Tag Archives: 21st century classroom

The global classroom continues

Talking with an Indonesian maths teacher

Talking with an Indonesian maths teacher

On Wednesday, half of my year 9/10 Information Communications Technology class had gone to Warrnambool to a VET taster day. As I only had a small group and as this was a new group for this semester, I had flexible lesson activities worked out for the doule session. As the students settled at their desks, one of my boys asked if we were going to do any videoconferencing as per last year with Connecticut USA. My response was “I hope so!” These were to be famous last words. As the students settled to their work, skype flicked up on my laptop and it was my teacher contact from Indonesia wondering whether she could talk to me. My response was that I was in class and then I thought that this could be a teachable moment. Speakers and data projector were quickly connected to my laptop.

Soon, we were being introduced to the staff in the staff room as students were not in class at that stage. The staff were keen to talk to my students one at a time, and ask them many questions. The most common question being “how old are you?” and “where are you from?” Amidst much laughter with misunderstandings and some sound problems, we settled to our virtual tour of the staffroom and eventually outside into their attractive yard, even to the point where a student said hello whilst seated in the verandah outside.  It was hot in Indonesia and cold in Australia.

Indonesian speakers talk to us

I was proud of my students who perservered and repeated words, trying to improve their diction and overcome the communication problems. They found they had to be extremely phonetic and break their names up into syllables.

Learning outcomes

  • How to communicate with people on a one to one basis when their English is not very strong.
  • What a staffroom looks like in a rural Indonesian school!
  • Fascinated by the fact that their internet access and laptop camera were strong enough to show us outside into their yard (see below)
  • Absolute admiration for a teacher who in an isolated rural location in a developing country, has been able to achieve far more technologically wise than many of my Australian counterparts. She is determined to bring her students in contact with English speaking countries to help her students improve their English. Their infrastructure is poor, computer access nil but with her own personal resources, Endang is making a difference.
In the school yard

In the school yard


Racial Harmony Day in Singapore

Students from Singapore show their costumes

Students from Singapore show their costumes

Chinese costumes
Chinese costumes

Tuesday 21st July was “Racial Harmony Day’ in Singapore.  My e-colleague Aini, who I met on classroom2.0 and I connected via video conferencing on the weekend. Aini asked if we would like to see her students in their national costumes which they wore to school as part of Racial Harmony Day. Delighted, I agreed.

Our grade 2 to 4 students and year 7 students gathered in the library and listened to the grade 5s from Singapore speak about ‘what racial harmony means to them.’ They spoke confidently and fluently in clear English. Students who were dressed in traditional costume came up to the web camera and showed us the Malay, Indian and Chinese traditional costumes. These are the three main cultures in Singapore. We heard of their traditional games and the other activities that were taking place on this day. The parents were holding food stalls in the canteen.

We viewed photos of the recent national parades which took place on National Day last week and witnessed their celebrations. Skype was used for this webcast and the audio and video were quite clear from our end. However, our audio was not clear in Singapore.

Aini had used her laptop when we first tested, but then set up external speakers so that her class of 47 students could hear. Skype seems to require tweaking when a new setup is used so it was necessary to goto tools>audio setup and choose the external speakers.

On Wednesday, my year 8 students were to show the class in Singapore images of our school and area. To our dismay, the latest version of skype was not on the library interactive white board. Therefore it was impossible to share our screen through skype. A quick reshuffle, meant that we quickly found objects eg meat pie and sauce and toy koala that played “Waltzing Matilda” were placed up to the web camera.

Learning outcomes

Increased Knowledge

  • Learnt that Singapore has 4 cultures
  • Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian
  • Costumes and correct names
  • Importance of lions in Singapore and their impact in the parade
  • Defence forces – age entry, compulsory, 2 years
  • Viewed the location of the new Disneyworld site

Communication skills

  • the need for clear diction and correct positioning of both web camera and microphone.
  • Students must be skilled up in these areas


Reflections on Ping – 21st century education

In the elluminate classroom
In the elluminate classroom

Two thirds of the way through 2008, my principal came to me with mention of a proposed music project with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. I promptly forgot all about it until towards the end of the final two weeks of term, I was told that a representative was going to come and speak with me and our secondary classroom music teacher. Not wishing to be rude, but being so busy with end of year functions and other exciting online projects that I was involved in, I reluctantly attended the meeting with the full intention of being honest and saying that I really was not interested.

