Making Connections: Videoconferencing in the Classroom
GERM 230 & 355 and CLCS 301
Taught by: Silke von der Emde
What is the course in which you use instructional technologies about? Tell us about its origin, goals and objectives.
I have used video conferencing in several courses. In our "History, Memory, and the Holocaust" course, video conferencing provided a means for the students from our class and a Jewish Studies course in Germany to work on projects together and present them to the classes in Germany and here at Vassar in a two-hour videoconference. In "Language, Power, and the Body" we collaborated with two other colleges here in the United States and a University class in Paderborn, Germany. With 5 or 6-point video conferences, we made it possible for our students to talk to and interview writers, producers, actors, and prominent researchers in Germany and the United States. I used video conferencing in an intermediate language class when we did a unit on pop culture and our language fellow contacted one of his professors in Germany, a prominent scholar on German pop culture who agreed to give a multi-media lecture via videoconference. Students in 5th semester language class were able to listen to a live lecture by one of the prominent scholars on rock singer Nina Hagen and were able to ask him questions across the ocean. And lastly, Maria Höhn and I used a video conference to teach one of the workshops for alumnai on the occasion of Cappy's inauguration in 2006. I was on sabbatical in Germany and couldn't have participated if I hadn't been able to present my points and join the workshop participants on the big screen in the videoconferencing room.
What were the technologies used and how did they change or enhance your course?
In each case the video conferencing facility in College Center 204 was used to facilitate communication and collaboration between students and scholars in different locations. It often was a means to go to the source if trips across the Atlantic can't be done for each session. These were amazing opportunities for students to get and interact with authentic cultural materials first hand.
The Student Response
How have your students responded to your use of this technology?
Students are much quicker at getting the technology than we teachers are. I was amazed at the professionalism with which students conducted the presentations via videoconference, the ease with which they moderated their presentations, switching back and forth from Germany to the States, from presenting to showing materials such as images and film clips. It takes the art of effective presentations to a whole new level.
What are the challenges you faced teaching this course?
Doing videoconferences across countries is hard from an organizational point of view; you have to take the 6 hours time difference into account, facilities schedules in both countries, and other logistics. The conferences themselves are fairly easy to do, as long as you have good technical support. If you have 4-point conferences or more, it takes some practice to keep a conversation going because you need to switch back and forth from station to station. It's a bit crazy at first but one gets used to it. I still think 2-3 point conferences work best.
What new directions would you like to explore with technology in your teaching?
I'd like to use videoconferences in more classes and different varieties, ideally having a pool of contacts and formats at my disposal.
We might be getting a smart board for Chicago Hall and I am eager to use that not only in my language classes where we now already use powerpoint presentations almost every day, but also in my film class. Being able to show and analyze film clips on smart board should be very exciting.