Have you ever wished you could teleport somewhere new and exciting? If only real life were to catch up with “Star Trek” imagine how much more convenient our lives would be.

The island schools of Frenchboro, Swans, Islesford, Matinicus, Monhegan, and Isle au Haut have been experimenting with a new technology that has catapulted their classrooms into new and unexplored territory. By using real-time video conferencing technology these island schools have extended the walls of their classrooms across the bay.

For example, students and teachers at the Islesford School can talk and interact with students at Frenchboro, Swans, Matinicus, and Monhegan all at the same time.

Islesford teacher, Lindsay Eysnogle, has led the charge in learning how to best use this new video conferencing technology in the classroom. Students have completed lessons in tandem with students on Swan’s island.

This type of approach to learning in such a small school gets kids excited about learning. Not only do they get to learn and toy with a very cool new gadget, they also get to see and interact with more students their own age, which can be in very short supply in a small island school.

This past Halloween, as a way for Matinicus to start testing how to use their new video conferencing equipment, Matinicus and Islesford students had an across-the-bay Halloween party to show off their ghoulish costumes.

Teachers have also been using video conferencing for professional and curriculum development. In small island schools, where there may only be one or two teachers, there are usually very few opportunities for teachers to bounce ideas off of other teachers. Lana Cannon, the Island Institute Fellow for Matinicus, has been meeting with Islesford teachers three times a month via video conferencing to develop a shared curriculum between the two schools. So far this year they have completed a unit on the civil war, they are currently developing a unit on the industrial revolution and reconstruction, and they hope to tackle the sciences next.

Video conferencing has benefited adult members of island communities as well. When Jerry White, Matinicus school superintendent, cannot get onto the island for a school board meeting he can join them via video conference to present ideas and respond to questions as though he were right there in the room. In the Mount Desert Island region, island representatives to the School Union 98 school board, have been able to join in on meetings that they could not get to in person due to weather and/or ferry schedules.

In addition, a new island teacher support group has developed that employs video conferencing as a means for teachers to discuss issues that they have in their classrooms or new curriculum ideas they have come up with. Donna Isaacs, a teacher at Islesford School, has pioneered this new group, which is based on the Critical Friends Group (CFG) model developed by the National School Reform Faculty of the Harmony Education Center in Bloomington, Indiana. These groups generally consist of 6-10 educators who meet regularly for a sustained and focused period of time to work and learn together, and who observe each others practice, examine each others work, and give feedback to each other on a regular basis. The Maine island schools CFG is among the first in the nation employing video conferencing to gather together.

The Island Institute in partnership with Maine’s island schools is currently trying to find funding opportunities that could provide video conferencing technology to each island school that would be available not only to the school, but also the community as a whole.

Imagine the power of being able to link all of Maine’s island schools together in real time. They could take virtual field trips to visit each other’s schools and talk with community members there. A new teacher-mentoring program that pairs a veteran island teacher with a new island teacher could make that transition into the first year of island teaching far easier. With the unending creativity of island school teachers, the curiosity and technological expertise of today’s students, and the support of island community members, there is no limit to the potential of this new technology.

Ruth Kermish-Allen is the Education Director at the Island Institute.