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Not all the world's a stage
hi-def video will only revolutionize e-learning when students get comfortable on camera

By Lisa Neal / August 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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Does anyone remember Jeane Dixon, whose well-publicized predictions included that President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated? According to Wikipedia, the "Jeane Dixon Effect" is when "people loudly tout a few correct predictions and overlook false predictions." John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, probably makes a lot of predictions, and being even more well-known than Jeane Dixon was in her time, he is often quoted. One of his most widely publicized quotes originally occurred in The New York Times in 1999: "The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error in terms of the Internet capacity it will consume." I don't believe that prediction has come to pass, but that hasn't stopped Chambers from issuing fresh prognostications. His latest is a provocative one that also relates directly to the future of online learning.

Chambers has been touting TelePresence, Cisco's new high-definition video-conferencing technology, as a way for businesses to reduce travel and thus "improve their carbon footprint." Chambers went on to call video the new killer app. Combining his "killer app" predictions (or at least these two—à lá the Jeane Dixon Effect, I suspect these are just two of many), what impact can high-definition video-conferencing have on e-learning?

Long ago, when I piloted the first online course for EDS, I used video-conferencing along with a number of other technologies, including—I know this dates me—the beta version of NetMeeting. EDS had a worldwide videoconferencing network and I took advantage of it to have my students "meet" once a week. My training session consisted of how to initiate multipoint calls, pre-set camera angles, and the like. While I quickly mastered this material, I struggled with how to make my class interactive and engaging. My students liked seeing and hearing me and each other—their feedback was that it made me seem like a "real person" and the class seem like a "real class"—but I soon discovered they didn't like to be on camera themselves.

Perhaps that's why video-conferencing has never achieved the growth predicted for it by analysts (alas, not by Jeane Dixon). Today, certainly more people have webcams than ever before, and more people watch videos online. But does this also reduce their discomfort with being on camera and increase video's potential as a viable communication medium?

I imagine there are a lot of people who want the sense of being in a classroom, complete with classmates and an instructor, but who don't want to travel to a campus. And even though Al Gore may have never been a close confidant of Jeane Dixon, his notion of reducing our carbon footprint may increase the appeal of video-conferencing for educational purposes. But even the most gifted clairvoyant must look beyond what is logical or possible and figure out how to get instructors and students comfortable using this technology adeptly. My prediction—sorry Mr. Chambers—is that video-conferencing will not revolutionize workplace communication or education. There are just not enough people who love to be on camera, notwithstanding Oprah, YouTubers, and most CEOs we know. The rest of us will wait until they perfect teleportation.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. Degrees by mail
  2. The Value of Voice
  3. Predictions for 2006
  4. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  5. Five questions...
  6. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  7. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  8. Music lessons
  9. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  10. Advertising or education?
  11. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  12. Predictions for 2008
  13. Serious games for serious topics
  14. Back to the future
  15. Predictions For 2003
  16. "Spot Learning"
  17. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  18. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  19. "Deep" thoughts
  20. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  21. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  22. Learner on the Orient Express
  23. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  24. Q&A
  25. Do it yourself
  26. Predictions for 2004
  27. Storytelling at a distance
  28. Talk to me
  29. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  30. Online learning and fun
  31. Everything in moderation
  32. eLearning and fun
  33. The basics of e-learning
  34. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  35. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  36. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  37. How to get students to show up and learn
  38. Blended conferences
  39. Predictions for 2002
  40. Learning from e-learning
  41. Q&A with Don Norman
  42. In search of simplicity
  43. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  44. Want better courses?
  45. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  46. Just "DO IT"
  47. Senior service
  48. Formative evaluation
  49. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  50. Predictions for 2007
  51. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  52. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  53. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  54. My life as a Wikipedian
  55. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  56. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  57. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie