Del Valle ISD, situated outside of Austin, Texas, is a school district with relatively modest means and yet, it is enabling its students to visit some of the most remote areas of the world including Iran, Taiwan, India and Bosnia, all through the power of video conferencing.
Check out this article in Wired Magazine to learn how Del Valle ISD embraces technology in the classroom and provides a world-class learning experience to its students.
A Learning Revolution in Texas: Bringing the World to the Classroom
On the outskirts of Austin, Texas, a small high school of relatively modest means is fundamentally changing how education is being brought to students — with video technology that lets students debate their peers in the most remote areas of this country, or even around the world in places like Iran, Taiwan, India and Bosnia.
School districts often fail to see the significance of technology in education, according to Michael Cunningham, the principal of Del Valle High School. He is embracing technology as the future for learning because it allows for low cost solutions to the increasingly expensive conventional approaches to education.
“What the PDF has done for books, video conferencing can do for teaching,” Cunningham explained. “Right now, a printed textbook may cost $100 or $200 per copy, whereas a PDF version of the same book can be available for almost nothing.” With video conferencing, he continued, the best lecturers from around the world can be viewed in a classroom for a fraction of the cost of hosting them in person.
World-Class Experience Made Affordable
Cunningham’s quest to provide a world-class school experience to his students has been an abiding passion for over a decade. “Del Valle is essentially a lower socio-economic school district, and students don’t have many of the advantages available to their counterparts in other schools,” Cunningham said. “In the 2001 school year, we learned our school district had underutilized video equipment. We put it to work very quickly, in debates with schools first from Alaska and Canada. That has morphed since then into all kinds of other video conferencing applications.”
Just this past December, Del Valle students had a video debate with students in Kherad High School in Iran. Del Valle has been conducting debates with Iranian students from the past four years – at a time when the US government was not even having formal discussions with the nation.
A “what if” debate, the students considered the issue of what might have happened in world history if Cyrus the Great of Persia had taken over the Greek city states. “It yielded some interesting discussion,” Cunningham said. “Arguably, there might not have been Christianity, the Crusades – even the Muslim religion might not have come to be. Our whole way of government may have been different. Just one or two changes in world history could have resulted in a wholesale change in the way we understand the world.”
In most cases, the video conferencing tool being used by Cunningham and his fellow educators around the world is LifeSize ClearSea, an open standard, software-based system that requires no dedicated equipment. Proprietary systems from other providers would make the process considerably more complicated. The technology enables high quality video communications over very low bandwidth, so even students in countries with limited Internet resources can participate.
For Cunningham, video technology enhances educational opportunities for students who otherwise might not have access to such opportunities.
“In Bosnia-Herzegovina, local students walked to the nearby American consulate to take part in an online video conferencing debate with our students,” Cunningham said. “Most of our partner schools from around the world are now using this technology to speak with us. Without that technology, it would be not much more than a one-sided conversation.”
Later in 2014, Cunningham is planning a moot court trial of the Warren Commission, the report from which will see its 50th anniversary in September. Also in the works, Cunningham is interested in planning an event paying tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
Underlying Cunningham’s use of video technology is his belief that current approaches to high school education are really a thing of the past….[MORE]