However, 5 minutes into the meeting with Ajax I was ‘hooked’. This was exactly the type of activity I wanted to try out in 2009 and the type of classroom that I was working toward! The answer was:-‘Yes, please! We will be part of it!”

The project:  This pilot project   explored new ways of delivering music education to year 6 and 7 students from 4 rural Victorian schools, using in-house teaching artists, blogging and online virtual classroom workshops with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra  (MSO)and Orchestra Victoria. Students  composed short compositions/sound stories and uploaded them to the  website, as well as participating in online video conference workshops with MSO and Orchestra Victoria musicians.

The classes: As I did not want any of the year 7 students to miss out on this project, 28 students crammed into our computer lab. This meant we had to borrow 5 netbooks to ensure that they all had computer access. Joseph Abou Zeid, a resident artist from the Song Room, worked in the classroom with us. For 50 minutes we would listen to an instrumentalist from MSO or Orchestra Victoria. For the next 50 minutes students would learn how to use audacity and compose their own musical stories. These stories used pre-recorded music clips uploaded onto the Ping blog by the instrumentalists. Students then uploaded their stories back onto the blog.

Learning about the trombone

Learning about the trombone

Engagement in Ping

Engagement in Ping

The highlights

  • Always exciting to be involved in a pilot project – love the challenge, new adventures and the constant learning.
  • Working with the amazingly well connected, Ajax McKerrall, whose innovative idea this project was – a former digital productions manager with the London Symphony Orchestrata – gifted and talented user of multimedia and web 2.0 tools. I learnt so much more by working with him, about blogging, using multimedia and the elluminate room to fuller potential. He capably and professionally led the elluminate class sessions, ensuring that we had the best quality sound from the 3mbs radio studio in Melbourne.
  • The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra came into our classroom, when our students would rarely attend any of their concerts, as Melbourne is 3 ½ hours drive and Warrnambool, our closest regional city centre is 30 mins away. (MSO may visit Warrnambool once a year) To have our students learn about the wonderful classical instruments, their physics, their sounds etc and then to be able to use their recorded clips and mash them together into their own personal musical stories – the impact cannot be justified in words.
  • Having an artist in residence from the Song Room, Joseph Abou Zeid, to teach the students about muscial composition through the free software audacity.
  • The sheer engagement of the students in the elluminate classroom. This was an unexpected outcome. The learning for me, as a teacher, to see each student at their own desktop, interacting with the musicians, chatting, offering feedback, using a range of emoticons to convey feelings, was enlightening. Students would readily state in the chat section that they did not understand the instructions. This rarely occurs in the normal classroom. Students are reluctant to state that they do not understand, they are rarely given the opportunity to offer feedback  or evaluate what the teacher or instructor is saying and are not given the opportunity to interact as individuals.
  • The student outcomes. Their musical stories developed from ‘basic sound grabs thrown together’ that challenged the musical ear, to musical stories that actually reflected animals, soundscapes and ‘stories without words and pictures’.
  • Many of the students who struggle with usual classroom work in the generalist classrooms, were able to excel in this environment. Literacy no longer became an issue as they could work with music and creativity.
  • The collaboration with the students and teachers from the three other rural schools who share similar experiences and characteristics, threats and challenges working on a common and shared blog site . This is an area though, that could be further developed. 
  • Witnessing the increased confidence in all students, especially those who do not normally achieve to a high degree in generalist classrooms.
  • Ovbserving the improvement in student listening skills.
  • Having a chat option when outside the elluminate classroom and when just working on the blog or in the normal IT classroom.

