Using Interactive Videoconferencing Technology for International Education: The Case of ISIS
Mimi Miyoung Lee, Deborah S. Hutton
Interactive videoconferencing technology provides a convenient way to connect rural classrooms with speakers from remote locations. In this paper, a case study of such a videoconferencing program offered by a university is discussed. International Studies In Schools (ISIS) was designed to support international education for rural learning environments in Indiana and has been successfully implemented in many classrooms statewide. In the first part of this article, the history and programs of ISIS are presented as well as the guiding theories behind it. Based on results of a case study, the second half of the paper provides suggestions for future implementation of the ISIS program in rural learning environments.
There is no mistaking that we live in a global world. Emerging technologies today offer multicultural educational events that can foster shared understanding, dignity, respect, and the exchange of highly current and intriguing information (Rasmussen, Nichols, & Ferguson, 2006). With technologies such as blogging, podcasting, wikis, videoconferencing, and chat, content can be presented that is not typically part of the curriculum or that may take years to find its way into textbooks (Beldarrain, 2006). At the same time, meaningful conversations can transpire among people who will likely never meet physically. It is clear that the opportunities for global sharing, collaboration, apprenticeship, and mentoring are expanding.
Aa this plethora of collaborative technologies have emerged, so too have pleas for global awareness and understanding. Fortunately, technologies such as videoconferencing can bring current topics in the news directly into the classroom for discussion, debate, and reflection. With videoconferencing, students can become aware of worldviews different from those in their communities; including specific struggles, successes, and life experiences of a particular person or group of people. Before and after such videoconferencing events, students might use other educational technologies to gather data and further understand and interact about that culture or topic. Researchers have noted that the benefits of online collaboration with technologies such email, chat, asynchronous conferencing, and videoconferencing include greater perspective taking, critical thinking, task engagement, and overall sensitivity to cultural differences (Bonk, Appelman, & Hay, 1996; Merryfield, 2003). As Merryfield (2007) states, “By introducing students to diverse people within a country, a teacher can help students learn to appreciate complexity within cultures and the dynamics of how cultures change” (p. 270).
For the past twelve years, Indiana University has been a leader in addressing such global awareness issues through a program called “International Studies In Schools” or ISIS. ISIS is a video distance-learning (VDL) program that uses interactive video (IAV) technology to connect K-16 student and community groups in Indiana and other states with international students, scholars, and specialists at Indiana University (IU). ISIS brings IU's international studies specialists out of academe's 'ivory tower' into public and undergraduate classrooms in surrounding rural communities. ISIS also works with another IU project called the Global Interactive Academic NeTwork (GIANT) to bring speakers from around the world, via IAV, into direct contact with IU undergraduate students.
One reason ISIS came about is that Indiana experienced a sharp increase in numbers of immigrants starting in late 90s, especially in smaller communities that were traditionally considered racially and ethnically homogeneous. In light of such changes in population demographics, educators felt the need to bring international and multicultural issues close to home in their classrooms, especially in rural areas. In this regard, one effective way of bringing the world to students is interactive videoconferencing technology. Videoconferencing technology is relatively simple to use, yet highly effective when appropriately integrated into the curriculum. The interactive and synchronous nature of the technology makes it especially useful in teaching about different cultures as the technology enables real-time interaction. Using this technology, a video image of the speaker is received on the classroom television monitor while the speaker talks about his or her country and culture. Importantly, the students can engage in direct interaction with the speaker during the presentation.
International Studies In Schools (ISIS)
History of ISIS
The International Studies In Schools (ISIS) program originated in 1995 as a joint endeavor of Indiana University's Office of International Programs and the Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), with the support of a two-year Content Providers' start-up grant from the Corporation for Educational Communications (CEC). The continuation and expansion of ISIS through 1997-1999 was made possible with the combined support of an International Awareness Grant from the Indiana Humanities Council and Office of International Programs, world area studies centers at Indiana University (IU), and the IU Center of Research on Learning and Technology. IU continues to support ISIS with funding, presenters, and staff. The world area studies centers provide presenters for requested programs, as well as the materials to support each program. Indiana University contributes its entire IAV technology support personnel and systems, including paying for the line charges when used by Vision Athena described below.
