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December 2011/January 2012 | Volume 69 | Number 4
The Resourceful School

The Virtues of Video

Jan Zanetis

Video-on-demand tutorials. International student collaborations. Virtual field trips to Australia. Schools can use interactive video to enrich students' learning.

What if your struggling students could view demonstrations of difficult math concepts as often as necessary? Picture your students asking questions of an expert diver as she explores Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Or imagine a motivated student in a remote location attending an advanced placement physics class without leaving home. Providing such enriching learning activities, even with limited funds, is no fantasy; it's possible through live, interactive video.

Much of what we define as education can now take place anywhere, anytime—and much of it can be acquired free through resources available over the Internet. Here I describe two types of video that creative school districts are using to deliver quality education in ways that are smarter, greener, and less expensive: (1) interactive videoconferencing (also referred to as teleconferencing, compressed interactive videoconferencing, or telepresence) in which two or more people can see one another on-screen and interact in real time, and (2) video on demand, also known as streaming video.

Videoconferencing: Engaging Millenials

As early as the 1980s, students in rural areas of Alaska, Washington, Texas, and Oregon connected to teachers through interactive videoconferencing. Tapes, laserdisc, and DVDs were the early precursors to today's streaming video resources. Today's high-speed internet, reasonably priced video equipment, and the plethora of online content has transferred video technologies from an innovation to a replicable and commonplace approach.

Interactive videoconferencing is often a good solution for resource-strapped school districts that can't afford to hire more teachers. Online learning is all well and good; but for many youth in K–12 schools, the personal "eyeball to eyeball" interaction that videoconferencing offers is crucial for engagement, retention, and a strong student–teacher relationship.

Videoconferencing is also a natural way to engage students because many learners in the Millennial generation prefer video content to other media—YouTube logs an average of two billion views per day (Digital Trends, 2011). Students are comfortable communicating through videoconferencing or capturing themselves on video to share their lives with one another. More important than mere comfort, young learners are engaged by video as a medium. In a 2010 distance education and e-learning survey of educators conducted by Wainhouse Research, 72 percent of K–12 teachers indicated that they see "learner engagement with remote content/visual learning" as a benefit of videoconferencing.

When learners are engaged, retention occurs. It's one thing to lecture biology students about the characteristics of a reef biome, show photos, assign related readings, and initiate similar worthy activities typical of a 20th-century lesson. But with interactive video tools, students don't just talk or read about places like the Australia's Great Barrier Reef or a Florida marine laboratory full of dozens of shark species, they go there. And that makes a difference.

Let's examine three major applications of interactive videoconferencing in K–12 education: distance classes, virtual field trips, and collaborative projects.

Distance Classes: The Power of Access

Many school districts and even whole states now use interactive videoconferencing to deliver a wide range of classes to students who otherwise wouldn't have access. For example, in Arkansas, state funding has provided many high schools with endpoints for videoconferencing and high-speed Internet connections to deliver classes.1  Through a combination of live interactive videoconferencing, web conferencing, and streamed video, thousands of students are taking advanced levels of foreign language, technical education courses, advanced placement classes, credit recovery courses, and more.

Arkansas schools can access several approved content provider organizations who deliver content through interactive video. As Chris Robbins, dean of the Office of Distance Education at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts (one of the content providers), explains,

the process begins when a school identifies a learning need they can't serve on their own. For instance, let's say a client high school has four students who want to enroll in a French III course. It makes more economic sense for the school to import a shared instructor [over video] than to provide the class with a local teacher.

Once the school determines that Office of Distance Education can make such a class available and registers, the content provider works out the connectivity issues—loaning equipment to the school if necessary—and schedules a class period during which the four interested students interact with the teacher daily in their school's videoconferencing classroom. Instructors have no students in the room with them, so they devote their full attention to their "remote" students around the state, and they use a wide array of instructional tools, such as document cameras and DVDs. A teacher can record any class to allow students to review particularly difficult concepts at their leisure.

Field Trips: From the Reef to the Stars

Since the early 1990s, many museums, science centers, cultural centers, and universities have adapted their in-house education programs to provide videoconferencing to classrooms. These virtual field trips are targeted to the common core standards and are often very interactive.

For example, Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, has provided virtual field trips for years. In these live videoconference programs, students are greeted by a high-energy informal on-screen educator who speaks to them in real time and welcomes them into learning-based games and activities connected to the sea life. For instance, students at Alta Vista Elementary recently played "Sharks Myths and Facts" with Casey, a science educator connected to Mote. As students answered questions in the game, Casey commented on displays of art and writing about sharks in their classroom. She gave hands-on demonstrations related to shark's ability to sense electricity in the water and answered spontaneous questions about shark teeth by showing actual specimens.

Virtual field trips can be arranged to meet a school's scheduling needs and are easily found on clearinghouses like the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration. Most come with a cost, averaging $250 per class. But consider the cost of the alternative—actually taking students on a field trip to Australia or even a U.S. national park. Many federally funded providers, such as the NASA Distance Learning Network, provide such experiences for free.

Collaborating Online

The fastest growing application of interactive videoconferencing is collaborative projects that enable groups of students who are separated geographically to interact concerning a curricular area of mutual study. Projects can range from a simple, one-time encounter between two classes to a yearlong, multiple-class project with global themes. The zero cost factor of these collaborations is a plus. Their true benefit, however, is the excitement they generate as students engage remotely with peers who are often from cultures strikingly different from those they know.

