Reflections on the Flat Classroom Workshop in Mumbai

Some Flat Classroom Workshop students in Mumbai

Highlights

  • Meeting my virtual  colleagues face to face and making new valuable connections
  • Working in real place and time with Vicki Davis (USA), Julie Lindsay (Beijing) (co-founders of the Flat Classroom Projects) and Bernajean Porter ( USA) an experienced digital storyteller and presenter.

    Flat Classroom Teachers

    Witnessing the full power of the Flat Classroom projects in both a face to face and virtual situation. Students from a number of countries worked were placed in small groups (both face to face and virtual) with students they had not met before. Despite the cultural, religious, language, ideological differences they all demonstrated and shared common ideal/ goals/viewpoints in regard to education and where it could be improved

  • Watching these groups work tirelessly and ceaselessly together, (including their virtual team mates) on their presentations and then overcoming nerves, personal insecurity and technological problems that saw their whole video work erased, to present their ideas to both real and virtual educators from many global countries.
  • Acknowledging again the powerful creativity and innovative ideas that students can provide.
  • Working in real time, face to face, with inspiring Julie Lindsay, Vicki Davis and Bernajean Porter.
  • Experiencing “full on” Mumbai – the poverty, culture, religion, chaos, traffic, tight security measures, slums, colourful garments, busyness and wonderful people that are Mumbai. It has to be experienced to be believed and fully understood!
  • Full exposure to the digital and global divide in a real setting, not just an online or secondary sources. 

The Location

For my student who is isolated geographically and culturally, this city came initially as a huge culture shock. This included the following:-

  • age of the taxis (1950s fiats that looked like they were rusting everywhere at the seams)
  • the tenacious, persistent, desparate, ‘in your face’ hagglers who placed their upper bodies through our aiport taxi windows, looking for tips once they had helped us throw our luggage up on the taxi roof top
  • The sights, the magnitude of the slums and the degree of poverty
  • Tight security everywhere. Guards accompanied us on the school buses, vehicles went through security checks before they entered the Trident hotel grounds (where flat classroom workshops were held), security surrounded the gates of the American School of Mumbai etc
  • American School of Bombay-fantastic hosting school, just around corner of Trident Hotel- organized a ‘home room’ for our students, complete with security guard
  • Trident Hotel: most flat classroom workshops were held here. Students had their workshops in the conference rooms of this  new five star hotel . The service and food was exceptional. A technician was on hand all through the day and the everpresent security guards were in the room with us and in addition, one was always at the entrance door to the room. The food was a great mix to suit the taste of young people and adventurous tourists in India.
  • Essential and crucial internet access: wireless internet was available 24/7 in the conference room. A technician was in the room at all times, and most students brought their own laptop.

The Participants

  • Workshop leaders: Vicki Davis, Julie Lindsay and Bernajean Porter were fantastic. It is great to have the cofounders of the flatclassroom projects together  working with both teachers and students. What a treat to meet them face to face and not just virtually. Bernajean is an experienced digital storyteller presenter and her passion and influence came through as she led the students to create a great story.
  • The teachers: There were three teacher groups who represented many countries. Teachers worked on the same projects as the students, experiencing the same learning curves, time pressures, anxieties, excitement, virtual and collaborative teamwork etc.
  • The students came from seven different schools in India, Australia, USA, China, Korea
  • The virtual participants: Each team of students and teachers had virtual participants as members and these came from further countries: Germany, Spain, Oman, Qatar etc This was an exciting element that proved to be more stable in this workshop. The participants when on line would come into their group via the backchannel (chatroom using chatzy) and then be skyped in to the group. It was great to see the groups have their virtual participant on video on one of their laptops watching and listening to the group as they presented their pitch. The virtual participant would also add their feedback to the presentation using the chat in skype. Students took careful note of these comments and responded where applicable. The virtual participants contributed to the discussions, found required images and sent them through etc.

 Pulling it all together

Online tools included

  • Chatzy was used as the backchannel was the communication link between all groups, the real and the virtual participants.  At times this was extremely busy, with lively debate occurring between all. Loved the chat re “Does a teacher need to know everything”. Students, teachers, virtual participants all contributed to this discussion.
  • Ustream: The whole conference was relayed via ustream or live video streaming for any global participants interested. It was great to know that parents also watched the live casts.
  • Wikispaces: A wiki was used to produce a multimedia online textbook recording the discussions, research, sharing, outcomes etc of all groups. This is now a rich site of resources and reflects the rich learning outcomes that took place. The digital stories, pitches etc can all be found here.
  • Ning: The flatclassroom conference ning was used as a social and personal networking site. Participants blogged, added comments etc before coming to Mumbai and then added further blog posts, reflections, comments, images, videos etc for sharing.
  • Skype: this was often used for the virtual and real participants as a discussion and sharing platform once they needed a more personal space rather than the backchannel. Both chat, audio and video features were used.

The conference

The flat classroom workshops were run back to back with the ASB Unplugged Conference, which itself had more than 300 international attendees. The ASB Unplugged conference was held at the American School of Bombay.

The sessions

  • Student participants were met at 7:45am and were bussed  to the Trident Hotel each morning, complete with security guards. Workshops commenced immediately and the days were long, taxing but very rewarding. Students attended the TedxTalks  along with the ASB Unplugged conference at the American School of Mumbai.
  • An opportunity for sight seeing was offered on the Wednesday, the day prior to the commencement of the workshops. The American School of Bombay kindly organised a tour guide and bus and this was, for many of us our only real opportunity to be a tourist. A pleasant day was spent checking out a museum, the Gateway to India and surrounds, spend some time souvenir shopping and  check out many of the old colonial buildings and the everpresent slums.
  • Groups worked on a pitch that reflected how a  problem with education could be resolved. Vicki, Julie and Bernajean inspired groups to produce the best story possible. These pitches were presented to other conference participants and further feedback given. Once the presentations  were complete, they were added to the wiki for virtual and physical citizens to vote on. The best three then worked with Bernajean to finalize their stories for presentation to the closing ASB Conference ceremony.
  • Thursday morning visits to schools for the underprivileged provided a background and further experiences in telling their digital stories.  Again this valuable experience  gave participants a first hand opportunity to experience poverty, education, cultures etc in India.

Aseema School Captains

Students and slate

  • Host families hosted the visiting student contingent, and this was another great way of being immersed somewhat into the culture of Mumbai.

Possible areas for improvement

  • The diversity of face to face students was not as great as in the first Flat Classroom Conference in Qatar, 2009 but this will always vary depending on cost, commitment and interest. Sponsorship moneys is desperately needed to enable more variety of students to attend.
  • The days may have been too long at times especially for the students. One day, students were up at 5:45am and then did not get home for their evening meal until 10pm.
  • Chances to socialize with the other global visitors were few once conference sessions were finished. A final get together or social night with evening meal would have been good.
  • Workshops could have been broken up even further with greater variety. Too often all worked through their lunchtimes etc to work on the projects. The dedication was great to see but added to ‘tiredness’ levels.
  • The Flat Classroom workshops were reasonably remote from the ASB Unplugged Conference conference as although they were on two near adjoining sites, students did not really get much opportunity to explore the school and feel any real connections with the ASB Unplugged conference attendees, except those who attended  the Flat Classroom workshops. Students were, however, part of the opening, TedxTalks and the closing ceremony.

 Again a huge thank you to Julie Lindsay, Vicki Davis, Beranjean Porter and the wonderful organizers of the ASB Unplugged conference for this amazing opportunity for our students who have experienced a Flat Classroom!  Words cannot convey the value that these opportunities provide!

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