How It Works
ISIS was designed for the purpose of providing learners with access to other cultures through live interaction with people from those cultures or experts on topics of global significance. This innovative international outreach program is primarily realized by means of Vision Athena.
Vision Athena is an interactive video project of Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC); a nonprofit corporation established to enhance education throughout the state through the use of evolving communications technologies. ISIS uses two-way IAV technology through fiber optic lines and Internet Protocol (IP) connections.
The ISIS program assumes that both the presenter and the students benefit from the interactivity of the medium. Topics might be fairly general such as “The Daily Culture of India” or much more specific as in “The Effects of the Rainforest Biome on the Local Culture” (International Studies In Schools, 2007). The presenters are always encouraged to ask and solicit questions. Synchronous interactions with a representative of another culture not only make the sessions more interesting and exciting, they foster further interest in that culture. In this regard, it is important for the presenter to solicit as much input from students as possible during the course of presentation. By asking questions in real time, students tend to focus on their most pressing knowledge gaps in their attempt to understand other cultures and receive answers from presenters who are usually native to that culture.
Characteristics pertaining to a particular audience, such as education level, are also crucial to consider because the level or type of interactivity must vary accordingly to be effective. ISIS offers different formats and content to various levels of audiences, suited to their needs. As an added enticement to use technology for global education, ISIS programs are provided free-of-charge; even connection fees are covered, if applicable. As explained below, there are currently two kinds of programming offered by ISIS.
The specific needs of requesting teachers are addressed through tailored programs such as "European Security Issues in the 21st Century," "The Chinese in Mongolian History," and “Daily Life in Kenya.” Tailored programs are initiated by a teacher who contacts ISIS to request development of an IAV program focusing on a particular curriculum topic. Once a request is received, the relevant world area studies center at Indiana University identifies presenters. The next step in the process is for the ISIS Program Coordinator to provide a short training session to the presenter regarding the best use of this medium. The final product is negotiated among the teacher, the presenter, and the ISIS Coordinator. Each "event" is scheduled for a broadcast time that fits everyone’s schedule. ISIS topics include a wide range of international cultures, countries, and issues in tailored programs. For example, a session on “Doing Business in Other Cultures” was delivered to an introductory business class at the university.
Mechanisms for Monitoring and Dealing with Technical Difficulties
Technical difficulties are monitored on three possible levels involved in any program: (1) the IAV studio in use, (2) the IU technical support by VICNOSS (Virtual Indiana Classroom Network Operations Support Specialists), and (3) the help desk at CILC, if the program is using the Vision Athena network.
Before any newly proposed IAV connection, the technical support teams are required by IU to run a test (or tests) for the connection. During a program, IAV studio technical support people ensure that the program has begun successfully and are then available throughout the program for instant problem-solving. All IU IAV programs are constantly monitored in a central VICNOSS office, whose personnel are readily available by telephone to help with possible problems. Similarly, all Vision Athena programs have a help desk, Video Images, which can be called to address technical difficulties.
Implementation of ISIS
The Case Study of ISIS at Jamestown
As a graduate student in 2000, the first author, Lee, participated in an ISIS program as a presenter for the topic “Culture and Life in Korea.” This experience, coupled with Lee’s expertise in Instructional Systems Technology, led her to the opportunity of serving as an assistant coordinator to the ISIS program, working closely with the ISIS program director in 2001. During the collaboration, it was brought to Lee’s attention that, in spite of a sharp increase in requests for ISIS programs as well as positive feedback from teachers and students, no research had been done to substantiate the impact of this program. Previous research on videoconferencing has primarily been limited to design and implementation tactics (Siantz & Pugh, n.d.) or evaluation of student satisfaction at a very general level.
Only recently has effort been made to study the integration of technology into multicultural education (Abbott, Austin, Mulkeen, & Metcalfe, 2004; Adams & Cafagna, 2007; Faulkner & McClelland, 2002; Luck & Laurence, 2005). As costs for videoconferencing plummet, through the use of IP-based videoconferencing as in ISIS, and growing school and teacher familiarity with online video conferencing and low-cost webcamming, the opportunities for interacting with global experts and guest lecturers continue to increase.
