Category Archives: flatclassroom projects

Reflecting on the Flat Classroom Conference Yokohama, 2013

Reflections on an innovative, pioneering conference –  the Flat Classroom Conference 2013 at Yokohama International School, Japan.

The goal: To provide ‘flatclassroom’ experiences for both physical and virtual conference attendees  across the globe with the innovative use of cutting edge technology.  To truly flatten walls across oceans, hemispheres, time zones etc is largely unchartered territory. Julie Lindsay, co-founder of the Flat Classroom Projects was the co-ordinator of this conference which was held at the Yokohama International School, Japan. Kim Cofino who teaches at this school was one of the conference organisers. Taking IT Global also partnered with this event.

Many would say that this is an impossible goal to achieve, others would not even dream that it could be made possible. Another rather unique feature of this conference was that  both students and teachers attended, learning with and from each other.


Participation: There were 2 levels of virtual participation for teachers and students:-

  1. Participation via Virtual Flat Classroom® online spaces via streamed video, wikis, blogging, backchannels, twitter etc. This level of participation is one that has been successfully trialled at other conferences
  2. But the next level of participation was the innovative one -participation as a full team member in either the Leadership Workshop or the Student Summit by virtual participants. These participants were to be fully involved via the online spaces (eg the wiki, online documents and other media) with at least some synchronous attendance.

Read more about the virtual level of participation.

To this end, Julie Lindsay worked hard to ensure that the virtual experience was a collaborative, interactive experience and as realistic as possible. Two virtual participant co-ordinators were appointed – Jason Graham from Indonesia and myself from Australia. This required several online meetings in Blackboard Collaborate prior to the conference to discuss tools to be used, how it would all look, enlisting and updating the virtual element. Updates and further conversations were made via google documents

Interest was high in both physical attendance at the conference and virtual participation. There were 17 groups of students and 16 groups of teachers each group having virtual and physical members and comprising of approximately 5 or 6 members.

Participating from my kitchen table.

Participating from my kitchen table.

The tools used for the conference included:

  1. Email for prior announcements, updates etc
  2. Blackboard Collaborate: used for online organisational meetings, and as a virtual lounge or meeting place during the conference – allows chat, audio, sharing presentations, video etc T
  3. Twitter – to share conversations in 140 characters or less  with the hashtag #flatclass2013– gave people a feel for what was happening, used to share links, photos and resources and generally keep the world informed. Hashtag used for searching was #flatclass2013
  4. A Backchannel  using backchannel chat– this was the most successful tool for connecting and communicating amongst the virtuals in ‘real time’. It allowed text, the sharing of URLs the chat etc.  Links to or embed codes for flickr, youtube, slideshare, voicethread etc actually embed the media.
  5. The ning- for networking, sharing blog posts, uploading photos and for sharing conversations in the chat. Many virtual people used the chat in the ning to find out what they could be involved in or what was happening.
  6. Flickr – for sharing photos with the hashtag #flatclass2013
  7. Wikispaces – the collaborative webpage of the conference – the program, participant lists, groups, tutorials and final outcomes from the groups were all found here.
  8. Etherpad – online notepads were set up for each group of teachers and students. This was tool was chosen as it is not blocked in any country – unlike google apps.
  9. Ustream – for live streaming of conference keynotes and final outcomes

some of the tweetfeed


  • Participating in a ‘cutting edge’ conference that has the ability to truly flatten and remove any barriers – including cost, effort, location, time etc
  • The virtuals collaborating and creating a video sharing our perspectives of the conference
  • Testing and trialling google hangouts as a means of connecting.
  • Finding the Blackboard Collaborate room populated on the second morning of the conference. Susan in Japan and her pre-service teacher students from Canada were in there ready to present for the Keynotes. Nerves, excitement and a little anxiety were evident. The chatter was lively, one student used her video to good effect for her linkup and all were able to use this tool to connect and deliver to Japan. This, for me was the best tool for audio, video and interactive connections.
  • The degree of interest, the determination of some virtuals to be fully involved and active despite any obstacles etc
  • The challenges of time zones and infrastructure