The challenges

  • Lack of Experience: This project started in the first full week of term 1, when 30% of the year 7 class was new to our school, some with little computer expertise and few of the new ones knowing what a blog was and it was their first time in our computer lab. None of the students had been in elluminate before. The rehearsal was done with my year 9/10 class as they were my class at that time.
  • Lack of a computer technician: We were on our own, with many technical hitches getting the audio – microphone/headsets working. The class was noisy trying to work it all out. It took more than 20 minutes for us all to be logged into elluminate. Students had to get used to an online classroom and use the tools there to communicate. Frequently they were vocally calling out for help.
  • The Chat: Initially the chat was being abused, students discovered the private messaging function, but strangely, they did not fiddle with the white board tools. Students tended to ‘bully’ one of the students, but interestingly, other students told them to stop it. A couple of swear words came through and spamming was frequent (where students type 20 smiley faces in one sentence etc.) We worked together to formulate a code of conduct when using online chat. That code now rests on my  class blog and the school blog.
  • The web cameras It was vital that we had the video image on our computer screens, but as we worked in a basic lab, it was difficult to get our webcamera in a position that was useful to our instructors. Being able to see the class was essential for them, but it was an issue that was never really resolved.
  • The time delay The streaming was often delayed between desktops and netbooks in the classroom and this could be annoying.
  • Student curiousity Students will fiddle and check out everything. So hands will be raised for prolonged periods, the white board will be covered with graffiti and private messaging will run rampant. To overcome this, students need time to play and explore and the first lesson should do just this.

After two lessons, I was ready to say that it was not working and we would remove ourselves from the project, but…..

….after 10 mins into the third lesson, I could have heard a pin drop. Students were engaged, listening intently and had sorted out any technical issues by themselves. The tapping of keys would break the silence as students happily chatted away, made use of the range of emoticons and tools  and interacted with the guest musician. They would provide feedback on what they heard, interact and ask questions. They learned to work the chat and asked questions of me through it as well. At times, a student would hum along, oblivious to their surroundings.

And so, I was led into the classroom of the 21st century.

On behalf of the year 7 students and I, I would like to sincerely thank Ajax McKerrall, Joseph Abou Zeid, and the  Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, The Song Room, and Country Education Project. In particular to our generous sponsors  – the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Innovation Division.


Learning outcomes

  • improved listening skills (students were able to interact, use various emoticons and tools to keep them engaged and listening.
  • Appropriate behaviour and codes of conduct in a virtual classroom – (learnt by experiencing)
  • how to tweak the audio controls in elluminate
  • Learnt how to use audacity and many of its finer features to create muscial stories and mp3 files
  • how to grab flk files from the Ping blog to import into audacity
  • how to embed musical stories in mp3 format with a player into a blog
  • how to blog (this was especially so for some of my new students who had never blogged before)

A virtual classroom for tweenagers

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Charles demonstrates the didigeridoo
Charles demonstrates the didigeridoo

I see…..

I hear…..

  • many  calls for help….. technical problems/misunderstandings in software use.
  • my frantic voice trying to keep control of the class, maintain online status and a semblance of SANITY!

I feel….

  • frustrated, anxious, helpless dealing with all the technical issues.  Read more.

…..Backtrack to 6 months ago, where I trialled various forms of online classroom software,enabling students to

Virtual classroom software types used: elluminate and discoverE

Fastforward to our third  elluminate class for PingThe elluminate window

I see….. 

  •  students all logged on within 5 mins, quietly glued to their screens.
  • questions for help now coming through the chat window

I hear….. silence….

  • except for the click/clack of keys as students happily chat asking questions, answering questions, make requests giving feedback
  • the occasional laugh as Rohan talks about his instrument in an entertaining way.
  • humming from one girl

I feel…..

  • relaxed, confident, excited, satisfied

Requirements for using a virtual classroom:-

  • headsets , single webcam (optional)
  • individual computer access
  • patience/risk taking ability

Tips for success

  • set up a code of conduct early on
  • pre-test the equipment
  • practise to gain confidence
  • individual student desktop access – (personal  ownership)
  • work the chat laboriously –  interaction, feedback, motivation, concentration etc
  • moderate the student permissions  -remove private messaging,  access to whiteboard tools unless required and chat for those who spam, bully etc.
  • provide lots of multimedia eg screen dumps, video, polling, use of emoticons
  • send to timeout (breakout room), if bad behaviour continues

See my class at work, during session 4

Read the feedback given after session 5

Using skype in the classroom

My students argue that videoconferencing with another class in, another country, is the best and most powerful experience for them. They beg for more and more. It is now 12 months since our first experiments with skyping students in  Korea.

To successfully connect, the following factors need to be taken into consideration.

Why I like skype:-

Skype phone

  • Skype is a free piece of VOiP software, that can connects computers together to allow free telephone calls.
  • Follow up service is great, they constantly seek feedback and are always improving their service.
  • User and operator friendly
  • Inexpensive – just need cheap headset or desktop microphone and headphones, cost of download time is negligible. Download software from skype.
  • Allows chat and video conferencing
  • May be used to call landlines
Videoconferencing with skype

Videoconferencing with skype

Hardware/software required:

  • downloaded skype software,
  • higher bandwidth connection
  • web camera
  • desktop microphone and earphones, or headset
  • Interactive white board for display or a white wall, and  datashow or data projector if videoconferencing with a class.

