Category Archives: 21st century education

Rollover Pen Pals, eMail and Facebook, there is a new way for students to connect globally!

When I first started teaching international penpals was a popular way of learning about others and forging global friendships. Then came  email, then epals and communication became faster. Katherine Zablatnik, (of Austria) founder of the HLW Skypers group (a global skype group of educators across the world) wanted her students to develop a global learning network.

She created a HLW Skypers group for students on skype and then a facebook group for hers and other global students to join but neither really took off. After discussing the apps that we are now using on mobile devices  on the skype group, Katherine sought interest from others to see whether any of our students would like to use whatsapp with her students. After asking my students, a number indicated interest. My interested students ranged from year 8 (14 year olds) to year 11 (17 year olds).

What we did:

  • students shared phone numbers through their teachers
  • downloaded the free whatsapp on their mobile phones
  • students were given the list of phone numbers to add to their phone contacts and then could add them to their whatsapp.
  • left it to the students to communiate and connect with each other and learn from and with each other.

Whatsapp is a free app that works on wifi and allows text chat, image and video sharing, recorded voice, group chats, shared locations etc

The initial outcomes – this actually worked successfully!:-

  • excited students came up to me to share how they had talked to a number of the Austrian students.
  • asked what they learnt and talked about – school hours (which are different to ours), muscial instruments played (again some different to ours), languages spoken (Austrian students may lear German, Italian, French and English), ours only learn mandarin Chinese (and then not very well) etc
  • students actually thanked me very much for connecting them. If only all classes were like this! Read Kailyn’s blog post

Imagine the possibilites

  1. students develop their own global learning networks that they can call upon when studying different countries, cultures, geography, history etc.
  2. can discuss global events and get the full perspective of view points.
  3. develop empathy
  4. support each other etc etc

Tech Talk Tuesday in Review: Exploring Favourite Apps and Tools

A small group participated in this webinar but it was another amazing sesison with ‘pop up’ presenters, Peggy George (USA) and Shamblesguru (Thailand) contributing some wonderful tools and apps.

From Peggy George

  1. livebinders – link to the engineering tab on the demonstrated livebinder
  2. a site from ccedtech that shares many tools and apps with supportive tips


  1. Favourite apps that he is exploring in the last month or two – periscopeperiscope app and meerkat Live streaming with mobile devices. Read meerkat or persiscope and How to broadcast video live via a mobile Or search within Shamblesguru wonderful site.

Anne Mirtschin

  1. format factory for file conversions on PC

What is a good tool for file converstion on an ios device?

Here is the link to the recording


Which tool for virtual tours?

Polly Woodside museum is in Melbourne in the beautiful Docklands are. Polly Woodside is a 1985 Tall Ship and is a reminder of Australia’s rich maritime history and of the importance of such ships to the settlement and development.

Polly Woodside intend to run a staff PD web conference session in October to promote the possible education and learning resources offered at the Polly Woodside.

virtual tours

However, following are the few logistical issues …

  • they prefer an “outside broadcast” – “live” from the deck of the Polly Woodside and to then move around the deck to different locations and activities for the presentation.
  • They would use a laptop computer for this with a good quality video camera (usb).
  • Polly Woodside do not have any wi-fi. They were going to use a mobile wi-fi hotspot or  possibly access/utilise the wi-fi from the Melbourne Convention Centre immediately next door to their location.
  • National (ie Australia wide broadcast) so would need to be an accessible tool for all to participate.
  • Want to demonstrate a class of students working on activities there but may need to be asynchronous ie via shared videos


  • Which tool to use for conferencing?
  • How to overcome the logistics etc?
  • How to share pre-recorded  videos of students working on activities

My response:

Tools to be use Blackboard Collaborate (BbC) would be the top suggestion – can be used nationally through DET (Department of Education and Training, Victoria) license, can have up to 250 or more logged in. Allows a backchannel, video conferencing (participants would need to know how to grab the video module and drag it on to the whiteboard to make demonstrations more visible.) Can pull back the bandwidth if internet access is an issue. Best of all it has a recording function.

  • MS Lync could be made to work  as DET has a license, but would be more fiddly with invitations for schools outside DET etc.
  • Maybe zoom but I don’t know how many video logins you can have with this but it is a relatively stable platform.
  • Skype would only allow 5-10 video logins
  • Live streaming through ustream etc but bandwidth heavy and may cause lots of problems.

Polly Woodside’s wifi access –

  • a mobile dongle may also allow them sufficient bandwidth to web conference out.
  • Cabled access is always preferable when working with video etc.
  • Or if they can tap into the Melbourne Convention centre, that would be ideal.

Sharing videos of students involved in activities will be problematic for whichever tool chosen, due to file size, sound, bandwidth. Links to the work online would be better so participants can look later.


Sound, may need a wind sock for the microphone or alternative (would a headset with mic prevent the ‘wind’ type sound often experienced if outside?)

A mobile device logged in would allow a virtual tour by a moderator. Allows them to walk around, use the back camera and take us on a virtual tour, whilst another moderator is on the laptop. This could be smart phone, ipad, surface tablet etc.

