The Offaly Vocational Educational Committee (VEC) has used the video conferencing system to introduce two initiatives, called “Beyond the Walls” and “Beyond the Seas”. Using “Beyond the Walls” teachers from one school who specialize in a particular area can share their time with other schools in the county, while “Beyond the seas” has resulted in a hook-up with partners in Georgia, USA.
Edward McEvoy, CEO of Offaly VEC, explained to UC Insight that video conferencing seemed obvious to him because of the discussions with Georgia Tech about science projects. “In a previous existence I was a language teacher and I could see the real benefits of video for language learning, live interaction between students in different countries,” he says. Lifesize appealed because of price but also the technical support of the people in the business, which is a Logitech subsidiary. “We’ve had a great success with the initiative and that’s been largely because of the support LifeSize has offered.” He doesn’t just mean technical support; LifeSize is international and it was one of the company’s representatives that made a link between the school and a German counterpart.
Sharing teaching expertise is one thing: probably the most exciting element of the initiative, though, is the link-up with the USA in the form of Georgia Tech. “One of our schools did a combined ecology project. The school in Ireland was based in a bog area and the one in Georgia was in a swamp area and they did a comparative ecology project, where the students compared findings.” They found a lot of commonality between the environments in spite of the climatic differences (the chief distinction was that the swamps had more predators than the bog); staff noted also that the students were possibly even more interested to find out what it was like being a teenager in another country as the academic stuff (speaking as a dad, your editor could have told them that before they’d set up their first camera). “We found that the students on both sides were on the same page and the same level in terms of their science learning, so we were proud of that,” says McEvoy.
There will be a lot of follow-ups; when term starts again in September there are plans for a video link with a French school, and there are plans to link with an Australian establishment if possible, as well as student and teacher exchanges to extend collaboration beyond technology; meanwhile a joint robotics project will follow the natural sciences study.