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Advances in collaboration technology sends educators ‘back to school’
Tue, 12th Jan 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

With the start of the 2016 academic year almost upon us, many teachers are thinking about the year ahead which includes lesson planning and professional development.

There has been a lot written about how technology is changing the classroom and learning environment for students. So, what's needed to upskill our educators to ensure they have the tools and knowledge required to thrive within this new technology driven learning paradigm?

Polycom recently undertook a study among educators within ANZ to gain insights into technology needs within the education sector.  Perhaps, not surprisingly, the findings found that educators still see a need for more professional development when it comes to using new technologies.

It also found that funding, the curriculum not keeping pace with future workforce needs and the lack of government support, were all seen as inhibitors to creating a more positive education future.

It's clear that there are still challenges to be overcome. I firmly believe that globally, there needs to be more focus on professional development within the education sector. Not just in New Zealand.

We can have the greatest technology on the planet but if you don't know how to use the technology and apply it within the learning environment then you have a big problem. I am a huge fan of tools and for me, video collaboration should be seen as another tool that teachers have in their tool box.

‘Train the trainer' delivers collaboration success

At Polycom we believe it's important to deliver useful professional development to the education sector from basic video collaboration functionality through to adoption ideas and tools for engaging both students and teachers.

We also find that some of our most successful teacher training is delivered with the support of our existing education customers using a ‘train the trainer' approach.

This involves helping facilitate connections and collaboration among customers who can share and pass on knowledge to newer customers just starting out.

Remember, if you decide to go down the ‘train the trainer' route, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Demonstrate the technology utilisation to your team in a way that you would want them to teach their students.
  2. Introducing a case study, as indicated earlier, can work well.  Invite an educator to your session that can explain and share their success in using technology within their learning environment.  This will help your team start thinking about ways they can integrate technology within their own learning environment.
  3. Try to incorporate the many technologies that your team is currently using in their “educator tool kit”, making sure to use the technology that fits the application.  

In my role as President of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), I recently visited Alaska. Like New Zealand, it is geographically remote and this has to some extent accelerated its technology adoption.

Lessons learned from this trip included realising that there is a difference between rural, remote and really remote. This may also effect the type of training needed.

Likewise, there is no such thing as good one-training-fits-all instruction. Flexibility is vital and offering simple, easy-to-use technology is critically important. Just because you have access to technology doesn't mean you know you have it or are proficient in using it.

When asked about how they introduced their teachers to using technology in the classroom for the first time, one of our customers, FarNet in New Zealand, put it rather well.

They simply asked their teachers to remember what it felt like to be a first year teacher - the uncertainty and excitement of the unknown and all that was to come.  For them, this was something every teacher could relate to and they felt it was a good way to introduce teaching online.

The role video collaboration can play within professional development 

In the same way that video technology is enhancing learning in schools for students, it is also being used with success on the other side of the blackboard. 

As I said earlier, video collaboration should be seen as a tool.  With this in mind, many schools and colleges that I work with are realising that video can provide easy access to training and development programmes.

Outlined below are four ways that video collaboration can help you transform professional development within the classroom.

1. Demand for ‘just-in-time' training

It is often a challenge to find the time for fitting in professional development and teacher training in and around other commitments. However, it is important to make time as professional development can be a way for teachers to learn that will help promote innovation in education.

Not only that, video collaboration can make it possible for schools to find and offer the right training resource at the right time. Just-in-time-training can streamline teacher education because it does not require a classroom or even coordinating schedules.

If created through a video collaboration platform, learning can be accessed and tracked online whenever necessary, with opportunities for Q-A interaction or live forums for discussion and feedback.

2. Capturing teacher knowledge and transferring intellectual capital prior to retirement

With New Zealand's ageing workforce this issue has never been more relevant. Many schools have teachers on staff who are coming up to retirement and have years of invaluable expertise and institutional knowledge which simply can't be found in text books.

These teachers have often been "running the school" for years or even decades, helping guide younger members of faculty with their wisdom and experience. With video collaboration solutions, it is simple to record and stream knowledge of these long-time experts for the next generation of teachers to benefit from.

3. Training a diverse range of learners, from traditional to tech-savvy

Everyone learns and retains information differently and often these differences vary due to comfort and familiarity with technology. Each generation is becoming more connected, visually oriented, and faster at technology adoption.

The user-friendliness of video collaboration ensures that even traditional learners can easily benefit from its increasingly intuitive and interactive approach to training.

4. Improving training effectiveness

While few challenge the need for professional development and training, it can often come at significant cost and disruption to teaching schedules.

With video collaboration, many of these issues such as travel expenses and time out of the classroom can be significantly reduced. Communication via video eliminates or minimises the need for offsite travel.

These days, video training modules can also be accessed on demand to ensure teachers can access them during quieter periods.  Delivering video training can reduce costs associated with overtime, fuel and accommodation.

It can also lower fees for external experts. The calibre of experts that teaching staff may access via a video collaboration tool often improves significantly when using the video route.

Popular trainers or expert speakers are often time poor due to the demands on their time and video often enables them to reach more people more effectively.

Keep collaborating to drive adoption of video as teaching tool

While schools and colleges may be keeping up with technology in terms of what's available in the classroom; they are still looking for guidance on how to use it and get the most out of it.

Likewise as our research shows, there are still concerns regarding current funding and delivery models and their relevance to the needs of our future workforce.  I believe it's about going back to basics.

The use of technology should be driven by what makes teaching and learning more engaging and fun for students and teachers alike.