Tag Archives: skype

When technology makes the impossible possible!


Picture this -

  1. a class of students in a slum/ghetto of Kenya – the largest slum in Africa by both size and population See Boomtown Slum: A Day in the Economic Life of Africa’s Biggest Shanty Town
  2. students who are orphaned and many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS.
  3. visible holes in the decaying walls
  4. no power in the classroom
  5. no visible seats or chairs for the students to sit on
  6. no sign of books and resources
  7. volunteer teachers  who care passionately about  and for these students

Despite all this:

  • the teacher is amazingly innovative, creative, connected and active with the use of his laptop and mobile wifi
  • uses skype to connect his students to others across the world
  • the children are confident and seem happy, singing with gusto and rhythm
  • the children are given opportunities to learn at the Cheery School – “a place for nurturing students for their better lives”.

Technology makes these connections that were previously impossible, possible. Children from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya can learn from others around the world in real time, when they cannot afford books, education or even food etc!This week is multicultural week in Victoria, Australia and Friday 21st is National Harmony Day, which makes even more precious the story that now unfolds.

the girls1

Last night it was my great privilege to connect with this class of young children aged 5-7 from The Cheery School, Kibera slums, Nairobi, Kenya. Their passionate and caring teacher, Livingstone organised them to individually ask questions of me. They were confident, well mannered and at times shared objects with me to show their culture and the wild animals of Africa. In fact, I thought they had a real snake to show but it was a toy! To complete the connection, the students sang a wonderful song to me in an enthusiastic and joyful manner, showing rhythm and unity.

A toy snake is shared to show some of the local wild animals.

A toy snake is shared to show some of the local wild animals.

How can we help classes such as these? Will technology provide the ability to learn with and from the world, help them break out of their cycle of poverty? The impossible, may just become possible!

Below are some  videos that  share more about the Cheery School:-

World Readaloud Day

boys practising

Imagine a world where everyone can read. This is the dream of World Read Aloud Day. “It is all about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people.” Parents, students, teachers and community members from more than 60 countries across the globe are coming together today to address the issue of adult and childhood illiteracy.

Jasmine Shannon wanted to try a skype linkup this week and the World Readaloud Day made the perfect connection for my 9/10 ICT class and Jasmine’ 5-7 year olds. What seemed like a simple task turned into quite a lesson of learning. I thought my kids would grizzle about doing this but there was only silent affirmation when told. Here is how it looked:-

  1. Students worked out their partner as they were to read in pairs
  2. As a class, discussed what books would be appropriate for young ones
  3. Students found books they thought the young ones might like to have read to them either from the library or from the prep-2 classrooms. Not surprisingly most of the books featured animals. (Remember that my students live on farms or in small rural towns)
  4. Spent 15 mins working out who would read which pages. Even the poorest of readers were capably reading their share!
    practising their reading
  5. Practised speaking to the  webcam in the tools>video settings option of skype and showing the page of their book.
    nikki and sarah practising
  6. Had to work out our setup for video projection of the class. A student team put up a tripod with a webcam on top.”
    students getting hardware organised
  7. At the appointed time linked up with Jasmine from Tipperary Cattle Station in outback Northern Territory.
  8. Jasmine’s class read their book as a whole class.
    closer up of them reading a book
  9. ICT students came up in pairs and read their book

As we ran out of time, several of the girls stayed in at lunchtime to read their books. Then students from each school shared their lunchbox via the webcam and we learnt a little of each other’s food supplies. We have a school canteen, they do not. They are in the outback and food supplies are only flown in each week etc

sophie and taylor

Did you take part in World Readaloud Day? If so, what did you do? This was a fabulous excerise that will definitely be repeated next year.

sophie taylor and the book

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.

Enriching the Skype or Videoconferencing Experience

maria and carina

Recently Maria del Carmen Colussa posted an update on the HLW  skype group looking for someone to practise conversational English with one of her students – Carina. It is not often that my time zone matches that of students in the USA or Sth America so here was a golden opportunity to connect. Maria comes from Santo Tomé, Santa Fe, Argentina and teaches English to Spanish speaking students.

Carina is an adult student – a pharmacist who wished to travel thereby wanting to improve her conversational English. We talked a little about Australia. Then I noticed one of my year 9 students working in the lab and invited her to be part of the conversation. Initial confidence, volume of voice, accents and clear speaking are always a challenge when first connecting.  Georgina used the txt chat regularly to ensure they understood her.

The sharing and demonstrating of objects is always engaging. Georgina showed a toy koala and to our delight Carina and Maria immediately produced and showed us two cholitas which come  from Salta the north of our country.  

