Category Archives: virtual classrooms

A new school year begins and global classrooms connect!

Video call snapshot 1

As Australian schools enter the final weeks of term 3 with still another full term to go, our European and USA counterparts (and others) are starting or about to start their school years. Reinhard Marx is an innovative connected colleague from Germany and someone I really enjoy working with asked whether I could teach a grade 4/5 class about the area I live in. It was one of their first classes for the year.

Tools used and resources accessed:

  1. Skype was used to connect me with his class and to provide a backchannel for reminders and prompts when we were both ready.
  2. A powerpoint presentation was created to show a little of my school and the farm that I live on.
  3. It was uploaded to google presentation, should my bandwidth not allow me to share from my screen.
  4. An Australian flag
  5. A real pet lamb (as we are in the middle of the busy lambing period on the farm)
  6. A fresh bunch of flowers (as this is my hobby to garden and work with flowers)
My grandson and me on the farm bike

My grandson and me on the farm bike

We started with a mystery skype. The students did not take long to work out where I was from. When they worked out my country, I shared my flag to the web camera. Students then volunteered to ask me a number of questions eg “Was it winter where I lived?”. The last 15-20 mins, I shared my screen through skype and talked through the photos of school and our farm. The bandwith was great for a start and images and audio crystal clear. However, after the fourth slide, the size of the images failed to load quickly in Germany, so I shared the link to the google presentation and we walked through the images remotely. To complet the lesson, I brought in one of our pet, bottle fed lambs – always a sure winner!

I like working with Reinhard because he:

  •  actively seeks global connections and lessons. He is a science and maths teacher
  • gave students the choice of mystery skype and a lesson with me or they could continue with their maths. (There was a mix but most of the time, they were intently watching me and the presentation)
  •  introduced the class of 26 clearly to me swivelling the camera so I could understand the teaching space I was in
  • always repeats what the students say, so that I can both hear and understand the comment or question asked
  • always stopped me for a question that a student might have – so their curiousity was satisfied immediatley and not forgotten about
  • ensured the students came up to the camera and could be clearly seen by me
  • interpreted my talk so that all student members could understand what I was sharing

Challenges:

  • bandwidth and sharing images over skype
  • working with an interpreter, remembering to keep my sentences short and concise, pausing to be interpreted and then carrying on
  • the accents and understanding the comment or question – especially understanding the name of the students

 

How To Bring in Virtual Participants Effectively

This tweet sparked a conversation on twitter with many teachers offering advice. Before answering the question, further questions were asked:-

  1. was the staff member housebound and able
  2. what software would be best to use and which is easiest
  3. sound could be tricky so need a microphone. Question on what sort of microphone and how to set up
  4. what physical space was being used and how many f2f participants
  5. what does the program look like – presentations, workshops, group work etc?

Valuable advice from Brette Lockyer

As one of my passions is using technology to break down all barriers. From my experience, my response would be as follows:-

Potential tools to be used:

Software options available to Victorian School Teachers:- Skype, Blackboard Collaborate (through DEECD license), MS Lync, Google Hangouts or Polycom videoconferencing equipment. The easiest tool to use would be Skype as it extremely user friendly but may be blocked in some schools. It would allow chat, video and audio options plus some more difficult features such as screen sharing etc. Recording sessions is more difficult and bandwidth may be an issue. A mobile device can be used for access from home.

Using skype

Using skype

MS Lync is available to Victorian teachers but the software would need to be installed and activated on devices. If it is a two way link, it is user friendly and has many advanced features, including chat, whiteboard and the ability to send large files. It can easily be recorded and presents itself as wmv file once finished which can be shared privately or online. All participants could log in and the chat area could be used as a valuable backchannel, giving everyone a voice. Multi participants would take more time to create email invitations.

MS Lync whiteboard

MS Lync whiteboard

Blackboard Collaborate is still one of my favourite tools for bringing in virtual participants to events. It has many advanced features, including that valuable backchannel, an interactive whiteboard, the ability to create breakout rooms for group work and can be recorded easily. One link or booking could run all day or different links created for different sessions logins. The housebound teacher would need to have trialled it first to make sure it all works from home, especially if on a Mac. There is a mobile app which does not allow participants full interactivity eg cannot write on the whiteboard, but can chat, view and talk. At least one staff member will need moderator rights in order to book a room(s).

