• by Linda Cantu, MA, and Leticia Lopez-De La Garza, MA. • IDRA Newsletter • August 1998 • Dr. Linda Cantu

IDRA held six video conferences last year between Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program sites in 11 schools in seven cities. About 200 students participated in this technological opportunity.

These students are tutors in the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and rarely get a chance to meet each other even within the same district. But this year, IDRA has discovered a successful way to bring tutors together across borders and oceans. This article describes the steps we used for the video conferences as well as the educational benefits for the tutors.

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program is an internationally recognized cross-age tutoring program developed by IDRA in 1984. In the program, secondary students who are considered to be at-risk of dropping out are placed as tutors of elementary students, enabling the older students to make a difference in the younger students’ lives. With a growing sense of responsibility, pride and school support, the tutors stay and do better in school.

Currently, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program has more than 90 participating elementary and secondary schools in eight continental U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Great Britain.

Steps We Used

The purpose of the video conferences was to enable tutors from different cities to communicate with each other and to see that they are a part of an expansive international program. Each video conference was a three-part technological endeavor.

First, tutors were selected to be “key pals” (e-mail pen pals) with tutors from another site. Each tutor was paired with a tutor in another city. They wrote friendly letters to each other to introduce themselves. They talked about their tutees and tutoring experiences, exchanged some personal information about themselves (age, grade, hobbies) and described a little about their schools and cities.

Because of the varying sophistication of technology equipment from school to school, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program offered three suggestions for having students send their letters. E-mail was the preferred method to encourage the use of this technology. Other possibilities were faxing and sending by regular mail. All students were encouraged to correspond with their key pals at least once or twice before their video conference.

Second, tutors prepared presentations for their upcoming video conference. Students planned to alternate from city to city making presentations, including the following.

  • Offering a welcome – Tutors from each city had five minutes to introduce their tutors and teachers.
  • Giving information about their city – Tutors used a map to describe where they were located and gave demographic information and highlights of their cities and schools.
  • Meeting their key pals – Each tutor had a chance to meet his or her key pal and to ask and answer two questions.
  • Making group presentations on tutoring – Tutors were divided ahead of time into teams of four and five students. Each team was responsible for creating a five-minute presentation on some aspect of their tutoring program.

Preparing for a video conference presentation is like preparing for a theatrical production. Tutors were encouraged to be creative and were given hints on how to make their presentations interesting and successful. Advice to tutors included the following.

  • Look up and into the camera, speak loudly, enunciate clearly and practice your prepared script before the presentation.
  • Use visual materials to enhance your presentations (some tutors used maps, enlarged pictures; others used musical instruments, sang songs and prepared cheers and skits).
  • Prepare written visuals that identify your descriptive and demographic information about your school and city in appropriate type sizes and styles for easy reading.

Third, tutors participated in an actual video conference. They were the stars. They led the presentations, and they used features of the technology (switching camera angles, adjusting volume, etc.). The exchanges were fun for the participants, and they had several educational benefits.

Developing Literacy

The use of video conferencing was a great opportunity to build tutors’ literacy skills. Through their participation, tutors were developing their oral and written skills. Each tutor prepared a script, practiced orally, and then edited the script. After reading orally, they would notice and correct wrong tense verbs and add adjectives that made their presentations more interesting. hey developed their oral skills through their presentations and worked hard to pronounce and enunciate words correctly.

Tutors helped each other with their scripts and oral presentations and gave each other suggestions. They conducted several practice sessions and improved their presentations. Because they were preparing for a real audience of peers, the tutors worked hard to improve their presentations.

Enhanced Use of Technology

Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program tutors benefitted greatly by learning to use new technology. They had an opportunity to experience communication through e-mailing key pals and participating in a video conference. There are many teachers – even those who teach technology – who have not had this full experience. Tutors learned how to plan and perform their presentations and how to use the most advanced technology in video conferencing. They learned about the cameras and microphones and how to use the keyboard to zoom in and out. They went behind the scenes and spoke with technology staff. Tutors also learned about new careers created through the advent of advanced technology.

Video Conferencing Supports Standards

The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program video conferencing objectives met many of the standards for education, such as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) descriptors (see box below). The TEKS define student performance in four domains: foundations (e.g., data input, terminology), access to information, problem solving, and communication.

Teachers experienced new teaching opportunities, and students experienced new learning opportunities because technology was used as a tool, not a subject. One of the real motivators was the use of computers to write friendly letters to key pals. Tutors also used computers to develop visuals. Finally, tutors communicated through video conferencing.

The video conference also met Texas’ essential element objectives in writing. Texas’ standards parallel many of the national standards that are essential in all states.

Tips for Video Conferencing

Using video conferences to enhance learning can be effective, but it also requires careful planning and attention to detail. IDRA and school personnel worked closely together to do this. The following suggestions from IDRA’s Charles Cavazos (1997) helped us prepare:

  • Start small. Limit the number of sites to be linked. We started with students from two school sites in each video conference.
  • Familiarize yourself with using the technology. School personnel were asked to find out what technology existed on their campuses (computers, fax machines, e-mail capability), where it could be found within the school and who had access to it. The schools we worked with had varying levels of capability. Some had e-mail in the classroom; others had e-mail only in the library, in another teacher’s classroom or in the principal’s office. Some schools had access to video conferencing within the district. In other cases, the video conference was held on a college campus, giving the students a chance to experience a little of college life. For many teachers this was their first experience with e-mail and video conferencing. They learned how to find the technology, who had it and how to use it. In some cases where the school’s computers or e-mail capability had not been made available to students, school leaders saw some of the possibilities for students’ use of technology. They have since changed the way technology is accessible in the school.
  • Do not wing it. Distance learning sessions must be carefully planned if they are to be effective. We matched tutors as key pals, created agendas, reserved the video conference site, set up transportation, checked the equipment available and helped tutors create scripts.
  • Use an agenda (and stick to it). You can give students a sense of direction by mentioning the items to be covered. It emphasizes what is to be taught instead of the technology itself. Agendas also relay a sense of urgency since time is limited. Our agenda helped to meet the objectives we had set for the video conference. The hour and a half given for each video conference ended quickly. Because we followed the agenda, there was continuity to the presentations, and all students were able to present at least twice.
  • Review the rules. Certain behaviors are necessary on behalf of all participants. There will be little learning if students speak up whenever they feel like it. The microphones pick up all noise and the cameras pick up all movement. Students need to keep side conversations to a minimum and avoid rustling papers, making noises with their feet and hands, and tapping pencils.
  • Use a good facilitator. Our facilitators were enthusiastic and helped us stick to the agenda. Also, the facilitators were sensitive to students who were shy or nervous.


Preparing students for the 21st century will require that students be technologically able to compete globally. Since we live in an electronic age, computer skills will be necessary. All students need to be prepared. Often the students selected to participate in more advanced technological opportunities, such as video conferencing, are the students who are academically successful. Those who are struggling with their schooling can be left out, which hinders their learning even more.

In the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, many of the students selected for the program are students who are struggling with their academics. Having the Valued Youth tutors participate in video conferencing demonstrated how important it is to give all students access to advanced technology. Students learned to use technology and enhanced other areas of their learning. The video conferencing experience helped tutors develop oral, writing and researching skills. They learned about geography and demographics in researching information about their schools and cities. They learned the same about where other students came from. They learned about cultural differences – tutors from Great Britain met students from San Antonio; students from Washington, D.C., met students from Brownsville, Texas.

Additionally, the video conferencing opportunity placed tutors and their teachers in leadership roles on their campuses because they were considered the technology experts. They showed how technology can be used as a tool to enhance students’ literacy skills in oral and written communication.


Cavazos, C. “A Checklist for Successful Distance Learning,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, May 1997).

Linda Cantu, M.A., and Leticia López, MA, are education associates in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1998, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the August 1998 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]