Category Archives: virtual classrooms

The accent and not the language barrier!

I was a amused today to hear dynamic Sheryl NussbaumBeach 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

A Fun Easter Hat Parade


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


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?

An unpredictable class!

majority of class
Today was day 1, term 4. Period 5,  my year 8 ICT class were to link up with Port Phillip EcoCentre, St Kilda Botanical Gardens and Gio to learn about the nesting boxes that are being placed around St Kilda ensuring the survival of a number of birds and animals. Blackboard Collaborate was the software to be used. My class all successfully logged in. We talked about appropriate online behaviour and netiquette whilst we waited.

However technical issues in Melbourne prevented Gio and Jill from coming online at the appointed time. Whilst they were solving their problems, an online colleague from Taiwan – Lin-lin was asking over our HLW skype group for someone to connect with her students so that they could do a mystery skype linkup and then sing a song to another teacher or class.

rachel grace and taiwan students

Thinking this would be good filler and stop my students ‘hanging from the rafters’, I offered my class. However, just as we connected over skype, Gio entered the virtual classroom. How could we be part of both activities? I did not want to offend either of our virtual connections.

Two of my girls said that they would videoconference with Taiwan, whilst the rest of the class learnt about the nesting boxes.  I was a little nervous about this as those two same students would not ask questions over mystery skype a couple of weeks prior – due to shyness. The girls retired to the small store room adjacent to the computer lab, with no instruction from me, whilst I then had to give full attention to the rest of the class.

rach and grace from linlin

Periodically I checked on the two girls but they appeared to be going well, took some photos for me and asked questions of Lin-lin by microphone and used the chat to ensure understanding. This could have been very messy as there was no backup plan for the class. But all students were engaged in either of the two activities. The photos display this engagement.

What I learnt

  • splitting students into groups can work well – each group having their own virtual learning activity with a different tool
  • images such as those that Gio shared can be powerful for learning and engagement. He shared a number of pics of the nesting boxes and the tiny animals who inhabited them.
  • the backchannel is great! Every students can ask questions, share experiences and feelings
  • it is often better for me, the teacher, to get right out of the way and just leave a small group of students to themselves when videoconferencing over eg skype so that they are forced to learn how to communicate with others who may not speak English as their first language.

This could have been a very messy class but instead turned out to be highly successful for all students.

class engaged

Mystery Skype

great one of sean and davie

Online colleagues from HLW Skypers group introduced me to Mystery Skype. (Thanks Steve Sherman (@coolmaths) from Sth Africa and David Karnoscak from USA. It has been used on many occasions with many classes and countries and each time it has been fun, engaging yet full of learning. A suggested learning activity is outlined below:

Video skype calls are made to a teacher/class in an unknown destination – either  local, national or global! Students determine the location through questions. Ideal  for introducing partner global project classes.

linlin and students

Suggested Uses:

  • Engaging one off lessons that are fun!
  • As an introduction to a class or teacher involved in a collaborative global project
  • “Around the world in Mystery Skype” in as many countries as possible over the school year!
  • The world is your limit!


  • A large screen for viewing or a white wall/board
  • Laptop or desktop computer
  • a data projector, speakers and microphone
  • A mystery partner!


  • Join skype in education,   join the mystery skype group or find one through other social networks eg
  • Find a partner(s) to connect with from your own country or other country
  • Connect and communicate with the mystery teacher, get to know each other
  • Test the skype connection prior to the linkup
  • Set up a collaborative online document for students to share the questions asked, the answers given and add a heading for exit slips or reflection  – eg what did they find challenging, three things they learnt, one thing they are still curious about. Add  a world map to the document together with the rules.
  • Ensure the country is hidden in the skype profile of the mystery teacher/class
  • If this is the first skype call, allow practise time for students to use a webcamera and microphone effectively. Practise with the school librarian or other teacher

The Rules

  • Students are to ask questions that will only allow a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer
  • They have one lesson to complete it in
  • Class is to be on their best global behaviour! Discuss what this means with the class
  • They document their questions and answers on the collaborative document

The lesson


  • Atlases or paper maps and/or access to online maps
  • Camera

Test and double check everything 10 mins or so before linkup. Use the chat to your connecting teacher/class before ringing to ensure they are ready. Make sure you have a camera.  Ensure every student has access to an atlas or online maps. Ensure that the country is hidden or removed in the teacher profile.

Make the video call when both parties are ready. If the linkup is not strong, hang up and ring again. Students come to the web camera and ask their question that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Students continue on until they find the exact location of the mystery skyper. (If students are very young, it may be sufficient to determine the country.)

If time permits!

  • Nominated students might take the connecting teacher or class on a virtual tour of the school.
  • Small groups may wish to ask more questions
  • Further research on the mystery skypers’ location – weather, time zone, culture etc

Celebrate and share

  • with others in your social network. Use hashtag #mysteryskype on tweets.
  • with parents and community via school website, newsletters etc
  • keep a poster on the wall or digital file with pins showing the locations that have been skyped

Modifications for different age groups and abilities

  • Set up a standard set of questions prior to class. Assign a student to each question
  • Assign  roles to students  eg some ask questions, some record the questions/answers, some take photos/vidoes etc
  • Connect with a class in a school that speaks the second language taught in your school as their native language Get students to ask questions in the other language.