21st century skills required

Shannon demonstrates a meat pie

A new set of skills needs to be taught and developed as there is now a virtual class. Staff  and students need to learn and practise these skills.

  • Speaking to a web camera requires use of eye contact, stillness or little movement and  voice inflexions or animated voices (avoid all montotones). The voice needs to take the place of body language.
  • Use of microphone is critical as the audio must be carried to the distant classroom(s).
  • Student confidence is crucial – students who are not confident will not be effective. (I have found it is often my quietest students and those who are not so competent in literacy and writing skills who will excel and perform well in the virtual classroom)
  • Appropriate placement of any object being displayed needs to be carefully considered for maximum effect eg when demonstrating a jar of vegemite – the angles need to be checked for maximum effectiveness.
  • Keep any movement of objects or people to an absolute minimum, or else there is too much blurring.
  • Use the chat window feverishly for feedback, questions and variety of delivery. If dealing with a country that does not speak English as their first language, or if the sound quality is not so good, the chat is great to type in the key phrases, to ensure they understand what is said.
  • Video should be used to keep the class interested and give some concept of a third party(ies).
  • Diction is another crucial element in successful use. You need clear, slow voices and short, simple sentences.
  • Need to be able to multitask eg speak, read chat, position camera, microphone, control and manage existing class and virtual class etc.

Management issues

  • Keep the camera as still as possible. Better to bring the students and objects to the camera, rather than move the camera to them.
  • Seat students appropriately, so that they can be seen via the web camera.
  • Allocate roles to students eg chat window, web cam operator, microphone manager etc as this is a real multi tasking operation.
  • Ensure everything is organized right from the start – all materials required are on hand.
  • Determine the outcomes and plan the class accordingly. (We find it is good to get to know each other first – so a show and tell of school, classes, country, culture etc works well in the initial stages.)
  • Always test the equipment before starting the class and test prior teacher to teacher before the day. Practise with family, other teachers in school, country and then abroad.
  • Always use chat to ensure that the other class is ready, then when given the ‘all clear’ ring.
  • Organisation, confidence and management are the key to success.
  • If the call drops out, come back in and switch the videooff for the group who is listening, then reverse and switch yours on when talking. If it continually drops out even with just one video on, switch off both videos and continue with chat. (not as exciting but it is still maintaining connection)

Class discipline

This is an area of difficulty, as the teacher needs to be working at the front with the technology, student speaker etc. Small groups are far more effective and manageable. If students are misbehaving, ensure that the camera does not pick that up. Cross culture teaching is interesting and so exciting  but expectations differ. Have a management plan for discipline problems ready before commencing. Most students love this kind of work, but if sound quality, voice carry over, technical issues, software dropping in and out it may become boring and students, restless.

Always have a backup lesson ready should the internet not function and a backup date for another attempt.


  • Video option is lost once there are more than two participants in the conference.
  • Long distance and differing bandwidth connections are still unstable. Connections with Korea and Russia were not as stable as those with USA and Canada.
  • May be blocked in many educational institutions especially universities.
  • Skype does not like another program being open at the same time if that program also uses a video camera option. So close any other programs down, before using videoconferencing with skype, and restart the computer if necessary.


  • Security cannot be guaranteed although, operator has option of allowing a person to use your phone number of name, before being listed as a contact.
  • Risk of viruses over large organizations.
  • Bandwidth variations

We have successfully skyped with video to USA, Canada, Korea and Russia. In conclusion, these are such rich learning experiences with amazing learning outcomes and gives us a taste of where the future of education may head.

Since I wrote this post, @Peter@skype found me on twitter and gave me this great link with advice on improving my connection:-  “You might find the call quality guide useful – and let me know if you run into problems next time 🙂 http://is.gd/3XZL

Here is a great video presented at the K-12 Online conference by Sylvia Tolisano (Our class was proud to be one of those Around the World with Skype.

Great article by Shelly Terrell with lots of wonderful links and resources featured – Learning Beyond Walls: 21 Skype Resources

Read this blog post translated into the Armenian language