Dr. Peggy Hoffman-Schmidt
Baumholder, GERMANY | November 6, 2013
"Two weeks before school started, I learned that I would be able to take another AP (Advanced Placement) class!" exclaimed Baumholder Middle High School senior, Madison Crowson, to Deputy Director Adrian Talley who recently visited the Kaiserslautern District schools."I was interested in taking AP U. S. Government, but it was not offered on our campus.We (Isaak Giefer and Madison) giggled with joy to know we could add another AP course to the seven on campus that we have either taken or were already enrolled in for this year."
The course is being conducted through a live Video Tele-conferencing VTC) system.The teacher, Mr. Terrence (Terry) Hoffman, is at Bitburg High School with a live class in front of him, while also keeping an eye on the camera for the two young men from Baumholder who are also taking the course.The students are able to communicate with each other and the teacher seamlessly through the use of the microphones, speakers, and video monitors, even though the two classrooms are miles apart.
The excitement the two young men at Baumholder Middle High School is apparent.They are not, however, the only ones having the opportunity for a new format for learning.New forms of 21st Century Teaching and Learning opportunities are spreading across the DoDEA systemAn additional special offering is Mandarin Chinese taught by the Chinese language teacher at Naples High School, Mr. Francis (Chip) Noonan.He and the Chinese students are using a different format for this class, although, it is still "live" and electronically "face to face."He is using the "Go-To-Meeting," platform to teach two classes of Mandarin Chinese to sixteen students in four different schools in the Kaiserslautern District.Ramstein High School, Ramstein Middle School, Kaiserslautern High School, and Kaiserslautern Middle School have all arranged for a place for students to be "connected" as well as a plan to make the schedules of five schools work for the class periods needed, with the coordination being led by Mr. Jim Burgeson, an Instructional Systems Specialist at the Kaiserslautern District Office.
"We have to continue to explore ways to provide more offerings for our students so that they can 'find their passion.' I hope there will be a day when kids will not have their course offerings determined solely on the luck of the draw of where their parents get assigned. For example, the kids at Baumholder or Bitburg deserve an equitable, robust slate of classes for selection, ... the same opportunities as the kids at Ramstein, Kaiserslautern and other large schools that are able to offer more variety because of staffing."
For several years students have been able to take classes not offered on their campus through the "DoDEA Virtual School." This format is quite a bit different than the VTC offering for the AP Government class and the "Go To Meeting" format of the Chinese class, which have the teacher "present" through the two different formats. The Virtual School is a web based instructional format. Students have to go through the materials and pace themselves, while a teacher in the Virtual School examines the work and through email, answers questions and provides personal touches. Virtual School teachers are based in Asia, Europe and the U. S., and so time zone differences don't often allow for "on the spot" interactions. Even if the teacher is in Europe, matching their schedules with the variety of schedules of students across the system is not easy, either. It is possible, however, for Virtual School students to communicate via Instant Messenger, which is the only means of giving on the spot interaction IF the student and teacher are fortunate enough to be online concurrently, and in the same time zone, which is a rarity.
When asked about the different offerings, Madison explained that first choice, of course, is having the live teacher in the classroom. Second choice, and certainly a favorite, is the VTC."This gave me the opportunity to take a class I was really interested in that was not offered at our school."Madison's last choice is the Virtual School because of the lack of immediacy of interactions with a teacher.
Mr. Hoffman explains that the VTC is not perfect."I find it challenging to get to know the students, and I want to be sure that they feel connected to the class.That is different when doing it through a camera."
Mr. Noonan also finds that building relationships with the students is not as easy.Furthermore it is difficult to have private conversations and assessments with students."When a student struggles, I can't say 'Come by at seminar, lunch, or before or after school.'"One of the interesting "up sides" to this format has been the "Chat Box" feature.You can have private "chats" with students, but they also can have private chats with each other.The important thing about the public chat box and the private is that these students are progressing well with the written language because of using it in the "chat box."These add to the list of classroom management issues that teachers face.
Mr. Noonan has reflected on the future of these types of instructional delivery systems."I believe that telepresence will evolve into its own discipline. Right now, the mindset appears to be set on simply asking how we can use technology to bring distance students into our classrooms. In this mindset, the instruction is stagnant and unchanged. The technology is merely a tool to make the current instruction accessible to students at remote locations. But I think people will begin asking how to uniquely design instruction to effectively meet educational objectives in a telepresence context," Noonan went on to explain his thinking using an interesting analogy."… It reminds me of the advent of the motion picture. At first, it was assumed that one should just record a theatrical production with a stationery camera. But it soon became clear that one could tell stories through film in very different ways. The thinking shifted. People still love to go to the theatre. But not many people want to rent a video recording of a live play. They are different forms of media. It is challenging to take a great play and adapt it into a great film, but that is what we are trying to do. And it involves a lot of change and innovation. I think the future of telepresence and distance education in general will evolve in a similar way.