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Eighty-five years ago, the superintendents in St. Louis area school districts needed to buy pianos.
Pianos were extremely expensive, and they could not afford to buy them for each of their schools individually. So they came up with the idea of buying them in bulk together. That’s how Cooperating School Districts (CSD) was born.
CSD of Greater St. Louis is a non-profit educational service agency that brings school districts together to share resources, information and ideas through exemplary, nationally-recognized services in educational technology, cooperative purchasing, staff development and more. CSD serves as a proactive voice for education.
Cooperating School Districts is a voluntary, membership-driven organization owned and governed by 30 public school districts in the St. Louis metropolitan area. CSD also serves 35 additional public school districts that are members of the organization.
CSD has a business services division and an executive division that lobbies for education bills. I am a technology integration specialist in the professional development division, which means it’s my job to make sure that the schools in our group receive high-quality professional development. I help teachers integrate all types of technology, such as interactive whiteboards and software programs, as well as videoconferencing.
CSD’s distance learning program, New Links to New Learning, started in 1998 with a grant from Southwestern Bell that provided videoconferencing equipment for schools in the region. The New Links to New Learning subscription-based program uses two-way videoconferencing technology to create live, interactive educational opportunities that are flexible, user-friendly and motivational. Students, teachers and communities benefit from CSD's cutting-edge technology. New Links to New Learning puts experts and resources into classrooms and extends learning opportunities into the community.
Many of the schools that are members of New Links use TANDBERG video-conferencing equipment, and their teachers can use it to attend professional development workshops at a distance. Some of the workshops are designed to help them understand what video conferencing is, how to find content, and how to use it in the classroom. We can broadcast PowerPoint presentations, play videos and, with multiple cameras, we can zoom in on one student and zoom out to see the full class.
We also create our own content for students and teachers. We have authors who broadcast programs, and we bring in mental health professionals who speak to teachers about how to handle issues such as suicide, ADHD and depression.
Our consortium represents approximately 25,000 teachers and 300,000 students, making up one-third of the public school students in the state. We have to make sure we’re reaching them as effectively as possible. Video conferencing has allowed us to connect in ways we never could before. Not only does it offer a rich experience, it eliminates travel. If you are in a city, traffic can get pretty bad. When teachers have been teaching since 7:30 in the morning, they don’t want to hop in the car and drive in heavy traffic to attend staff development workshops and meetings. With videoconferencing technology, they can just go to a room in their school building, look at the screen, and connect with experts from remote locations.
Video conferencing has also allowed us to reach schools farther away from the city. For example, a school out in a rural area of Missouri had a SMART Board, but they had no idea how to use it. I connected with them through video conferencing, focused the camera on the SMART Board and showed them what to do.
When it comes to professional development, video conferencing is a relationship-building tool that allows people to converse. It’s all about being part of the conversation and leveling the playing field. It gives equal opportunity for people who have never been a part of the conversation to be a part of it.
Teachers have been enthusiastic supporters of videoconferencing in the classroom. Here are some comments we have received:
“I used a class discussion to determine the learning outcomes from the videoconference. The videoconference spurred my students to ask questions that they hadn’t asked before, and this led to more research. It was exciting. I liked how the supply kit [that accompanied the videoconference] arrived in plenty of time for me to feel comfortable with its contents. I loved the interaction between the videoconference teacher and students.”
“Students left stating the videoconference was very helpful. One student had never heard of music therapy and is now very interested in investigating this career further. All the students had questions, and the speaker did an excellent job of answering all of them. The best thing about the event was that the speaker was very knowledgeable, and she did a great job of personalizing it, calling the students by name and speaking to their specific interests. The variety of multimedia [interviews, PowerPoint and video] did a great deal to make the event interesting.”
If you are interested in learning more about New Links to New Learning and/or videoconferencing for professional development or in classrooms, visit our Web site at: http://www2.csd.org/newlinks/index.html. We also have a blog where you can find out what we are doing on a regular basis and give us feedback: http://www.csdtechpd.wordpress.org.
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