Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"New" Technologies - Interactive Video

I have been watching, with some bemusement, the excitement over "new" technologies: interactive video conferencing, blogging, and videos via YouTube/Google Video.

These "technologies" have been around for a long time. What we are seeing is subtle modifications of old themes. Furthermore, I’m not seeing a huge change in the methods people use to educate as a result of these technologies.

This starts a series of essays containing my thoughts on these technologies.

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Interactive Video is essentially the old camera-phone idea come to life. Face-to-face discussion over a distance.

I started in Instructional Technology through interactive video conferencing - both proprietary systems (Verizon's MIDLN) and early H.323 IP-based conferencing. The current buzz around interactive video is a result of reductions in time delays (the kung-fu movie effect) and better video display technology (plasma screens and high def protocols).

Despite these improvements, interactive video will continue to suffer from the strange detachment participants feel during an interactive video conference. Interesting classroom management issues also arise with the ability of the students to mute themselves (or you), difficulties seeing who is talking (unless you are looking at a HUGE screen – it’s difficult to see lips move and subtleties in body language), and the need to manage multiple groups of students at the same time.

For school systems with limited resources and topics with few specialists, interactive video permits the use of synchronous educational techniques across distances. That said, I haven't seen any huge advances in instruction as a result of the technology. Savvy educators spend most of the air time with student presentations, discussion groups, and synchronous group projects with one team consisting of members from each of the different sites. Sadly, most of the classes I observed used the classic "talking head" method with the addition of PowerPoint.

The most promising part of interactive video technology, in my mind, is not the conferences over TV sets, but the ability to share other people's computers - editing files at the source, playing with systems, seeing what a student is seeing on his or her computer and asking questions in real-time. WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting are commercial examples of this technology. I find VNC access and LogMeIn with a phone call (or Skype)to be just as powerful (and much cheaper) if you are working within a network of trusted computers. Facial expressions are the only thing missing from these technologies.

If interactive video is going to be a fully robust educational technology, I see 2 areas for improvement:

1) Technologically figure out a way to decrease the physical detachment felt when using this technology.

2) Change our instructional techniques to best utilize the synchronous nature of the technology. Historically, this technology is expensive – if we are going to use this at all, we might as well use the technology to its best advantage.
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The reference link for issues with Interactive Video Teleconferencing is part of the ACM Digital Library.

Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems archive
INTERACT '93 and CHI '93 conference companion on Human factors in computing systems table of contents

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Pages: 109 - 110
Year of Publication: 1993
ISBN:0-89791-574-7
Authors Maximilian Ott C&C Research Laboratories, NEC, 4 Independence Way, Princeton, NJ
John P. Lewis C&C Research Laboratories, NEC, 4 Independence Way, Princeton, NJ
Ingemar Cox NEC Research Institute, 4 Independence Way, Princeton, NJ

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