The Enterprise of Education, regardless of whether exploring post-secondary or K-12, can be looked at as comprised of 4 key areas: Teaching & Learning, Administration & Support Operations, Community Partnerships and the Home/School connection. These four areas are pretty complex, involving multiple departments and teams inside and outside of the organization. These groups work independently, but with a common goal to provide best access to education and best learning experiences for their student populations. Thanks to new video solution models and greater feature sets therein, video communication is finally primed to address the various communication challenges faced by all areas. Today’s video conferencing is no longer a one trick pony; it offers benefits for everyone from top leadership to support teams to the individual student, but a present challenge exists in changing preconceptions of video’s summative value in the education space.
So why hasn’t video been a more pervasive force in education outside of the instructional use case? Well to start, yesteryears’ go-to-market strategies mainly focused on teaching and learning applications. Distance learning and the virtual fieldtrip were, and in many instances, still are the big buzz words for video in education. Video for instruction has been successfully engrained in our minds. We’ve all seen the Cisco commercial where actress Ellen Paige extends a ” Nǐ hǎo” from a US-based classroom to a classroom full of students in China. Part of the reasoning behind video marketers’ focus on the teaching and learning aspects stems from having a great use case, but it has also stemmed from funding origination. The billion dollar Federal grants bucket is something video manufacturers have been rightly keen on.
As Federal grant funding for school telecommunication is mainly tied to providing equal access to education, regardless of geography, it’s been a considerable factor in marketing strategies. Next comes the price tag for traditional video conferencing solutions. It’s no secret that traditional options can carry quite the expense, a capital investment hard to justify for many institutions to consider beyond siloed distance learning programs. Interoperability has also plagued increased adoption. How does a school brings in outside experts or conduct visits with students afar when they can’t control or depend on what that far end video environment looks like?
Fortunately, those inhibitors of the past are being overcome by today’s more affordable, scalable options that can be delivered in the cloud, hosted, on-prem or a hybrid of these to fit the needs of the individual institution. The interop story is now alive and well with WebRTC integration for browser based video calls, standards based room system interoperability, Microsoft Lync integration, and even the ability to join virtual meeting room environments from consumer grade freeware applications like Skype and Google Hangouts. Many solutions also offer 2-way content sharing, recording, persistent chat and are supported on virtually any device.
So let’s table the teaching and learning applications for a moment and examine how video can impact the 3 remaining areas of the Education Enterprise.
School systems are geographically dispersed and subject to the same inherent time-robbers that exist in any enterprise where leadership, team, and department meetings account for the majority of the work day. By time-robbers, I don’t mean the chatty colleague down the hall, I mean simply the time it takes to shut down workstations, pack up belongings and travel to the designated meeting location and back. While seemingly insignificant, these minutes add up and are disruptive forces in work-flow management. Deploying a video strategy for internal meetings would restore some of that lost productivity. Video can also be a great tool for supporting the interview processes of HR Departments, and provided to IT help desk personnel, video can deliver a better end-user experience for support. In the K-12 support services realm, a ratio of 3:1 for schools to support personnel is fairly common. These shared resources are the social workers, speech pathologists, instructional technology coordinators and others who make up a district’s road warrior staff. Enabling these members with video would allow them to double their support capacity.
More so than ever Universities today are looking to expand their global footprint, attract and retain the best students regardless of geography and collaborate with academia cohorts around the world. These partnerships and programs serve multiple collaborative engagements to include joint research efforts between partner schools and academic program development to leverage mutual strengths in research and education. Integrating video as a means to connect these groups would expedite partnership efforts and allow programs to scale at a rapid rate. Study abroad programs are also huge partnership opportunities for many colleges and the interview and selection process alone could benefit greatly from video.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if students could take advantage of virtual office hours from the comfort of their dorm room? If students could possess the option to join class from home when recovering from a cold? What about graduate and global MBA programs where working professionals are dispersed around the world, but tasked with project-based group assignments? Video communication affords students from all of these use-case examples the ability to stay engaged with their professors and one another outside of the confines of traditional brick and mortar meeting spaces. And the experience of face-to-face communication in general yields heightened engagement and collaboration between the parties, which translates to better student outcomes. In the K-12 space, parent-teacher conferences, IEP planning and review meetings for staff and parents, and after-hours homework and test prep opportunities all too can all be accomplished via video.
So back to the original question of what video conferencing means in education today. In short, video is no longer just a distance learning tool. Today’s video conferencing is next-generation communication for all areas of the education enterprise. It’s a culture shift toward greater collaboration system-wide. It’s the tool that allows even the smallest of systems to obtain a global footprint. It’s what enhances teaching and learning environments to attract and retain the best students and faculty, and it’s a solution that can yield hefty ROIs by creating greater efficiencies in business processes, support services and overall work-flow management across a school system.