Geography and financial constraints are no longer key barriers to global education (Luck & Laurence, 2005). Today, key barriers are more likely to be limited familiarity and comfort with such technology, instructor or school hesitation, shortage of time to brainstorm possible uses of videoconferencing, and lack of persistence once one has a good idea. The work at ISIS during the past twelve years can serve as an example for other centers, institutes, schools, and organizations. In fact, part of the mission of ISIS is to reduce any perceived hesitancy and reluctance by providing a safe, free, and highly supportive program in which to test out global education ideas using videoconferencing.
In the year 2002, Lee launched an ethnographic study of two classrooms in two different rural middle schools where the ISIS program was implemented as part of regular curriculum. For this paper, some findings from one of the schools are discussed. The real names of the school, district, and participants of the study have been replaced with pseudonyms. The study’s findings suggest possible implications for educators who want to develop learning environments where students can be empowered with a sense of intercultural competence as members of a multicultural society.
For the study, Mr. Anderson and 34 students in his seventh grade social studies class in Jamestown Middle School were provided with the ISIS program as a part of their regular curriculum. The students of Jamestown Middle School typically come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Forty percent of the student population is at the poverty level, receiving free or reduced meals at school. During the three years previous to the study, the average mobility rate of Jamestown students was 38 percent. Historically, this particular community has been racially homogenous. In fact, according to state statistics, the school had a Caucasian student population of 100% in 2001.
In terms of overall technology support, a 2001 report from this school noted that every classroom and office in the Jamestown district had at least one computer with Internet access. Every teacher had communication capabilities via telephone, voicemail, and emails, in his/her classroom. As a recipient of a high tech school grant, there were two mobile carts with thirty-two laptops each. These carts circulated among the junior/senior high school classrooms on a reservation basis. The industrial arts department had some basic broadcasting equipment (sound board, video switcher, and microphones) that could be used to broadcast over the high school’s Channel One network. The report also noted that only 11 percent of the 7th grade students responded that they used computers on a weekly basis.
Mr. Anderson, the teacher, knew about ISIS but this was the first time he implemented it in his class. Having experienced a lack of sufficient resources for his 7th grade “World Geography and People” class, he welcomed the opportunity to be involved and participated in design of the implementation. During the year of 2002-2003, Mr. Anderson’s class participated in six programs on countries that he chose corresponding to the contents of the textbook he was using. Each program was designed for one class period lasting approximately 50 minutes. The selected countries were (1) Iraq, (2) Kenya, (3) China, (4) South Korea, (5) Australia, and (6) Malaysia. Given the availability of the presenters, the selection and the order of the sessions were designed by Mr. Anderson and were scheduled to match his curriculum and class plans.
For each session, the class and the presenter “met” through a large TV screen in Mr. Anderson’s classroom. The speakers presented their videoconferencing program in a studio at Indiana University. The studio was equipped with two-way videoconferencing technologies that included cameras, a videocassette recorder, computers, a document camera, and dial-up connections through local phone lines. The presenters, who were natives of the countries being studied, usually brought photographs or traditional artifacts to their presentations. Students were encouraged to ask questions about the respective country and culture during these interactive sessions. During and after implementation of the program, the teacher and the students were interviewed for their reactions to the program.
Mr. Anderson reaction to the ISIS program was overall extremely positive. In general, he viewed the program as an opportunity to draw students’ attention and motivate and engage them in the subject matter. In addition, Mr. Anderson was focused on how the implementation of ISIS provided a better understanding of lives in different countries covered in the curriculum. Such opportunities had not previously been possible in an isolated, rural environment like Jamestown. In effect, ISIS served as an instructional support that propelled students beyond the lectures and textbooks into the real world.
Given the nature of the topics in World Geography and People, the teacher and students had felt a need for resources beyond textbooks and encyclopedias. For this reason, the sessions generated much excitement for students and the teacher. The introduction of the new technology, possibly due to the novelty effect, was also received positively, despite some early anxiety on Mr. Anderson’s part. Without any prior experience with videoconferencing equipment or events, Mr. Anderson initially was not very confident about his ability to maneuver the technology. With help from the technology specialist at the school, he soon grew more comfortable and his concerns were resolved. The students regarded the prospect of learning about different cultures through interacting with “real” human beings especially exciting. The interactive videoconferencing technology also seemed to have contributed significantly to the students’ excitement.