For example, a project called Down Under, Up Over links students at three secondary schools in New South Wales, Australia, with students in three geographically remote middle schools in the Bering Strait region of Alaska for interaction over several months. The students share images unique to their communities in a scavenger hunt format. They discuss similarities and differences in their geographies, climate, culture, and indigenous peoples—even their commonality of having been explored by the famous Captain Cook.

Video on Demand: Extending Your Resources' Reach

Video on demand, or streaming video, has been a staple of classrooms at universities for years and is now finding its way into many K–12 classrooms. Video on demand gives learners the ability to repeatedly review segments and often allows users to search for particular key topics within the video. Such individual control of content pacing increases student motivation and engagement (Shephard, 2003; Zhang, Zhou, Briggs, & Nunamaker, 2006;).

High-quality free videos relevant to academic content can be accessed on portals such as TeacherTube; Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talks; and iTunes University. One excellent source of instructional video is Khan Academy, which offers more than 2,400 free videos covering concepts in math, history, science, economics, and computer science. Anyone can go to the site and watch short tutorials on dozens of concepts.

Video on demand can

  • Enable people to view a special event or presentation at which they can't be physically present.
  • Supplement traditional classroom instruction.
  • Deliver professional development.

When one school in the region hosts a special event or presentation, other schools can share in it. For example, if one school arranges for a former astronaut to give a talk about space exploration, this talk can be sent out live to other schools across the district, or even the state, through streaming technologies. Using web conferencing software or even telephone lines, students from remote sites can ask the astronaut questions. When the event is over, the video can be archived on the district website for community members, parents, and students to view at their leisure; thus, it becomes an ongoing resource.

Many educators capture some of the content they need to cover by creating short video tutorials (or accessing tutorials made by others), which students can view outside class. This frees up valuable class time for discussion, collaborative project work, or labs. Rather than demonstrate a chemistry experiment or lecture on a Shakespeare sonnet four or five times in a day, for instance, the teacher can record the presentation once and assign students to view it before class.

Educators have caught on to the potential of using video on demand and interactive video for professional development. Many school districts invest in the equipment needed for interactive videoconferencing mainly to deliver cost-effective training to teachers, rather than paying big money to fly in an expert presenter.

For example, the Colorado's Northeast Board of Cooperative Educational Services arranged professional development for teachers in 12 of its school districts to help teachers integrate 21st century skills into their curriculums. Interactive sessions were presented by professional training provider Howie DiBlasi, former head of Colorado's Durango School District who now provides more than 75 professional development sessions a year through videoconferencing from his base in Georgetown, Texas.

Teachers could choose sessions on topics from social media in classrooms to discovering free school resources on the Internet. They participated in videoconferences led by DiBlasi at one of four locations set up in their region and received college credit for completing sessions. Administrators found that after teachers completed professional development through videoconferencing, they became adept at using video resources, like virtual field trips, with their students.

With school budgets shrinking and access to traditional resources eroding, we owe it to our students to creatively use digital resources that cost little but return a lot in terms of student engagement. If your school hasn't yet tried interactive videoconferencing and video on demand, it's time to start.

Getting Started with Videoconferencing

Many books, conferences, and online portals can help educators use interactive videoconferencing. A handbook published by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), Videoconferencing for K–12 Classrooms: A Program Development Guide, should help you get started. ISTE has a special interest group dedicated to videoconferencing. Check also the United States Distance Learning Association ( to see whom to contact in your state.

The following online portals specialize in virtual field-trip content and collaborative projects

  • Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration. Teachers post their own collaborative project ideas to find interested partners. Users can search for virtual field trips on different content areas and browse professional development providers who deliver presentations through videoconferencing.
  • IEARN. Global registry of international projects by schools in 150 countries.
  • Connect All Schools. Interactive website on which schools share their stories about how they have connected to the world through interactive online projects.
  • Global Nomads Group. Education programs and media about global issues for youth.
  • Global-Leap UK. British organization that helps schools identify international contacts and opportunities and that supports videoconferencing in schools.
  • Connected Learning Exchange. A global community of educators who share their successful practices and practical solutions.
  • Global School Net. Group committed to engaging teachers and K–12 students in meaningful projects and learning exchanges worldwide.


Digital Trends. (2011, January 24). Five years of YouTube: Statistics and infographics [blog post]. Retrieved from Online Marketing Trends at

Greenberg, A. D., & Zanetis, J. L. (2010). Distance Education and e-Learning Metrics Survey 2010. Duxbury, MA: Wainhouse Research.

Shephard, K. (2003). Questioning, promoting and evaluating the use of streaming video to support student learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 34(1), 295–308.

Zhang, D., Zhou, L., Briggs, R., & Nunamaker, J. (2006). Instructional video in e-learning: Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness. Information and Management, 43(1), 15–27.


1  Endpoints, also known as codecs, are videoconferencing units that use the Internet to connect to one another and allow for high-definition video. Although a single codec costs $5,000 or more, e-rate discounts can be applied.

Jan Zanetis is an education advocate with Cisco Systems, former president of ISTE's special interest group on interactive videoconferencing, and vice president of the Tennessee Distance Learning Association.


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