EXCHANGE: Virtual classroom opens world of possibilities

Students at McLean County Unit 5 high schools now have the ability to meet experts and tour facilities from around the globe, all from the comfort of their own classroom.

In June, the Unit 5 school board approved a $170,880 contract with Zdi audio visual company to install virtual classroom software in rooms at Normal Community West and Normal Community high schools.

Zdi, based in Normal, installed high-resolution screens and motion-detecting visual and sound equipment.

“It opens up possibilities for teachers to connect their classes with more people. It also takes away time and financial constraints that might come with field trips. This is another step towards new technology entering schools and I hope it continues to grow,” said Dave Johnson, principal at Normal West.

Teachers can request to move their class to the virtual classroom lab, where they can use the software to connect with an expert.

The expert can join the feed through any device with a microphone, camera and internet connection, such as a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Once seated in the classroom, students face two large computer screens. Cameras at the front and back of the room can detect movement; microphones on the ceiling pick up every sound. The high-tech software will automatically zoom in on a speaking student and share the discussion with the connected expert.

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