Beyond the initial linkup/

Making the connections richer and the learning stronger try regular skype  linkups and/or collaborate on a global project together. Make sure you follow @skypeclassroom and @mysteryskype to keep up with the latest on twitter!

Here is a video on Mystery Skype sharing what  it looks and sounds like, together with sample student feedback. Never underestimate how easy it is for students, especially the first time(s) round.

What variations have you used on this theme? Some use mystery book reader and ???? Would love your feedback in a comment below.

mystery skype with her class

What does it look like?

Sharing War Stories of our Ancestors

The two classes in action

The two classes in action

Our year 6 students linked up virtually with Lismore Primary School (approximately 1 1/4 hours drive away) to share war stories of their great or great great grandparents. As Australia celebrates Anzac Day tomorrow, April 25th, to remember those who fought for our country, this was great use of polycom equipment and  smart boards to be able to connect and share.

The army uniform

The army uniform

Staff from both schools worked with Concetta Gotlieb (@chetty)  of See Share Shape on this project. It involved using the Polycom Videoconferencing equipment and our smart board to share a presentation by Lismore PS.

Innovative use of smartboards and polycom for sharing

Innovative use of smartboards and polycom for sharing

Students researched their family’s involvement in previous wars, wrote a report or story to share and then using the web camera shared that story. One of our students brought her great grandfather’s army jacket complete with medals and cloth badges and share that with all. Students from Lismore shared a powerpoint presentation which included video footage of interviews with and ex Russian prisoner of war and his memories. Another Lismore student revealed what it was like to be a civilian during World War 2 with rations etc.

Illustrator uses Polycom to teach drawing

Illustrator uses Polycom to teach drawing

The link up was a direct result of a previous project with See Share Shape when an illustrator, Mark Wilson,  virtually taught  a number of virtual classes how to create drawings to illustrate stories. Mark had illustrated Jackie French’s story on Anzac Day, A Day to Remember

As it looked on smartboard

As it looked on smartboard

Is Face to Face Better than Virtual?

tweet re f2f rather than virtual

One of my highly valued colleagues, Sue Waters,  tweeted out the link to my blog post on Blended Technology Use for Great Learning. It was with interest that I read a response to her tweet by @strong99 who thought it would be better to have the author/illustrator teach face to face. Below is part of the conversation.


Technology has broken down the barriers of distance. This linkup was free, took very little effort to organise, gave us a top quality presenter from another country, highly engaged the students and taught them how to make simple, effective illustrations for their storytelling.

However, it gave food for thought as to whether  it is preferable to have someone come into the classroom if cost, effort, availability etc was not a problem. Here are some arguments for using  technology in preference:-

  • students engage with technology and not always with a person
  • if the presenter is physically there, time is limited and there may be little time for questions. Students have so many questions and many of there questions are really good and it is what they want to know within the topic. Having access to the Smartboard, allowed us to key in the questions in the chat. We added at least one auestion for each student, all of them different.  (Some are listed below). Only four students got to ask questions with the traditional methods of using the microphone and web camera. The questions from the chat were saved and viewable by all involved. These questions even if not answered by the presenter, give the teacher an avenue for further research, learning and mentoring with the class.
  • Using the smart board and polycom equipment meant that all students could see quite clearly the author at work illustrating and stroke by stroke how she created the drawings.
  • It is of high interest for students to be sharing their virtual classrooms with those from other schools whether they be in Australia or New Zealand or other countries. It brings a different perspective to the topics at hand and increases the thought processes beyond their own small own small class.

What do you think? If money, effort, cost, availability were of no consequence, and the presenter was highly engaging, would you choose face to face or virtual linkups? Why is one preferable over the other? How successful have your video linkups been? What makes them successful, what makes for unsuccessful connections?

MS Lync for education


MS Lync is now available to all Victorian Education Department staff and should replace MS Communicator as a tool for communication. The following notes were taken from a session by Graeme Oswin of the Grampians Regional Office. MS Lync is a virtual meeting software that is being considered for general classroom us.


  • Free to Victorian  Education Department staff
  • Available to all staff
  • Simple to use
  • Powerful sharing and collaboration features
  • Person to person or group conferences
  • Scales  well – Video Conferencing equipment does not scale well.
  • Integrated with MS Office
  • Windows and Mac versions
  • Distribute large files and attachments
  • Conferences recordable
  • Integrated with Polycom VC units

Video does not work well in online version with eg global connections.


  • Requires computers to be online
  • No direct student access
  • Students  would need to use teacher login
  • Less suited to large groups – best used for individuals with headset
  • Does not support advanced camera actions such as pan and zoom


  • New video call, share whiteboard, with annotation tools at the bottom.
  • Can create groups in projects
  • Set availability
  • Can send email for meeting alerts

Have you used MS Lync for online meetings or for classroom use with students? If so, what do you have to share? Please leave any questions or experiences as a comment.