From Maria and Carina

From Maria and Carina

Georgina’s curiousity was aroused and she searched online for more information about the dolls and the country once the skype videoconference was finished. As often occurs, the learning continued beyond the initial linkup. Read Georgina’s post on Skype with Argentina.

24 hours in the Life of a Connected Educator

Please note that this post is cross-posted aSmartBlog on Education

A virtual classroom of engaged students

A virtual classroom of engaged students

As it is connected educator month, it is interesting to take note of what life can be like in 24 hours as a connected educator! Following are the sequence of events one 24 hour period last week!

6:30am Perused my emails – mostly content sent whilst the rest of the world was awake. Responded to the most pressing emails. Checked  twitter for any interesting updates, especially those tweets directed to me. Checked for any comments to moderate on my blog posts and respond to them, enabling further conversations and connections. Looked at the day’s statistics. (It is always motivating to know that people may have read posts or that keyword searches have found my blog posts. The search terms added give an idea for further posts that may be of interest to many.)

7:30am Last minute preparations for the day’s classes

8:15am Depart for school, turn on laptop proxy settings and check for any skype group updates

9am       Coach a potential moderator online,  in the use of Blackboard Collaborate (virtual classroom software. Our Education Department provides teachers with a statewide license for PD, meeting and classroom use.)

11am     Activated the school polycom videoconferencing equipment to connect with a teaching colleague in Melbourne  who was with the executive committee of  Parents Victoria.  We demonstrated the potential it has for effective and easy connections via high quality videoconferencing. Discussed various uses of this equipment and other  tools  may have for connecting  eg bringing statewide parents in to virtual meetings from their homes, virtual parent/teacher/school  information evenings, virtual school assemblies

1pm       Noted the emailed link to the virtual room for my year 8 ICT class linkup with Gio and Port Phillip EcoCentre. Gio, a year 11 student in Melbourne, is to share his work on the Nest Box Forum with my students. My class is to be a champion class for Gio to learn how to make effective use of blackboard collaborate as a teaching/learning tool. My students will have the chance to interact with Gio, learning netiquette and appropriate online behaviour and finding answers to their curiosity.

2pm       Year 8 students individually logon and enter the virtual room. Surprisingly, Gio was not there yet. An email alerted us to the problems they were having with their technology back in Melbourne. While we waited, students drew pictures on the whiteboard to share something of where we live. Wondering how long this would keep them engaged, I tried to think of a plan B. However, a skype pop-up window, alerted me to  a request from Lin-lin in Taiwan, looking  for a class to do a mystery skype with her students now!  Thinking this could be a life saver, I immediately said we would – at least until Gio was able to connect with us. Just as I set up skype to display on a bigger monitor, Gio appeared. Not wanting to offend either party, I got two girls to take my laptop in to the backroom to do the mystery skype with the Taiwanese school, allowing me to work with the majority of students. I fleetingly and periodically checked on the two girls, but they seemed to be able to make themselves understood, looked like they were having fun as they communicated and connected, using the chat when there was misunderstanding with the spoken language. At one stage the Taiwanese class could be heard singing a song to the girls. Meanwhile my main class was highly engaged listening to and learning of the bats, possums and birds that used the nesting boxes.  Gio shared some delightful images with them on the whiteboard.

Two countries,two cultures, two languages learn over skype

Two countries,two cultures, two languages learn over skype

3:45pm Staff meeting. Got a viber alert on my ipad  –  a new healthy granddaughter, was just  born in Johannesburg, Sth Africa!

8pm       Checked emails, skype updates, viber messages, twitter feed and wrote a blog post  An Unpredictable Class to share the impact of connectedness!

What does your typical ‘connected’ day involve?  How important is it for educators to be connected? What impact has being connected had on your teaching/learning?

Which webinar platform for online professional learning?

A recent question came up on our Oz Teachers mailing list re which webinar platform could be or should be used  for national online professional learning. Following is my response:-

One tool will rarely suit all scenarios. Many factors affect the choice. Teaching and living in a remote rural area of Victoria, I personally feel that it is important to choose a tool that is accessible for people who experience low bandwidth.

