookings, two were cancelled, two were abandoned part way through and one
was rescheduled. Seven sessions went ahead as planned.
All schools had been tasked with trialling three sessions in the term. Due to time restrictions, suitability of
content and number of sessions available for booking, this did not happen as planned. The schools did,
however, trial sessions with Helmshore Textile Mill as well.
A few schools wanted to take part in sessions later in the year as they felt this would fit in better with their
curriculum. This was felt to be important by all and proved to be vital when some schools did undertake
‘stand-alone’ sessions as part of the trialling process.
A bumpy start
Technical issues hampered the evaluation of learning and teaching at the beginning of the project.
• Lack of quality resulting from networking issues
• Technical problems with the gatekeeper
• Lack of experience using ISDN calling, especially prefixes and the ability for museums to call back
• Audio set up
• Failed calls due to hardware issues (not necessarily at school end)
When this happened teachers felt frustrated with the experience, but because they had support immediately
available from a CLEO learning consultant, they were prepared to try again at a later date. There was general
concern about what would have happened without support. However, both content providers and schools
need to be aware that they may need to try again. They should not give up too soon!
Most technical issues were solved in the first few weeks. When technical issues did not hamper the VC
session the children were generally well engaged and the teachers enthusiastic about the experience. The
following recommendations come from observing these successful sessions.
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Where VC is good:
• The session is an appropriate length.
30-45 minutes was reasonable for Key Stage 1 and 45-60 minutes for Key Stage 2. Depending on the level of
• The session includes a high level of interaction.
This includes activities to be undertaken as part of the session as well as question and answers. The best
sessions included higher level questioning typical of educators and made an attempt to differentiate and
• The learning intentions of the session are clearly defined.
It is helpful if the teacher has decided the learning intentions to be addressed in the session. If this is not
practical, the teacher needs clearly defined intentions set out by the provider.
• The session fits into the curriculum seamlessly; to complement, reinforce and develop learning that is
taking place in the classroom.
Some sessions work best as an introductory session, whilst others require some prior learning to have taken
place in the classroom, so work best at the end of a topic. It is helpful if prior knowledge and understanding
are clearly defined in order for the teacher to judge the suitability of a session at a specific point in a unit.
Recommendations could be made about a session’s place in a unit. Where sessions are available at the
beginning and end of a unit there could be differentiation built in to take account of this.
• The content provider has some idea of the age and ability of the children.
Many sessions are designed for a range of ages, so it is helpful if the content provider knows well in advance
how old the children are who will be participating in the session. Sometimes the children have special
knowledge or experience that relates to the session and the content provider could build this into the session.
• Teachers and learners are clear about the structure of a session.
Most sessions have a description of the activities that will take place. It may be helpful for teachers to see a
‘lesson plan’ as they would themselves prepare for a session. This would identify not only the learning
intentions but preparation, prior learning, grouping of children, resources, development, timing and structure
of the session (including the activities that will take place). This would help teachers to prepare for a session
by identifying any special requirements, including seating arrangements, classroom layout, specific areas of a
topic to be prepared, etc.
• All parties are prepared for the learning to take place – teachers, pupils and providers.
This can be in the form of preparatory worksheets, discussion or research. When the work is available on a
website the class teacher needs to be made aware of this and of their responsibility to undertake this work. It
is helpful if the work, or the url, is emailed to the teacher.
• Video and audio are both clear.
Poor connections impact on learning and teaching by distancing the learner from the interaction taking place.
This may be because they cannot see visual clues, artefacts or resources or may be because continued
concentration on deciphering an unclear image is draining and quickly leads to lapses in concentration. The
same is applicable to audio; where learners cannot hear a question clearly they are unlikely to attempt an
answer or participate fully in the session.
• There are no other technical issues hampering the delivery of the session.
It is important that proper test calls have been undertaken well in advance of the session to identify any
technical issues. These problems tend to be less likely when using E164 numbers, along with an
improvement in the quality of audio and video. Test calls should be carried out with exactly the same set up
as you expect to use for the session itself. In this way network points, audio connections, lighting, projectors
and everything else are tested at the same time and there will be no nasty surprises on the day.
• Children are familiar with seeing themselves on screen.
Although, usually, children will not see themselves when the VC is in progress, it helps if children have
experience of seeing themselves on screen. In this way they are focussed on the learning taking place rather
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than the technology which is facilitating that learning. A good way of doing this is leaving the camera on for
some time before the session, maybe even a whole day.
• Everyone is aware of what is expected from them in the session.