What worked well

  • The backchannel and chat in the ning.
  • The wiki housing all information
  • The live streaming was a great inclusive tool as  virtuals could listen to the keynote presentations synchronously and view the final outcomes. (There were technical glitches at times though.)
  • The support and comraderie of the virtual participants.
  • Blackboard Collaborate (BbC)was the most stable of the connections. I was at home where bandwidth is poor. Google hangouts, live streaming etc were erratic but BbC was great for video and audio projection.
  • Having two virtual co-ordinators. It would be difficult to sit at a computer screen for the full extent of the conference but sharing it with Jason, made it possible for one of us to be on call and duty.
  • Julie Lindsay suggested that the virtuals create their own video of what it was like to participate in this manner. This gave the group a sense of purpose and really inspired and motivated us to share and collaborate together. Thanks to  Violet Lindsay for her effort in putting it all together for us.

participants in the backchannel


  • Although many virtual participants registered, few were keen or had sufficient knowledge to be fully and interactively involved at the highest level. Most were satisfied enough to simply be an online spectator via the live streaming.
  • Many virtual participants were ‘lost’ and uncertain of how to fully participate. Their group was often too engrossed with the physical group and did not involve their virtual participants.
  • Physical groups were often to busy to be able to take the time to include their virtual participants
  • Some groups decided to work with google documents rather than the online collaborative pads which had been set up. This excluded participants from some countries or organisations where google was blocked.
  • The live streaming was not active all the time. But it was great when it did work, so could listen to the keynotes and group presentations and understand the ground work being made.
  • Intermittent use of twitter by all participants – for me this is a great way to promote and share what is happening at the conference and for virtuals to seek actively seek help and gain links to resources that were shared. Thanks to those who took the time to do this.
  • Several registered students found they were involved in other activities once the conference dates approached and were unable to participate at the last moment.
  • Lack of familiarity with all or some of the tools used for all levels of participants
  • Problems in keeping up with the variety of communication options – backchannel, twitter, chat in ning and particpants in the Blackboard Collaborate room.  People used all these options at times and chose the ones they were most comfortable with and the ones that they were able to access.

ustream not working

Futher notes

The virtuals often found it difficult to know exactly where they should be and what they should be doing. There was a small group of really keen and dedicated virtuals who really wanted to work with their group but the physical group were often too busy, too engrossed or not familiar enough with the tools to involve them fully.  However, it is great to note that one or two teacher groups did work well with the mix of face to face and virtuals. One success story eventuated as they already had a connection attending and made prior communication with them.  Live streaming gives everyone the opportunity to participate in real time or to check the recording, if the time zone was not friendly. The wiki and the ning were available 24/7 for any interested parties to be actively involved.


Suggestions for future Flat Classroom Conferences

  • Get started earlier with the virtual component.
  • It would be good to have a dedicated physical participant at the conference in charge of social media, updating the virtual co-ordinators re current conference happenings and playing ‘go-between’ physical groups and virtual participants. Ie a Virtual co-ordinator on site as well as several off-site.
  • Continue to offer a variety of tools so that people can choose those  they are most comfortable with and the ones that will work on their bandwidth and internet access.
  • Create grouping of physical and virtual participants earlier, so they have a chance to connect with members of their group prior to the conference.
  • Identify one group member in each teacher or student group (at the conference) to be responsible for tweeting, being active in the back channel  and generally communicating with the virtual members of their particular team etc.
  • Make greater use of twitter for updates etc
  • Continue to have at least two virtual co-ordinators with the possibility of a third who would be on-site at the conference.
  • Keep on working at ‘getting it all right’ as it is a truly amazing experience – to work and learn with others across the globe in synchronous and asynchronous time.
  • Consider groups of virtual participants who wish to be highly active in both participation and in achieving outcomes.

Thanks Julie for making this possible and achievable, thanks Jason for being a wonderful virtual colleague and to all who participated at any level. Looking forward to working in a similar capacity again soon!

Were you part of this exciting event? If so what were your reflections? How can we keep on improving the experiences?


The final day of #flatclass2013 in Yokohama Japan – How Can We Help?

The final day saw a later start and altered timetable for the Flat Classroom Conference 2013 in Yokohama, Japan. Our most active virtual participants gathered in the backchannel chat and shared conversations. Live streaming was not as active as the day before and as the final presentation was being finalized there was little that the virtuals could contribute asynchronously.

