Videoconferencing has been around for decades, and CCV has used this technology for nearly 30 years, beginning with a Degree Planning Seminar delivered over the then-new, statewide Vermont Interactive Television (VIT) system in 1989 and team-taught by two CCV coordinators, Joyce Judy and me. CCV developed its own videoconferencing system in 2004, starting with a simple room-based setup, then moving to a desktop-based system three years later.
In 2008, CCV and the other Vermont State Colleges adopted the Adobe Connect videoconferencing platform, which is still used extensively today for meetings and webinars. At that time, we also installed large, flat-panel LCD displays and high-quality, remote-controlled cameras at most CCV centers to support both room-based and desktop-based videoconferencing.
The CCV Newport and St. Johnsbury centers piloted instructional delivery via videoconferencing in fall 2014 by offering a Child Development course originating in Newport, with several students participating from St. Johnsbury. Those centers have continued to offer one or two courses via videoconferencing in subsequent semesters.
With the termination of state funding for VIT in 2015, Vermont Tech implemented a replacement system to support its distributed nursing, apprenticeship, and other videoconference-based programs. Their “telepresence” classrooms employ two large, flat-panel displays, multiple cameras and microphones, and user-controlled switching to enable the system to operate without expensive studios and technicians in each location, while allowing students at multiple locations to see and hear each other, as well as the instructor. Vermont Tech installed telepresence classrooms at ten locations, including Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, and the CCV Upper Valley, Brattleboro, Springfield, and St. Albans centers.
In spring 2017, CCV deployed its own telepresence classrooms like Vermont Tech’s at the CCV Newport, St. Johnsbury, Winooski, and Rutland centers. The Newport and St. Johnsbury telepresence classrooms began operation during that semester with an Introduction to Ethics course shared between the two centers.
Teaching with telepresence requires heightened attention to many of the techniques employed in a successful on-ground classroom. Long lectures generally do not work well in person and are even less effective viewed on a television screen by a handful of students at one or more remote locations. A mix of discussions, debates, student presentations, short videos, small-group projects, and other activities that keep students engaged with each other and with course content is essential for learning via telepresence. At the same time, the growing use of videoconferencing in many work and professional settings means that telepresence classes can give students a leg up with a communication medium that they may encounter on the job.
Like the 300 fully online courses that CCV offers each semester, telepresence courses are all about access for students. They enable smaller CCV centers like those in St. Johnsbury and Newport to share courses for which enrollment at one center would be insufficient. There are also many courses available only in the largest centers or online, so telepresence makes it possible for a specialized course offered at CCV Winooski, for example, to be available to students in St. Johnsbury. There might also be occasions when telepresence allows a teacher or presenter at a small center to share his or her special expertise with larger ones, as when the late Vermont novelist Howard Frank Mosher reflected on his life and writing in the Northeast Kingdom with students in Montpelier.
For the fall 2017 semester, three CCV telepresence courses will be available. A Small Business Management course originating at the Winooski center will be broadcast to CCV Rutland and St. Johnsbury. CCV Newport will offer Curriculum Development for Early Childhood Education, with students participating from Winooski and St. Johnsbury, and CCV St. Johnsbury will share a social work course, Introduction to Case Management, with Newport.
In addition to these course offerings, CCV expects to use its new telepresence system for meetings, training, presentations, and other applications that can eliminate the time and expense of travel while preserving the in-person learning environment that videoconferencing can simulate. While it may not be the shiniest new technology out there, the telepresence system offers new learning opportunities for the CCV community.