Solution Transforming Workspaces diamond winner Compugen collaborated with Parkland School Division 70 on a project to bring the world to students in isolated communities north of Edmonton, Alta. through telepresence.
Using Cisco Webex Board and collaboration tools, isolated classrooms were transformed into learning centres where students can interact with other schools around the world and take virtual field trips to see art galleries or museums, or even speak with astronauts on the International Space Station.
“With the support of Compugen, our IT department, and me as the educational lead, we are able to connect the videoconferencing units to any classroom or multi-purpose room in any school,” said Nicole Lakusta, curriculum educational technology facilitator with Parkland School Division 70 in Stony Plain, Alberta. She connects with various global organizations to find videoconferencing learning opportunities for students that match the curriculum and shares them with teachers. And thanks to Alberta’s SuperNet, a network of fibre-optic cables and wireless connections across the province connecting over 4,200 schools, hospitals, libraries, government and municipal offices in 429 communities, there’s the bandwidth to access those resources.
“No matter if it is an expert, another class or from outer space (International Space Station), our students are always excited to learn from others, to share their own learning,” she said.
Elise Coppola, modern digital classroom marketing lead at Compugen Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont., visited a school where the Cisco TelePresence system was installed and saw the impact of the project.
“The very first session I observed involved the classroom I was in connecting with another classroom in a school about 30 minutes away,” she said. “A student in the other classroom was doing a presentation on a story that both classes were reading. As the presentation was going on, I glanced around my classroom with amazement as every pair of eyes was glued to what was happening on the screen. And it wasn’t just staring off into space. Afterwards, when it came time for questions, hands shot up from students wanting to glean more information from the presenter.”
She also observed a session in which a hearing-impaired grade six girl taught sign language to a class in Ohio that was learning about Helen Keller and wanted to know more about how Keller communicated.
“Where else would she have a platform to shine and be amazing and just connect with another group of kids like that?” she enthused. “It’s an opportunity that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
The technology also assists teaching staff. They have established a teleconferencing mentoring program where more experienced teachers can give advice and guidance to their newer colleagues.
But, said Lakusta, “It is important to have an educational lead and IT support to make this successful. Teachers need to feel supported.”
Her biggest challenge now? Everybody wants a videoconferencing unit, and the budget can’t stretch that far right away. It’s a good problem to have.
This year’s gold winner for the Solution Transforming Workspaces category is VIEWitMEDIA.