Interactive whiteboard in Blackboard Collaborate

Interactive whiteboard in Blackboard Collaborate

Google Hangouts Offers many of the above features and is very google based. Sessions can be recorded and uploaded simultaneously to youtube. However only 10 video participants can be involved and it is very bandwidth heavy. If multi participants, takes time to learn how to set up the hangout and share out the link. It would be preferable to provide a different hangout link for each session.

Google hangouts used for PD

Google hangouts used for PD

Polycom Videoconferencing Equipment All rural secondary schools and smaller rural primary schools have access to Polycom equipment. The housebound teacher would need to log in with a mobile device and the video will not be as clear. A separate back channel would need to be created eg with todaysmeet.

Polycom used for PD to several schools

Polycom used for PD to several schools

Brette Lockyers suggestion was such valuable advice as the one of the biggest challenges is to make virtual participants feel part of the professional development.

Other considerations

Requirements:

Equipment: microphone, web camera, ideal location for the recording devices to capture sound, video etc and above all – determination to make it work! Preferably an on-site buddy and a back channel separate to the chosen tool.

The simplest and easiest to use option would be for “an (confident) on-site buddy” to use skype on their laptop or mobile device, sit up the front, directly in line with the presenter and videoconference presentations.  The housebound staff member would be taken with them to be part of their smaller group discussions. It takes pressure off the organisers and presenters to be using the formal equipment and worry about sound, microphones etc. The buddy’s device would need a built in webcam and microphone. However external ones could also be used.  Alternatively any of the above tools could be used by the buddies. The buddy would need to watch the txt chat for any messages from the virtual participant.

If there is no buddy, careful consideration would need to be given to position of webcam and microphone. The webcam will need to capture the presenter, and/or the presentation and will need to be adjusted each time unless using Lync, Blackboard Collaborate or Hangouts.

If the whole staff are to participate in the virtual link up simultaneously, then blackboard collaborate and MS Lync would be the tools of choice. Physical participants will need to turn down their speakers and listen to the actual voice rather than the virtual. They can be active in the chat or on an interactive whiteboard should the occasion present. Other external participants could be invited in to create an even richer environment.

Complementary Tools

A backchannel in todaysmeet could bring in all participants if they have their own device allowing questions, shared resources, information sharing and a space for follow up conversations.

A backchannel should also be agreed upon and tested with the housebound staff member so that they can communicate should the normal channels not work in making connection- could be any of the above tools that they are familiar with.

The buddy

Needs to be comfortable with using technology, networking and a person who can work well, actively, interactively and collaboratively with the housebound staff member.

Recording of the Event

In the event of misfortune, the event/sessions should at least be recorded so that it can be viewed again and again!

What have I missed? What would you suggest? There are many many tools out there now for web conferencing but these are my favourite ones! It is learning in progress and using technology effectively to ensure that no-one is restricted from learning!

The accent and not the language barrier!

I was a amused today to hear dynamic Sheryl NussbaumBeach https://twitter.com/snbeach relate a story from years ago of getting up at 2am in the USA to be involved in an online conference. At one stage she grabbed the microphone to share her experiences only to be asked to please repeat what she said. After the third ‘please repeat’ she asked what language they spoke. When English was the reply, she realised her accent was providing a barrier to understanding.

This reminded me of the time I hosted a Tech Talk Tuesday webinar during global education week. I noticed in the chat that someone asked me to slow down. So, politely, I asked what first language they spoke and the response was “English.” My Aussie accent was too broad and fast for them despite me thinking that I was speaking slowly and clearly. Earlier this week I spoke to year 2 students in Russia. Their teacher stated that their questions would be very simple and may be unusual. When asked “Do I have a bed?” I said yes and tried to describe it, only to be interrupted by the teacher to say that the question was “Do I have a pet?” Oh dear!