A google hangout was setup in Japan later in the morning and this was very successful for those virtuals who were able to log in. I was able to enter twice, but was almost immediately ejected from the hangout due to poor bandwidth. A maximum of 10 video linkups are allowed. This meant that the hangout was full most of the time and others could only join in, once one of the successful 10 departed.

The closing ceremony featured:

  • video clips of experiences at the conference (this was great for virtuals like me to watch as it gave some sense of space, emotions, experiences, what the conference physically looked like, how it felt to be there physically etc)
  • the virtual participants’ collaborative video, compiled by Violet Lindsay using animoto, then uploaded to youtube. See the clip above in this post.
  • the video clips created by student teams (these were amazing and show that the future is in great hands).

Interested parties could view this in either uStream or Live Stream (the Yokohama International School) channel.  For me, on poor bandwidth, the Live Stream was stable and it was with some emotion that I  viewed the video put together by the virtuals up on the big screen in Japan. Just so exciting to see it up there. The student outcomes were amazing.

It was always great to have Julie Lindsay pop into the backchannel to keep us up to date and we always looked for tweets to help us ‘see’ the conference. Thanks to everyone who put an amazing effort into what is an amazing conference. Particular thanks to Julie Lindsay, the co-ordinator of the Flat Classroom Conference and Kim Cofino, whose school it was held at. Thanks to Jason Graham, who co-ordinated the Virtual Participants,  for all his support, enthusiasm and great ideas.

Reflections as a Virtual Co-odinator will follow in a post to be written soon.  Did you follow the conference at all?

Day #2 Flat Classroom Conference 2013

As the state that I live in enjoys its hottest March on record, I worked as quickly as possible to  water some of my garden before the conference started.  In a split second of anxiety, I thought I would miss it altogether as I was about to step on a snake! Luckily it was not a snake but a blue tongue lizard.

A blue tongue lizard mistaken for a snake

A blue tongue lizard mistaken for a snake

As one of the two virtual co-ordinators, together with Jason Graham,  our role included co-ordinating and moderating the 40 virtual participants – a group made up of both educators and students. It became a busy day, multitasking on several screens,  trying to help those who were ‘lost’, those who were uncertain as to where they should be and those who wanted to engage in conversations and become more actively involved.

Participants in the Backchannel

Participants in the Backchannel

A range of tools had been set up to try and engage those who were interested in participating.  They included:-

  • A wiki – for capturing the conference and the learning that occurred there
  • The ning for networking and sharing
  • A backchannel using backchannelchat
  • Online notepads (shamblespad) for editing, contributing, brainstorming, chatting etc by the individual groups
  • Twitter using the hashtag #2013
  • A BlackboardCollaborate room during conference hours
With my mobile devices multi tasking in the chats

With my mobile devices multi tasking in the chats

A preservice teacher from Canada waits to speak to the conference

A preservice teacher from Canada waits to speak to the conference

Running a little late due to my escapade with the lizard, I logged into the Blackboard Collaborate room and was delighted to see Eva Brown in there with a number of her students from Canada. They were about to present virtually as part of Eva’s presentation using the microphone and video in this room to project their viewpoints. The chat was vibrant and it was good to see that this part worked well.

Over the day, there were hitches with some of the technical aspects of the conference eg Ustream did not always work, face to face groups became very busy within their own group and several keen virtual participants tried to help their group. The most active tools were the backchannel and the chat on the ning. This is where most people found each other and were able to share in conversations. It was always good to have Julie find time to pop in and tell us what was happening at the conference.Toni Oliveri-Barton, in the USA, entered the chat and talked about the success she had virtually working with her group no.4

Mid afternoon, Julie suggested that the virtuals make up a video to be played at the closing ceremony to share their side of the story in being part of the conference. This gave many a purpose, caused much chatter and eventuated in a  google hangout for meeting in real time to discuss our experiences. Jason Graham created this google document for us to share images etc and talk about the nature of the video. It was quickly populated with notes and images and also gave everyone a sense of achievement and purpose. The backchannel was actively employed for further discussions on the creation of the video.

some of the tweetfeed

I enjoyed following the tweetfall through tweetchat and interacting in there. Although this was reasonably quiet, enough tweets were added to give a feel for the day from the face to face participants. By all accounts it was really successful. Tomorrow sees the last day of the conference. I wonder what it will bring? Were you a virtual participant or a face to face participant? What were your impressions?