This can apply to behaviour as well as learning. Clearly defined procedures will help the smooth running of a
session and need to be decided in advance. Consider the answering of questions: Do children need to put up
their hands? Do they need to stand up to answer? Do they need to move to a different place in the room? Is
there a hot seat to use for answering questions? Who will choose someone to answer? In managing the
session the teacher needs to be aware that the class are their responsibility and they should continue to
manage them as usual. Whilst a presenter will lead the session they cannot take the responsibility of a class
• Some consideration has been given to VC etiquette.
Prior to the session it is helpful if the teacher and presenter have arranged how the session will start and end.
Who will make introductions? Is it necessary to introduce each other? Does the teacher need to be on camera
at the beginning of the session? Also at the end, especially if the presenter is in role, who will hang up and
how will you know the session has ended?
There will also be a time delay in most cases and this needs to be planned in to a session, leaving enough
time for considered answers. In this way you should avoid too many overlaps in speech. When this does
happen the class teacher may have to repeat what has been said or ask the presenter to say it again.
• Other channels of communication are available throughout the session.
Sometimes issues do arise before or during the session that need to be addressed immediately. Having a
phone in the same room as the VC equipment makes solving these issues much easier. For example, a camera
is showing ‘all channels in use’ (the line is engaged in most cases); a phone call could help you to find out
that the previous session has over-run and you need to call back in 5 minutes. In this situation the problem is
shown to be temporary and the session can go ahead as planned. For this reason it is also a good idea to have
all communications from the provider to hand – contact names, emails and telephone numbers in particular.
Learning and teaching
The following conclusions have been based on discussion with teachers and learners and observation of the
sessions that took place.
Experiences such as those highlighted above can have a positive effect on learning in the classroom. The use
of outside experts coming into to classroom has long been considered good practice in the primary school -
video conferencing allows a way of extending this to experts not normally accessible to learners. In the
sessions that took place teachers were glad to have access to the knowledge and resources of the content
providers. For this reason it is important the provider provides sufficient depth and analysis to extend upon
the knowledge of the teacher, and capitalises upon the resources uniquely available to them.
Learners also benefit from the novelty of the experience to enhance their memory of the event. Although the
experience of video conferencing, one hopes, would become embedded within the curriculum enough to
remove some of this novelty, each new provider can introduce topics in such a way as to engage the children
and make it seem new. Added to this, of course, is the novelty of someone other than the class teacher
leading a session.
Interactivity is a key feature to improving learning through video conferencing. Learners who participated in
sessions had the opportunity to share their own expertise, develop thinking skills and work with others. Most
children could identify something, for themselves, that they had learnt from the session. In most cases this
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related to an activity or question and answer type discussion. In some cases it related to an object or artefact
the children had been shown.
In addition to this, cross curricular links are implicit in many video conferencing sessions. A history session
rarely takes place that does not bring literacy into it. Often it can include geography, music, art and science
too. This is important for all learners but also makes video conferencing especially viable for gifted, talented
and able children as learning forms a cohesive whole, supported by experts.
The benefits of outside content providers are many and the video conferencing learning experiences they
offer can be valuable within the classroom. Early experiences can often be hampered by technical issues and
this is where the support of experts, such as CLEO and Local Authority ICT support services, is invaluable if
providers and schools are not to be disheartened, and perhaps give up. However, once difficulties have been
overcome, and many can be before the school even starts video conferencing, rich learning experiences can
There are many considerations when planning and booking a session, all of which need to be focussed
around the children and the learning taking place. Issues such as timing, preparation, structure and content of
sessions should be clear to the teacher who is booking so that they can make an informed decision about the
suitability of the session and arrange it for the appropriate place in their planning.
Once the session is in progress it is important that everybody involved shares the same expectations about
what will take place, including behaviour, activities and responses. Any video conference is a joint venture
between provider and school and as such there is joint responsibility to ensure a high quality experience for
After the session a teacher and pupils may well have questions to ask or feedback to give. Many of the
teachers involved in this study could suggest simple improvements to the sessions they had been part of. It is
therefore vital that an opportunity for feedback is given in order for improvements to be made – just as
normal teaching should be a cyclic process, so should teaching via video conferencing by outside providers.
Every school that has taken part in this project has reported favourably on the use of video conferencing in
the classroom and all schools said that they would repeat the experience with outside content providers as
long as it was technically feasible. Many also said they would be prepared to pay for a session but suggested
that there were improvements that could be made before this was the case.
All children who took part were enthusiastic about video conferencing and enjoyed taking part. Nearly all
wanted to do it again – soon!
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