On Tech Talk Tuesday this week, Marc Grossman from the UK presented on “Coding for everyone”. He stepped Peggy George from USA through creating a simple type game in Scratch. I quietly laughed as the two completely different accents wanted reassuring of what was said eg Did you say ‘hall’? etc  When classes connect and try to communicate, we know that something is not quite right when we hear laughter at the other end when nothing really humorous was related! But, we continue to try and make ourselves understood and just laugh together.

Overcoming the accents!

  • Use a backchannel for questions and to support understanding eg skype chat with video, chat in the virtual classrooms, todays meet etc
  • Slow deliberate talking helps!
  • Laugh together and work through it all as much as possible.

It is interesting to note that skype is working on a translator during video calls. See http://mashable.com/2014/05/27/satya-nadella-microsoft-2/

A Fun Easter Hat Parade

collage

The Theme: An Easter Hat Parade

The Models: Grade 5 students from near Boneo, Rosebud, Victoria.These students shared their wonderful Easter Hat creations in a virtual parade.

The audience: Year 7 students from Hawkesdale P12 College, a visiting teacher who is interested in seeing how the virtual classroom works

The tool used: Blackboard Collaborate (BbC)- virtual classroom software provided by our Department of Education for use by Victorian teachers

The outcome – an engaging and fascinating linkup between students of different age groups all learning from each other using the video conference through BbC.

Other Activities: Further activities included all students drawing decorated Easter eggs on the whiteboard, sharing what they were doing over the autumn holidays (this started to show the difference in nature of our geographical locations) and then a discussion with our visiting teacher, who teaches Japanese, as to any pre-existing knowledge about Japan.

Result of 30 students sharing a whiteboard to draw Easter Eggs

Result of 30 students sharing a whiteboard to draw Easter Eggs

What Worked Well

  • taking the plunge with a teacher who is a close colleague (Sally Walsh and I are both web conference coaches) and as such we have complete faith and confidence in each other.
  • an engaging activity – the Easter Hats. All students like to see parades!
  • the nature of the activity – it was a theme on Easter, a popular celebration and displayed lots of creativity. Our school does not do the Easter Hat parades but maybe this will inspire us to do so next year.
  • the chat – students could interact with each other in the chat, ask questions and give feedback on some of the wonderful creations.

The challenges:

  • testing that audio and video works immediately. When classes are involved, it takes time to ensure everyone can logon.
  • Switching off the audio when a class is watching. The loudest noise activates the web camera and projects that classroom.
  • Learning new communication techniques including clear, deliberate, diction, appropriate use of the web camera.
  • Having a visiting teacher in our room

Have you been involved in virtual parades with other schools? How did it go? Would you recommend these types of activities to others?

Making personal the ACMI Screenit Competition

Whiteboard discussion

Whiteboard discussion

ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) runs an annual Screen It CompetitionWatch the Screen It 2014 Teaser Video for an overview of the competition. It’s aim is to foster, develop and encourage creativity in future film makers, games designers and animation creators etc. This year’s theme is “Reflection”.

My year 7 ICT class logged into the blackboard collaborate room to be part of a session that outlined the Screen It competition, encouraged the participants to share what “Reflection” means to them via the whiteboard of the chat, view last year’s award winning movie and then share on the following:

  1. how can photographs help us reflect
  2. how reflections help us contemplate the future
  3. how does it make you feel to reflect on your past, your family, your dreams for the future.

Students were engaged with this virtual lesson because:-

  • they are individually logged on, can watch their own monitor and can join in the conversations via the chat or have a voice on the whiteboard.
  • it was a well structured lesson
  • 30 mins in total (just sufficient for year 7’s concentration span)
  • captivating imagery used on slides
  • variety of activities – listening, interacting, discussing 1:1 in the real classroom, clicking on links to watch the winning video – Visiting Grandpa from last year
  • interactive activities eg encouraged to use the chat, emoticons, polling, writing on whiteboard making it all worthwhile.
  • two links were given to watch the video should one of the links be blocked.
  • there were classes, students and participants from across Victoria.
  • links were shared for later viewing or re-viewing

The challenges:-

  • logging on 16 students simultaneously on individual computers, the java download took a little while, so some were late getting in. But next login will go faster as java is downloaded
  • protocols – students need constant reminding to use the chat effectively and to use the whiteboard as asked and not to graffiti over it.
  • encouraging everyone to simply use the text tool – some chose the pencil and this took up a lot of the whiteboard are.

how does it make you feel to reflect on past, family and dreams for the future

This was a great addition to my double class of year 7 ICT where some of the boys find it very difficult to concentrate for 100 mins on one subject, but breaking up the activities, giving then an outside, expert speaker, a  virtual and a physical classroom, made the time go fast and they had fun.