The teacher summit -K2 Building Bridges

A View from Our Windows
It was with great disappointment that I missed out on the teacher summit held online using Blackboard Collaborate for the pilot K2 Building Bridges project (a newbie on the scene for the Flat Classroom Projects). The summits are great – a time for reflection, a summary of the total learning that has taken place and a sharing of experiences. Each teacher involved is asked to create a slide in MS Powerpoint to show what the project looked like and felt like for them. Below is my slide:-

My grade prep/one class was part of group 9, together with a class in Phuket, Thailand; Connecticut, USA and Washington, USA. Here is my one minute summary of this fabulous project:-

  1. A view from our window was fun. It showed how very different it is where we all live.  I enlisted one of my year 10 students to help with this task. Students told Sean what they could see and he proceeded to take photos on that basis. These photos were shared and uploaded onto a youblisher ebook.
  2. Our topic was ‘Part of a Family’. Our students were split into four groups. Students shared one of the following  ‘their family at school’, ‘Our homes’, ‘Bedtime Rituals’, ‘Family Activities’ with photos and captions. The results were shared on a google presentation and will be embedded on our wiki page.
  3. I loved being part of an enthusiastic, creative and innovative group of teachers. This project was designed by us all – bottom up!
  4. From this group I learned of many new tools for connecting collaborating and creating.
  5. A wonderful network has been established with the opportunity for further connections beyond the project.
  6. The input from parents of my students was amazing. I found them to be digital, online and willing to work with their students at home. This was vital to the project success, as I only teach these students ICT one day per week. Images of family activities were called for and it was requested that student faces not be shown in full. Parents used a variety of angles to enable this to happen, without detracting from the message of the image. A further network has now been established –  the parents! 
Below are some of  the ‘Views from our Window’

There are lots of leaves on the ground as it is autumn

Our playground where we love to play. It is right near our classroom.

Behind our classroom is a paddock where we sometimes see sheep and cattle.

Our school chooks. Sometimes we collect the eggs

Does our school look different to yours? Do our families look different to those of your students?

Celebrating Global Connections and Collaboration

One really important step in innovation (which for me has been global connections/collaboration) is celebrating the projects in some form.

Why I feel this is important:-

  1. it is engaging and motivating for the participants
  2. promotes the projects and innovation to others
  3.  sparks interest and extends  the innovation beyond the immediate classrooms or participants involved.
  4. It is vital to keep parents and the wider community informed and involved.
  5. Enables reflection
  6. This is the seventh step in flattening classrooms for the Flat Classroom Projects .

Celebrating global times

How does our school celebrate these projects?

  1. Clocks are hung on the wall above our office, displaying the times of countries that we connect with. This is a great talking point with visitors to our school and gives us a chance to share our exciting global work.
  2. Flags are hung proudly from the rafters in the library of the countries we connect with – a bright addition to our school space and another talking point for visitors.
  3. Displays on walls in the computer room and general classrooms. Smaller flags are displayed on the cupboard in the computer room.
  4. Involvement in the Flat Classroom Projects culminating in student summits, where students put together a summary slide of their learning in MS Powerpoint. A webinar room is booked, the summit promoted globally and students go LIVE with their presentation at an appointed time, despite student nerves etc  The students currently involved in the projects will complete their summits within the next month.
  5. articles in our community newsletter
  6. posts on the teacher, class and school blogs
  7. special celebrations that involve as many as possible  eg Lunch with an authorwhere parents, teachers and students were invited to bring food to share for the videoconference linkup with Christopher Herz who virtually presented a copy of his latest novel.
  8. creating a special website that is globally accessible eg Global Storytelling and features student work. (I also love the World Friends project site which has been created by Professor Yoshiro Miyata.)
  9. Tweet it out!

Celebratory lunch with author, parents, teachers and students

Showcasing with Class Displays


Classroom display

How do you celebrate global projects? What ideas could you add to the above to spread the innovation and projects further? Please email me at or add a comment below.

