Video/Remote Conferencing  

October 16, 2015

As this will be my last ESU 10 report, I will reflect on how video/remote conferencing has changed during my 14 year tenure and make some remote conferencing predictions. 

Video Conferencing - In 2001, I was hired by the Tri-Valley Distance Education Consortium (TVDEC) which consisted of 33 schools in ESU 7, ESU 10, and ESU 11.  

At that time member schools could technically only share classes within the consortium boundaries and was limited to one classroom per district site.  The cost of a classroom exceeded $30,000.  All classrooms were initially funded through competitive lottery grants.  

In 2008, LB1208 became law and changed video conferencing to what we see today.

•  Consortiums were dissolved and ESU 10 became the provider of services for all TVDEC schools. 
•  Changes in technology coupled with improved internet bandwidth allowed Nebraska schools to connect and share courses statewide.
•  Using $20,000 from LB1208 and a USDA grant, ESU 10 schools purchased multiple video conferencing cart systems to replace the one static classroom.
•  Schools received incentive dollars if they sent or received distance learning classes.
•  ESU 10 schools sent and/or received more classes then any other ESU during the past six years. 
But the number of video conferencing classes offered and received by ESU 10 schools peaked in the 2010-11 school year and have decreased since that time by over 50%.

Why has sharing classes over video conferencing decreased and what does that mean for the future of distance learning? Reasons include:
1.  When LB 1208 went into effect in 2008, schools received $20,000 but had to agree to send and/or receive at least two semesters of classes over video conferencing for four consecutive years.  All ESU 10 schools met that requirement by 2013.
2.  Each school received $1,000 for each DL class sent or received through 2014.  Beginning this year that amount of money per class will be reduced by as much as half.
3.  Veteran teachers who taught most of the early DL classes are retiring and are not being replaced.
4.  Increased number of online course options are available to schools. 
5.  Tight budgets limit schools desire to update/upgrade video conferencing equipment.

Remote Conferencing Predictions - In looking at my crystal ball I would predict the following for the future of remote conferencing:

The current distance learning and online course delivery will become BlendEd. - As the trends show decreased video conferencing and an increase in online classes and because our state is promoting a BlendEd learning classroom, I predict we will see new classes created which blends video conferencing and online strategies of instruction.  

Desktop conferencing substitutes for distance learning classroom and cart systems. A teacher or student’s laptop, smart tablet, or smart phone has the functionality to replace the current video conferencing cart systems. With BlendEd curriculum opportunities, teachers and students will have the capability to make multiple or one-to-one connections as needed in support of their BlendEd classes.

Video conferencing is part of all classrooms and curriculum areas. Today video conferencing has been limited to the number of carts in a building, thus the opportunity for remote conferencing at all grade levels were few. As teachers and students become comfortable with their computer as a video conferencing system, remote conferencing opportunities will only be limited based on teachers’ imaginations for seeking out educational connections.

Recently the Teaching and Learning team has adopted the motto - We invest in what matters - you! I’m confident that as I follow ESU 10 through Facebook, Twitter, other social media, and through conversations, I will know that ESU 10 continues to be a leader in supporting as well as creating opportunities for their schools.

I greatly appreciate the opportunity I have had in working with and for ESU 10.

-John Stritt, Distance Learning