Backup Plans: I think back up dates would be the only option. However, could we run BbC and MS Lync or is that too complicated simultaneously. Would need several moderators so if one falls down the other would work? If Polly Woodside are on board they can always record and share the recording link. Testing is essential and maybe several tests prior. A backchannel in Todays Meet or similar would allow communication through most problems. They would need smart phones

Summarising: I think that BbC is the tool to use (MS Lync could be made to work too). Polly Woodside would need to test the set up before hand. (We would be happy to be a ‘test’ class) and work through any of the sound and video issues that might arise.) Ideally they should have a standby tool like ustream but I have seen that fall over many times when used on poor bandwidth or even ideal bandwidth.

What suggestions would you make? What tips could you give?

Solving technical issues on a global scale!

Skype for initial call then keeping contact open

Skype for initial call then keeping contact open

There is a saying that “if your product is good, the market will come to you!” The same saying can be applied to a person who has a strong online presence. If you are interested in global connections, have a strong profile, blog, share what you are doing and push it out there, others will find you and seek connections with you.

I was delighted to get an email from a university lecturer, Mariko Eguchi, from the Shimaine Prefecture in Japan who is working on global competencies with a number of countries including USA, Taiwan and Russia but was seeking interested secondary teachers in Australia. I immediately responded and said yes I would be interested as Mariko offers linkups via both skype and polycom. We get lots of skype contacts but global polycom users are more difficult to find. The visuals can be clearer with dedicated videoconferencing equipment so I was keen to try our school equipment with Asia.

Year 12 dress up day

Year 12 dress up day

Yesterday we used skype to initially connect, and used as a backchannel while we tried dialling each other over polycom. Year 8 girls happened to be in the room as were some year 12 students. It was their final day of school and they had come dressed up! Always a great opportunity to show off their costumes if it is on a global scale!

I could ring Mariko using polycom but she could not ring me. It was decided to test the connection with the school that she wants us collaborate with this Friday.

Skype opens our learning spaces

Skype opens our learning spaces

Polycom videoconference was next

Polycom videoconference was next

Testing is essential and to ensure we covered all possible potential complications, I booked a room for us to meet  through our Education Department just in case. Mariko then used skype chat to tell me that I cannot ring her on her mobile unit when outside the university, I have to ring her! We then tested the room connection immediately through the booked room number, but although Mariko could see me, she appeared as a blue box to me and also to her.

Resolving Mariko's lack of video

Resolving Mariko’s lack of video

Mariko is back on video

Mariko is back on video

Gary Schultz, a virtual learning officer with our Education Department was messaged. He came into the room virtually and immediately to try and resolve the problem. As there was still no solution, the central office digital support technician was contacted who also immediately looked at the back end to find all was well on the Australian side. It was suggested that Mariko’s camera was not working. She contacted her technician who was on site. She came in immediately and resolved the problem. The actual linkup takes place tomorrow so fingers crossed all goes well.

How fortunate were we to have almost immediate virtual and face to face help and that technicians from 2 countries could work together and resolve the problems.

Spring is in the air!


It is finally spring in Australia! Today marks its official arrival but the last week of winter was lovely and warm giving us a real taste of what is to come. The daffodils are out and the blossom trees commencing 

Janet Barnstable of  the HLW Skypers group and Global Virtual Classroom, sent those of us in the Southern Hemisphere a little “Spring” by sharing with us this website – the Flower Garden. It starts up as a black screen, but here are Janet’s instructions for making it come alive!

Click your mouse anywhere (& everywhere) on the page & see what happens!
Better yet, click (hold down) & drag your mouse over the black page…

I wonder how this was done. Is there a similar tool that students might be able to use to create similar outcomes? How could something similar be used as outcomes for classwork?

Happy season of Spring if you are about to enjoy it like me! How many seasons do you enjoy? What is your favourite season?

blossom on the trees


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


  • 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


The role of questions in learning!

“What did you learn, Terri?” I asked a student.question mark

“I didn’t learn anything, I just asked lots of questions” was the response.

I was surprised by this comment from one of my year 7 ICT girls following a linkup with students from another school in Melbourne. They had been placed in pairs and used Onenote to learn about each other. I know that she would have learnt a lot as she had asked questions, received responses and discovered the answers to what she wanted to know.

My secondary students also do not think that they are learning when they txt each other on their phones, add updates to their favourite social media sites or share images and videos. They have a ‘set’ view on what is ‘formal’ learning but do not pull that across to this wonderful informal learning.

A recent linkup with Melbourne Museum where students could Meet the Scientists virtually using polycom equipment, meant that they did not have the same opportunity as the f2f audience of students. However, Cameron Hocking had provided them with a backchannel, which some of our students used. There were many questions placed in that backchannel and many of them were also posed to the physical panel of scientists. Following is a sample of some of the questions asked of Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Palaeontologist, in the backchannel:-

  • Are whales your favourite?
  • Did whales once have legs?
  • did you help get that whale back into the water a few weeks agoless than a minute ago by jeremy ring
  • How do you name the animals or find out the names of the animals if you’ve never seen the animal or fossil before?
  • How big is the biggest fossil you’ve ever found? Emily year 6about a minute ago by The King David School
  • how many fossils have you find this year

Wherever possible, students should be given the opportunity to participate in a backchannel, whether it be one set up in eg todaysmeet or backchannelchat or in a virtual classroom eg blackboard collaborate, skype, MS Lync etc. It will provide a teacher with further teaching and learning opportunities, areas for research,  and greater knowledge of student interests and involvement in topics.

Do you get many questions from students? How important do you think that questions are? What role do questions play in learning?