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Supporting Quality Education through Online Resources

Posted on Aug 27, 2012

I am an English major; a sworn enemy of all things calculated and numerical. I’ll whip out the Pythagorean Theorem every once and a while when building something, but only when I can’t eye-ball an angle. For whatever reason, words simply make more sense to me than numbers do. With that said, close your eyes and look back to your high school geometry class, the one with that old WWII veteran teacher of yours who took pride in being able to draw a perfect circle and said things like, “pontificate, for a moment, the veracity of calculating the area of a decagon with only one given side.” Imagine taking that class, with your eyes closed.

In response to the needs of their visually impaired and blind students, the Washington State School for the Blind (WSSB) did whatever they could to bring in a math teacher to their school with a background teaching the blind and visually impaired. After hiring Robin Lowell for the job, an issue came up and she was unable to move within the vicinity of the school. This article details the WSSB’s use and growth of online education.

The WSSB decided to utilize their experimental video conferencing system to bring her to the classroom. Lowell describes her experience with the newly integrated system, “The kids who could see me, could see me. The kids, who could hear me, could hear me.” By 2010, the school put into use a business oriented program with functions that applied to the school setting – Microsoft Lync, which: combines a number of functions, including voice and video, instant messaging, collaboration, and scheduling. This allowed Lowell to teach from the comfort of her home.

The more I look at the Lync website, the more I realize how effective a program it is for teaching students with visual impairments. All through one service, designed in conjunction with Microsoft Office, instant messaging, e-mail, and video conferencing are made available to the students and teachers. The students aren’t slowed down from having to learn how to use multiple programs. On their end of things, the article describes, “The typical student set-up includes a computer (netbooks last year), a headset, a standard QWERTY keyboard, and a Braille display, which converts text into Braille and vice versa.” Online learning brings the WSSB a qualified teacher that they could otherwise not provide, and with Lync, the learning and teaching environment really isn’t that much different than a typical school set up.

Robin teaches from a monitor placed at the front of the classroom and despite this fixed location, mobility is still granted. With desktop sharing, the article notes she can virtually “walk” around the room and view every student’s work. The only other way to accomplish this much virtual mobility would be physically, or with Double’s Telepresence iPad Robot– a video definitely worth watching. In comparison to that, Lync is a much more practical means of achieving full-scale virtual mobility in the classroom, at least for right now.

My favorite feature of Lync is the instant messaging, and not just because I’m feeling nostalgic for AIM’s heyday. I like it so much because it allows students to ask questions in private as if they had walked up to the teacher’s desk or stayed after class. I was terrified of ever being called on in math class and I definitely never put myself in that situation by asking a question, so I rarely did. At face value, the whole, teacher-is-actually-a-TV-monitor thing doesn’t exactly shout “personal, friendly, meaningful environment; don’t fear me.”  But by taking the fear out of asking questions and allowing for private conversations in class, Lync helps promote a more collaborative and individualized environment – one that my math skills and I are jealous of.

On Wednesday, we’ll look at the importance of oration over instruction when teaching math.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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