Tandberg widens students' horizons

Thanks to videoconferencing and Norwegian company Tandberg, American grade school students can take virtual field trips to areas in the United States, and eventually around the world, that they may never get the chance to visit in real life.

The company's Connections Program, formally introduced in November, provides free, interactive educational sessions for K-12 classes. The sessions link students with instructors who guide them through programs on such topics as the plant and animal life found in the Amazon region, key themes in Shakespeare's plays, how simple machines work, and the ins-and-outs of environmental and health sciences.

The program is particularly popular with school districts that serve disadvantaged children who ordinarily would have little chance to take field trips of this nature.

"It's been incredible for our students," said Lance Ford, technology director for Howe Public Schools in Oklahoma. Howe school district officials first connected with Tandberg, a videoconferencing equipment maker, about a year ago through an educational grants process.

"Our students are an impoverished group of kids, and many of them will probably never leave the county or go further than high school [in their education]," Ford said.

The Tandberg program brings them cultural enrichment events they would otherwise never be open to, he said, and its interactive nature takes learning beyond just sitting back and watching videos or television in a regular classroom setting.

The students interact with the instructors and other schoolchildren around the country and eventually have to "stand and deliver" to videoconference participants to show what they have learned.

The first idea for the interactive field trips came up about two years ago when the company realized that schools didn't always know how to effectively use the videoconferencing systems that Tandberg sold them, said Richard Grace, Tandberg's executive vice president. The instructional program originally was done on a voluntary basis in-house, but eventually more money was invested and content-creation was outsourced.

The program has matured enough to where Tandberg officials feel it can be introduced to a broader user base, Grace said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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