Video Conferencing Transforms Barrow County Schools

With stories about the challenges faced by America’s education system filling the news, it’s always good to hear one about how our schools are rising to meet them head-on, especially when video conferencing technology is giving school districts the power they need to change the way our children learn.

Led by Superintendent Dr. Wanda Creel, Barrow County Schools is a public school district in the Atlanta metro area that serves 10,000 K-12 students .  Barrow County Schools is an innovative district, always seeking creative ways to improve the educational process. So, when a teacher came up with a new way to help children learn, Dr. Creel was all ears.

Dr. Wanda Creel

The teacher identified a crucial problem in the way that instruction was delivered in the district. She noticed that if a student asked a question that the teacher did not know the answer to, or believed someone in the field could provide a more-thorough response, there was no easy way to bring an expert into the classroom.  To solve this problem, she came up with an idea called, “instant expert,” a way to bring in guest speakers to clarify student’s questions and inspire them to learn more.  As Dr. Creel and the rest of the district’s decision makers refined the idea, they realized that video conferencing would be the best way to connect students with experts efficiently and affordably.  But in order for “instant expert” to work, the video conferencing solution would have to be both portable (so systems could be easily moved between classrooms) and high-definition (so students would get as lifelike an experience as possible).  And, of course, the price point was a concern with ever-increasing budget reductions throughout the state.

Fortunately, Barrow County Schools had already been working with LifeSize for years, so when they needed help implementing “instant expert,” they knew where to go for help.  Soon, every school in the district was equipped with LifeSize Express 220 and LifeSize Team 220 endpoints, and Dr. Creel couldn’t have been happier.  “Video conferencing allows our students to see things that they would have never experienced any other way,” she said. “For this county in particular, it is critical to show these students the options, opportunities and potential they all have.” Imagine the educational experiences that these students can now have, thanks to video conferencing.

Already, students love new technology.  When a state senator read a story to pre-kindergarteners at one school, it was simulcast to three other schools in the district in HD video.  And in celebration of Veteran’s Day, a first grader and his class were able to talk to the boy’s father, who was deployed in Afghanistan.  The students asked questions about the father’s deployment, sang him songs, and shared a special thank-you message that the class put together themselves. It was a truly special day for everyone involved.

Perhaps most impressively of all, a high school class working on a year-long nanotechnology assignment was able to collaborate with a professor at Georgia Tech thanks to their LifeSize HD video technology, which made them feel like they were there in the laboratory with the professor as he showed them carbon nanotubes.  One student was so inspired by the project that she applied to Georgia Tech’s nanotechnology program.  Without “instant expert” and video conferencing, she might never have found her passion.

Does your school use HD video conferencing to provide enriching educational experiences to students? We’d love to hear about it. Please share your stories in the comment box below.

- Dan Lothringer
Dan is a contributing writer for VideoConferencingSpot.com.

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