After I wrote about the use of Microsoft Lync at Vicdeaf, where they are using the system to improve communications between deaf colleagues, I’ve had a few conversations with customers about different ways that Lync can help to improve the learning experience for students - especially those with accessibility needs.
If you need it, here’s a quick summary of some of the things that Lync can do: instant messaging, video calling, telephone replacement, video conferencing between multiple users, audio conferencing, screen sharing, audio & video capture, and whiteboard sharing. So in an education context it can be used for things like quick chats between students and teachers, or remote lesson delivery, or connecting groups of students to collaborate in real-time on a project. As I have discovered, with a wireless bluetooth headset, it can allow you to fully participate in a conference call, whilst making a cup of coffee
I’ve just finished reading a case study on the Microsoft PressPass site which gives a good insight into the kind of tough educational challenges that it can help with. In Washington State they are using it at the Washington State School for the Blind to allow teachers based in other areas to teach and support students.
Washington State School for the Blind
The case study is of students who are taking an algebra class and where the teacher is located 240 km away. In many ways the class is delivered exactly like a normal lesson - with the teacher able to see the students, and the students able to act exactly the same way that they would if the teacher was in the classroom with them - for example, raising their hands to ask a question. As well as a webcam and large display at the front of the classroom, students have their own laptops along with other accessibility features they might need, such as screen readers or braille displays. And the features of Lync - such as screen sharing, virtual whiteboard and chat windows - can then supplement these resources.
The result is a classroom that works, even though the teacher and the students don’t need to be together. And it doesn’t require any special video conferencing rooms or equipment - it can work with existing webcams (earlier today, I joined a virtual meeting using the built-in webcam on my laptop, with groups of colleagues who were in four different places).
As Chris, a visually impaired student in the algebra class, said:
|It makes it easier that if we have problem, we can talk to Miss Lo. And if I get snowed in at home in Spokane, with Lync I wouldn’t miss my class!|
Given the pressing need for creative ways to manage the future teacher shortages in Australia, and the need to enable specialist teaching for rural schools, then I think we're going to see increasing demand for ad-hoc conferencing capabilities, which can be controlled by teachers and students, rather than the bigger formal video conferencing systems and dedicated suites that we've been seeing up until now. If a teacher can just start a group teaching session from wherever they are, without having to book facilities in advance, then it's more likely to give them a learning environment that is adaptive and responsive to students' needs.
You can read more about Lync’s accessibility features in this post on the Lync blog