- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 21, 2005

With the speed of technological advances, discrepancies in educational opportunities are fast disappearing. Just a few years ago, home-schoolers seemed to be hampered by lack of access to specialized facilities such as laboratories for science studies or studios for art instruction. Thanks to innovative and inexpensive tools being produced, we no longer have to be held back by our simple surroundings.

As a result of several requests from overseas and other states, our family recently researched video conferencing and invested in a Web cam. This is a small camera that connects to your computer, which sends your live image to someone else with the same equipment. You sign up for the software, available from a number of sources, and hook up a microphone. Voila — you suddenly are capable of conducting classes in real time, over the Internet, with anyone from anyplace in the world.

The same day we purchased the camera and downloaded the software, our family conducted a training session for a team of teens and parents from the West Coast. Participants introduced themselves, gave reports, asked questions and described problems. We gave some suggestions and did some brainstorming. Then we agreed to follow up the next day with a second session.

This method not only saved us thousands of dollars in the airfares and logistical arrangements of sending speakers and trainers several thousand miles away, but it also allowed all of us to stay close to our resources and responsibilities at home. We can have the benefits of giving and receiving specialized instruction, with almost none of the loss of continuity that sometimes results from long-distance exchanges.

We also have arranged to share a weekly phone call with students from another country. This allows us to learn new languages and exchange information as well. Imagine being able to check your grammar and pronunciation with a native speaker rather than just listening to a recording and trying to imitate it.

It’s even possible to teach such things as sign language or dance moves — things that must be learned visually — using this technology. The sky truly is the limit.

What is exciting for me as a home-schooler is that any parent and any child can use this equipment to communicate without the barriers of distance or other responsibilities. A father would be able to tutor his son in math from his desk at work. A mom could teach her daughter on the other side of the world how to knit. A child could use the Web cam to show his work to his parents, and the parent could see exactly what he was doing right or wrong.

This technology could give home-schoolers the chance to follow along and to perform lab experiments simultaneously with those being done in colleges or other facilities. The “show me” aspect of learning really can be bridged, with one person able to see the exact actions and to get instant feedback.

Also, this technology enables families to draw closer and share in the educational process. A dad can read his children a bedtime story from his hotel room on another continent. A mom can show her husband the baby’s progress in walking, and children can demonstrate their prowess on the guitar or piano to their grandparents far away.

Video classrooms can allow home-schooling families to co-op, even over long distances. We can share the discoveries we have made in our own explorations, and we can learn from others.

For the cost of the Internet service to which we already subscribe, we can greatly expand our educational horizons and enable parents who may be out of the home to become full participants in the home education process. This is technology at its best, liberating people to do more of what they want to do while fulfilling the sometimes conflicting duties they have.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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