Videoconferencing connects Australian and Japanese schools

Wednesday, 30 November, 2011

Grade Four students at Cromer Public School in Sydney are getting a unique glimpse into Japanese life and culture thanks to weekly joint lessons with their classroom counterparts at Kansai University Elementary School in Osaka, Japan, via videoconferencing technology.

Established in 1962, Cromer Public School is a NSW Government primary school that currently has approximately 860 students on its roll. The school has implemented a Panasonic videoconferencing solution that includes an interactive whiteboard, a 50″ plasma panel, two video cameras, a microphone, VPN router and remote control.

Using the interactive whiteboard, the teacher can instantly transfer data and teaching notes between classrooms, videoconferencing equipment and plasma screens. The board also integrates speakers for a full multimedia experience, as well as two additional USB ports for connection to peripheral devices like digital cameras and microscopes.

Teacher Sharyn Lawler explained that the global classroom program, which has been underway for almost eight months, has provided benefits both for teachers and students alike.

“This technology has allowed the students to learn so much about their peers in Japan and is a completely different way of learning to textbooks or expensive international exchange programs,” she said.

“The solution allows the Australian and Japanese students to interact on a regular basis as though they were in the same room, and the students have formed genuine connections with each other - one of my students likened the experience to having a ‘window to the world’,” she added.

Lawler said that while the Japanese class used the program predominately as part of their English language studies, her class was focused on learning about the Japanese culture.

“We are now focusing on three main topics that we felt would be common to both countries - pets, sports and food - in order to complete a joint project,” she explained.

“The students have sung songs to each other using dance and gestures, discussed their aspirations, shared their lunchtime experiences and been able to show the contents of their sandwiches to each other - the Japanese students even did a Vegemite taste test.

“This was a great example of how being able to see and hear the students adds a whole new dimension to learning - because their words said that they enjoyed the taste but their gestures and facial expression said very differently!

“We are now approaching the end of the school year and the students are beginning to collate and analyse all the information they have learnt from each other to present back to their peers - and there are definitely more similarities than differences, which has been great to see,” she said.

Lawler also said that the solution’s bidirectional voice capture technology that ensures that softer voices are not drowned out by louder voices provides the ultimate collaborative experience and greater student participation.

“It’s quite incredible to see our students conversing clearly with the Japanese students as though they were in the same room - with no lag, echo or interference and a crystal clear picture,” she added.

The program integrates well into the HSIE syllabus, in units such as People and Their Beliefs, and also covers Talking and Listening as well as Languages Other Than English (LOTE). Lawler also said that the students were becoming more confident in public speaking as they were required to ask and respond to questions before the class and visitors.

“The solution helps maintain student interest and motivation as we do not have to waste time logging on or connecting every time we wish to use the system - we can simply turn it on and the students can start interacting,” she said.

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