An overview of the findings from the interviews is listed below:
Concerns and challenges:
Guiding Theories behind ISIS and its Implementation
Importance of Interaction as Instructional Strategy
Because presenters and students are physically separated at the time of instruction, the ISIS program is considered a type of distance learning program. Psychological and communications space for potential misunderstanding between the learners and instructors is called the “transactional distance.” Three sets of variables define the extent of transactional distance in an educational environment: dialogue, structure, and learner autonomy (Lee & Paulus, 2001).
Dialogue can be translated as interaction which places value on the synergistic nature of the relationship of the involved participants (Moore, 1993). Based on this theory of potential transactional distance, interactions are even more important in distance environments than in face-to-face classrooms.
Interaction can be defined as “sustained, two-way communication among two or more persons for purposes of explaining and challenging perspectives” (Garrison, 1993, p.16) or as “two-way communication among two or more people within a learning context, with the purpose either as the task/instructional completion or social relationship building” (Gilbert & Moore, 1998). Vygotsky’s (1978) concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is based on the idea that social interaction is crucial to the development of the new patterns of thought and behavior. It is argued that social interaction and dialogue are central to learning. In the case of the ISIS program, the technology enables an interaction between the students and speakers of different countries that is otherwise impossible.
Contact Theory and ISIS
Allport (1979) points out that in general “contacts that bring knowledge and acquaintance are likely to engender sounder beliefs concerning minority groups and for this reason contribute to the reduction of prejudice (p.268).” Services that ISIS provides are based on this understanding: though made possible by technology through a TV screen, the contact can contribute to a fostering a sense of familiarity, thereby reducing a sense of fear toward the unknown. The teacher, Mr. Anderson, seemed to share this assumption. He stated during his interviews that his interest in the implementation of ISIS into his social studies curriculum was twofold: (1) the ISIS will serve as an instructional support to motivate the students in social studies, and (2) the interaction with people from other cultures will enhance their intercultural understanding.
Integrating Interactive Videoconferencing Technology in Instruction
In many cases, IAV shares the same benefits as telecommunications. Researchers have shown that telecommunications technology help to bring students and educators out of the isolation of their schools into the real world, as shown by examples ranging from music education to health education for rural students in The Division of Continuing Medical Education (CME) in the University of British Columbia. Interactive technology enables learners’ instantaneous connection to and with teachers and provide expertise to regions of the state that do not otherwise have access. In this sense, the videoconferencing technology can significantly expand learning opportunities for rural school settings.
Learning about other cultures can be done most effectively with some direct experiences. When such an option is not possible as in many parts of Indiana where white populations exceed 95 percent, one can turn to an appropriate technology that can simulate the face-to-face interaction most closely. IAV can serve as such a technology. The Guide to Distance Learning (Yoakam, 1999) points out that the real-time broadcast of video-based instruction is the closest replication of the traditional classroom that distance-learning technology offers. IAV is now the perfect fit for a more global curriculum—it is available at a relatively low cost, closely resembles real human interaction, and increases opportunities for international content and experiences. Opportunities for learners to express their own points of view, to explain issues in their own words, and to formulate opposing or different arguments have shown to result in deeper-levels of cognitive processing, improved learning, and the development of critical thinking.
The impacts of interactive videoconferencing on learning include the following:
(Retrieved July 10, 2007 from www.brownsburg.k12.in.us/curriculum/Secondary/SocialStudies/JHGeneralInfo.pdf
These same three aspects—dynamic learning through collaborative and in-depth discussions, the exchange of information not available elsewhere, and highly current and real-time exchanges of ideas—apply directly to the case of ISIS. Now, with IP-based videoconferencing technology, anyone can tap into sources that are unique and novel as well as intense and engaging interactions with people around the planet who have valuable life experiences. Decades of research on learner-centered instruction indicates that many of these same features underlie successful learning environments (Alexander & Murphy, 1994; McCombs & Vakili, 2005; So, Bonk, & Wisher, in press). Such environments include opportunities for feedback from multiple audiences, the sharing of perspectives, building on students’ prior knowledge, knowledge construction opportunities, and fostering of student reflection, learner choice, collaboration and interaction.
