Real Time Communications Featured Article

Deeper Educational Engagement with Real Time Communications

February 11, 2015

The cliché of helicopter parents hovering over students has both an upside and downside.   On the upside, engaged parents are much more involved in helping to ensure their children are prepared and participating in school. Parents are vocal advocates for school improvement, leading the PTA, lobbying for more resources, and keeping school leaders accountable.  Real time communications (RTC) is being integrated into the larger scope of how K-12 schools and higher education communicate with students and parents.

Blackboard is the dominant portal for education technology.  In September 2014, the company acquired WebRTC provider Resquestec "to reinvent and revitalize its product portfolio," according to the press announcement.  WebRTC provides Blackboard with open standards technology to incorporate IP telephony, video conferencing and instant messaging directly within desktop and mobile browsers, as well as adding screen sharing and other collaborating tools -- all without downloads or plug-ins.

Students, teachers, administrators and parents now have the ability to communicate in multiple forums, with one-on-one communication able to be conducted at any time outside of "normal" school hours if needed.   While newsletters and event reminders are the stock-in-trade for communication within the school and throughout the local school district, engaged parents expect more.  One-on-one communications tailored to individual student performance creates dialogue between parents and children as well as between parents and schools, furthering parental involvement.

Deeper parental involvement leads to greater community involvement, bringing in more resources to aid in more successful schools.  Education leaders can bring in community resources virtually, providing online mentoring programs in voice and videoconferencing and regular career and professional networking events without having the logistics and expense of physical events.   

Efforts such as Google's Connected Classrooms go beyond the local community to bring resources from around the country and literally around the world directly into the classroom.  Students can engage with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Seattle Aquarium, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota Florida, or the team of the Solar Impulse plane as they go around the world in a solar airplane.  Real time communications provides a cost-effective way for hundreds of classrooms at a time to talk with scientists, engineers, and musicians at their place of work something that just can't be done in a physical fashion.

Higher education is beginning to explore the use of real time communications for the trifecta of student recruitment, parental involvement, and alumni engagement.  The 2014 E-Expectations Report, put together by group of higher-education marketing firms, examined the differences between how parents and students use electronic media, including basic web pages, email, social media, and Ye Olde YouTube (OK, YouTube isn't that old, but it feels like it).  A majority of both groups preferred web-based resources for learning about colleges, but 50 percent of parents said they prefer phone calls and print materials to learn about college choices; only 38 percent of senior high-school students liked calls and hard copy.

One of the more interesting findings is students continue to prefer email contract, with 93 percent saying they use email at least once a week, while 77 percent of parents surveyed use email at least once a week.  Email was long predicted to be "dead," but it is clear that even the youngest generation is still using it to get communication.

Real-time communications provides higher education with a larger set of tools beyond email and social media to provide in-depth engagement with students, parents and alumni.  While the on-line virtual classroom scenario is the most obvious one, student tutoring and mentoring can be conducted via WebRTC, alumni groups can hold roundtable sessions using multi-person videoconferencing, and prospective students can get virtual tours, events, and advising without having to make a trip to campus. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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