Rural schools across Victoria were each given a polycom conferencing unit in 2011. Ours arrived at the end of the year, when school was winding down and senior students had left. It was left to rest in our school meeting room, set aside for adult meetings.
As I currently teach 5 and 6 year olds technology, I have found that a projected image up above the whiteboard does not work well as it is far too high and remote for little ones to see or engage with. Our principal suggested that I use the polyconferencing eqiupment in my room and use it as a monitor! The image and sound is crystal clear on this high quality gear. Over the last month I have used it for videoconferencing with skype and as a monitor to demonstrate tools from my laptop.
Fast forward to this week, when I received an email from Rod, the acting principal at Cowwarr Primary School. They had been affected by the recent flooding in vast areas of Gippsland on the opposite end of Victoria. Here is part of the email:-
Are you in class today? We were affected by the floods yesterday with 50% of the kids ( grand total of 11) unable to get in due to road closures.
This morning I find my other staff member is on the other side of the river as she stayed out last night and the river has risen overnight!
The next question was “Would you like to test our videoconferencing equipment?”. Delighted to be able to work with someone who could step us through it, I agreed.
We tested the equipment in the morning and trialled a quick linkup, after Cowwarr students had walked to see the nearby river which was now a raging torrent spilling over 10 metres on either side. Year 9/10 students had ICT after lunch. As they entered, the call from Rod was answered and we were catapulted into their classroom via videoconferencing. Cowwarr is a small rural school with students from prep to year 6. However, a year 7 and one year 9 student were present that day as flooding prevented them getting to their secondary schools. Rod taught us how to operate the camera and zoom. The photo below shows how clear the connection is – feels like they were in the same room.
Introductions were made and questions posed of each other. We were intrigued by the flooding and the impact it had on them – one girl had lost her 6 week old poddy calf. Others had had to shift their livestock to higher ground the day before. Some had water coming into their homes. The students at this small school study Chinese without a Chinese language teacher. Our school is fortunate to have Wung-Li for 12 months on an exchange program helping us with our Chinese program at school Wung was introduced to the students who quickly asked many, many questions of her.
This may be the start of a sharing relationship with Cowwarr, as Wung can teach remotely using this equipment. Technology empowers learning and supports a comprehensive syllabus in rural schools that would normally not have access to specialist subjects.
Impact on learning for our students:-
- makes what is read in the newspapers, heard and seen on the media news real. They have talked to and met students affected by the flooding in real time.
- instilled empathy
- inspires them to research further the locality and extent of the flooding
- students will create a pin on a google map identifying the location of this school. The live map will then be embedded in a post on their blogs with a brief summary of the linkup.
Have you used this equipment? If so, how has it been used? Can you see uses for it?