Perfecting the Blend – Local and Global in the Blender

This was a presentation given at a recent Perfecting the Blend conference in Melbourne, Victoria that shares the use of virtual conferencing and virtual classrooms on a local and global basis. Our Education Department has provided Polycom Videoconferencing equipment, a license for Blackboard Collaborate and MS Lync. Skype is a free tool.

eConnecting Parents – Opening up the Learning

parents

e-Parents – Connecting Parents

Please note that this is an article written primarily for Parents Victoria who are interested in using technology to connect and have asked for ideas on how technology might be used. Please note:  Our Victorian Education Department has a multi-user license for Blackboard Collaborate and MS Lync.

Technology opens up many doors, flattens classroom walls and enables involvement in learning in innovative ways, many of which are now only being pioneered. Distance, time, cost and effort are no longer barriers to the ability to attend classes, meetings and special events. Connecting, collaborating and communicating can take place anywhere and anytime.

Tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, skype (free tool) and MS Lync; and high definition videoconferencing equipment via eg Polycom mean that parents, teachers and students can attend meetings, lessons and professional development provided there is access to the internet using either a mobile device or fixed hardware. Following are some of the ways that technology could be or have already been used to connect parents:-

All types of online meetings:

Committee meetings -State committee members no longer need to meet in a central location, they can attend the meeting virtually online from the comfort of their home, work place or other appropriate nearby centre, by logging on to a virtual meeting room in Blackboard Collaborate, using a link provided by the moderator.  Alternatively, if Polycom equipment is available at a local school, parents can dial into the room and be part of a meeting via a large monitor, webcamera and microphone.  An app is now available for mobile devices to provide access to both Polycom and Blackboard Collaborate. Both types of virtual meetings can be recorded for members who can attend.

Parent Information EveningsHawkesdale P12 College trialled online nightly parent information meetings over a 4 week period. The first evening was held physically in the school library. Students and parents were stepped through the basics of virtual meeting rooms using their student netbooks.  One hour meetings were then scheduled over a 5 week period. Parents were either emailed a link to the room or accessed it from the school blog, logged on from home, with their child supporting them and participated in a planned webinar with the chat feature being used for questions, feedback etc. A sample agenda:-

  1. Ice breaker (6 mins)
  2. From our Principal (7 mins)
  3. Assistant Principal (7 mins)
  4. Online exploration: Ms Murnane (7 mins)
  5. An e-guest from Darwin – Rachel Neale (7 mins)
  6. From the classroom – Mrs Gow (7 mins)
  7. Mr Poynton – Education Week  (7 mins)
  8. Question time (7 mins)

These webinars were recorded for interested parents who could not attend. Read more at Techno Parents

Online school assemblies – Scott Duncan, is an innovative ICT teacher at a new school in Melbourne’s south-east suburbs. His school shares the site with the local secondary college and has limited access to the  gymnasium. This led to the introduction of broadcasting and recording of their school assemblies using web conferencing and Blackboard Collaborate. Classes, teachers and parents login and participate. Read more at Online Assemblies

Global Student Summits

Parents have been invited to virtually join online global student summits with students presenting and sharing their learning across different countries.

eSchool Council Meetings

School Council Members from Hawkesdale P12 College and Apollo Bay College met virtually using Polycom videoconferencing equipment, discussing the value and nature of using videoconferencing for learning.

Further ideas: There are so many ways in which technology can connect parents to learning. Further possibilities include bringing in expert speakers, virtual art exhibitions, online book character parades, book clubs, other special classroom activities, parent teacher interviews etc

What suggestions do you have? How have you used virtual meeting/classroom software or hardware to connect parents with learning?