No Longer Absent: Going to Class via Webcam

Since everything else nowadays is done online, it was only a matter of time before students started asking if participation in class was absolutely required and whether or not they could attend class via webcam.  That’s just what professor Thomas Nelson Laird, an assistant professor at Indiana University of Bloomington, faced one day as he got ready for class. Thirty minutes before class, Laird received an e-mail from a student stating that she wouldn’t be able to make it to class that day and asked if she could be in attendance through webcam. This is a growing trend, according to an article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

With universities and professors frequently bringing in guest speakers through the use of technology and allowing students to interact virtually with experts, it’s no surprise students are exploring creative and virtual options when it comes to classes and the Internet. As popular services such as Skype continue to grow and become more popular amongst college students trying to connect with friends in family that live in other cities, states, and even other countries, they are experiencing other growths as well. Skype recently unveiled a service for educators to exchange tips and lessons through the use of a program called "Skype in the classroom."

It’s programs like these that allowed Mr. Laird to allow the student to be virtually brought in for class that day. Laird placed a laptop on an empty seat and allowed the student to give her presentation via webcam to the whole class because she could not make it to campus due to a snowstorm. While this particular request worked out well, Laird says he doesn’t know if he’s willing to set this sort of thing up every time a student asks, as the process took up some of the class time. But it seems to be a practice that many students will wish to work out, as recent data from a faculty survey of Student Engagement shows that about 12% of professors have used videoconferencing in teaching.

There are some cons to using videoconferencing in the classroom. Even though technology is far more advanced and reliable than it was a few years ago, there are possibilities that technology won’t always work. The first time a professor at San Jose State University tried to use videoconference with a guest speaker via Skype in her class, students couldn’t see the guest speaker and parts of the interview were inaudible, even after the school’s tech-support staff were called. When asked if she would do it again, she stated that she would if she knew technical help would be on hand. Other professors agree that while videoconferencing may be helpful and give students opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, it also takes a lot of accommodations, provisions, time, and setup, so the worth is likely to depend on the professor.

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