Videoconferencing for better STEM engagement

Earlier this year, Ben Newsome of Fizzics Education travelled for seven weeks in the United States to investigate the use of videoconferencing in science education. Visiting 16 science centres, museums, zoos, aquariums and school districts across North America as a recipient of a Churchill Fellowship, Ben met with many distance educators who shared insights and techniques on how to produce outstanding science & technology video conferencing lessons for remote learners.

Among Ben’s findings were:

  • Learning how to incorporate animated games & live dissections into marine biology video conferences at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Los Angeles
  • Visiting Alaska to learn techniques in teaching ecology at the Alaska SeaLife Center and Alaska Zoo
  • Touring the Canadian badlands to learn how palaeontology is taught at the Royal Tyrrell Museum
  • Speaking with the talented team at the Centre for Interactive Learning & Collaboration in Indianapolis & the Central New York Regional Information Center on video conferencing installation and best practices
  • Immersion in the simulated learning environments at Rochester Challenger Learning Center and the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory plus spending time with the talented distance educators at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the International Spy Museum, Nina Mason Pulliam Ecolab and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Complex
  • Touring Washington DC galleries & museums offered by the Smithsonian Institution
  • Discovering robotic video conferencing technologies being used at the New York Hall of Science.

Ben met many video conferencing content providers at the Center for Puppetry Arts as well as leaders of the educational video conferencing community at the International Society for Technology for Education conference in Atlanta.

Following his Churchill Fellowship tour Ben has made many recommendations to improve the delivery of videoconferencing in Australia. These include that professional development in collaborative technologies needs to be ongoing in the school system and should be embedded into pre-service teaching courses at Universities. Video conferencing should also be incorporated into all mainstream teaching & learning sequences to enrich the K – 12 curriculum, particularly as significant investment has already been made to install H.323 systems in over 3000 schools.

Ben recommends that Mobile H.323 systems also be installed into all schools, libraries, hospitals, retirement homes & juvenile justice sites if funding was available, to ensure better access to science, technology and maths video conference experiences.

Internet bandwidth must be also increased in schools & libraries to allow high definition video conferencing to take place as soon as possible with a minimum external speed of 1152 kbps per site allocated specifically for H.323 conferencing systems.

Ben would like to see more funding available for Australian content providers running video conference classes with better collaboration occurring between stakeholders to increase best teaching practices. In terms of how to best deliver STEM video conferencing lessons, Ben says they must be interactive and hands-on in order to be relevant to learners of any age. Museums & cultural institutions could also consider installing roving video conference robots to bring remote learners access to their galleries & learning spaces.

About the author
Ben Newsome is Director of Fizzics Education who is celebrating ten years of bringing science to more than 120,000 students each year. Download a copy of Ben’s Winston Churchill report at the Churchill Trust website (PDF, 4.86MB)