If I had all the money in the world, I'd take my class on field trips every day. It's one thing to watch a one-hour video on the history of Rome; it's an entirely different thing to explore the ancient Roman ruins in person, or to stand inside the Colosseum, or turn a corner and see the leaning tower of Pisa with your own eyes. Our whole class would go on a safari in Africa, walk along the Great Wall of China, visit the pyramids of Giza, marvel at Stonehenge, camp out in a rain forest in South America, and ice fish in Antarctica. Maybe I watch too many episodes of The Magic School Bus, but I digress. As interesting as these places are to visit in person, what I love most about traveling is the people. It's their culture, their foods, their languages. And when I'm back home, reflecting on my trip, it's the relationships I've made that I cherish most.
So, how can a school create global experiences like these for their students?
The reality is, only a fortunate few will ever have the opportunity to go on even one trip like this in their lifetime-- but I found a product today that can bring your students closer than ever to that dream. No, it's not a transporter like the one from Star Trek-- not yet, anyway-- it's a product by LifeSize called the LifeSize Video Center. Let's get two things straight: 1) As cool as this product is, I'm a real teacher, and there are other, more pressing digital tools I would need to purchase before trying to acquire this for my classroom; however, if you're in one of those rare schools or districts that have all their 21st century ducks in a row, and you're in place where you're looking for a tool to get your students collaborating with kids from around the world on a whole new level, this may be just right for you; 2) Skype and Google both offer video conferencing for free, so start with that; the LifeSize Express 200 Video conferencing kit starts around $6,000. A free product may be all you need. When you inevitably become frustrated by the limitations, such as degraded image quality, band width issues leading to dropped frames, number of participants, and so on, you'll be happy to know there are dependable and scalable solutions available, like the LifeSize Video Center with it's HD video and support for up to eight signals at once!
Right now, you and your students can start building relationships with students from around the world. Maybe a couple kids from your class can help a class from China brush up on their English skills. Others could collaborate on a project of some kind where the responsibility of executing that project is shared among the participants. The possibilities are limitless-- except for the Star Trek transporter-- that won't be announced until at least ISTE 2014.
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