More often than not when I video conference with my class it is done as whole class activity. My students may write on a wonder wall before a call to help brainstorm questions they'd like to ask. In particular this was done before calls with Skype, Duck Duck Moose, and a video game programmer. Because of the pre loading before the calls my students were keen and ready to learn and connect with our guests. These people became people my students could contact (even if through me) when they had other questions or comments. They become part of their learning community.
Most often the experts I bring into my class, through video conferencing, are other children learning about a similar topic. Sometimes my class video conferences with a class once, but often they meet with a class more than just once. Take for example Ms. Kathy Cassidy's class in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, her students have Skyped regularly with my class this year to practice and learn a variety of concepts. We've play a variety of math games with them over the course of the school year. My class has even taught them about Hanukkah. While my students don't know the names of Kathy's individual students they certainly know who Kathy's students are, and when it doubt they know we can video conference with them for just about any reason. My students like to share their learning with Kathy's class. My students understand how those connections are important to their learning.
There are times when my students video conference one on one with another adult or child. Last year my students worked with Ms. Leka DeGroot's class daily often. Our students played math games with each other trying to give and guess clues. This was a popular choice for many of our students. My students liked the connections they were making with Leka's class and it made their learning more meaningful to them.
This year we've skyped less 1:1 for math but each week at least one of my students has been reading and learning with an adult through video conferencing. These people have become important members of our classroom. For one student in particular her weekly reading is a very important time in her week. She understands how powerful a learning connection can be, even if it's just through computer screen. This adult is a part of my student's personally learning community.
Just the other day I took my class on a field trip to the local Salmon Hatchery. As we were arriving another class was leaving. The first thing out of one of my student's mouths was, "Can we Skype with them?" I smiled and knew he understood how powerful our video conferencing has been for our learning this year.
Like blogging, video conferencing is an excellent way to help students create student learning communities.