Suggestions for Future Implementation
Continuous Implementation of the ISIS Program
This was the first research project conducted on curriculum integration for a series of presentations as part of the ISIS program. It was also Mr. Anderson’s first use of the ISIS program. The novelty of the program may have contributed to excitement generated by the students. Continuous implementation of the ISIS program will help teachers and researchers move beyond the novelty effect. Further use of the program will also make it possible for students and teachers to understand the multiple and diverse aspects of each culture that is presented.
In future implementations of the ISIS program in similar settings, there are several possible scenarios that can address the issues mentioned above. We propose the following alternative scenarios to the current format of ISIS programs.
Scenario 1. When designing the ISIS sessions, suggest categories that respond to issues of diversity such as class, gender, and sexuality, instead of focusing primarily on ethnicity. This strategy can help the students reflect more clearly the heterogeneity of each culture. For example, one ISIS session might address the issue of gender across different cultures and have panels of presenters from two or more countries share their opinions about gender in their society. In such a format, American students can participate as part of a panel. Another session might cover issues of class hierarchy and how each country deals with its problems in this area. Because everybody has a concept of membership to one’s own class, this topic will be as relevant to the students as perhaps talking about “dating” or “career aspirations.” The issue of “dating” can even be discussed under the more macro themes of “class” or “gender.” How do the dating customs reflect the gender roles, for example, in China? Are there different expectations depending on the social class to which one belongs? Are there as many single-parent households in Korea as in the U.S.? If not, what is an explanation? Does it vary depending on different regions within a country? These issues should be discussed in the context of the social climate of the country, including the people of that country’s own effort for social change.
Scenario 2. Similar to the first scenario, the objective of this second scenario is to keep the current format of “one country per session,” while incorporating a template that addresses the topics mentioned above. Have each presenter be more aware of the issues him/herself so that s/he can emphasize the diverse aspect of his/her own culture. This can minimize the risk of presenting a culture as a set of fixed attributes. By making a connection between understanding other people’s cultures and one’s own identity, the teacher can use the ISIS program to start dialogues about tolerance and equality.
Collaboration across the Program Areas in the University
There has been an increasing awareness of and concern about the ethnocentric understanding of other, especially non-Western, cultures. Trubek (2001) points out that:
[I]ssues arise in the relationship with the humanities as cultural studies and post-colonialism become more important in the humanities and require a redefinition of the relationship between areas studies and humanities department. These newer traditions tend to challenge some of the work that has been done by area scholars in U.S. universities. There is a growing critique of “Orientalism” or the tendency to construct knowledge of other societies based on assumptions of Western supremacy. (p.316)
One way of addressing potential underlying tones or feelings of supremacy is for ISIS participants to collaborate with subject matter experts in cultural studies. In addition to its current close partnership with the centers of area studies and the international program, additional collaboration with the School of Education, such as multicultural education or instructional technology would be beneficial. Support from instructional technologists in terms of a needs analysis can also assist in identifying conditions and limitations related to the use of the program.
Instructional Resources in Teaching Tolerance
Intercultural understanding is inseparable from the tenets of multicultural education. The common goals include: (1) to respect and appreciate differences, (2) to understand the issues of equality in society, and (3) to foster a sense of tolerance which will contribute to the development and empowerment of individuals as members of the diverse world of the 21st century. In our opinion, learning about other cultures should prepare these students to be able to learn to live with people from other cultures. In this sense, the goal of these cross-cultural encounters should be closely tied to that of multicultural education.
An important aspect of multicultural education is the cultivation of an attitude of tolerance. Jamestown Middle School had its own program called “Diversity Project” designed and facilitated by the high school counselor. The program offered one 45-minute session per week for six consecutive weeks, covering issues of diversity and tolerance. It was initiated by the counselor in an effort to embed additional multicultural issues into the curriculum. In addition to ISIS, Mr. Anderson used the program in his classes.