Some considerations when choosing a platform are as follows.  Does it allow:-

  • shared presentations
  • individual logins, number of logins
  • bandwidth  -ability to manually pull back bandwidth so anyone from anywhere can participate
  • ability to record sessions and share recording
  • interactivity from participants – chat, interactive whiteboard, polling, breakout rooms for small group discussions, sharing emoticons
  • ease of use and logging on
  • use chat, voice, video etc
  • ability to share screens
  • can files be sent through the medium?
  • Moderating abilities and potential need to control the participants
  • The use of any device – fixed devices, a variety of platforms, mobile devices etc
  • And is there a cost

Having used a variety of webinar platforms over the last 4 or 5 years, blackboard collaborate is still my favourite. I use it weekly for Tech Talk Tuesday webinars where participants from across all states and many countries of the globe, including Nepal and Indonesia, have attended. This  includes participants from state and government schools, community groups and government departments. There will be problems at times with sites being blocked in individual institutions, or proxy setting issues– all of which are fixable with technical support and permission

Webinar tools that I have used include-

Tools that are free, or have a free element :-

Tools that cost:

  • Blackboard Collaborate – Victorian Education Department has purchased a statewide license for teachers in both state and private schools to use for educational purposes: classes, online meetings and professional development.
  • DiscoverE – built specifically for low bandwidth areas
  • Adobe Connect etc
  • MS Lync: available for Victorian Educators to use with a Department of Education license

What platforms have you use? Which have you had issues with? Were they resolvesd? What do you look for as either a presenter of participant in online professional 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

Learning from the top of the world!

screen dump of youtube vide

Our visiting virtual teacher introduced herself as being from America. Making sure  that my students knew where America was, the response from one 8 year old student was “somewhere on top of the world!” Rather funny as we are known as the land down under but could learn with someone on top of the world!

International Peace Day 2013 is celebrated on September 21st. Hello Little World Skypers skype group discussed the possibility of  google hangouts connecting global classrooms to share the meaning and importance of peace for us all. As Janet Barnstable the co-ordinator of this project said:

We want to inspire others! Thanks to those involved for being pioneers!

Initially, I wanted to use my year 8 ICT class but it was the last day of term 3 and school finished earlier. My year 3/4 class was the only possibility but they are very young and their behaviour can not always be guaranteed. This lesson time was an awkward one to connect with other classes. However, I  discussed International Peace day with them and the meaning of peace on Wednesday and students drew their thoughts on what peace means to them using using MS Paint on the netbooks or doodle buddy on the iPads.

Lorraine Leo, a very special colleague from USA offered to come in with us and share what her class did for Peace Day and Sebastian Panakal from India also agreed to join us. This morning, we participated in the google hangout. Students came up to the webcamera and shared their image and spoke about its meaning. Lorraine then shared her screen with us and using Scratch shared two songs on Peace that her students sang together with some pictures.

The setup

The setup

What worked well!

  • the students love to talk with and learn about and from others across the world especially when they are from on “top of the world”
  • Lorraine and I had tested out ghangouts two days earlier and we connected an hour before the actual linkup today to ensure all was well.
  • google hangouts was a stable platform as my laptop was ‘wired’ in for best video and audio
  • ghangouts allowed us to record the session and share with others across the world who might be interested.
  • as it was the last day of term and as we are experiencing football finals, we came to school dressed in our footy team colours. This gave an element of disguise for the students.
  • screen sharing was possible, so Lorraine could share with us from her end. The quality was great!
  • all students shared – they went outside their comfort zone and spoke reasonably confidently
  • they were engaged and had fun!
  • the lighting for Lorraine was great and when Sebastian came in over skype he also had a wonderful background and good lighting.
sharing the picture!

sharing the picture!

The challenges

  • a rustic setup. Used my laptop perched on top of a box on the table so its web camera could be used and students and their work seen. The laptop was also connected to the whiteboard so that students could see it all.
  • The usb multidirectional microphone failed to work at the last moment, so we resorted to the laptop microphone which is not good quality.
  • the lighting in the year 3/4 room is not good. Despite shutting the blinds and covering the door with black paper, we had to switch off the lights and the outdoor light still shone through behind us.
  • Unfortunately,  I gave Sebastian, from India, the incorrect time. India is 4 1/2 hours behind us and not 4 hours. My usual confusion of time zones! However Sebastian and his three students were able to videoconference with us over skype soon after the hangout had ended. The students loved to hear the accents there!
  • the data point was not working in the year 3/4 room but fortunately we had a technician in so it was fixed. It is essential to wire in for best possible quality.
Waving farewell from India

Waving farewell from India

Questions to consider

  • would  screensharing the student work be better than holding a piece of paper up to the camera – but then they would not be seen (which would work for those who have privacy issues)
  • Should we  make it more professional or do we just let the session flow?
  • spending some time rehearsing with the students
  • starting with a screen shot of International Peace Day
  • classroom lights on or off?

Lots to keep playing with and improving upon. But we were happy with our impromptu, unrehearsed linkup and so happy that Sebastian and his students could come in over skype! Both google hangouts and skype provided good quality on the day.

