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In 1900, a French futurist imagined that in the year 2000, people would be able to video conference with each other like this:
A postcard with an illustration of two men in chairs with a gramophone, telephone, and microphone. A light shines on the wall of a woman waving to them.
Video conferencing with a gramophone, projector, and telephone lines. Image source: France in XXI Century
They were right. Sure, we use speakers instead of a gramophone, but the end result is the same: we can have a face-to-face conversation without actually being in the same room.
Classrooms can use videoconferencing to bring in guest speakers, connect with other classrooms, and go on virtual field trips.
Photo of a ranger in her office facing a monitor with an attached webcam. The monitor shows a classroom of students in desks.
A classroom learns about the Gettysburg park. Image source: NPS
Videoconferencing also gives students a way to participate in class from home. If a student has a long sickness, chronic illness, or any need for constant hospitalization, they can still continue learning alongside their classmates. It can be as simple as a laptop with a webcam or as fancy as a telepresence robot that can navigate around classrooms.
Animated GIF of a telepresence robot navigating down a school hallway. Its monitor displays a student waving and another student waves back in the hallway.
A student navigates from one class to another with his telepresence robot, waving hi to a friend. Image source: Worthington City Schools
Companies can hold meetings with employees distributed in offices, cafes, and homes around the world. Most video conferencing applications include a screen sharing feature too, so that people can talk over a set of slides, a prototype, or a live demo.
Video conferencing isn't perfect though. For example, if one employee is on the video call and the rest of the meeting attendees are huddled around a table in person, it can be hard for that one employee to feel like an equal participant. We sometimes struggle with that at Khan Academy, so one team hacked together a telepresence robot to represent their colleague at meetings, using just cardboard, a webcam, and an iPad:
Photo of three people huddled around a laptop next to a giant cardboard poster with a photo of a man's face, a webcam in the mouth, and an iPad in the forehead streaming live video of him.
A team of Khan Academy employees meet with their virtual colleague.
Video conferencing also requires high bandwidth and low latency to stream the audio and video smoothly. High speed Internet connections are common in offices, but Internet connections are not always strong enough in homes, cafes, and some countries.
🔍 Video conferencing technology is becoming ubiquitous, making its way into fields such as music, medicine, journalism. Research other ways that the world uses video conferencing to make possible things that people only dreamed about in 1900.

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