The Diversity Project introduced and addressed issues related to tolerance. As such, it coordinated extremely well with the ISIS program. Topics of the project included: tracing back through family histories (immigration), civil rights (racism), and holiday traditions (customs). The project was designed to point out many similarities and differences among the various traditions simply termed as “American” while touching on the issues of intolerance and social injustice based on external differences. Intolerance based on social hierarchy among peers resonated with most middle school students. Instead of separate implementation of the two projects, as currently done in Jamestown, they can be designed and implemented in collaboration. With closer interaction with and reference to in-house projects like the “Diversity Project,” students can better understand “international” issues made evident through ISIS in a more personal and local framework.
Plan for Multiple Speakers
Among the six sessions implemented in Mr. Anderson’s class, five sessions were presented by single speakers. In the case of Malaysia, however, the session had a team of two speakers, one Chinese and one Malay. As seen in the case of Malaysian presenters, having a team of speakers better highlighted the diverse makeup of that culture. Sessions that include a panel of speakers from various socio-economic levels, educational backgrounds, or ethnicities within the same country help to minimize oversimplification of a culture. Many Jamestown students were interested in the lives of teenagers in other countries. Having presenters who are similar in age to the audience could also be extremely motivating. Support at the University administration level is necessary in order for ISIS to access a larger pool of potential speakers.
Need for More Tangible Incentives for the ISIS Presenters
In most cases, the ISIS presenters in conjunction with the teacher(s), the ISIS coordinator, and sometimes the relevant area studies outreach coordinator make decisions about what to present and how to present it. For this reason, there can be extensive variation in terms of what is emphasized about the various cultures. While the 60-90 minute training prepares the presenters for uses of technology, it typically does not provide sufficient time for specific content planning with the ISIS program coordinator because the presenters are volunteers. One suggestion is to provide more tangible benefits for the presenters such as course credits. That way the ISIS Outreach coordinator can rightfully ask for more time with the presenters, making it possible for them to design and develop the sessions with consultation from those in multicultural education, cultural studies, and area studies.
As an international studies program delivered via interactive two-way videoconferencing technology, International Studies In Schools (ISIS) offers a vital service to rural classrooms, especially in geographically and culturally isolated communities. The use of the ISIS program is a start of collaboration between the rural schools and universities. After a year-long implementation of the program in the World History curriculum, the case study in Mr. Anderson’s classroom provided us with suggestions for future implementations of the program. The findings of the study also point to the fact that while the videoconferencing technology provides exciting new ways to communicate with people from other cultures, fostering intercultural awareness requires combined efforts of educators, administrators, and program coordinators as well as continuous implementation, extension, and modification of programs such as ISIS.
Today more than ever in the history of this planet, global awareness is critically needed. Fortunately, videoconferencing and other emerging technologies make it possible. It is up to all of us to begin exploiting it for educational and cultural gains. As Merry Merryfield argues,
“The flattening of the world through new technologies and globalization challenges all of us. By introducing students to diverse people within a country, a teacher can help students learn to appreciate the complexity within cultures and the dynamics of how cultures change” (p. 270).
ISIS has provided a model program of how this can happen for more than a dozen years now. It is time to start thinking about and planning for the types of global collaboration programs that may benefit the human race a dozen years from now.
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About the Authors
Mimi Miyoung Lee is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. She received her Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University. Her email address is:firstname.lastname@example.org
Deborah S. Hutton is a professor at Indiana University at Bloomington.
 CEC has changed its name to the Center of Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT).
 These include the African Studies Program, the Center for Latin America and Caribbean Studies, the Center for the Study of Global Change, the East Asian Studies Center, the Inner Asian and Uralic Resource Center, the Russian and East European Institute, and the West European Studies National Resource Center.
 The result reported in this paper is a part of a larger study where data from two rural schools were collected. The data includes interviews of four different parties involved in the program implementation: (1) the teachers, (2) students, (3) international presenters, and (4) ISIS coordinator. Sections of the larger study, focusing on different parties involved, are scheduled to appear in other publications. More detailed analysis of the students’ understanding of the program and interpretation of the differences can be found in Lee’s article, “Going Global”: Conceptualization of the Other and Interpretation of Cross-cultural Experience in an All-white, Rural Learning Environment (2006). The teacher’s use of the program is recently discussed in Lee (2007).
 Part of this subsection appears in Lee and Paulus (2001) AECT Conference Proceedings..