We would have loved to have linked with Tatyana Chernaya in Moscow and her students but the time zone differences made it impossible. Instead some students have added their feelings on peace to her padlet Peace wall. Make sure you take a look at this inspiring collaborative effort and perhaps leave your comment there as well!

To those who read this post, we wish you peace!

Link to the hangout on youtube.

Starting a School Year in a Global Manner!

The German Science Class

The German Science Class

On Thursday evening, my online colleague Reinhard Marx invited me to his first day with a year 7 Science class at  Staedtische Realschule Sundern, to say hello for the new school year in Germany. What a great idea! Giving students a global introduction from day one and providing them with a glimpse that this is to be no ordinary classroom.

It was a brief skype videoconference call, where those students who wished to, came up and introduced themselves to me and shared conversations. My question generally required a simple answer, as English is not their first language.  It was “Where did you go for the holidays?”. The answers really interested me as I love travelling and two students had actually been to Greece from where I have just come.

Why do this?

  • immediately introduces them to the global classroom where learning can take place and be shared, beyond classroom walls.
  • introduces students to new ways of communication in this 21st century – videoconferencing using tools such as skype – a popular communication and connection tool and increasingly used in the workplace.
  • exposes students to different accents and ways of talking
  • pushes them beyond their comfort zone – it is never easy initially speaking to someone from another country and place
  • encourages them to communicate effectively and articulately
  • shows them that they may need to use both text chat and audio to ensure names are understood and the actual conversation
  • exposes them to different countries, cultures and time zones
  • provides me with an opportunity to introduce myself and encourage ongoing connections for further teaching and learning.
  • accentuates the differing nature of the world – my classes are nearly finished term 3 of four terms of the current school year compared to their new school year.
A student introduces herself to me

A student introduces herself to me

Thanks Reinhard for allowing me the opportunity to welcome them to their new school year. All the best! Have you had the opportunity to welcome students to their school year? Do you think that this is a good idea?

Where in the World is Chania …. and where’s Effie?

In the laneways of Chania

In the laneways of Chania

Reading through the lengthy chat updates in one of my favourite skype groups – HLW Skypers (a Hello Little World Skypers group dedicated to international connections and collaboration), I noticed an update by Effie from Athens in Greece, stating that she was holidaying in Chania. I continued skimming through the chat but then stopped….. and remembered that in three weeks time my family and I would be in Chania after the wedding celebrations in London and Cyprus. Normally, I would have asked where in the world Chania was!

Excitedly, I left a message for Effie on skype to see if there was a remote possibility that she would still be in Chania in another three weeks. Effie replied that she would be, told me what the weather was like and suggested some sightseeing for us. Mobile phones were then used to stay in contact as internet access was not always reliable where we were travelling.
Effie, me and HLW skypers sheet

It was arranged to meet up in the historic port in Chania on our first night’s stay. Effie suggested a restaurant called “The Palace” for my family to eat at and for us then to meet up. Unfortunately, everything was in Greek so we did not have a clue which was “The Palace”  and despite asking people along the beautiful historic harbour we still could not find it. In some frustration and with a great sense of hunger,  we chose a restaurant that had a menu suitable for the grandchildren and also for our budget. As we ordered food, the waitress informed us that we were at “The Palace”. As we finished the meal, we wondered “Where’s Effie?” as her phone msgs were telling us she was at the Palace looking for us!!!

Several phone messages later, Effie arrived with her husband Chris and a wonderful hand made sign with the HLW Skypers logo on it. (It was then  we realised that we were at the Palazzio restaurant and not the Palace!) We got to drink tsikoudia together and catch up on so much!

Did meeting up disappoint? Not at all. Online friendships are made even firmer by meeting face to face. People’s personalities still shine through digitally and Effie and I chattered away like long lost friends. We (and our husbands) shared fun conversations and spent a number of hours exploring the history and the beauty of the Venetian Port. Cobbled streets in the Old Town featured an array of wonderful shops.

Chris, Effie’s husband could not speak English so some of the conversations had to be interpreted. Effie really made me think when she commented: “Why should he learn English? Instead why shouldn’t you, Anne,  learn Greek?” (So much truth here as often, we think that our language should be the focal language of the world.)

Thanks Effie and Chris for the warm welcome and wonderful evening that we spent together. Looking forward to further connections! It is indeed a “Little World”.

Read Effie’s great post Technology – A Bonds Breaker or Connections Creator

Have you ever met any of your globally distant PLN f2f? Is so, what were the outcomes?

holding hands