Global Projects for the Early Years – K2 Building Bridges

Grade Prep One at the Playground

I have been given the challenge of teaching ICT to prep/ones this year for one lesson per week. Having been part of the Flat Classroom Projects for the past 5 years, I was keen to join in the  pilot K-2 Building Bridges project  for early years’ students which started in February, 2012.

The key question of this project is:- Can very young students effectively connect, communicate, and collaborate in a global project? Read further aims of this trial project.

Demand to be involved was strong from across the world was strong. Numbers were capped due to its trial nature with 44 schools represented. Here is how it works:-

  1. A ning is used for networking
  2. A google group that  allows regular updates, questions, issues, discussions etc
  3. Blackboard Collaborate is used for regular online meetings
  4. A wikispace featuring our groups, outcomes etc
  5. Trello for the work flow

The workflow:-

  1. Classes are divided into groups, comprising four different schools, including at least one from another country.
  2. Each class shares a ‘handshake’  introducing themselves to their group.
  3. Each group is given a topic to collaborate on. These topics were brainstormed and collaboratively setup at an online meeting. Our group is number 9 and the topic is “Part of a Family”
  4. Views from our windows – the thoughts are that we create an online book that features “views from our windows” to show the diversity of our locations etc. Discussion is centring around what this means, but it could include anything that represents our school, neighborhood, city/town that reflects some of our similarities/differences or maybe how geography impacts where we live.
  5. The next step is to work on our collaborative group topic.

A voicethread was used for our handshake. Most of my students used MS Paint to draw an avatar. This was cropped, saved as a  jpg and uploaded onto a voicethread. Year 7 and 9 students helped the young ones record “What I like!” as an audio file to their avatar. The voicethread was shared by grabbing the code and embedding it on the wiki. There were a great variety of handshakes, many really creative and innovative. Each school has shared their handshake on the bottom of their group wikipage.

Here are some creative handshakes

  1. A puzzle of students by Mrs Jolley’s class. This involved the use jigsaw planet, diigo and google docs
  2.  A handshake by Ms Tong’s class in China, using the iPad app ‘Puppet Pals’  Introducing Ourselves where students tell their names and favourite place in China.

Highlights of being involved:-

  • Working with a team of like minded teachers
  • Having a global support group when I am new at teaching this age group.
  • Witnessing the enthusiasm, creativity and innovativeness of teachers of the young, where there tends to be greater flexibility with the curriculum.
  • Noting that my students cope well with the nature of the project. They are really engaged watching the other handshakes and using the different media involved.
  • The teachable moments that arise – where is this country, why does that child speak differently, why do their locations look different etc
  • The extension activities that occur. eg Once our voicethread went up, an email was received from one of our partner schools in the USA, asking us so many questions about Australia. They had researched so much about Australia. They had lots of questions of us eg re our unique animals, the aborigines etc As my time is limited with the classes, the classroom teachers will now also need to get involved.
  • Mentoring, sharing and teaching each other our favourite online tools.
  • Learning, learning always learning
  • But……. Best of all there are so many ideas coming from so many people, from so many countries, that we push the innovation and creativity beyond our own personal ability and act as one ‘collective and digital brain’, advancing learning further.

What do you think? Can the young collaborate on a global scale? What questions do you have? This post was written as part of my role asInnovator of the Month. Please email any questions to

Aligning Global Projects with ISTE Student Standards

As I was curious as to whether I could align the Globalstorytelling Project withinternational standards, I chose the ISTE standards. I found that it did align with all 6 standards, under the following sections. (Please note that this challenge #11 of the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher Certificate).

1. Creativity and Innovation

  • Apply existing knowledge to generate new ideas, products or processes
  • Create original works as a means of personal or group expression

2. Communication and Collaboration

  • Interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  •  Communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  • Develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  • Contribute to project teams to produce original works.

3. Research and Information Fluency

  • Locate, organize, analyse, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media

4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making

  • Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project

5. Digital Citizenship

  • exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
  • Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning

6. Technology Operations and Concepts

  • understand and use technology systems
  • select and use applications effectively and productively
Next challenge is to align them with the Victorian Essential Learning Standards – my own state standards and the 21st Century Learning Literacies