Tag Archives: eplanks

Where have all the din’saurs gone?

….or how to shift a school onto web2.0 (as experienced by Hawkesdale P12 College)

An  announcement was made at staff briefing that all staff were to receive correspondence, updates, notices etc by email. The usual communication via hard copy forms or printouts, distributed in the individual staff pigeon holes would no longer be used.

Shock, horror, and angry, almost violent reactions met this proposal by our principal.  Even I, who used emails extensively was apprehensive. A handful of staff were vehemently opposed to the use of computers at this stage, could not/ did not/would not use their emails and were quite forcibly vocal in their determination to ‘save our school’ from becoming digital!   Email addresses were only made available to years 9 to 12. Years 5 to 8 were not allowed to have them. Mobile phones and iPods were  banned.

Forward four years to Dec, 2009

Those same angry reactions still occur. And it is still by those who so strongly resisted the introduction of digital communiction four years ago – the dinosaurs. However it now occurs when the internet is “down” at school as all staff have become fully reliant on digital communication and its associated use. One of the oldest dinosaurs is now the classroom teacher responsible for the grade 5 netbook trial program and does not know what teaching life would be without them.

How it looks now.

  • All students from grades 4 up have email addresses.
  • Mobile phones and iPods are allowed in class, at the teacher’s discretion.
  • Form teachers mark the daily attendance rolls electronically
  • Student reports from prep through to year 12 are completed on computers, using the software markbook
  • Sharepoint is used for the school’s ultranet platform
  • All DEECD pay slips and advice come through email – the pigeon holes are nearly empty.
  • The majority of teachers and ancillary staff have blogs and class blogs
  • A school blog is maintained by a number of staff.
  • All classes from grade 3 to 11 have been involved in a global project of some description
  • Grade 4 and 5 students have a netbook each for classroom and home use.
  • Interactive whiteboards are appearing in each classroom
  • Staff are more and more receptive to experimenting with technology in the classrooms
  • Staff use emails for the majority of communication
  • Skype is being used for videoconferencing across many classes

How it was done?

  • Taking baby steps over a two year period
  • The eplanks were laid by a partnership between Jess McCulloch and myself. We were given teacher professional leave to look at using web2.0 tools in the classroom and then how it could look for a web2.0 school.
  • In 2007, two professional development days were used to share and introduce  technological tools that teachers might use in their personal lives eg delicious, MS Photostory, extra features of using email, resizing photos with irfanview etc (gave confidence with technology, applications that could be used in the classroom etc)
  • In 2008, Walk In Walk Out Wednesdays was commenced, where teachers could come into the computer lab with any concerns, issues, learning needs that they had, for one hour after school, when they wanted, for how long they wanted etc. This has been the most successful trigger in bringing the school staff comfortable with using web2.0 and digital technology.  Email use, using MS Powerpoint, MS Word, blogs, wikis, using google earth/maps, resizing photos etc have been some of the topics pursued.
  • 10 minute spots at staff meetings by a number of staff demonstrating  new hardware, software types, tips  etc
  • Regular newsletter updates to keep parents and the community informed.
  • All staff, including ancilliary,  have email addresses and use them regularly to access digital communications
  • Several morning coffee and parent information sessions were held.
  • Use of twitter and email etc for establishing deeper learning networks amongst staff. Facebook has also been used for instant communication between staff.
  • The viral nature of the use of web2.0 tools, largely driven by students as well as staff which soon spreads across to other classes and subjects.
  • Casual discussions by staff over morning tea and lunch re their use of webw2.0 tools.
  • Empowering staff to take on ownership of their own projects and preferential use of web2.0 technology.
  • A need brings about a solution via technology.


  • Need for better access to computers
  • Time for ‘playing’ with the technology
  • High filtering of internet sites so that many useful sites are blocked
  • Limited technician time
  • Technicians perceived duties cf educational outcomes of students.
  • Lack of mobile phone service
  • Erractic internet access due to the rural remoteness of our school.
  • Staff turnover in 2009 with retirement by some of our most skilled users of technology.


  • 1:1 laptops for all students from grades 5 to 8 in 2010
  • Looking at tiered filtering so that staff have separate access to internet
  • Increased technician time
  • Determination to succeed against all odds

My virtual classroom extends – Ping

An exciting virtual classroom and collaborative  project that will start on Monday Feb 9th at our school and in my class. Ajax MckKerral is organsing the project.

Year 7  students  and some grade 6 students from Casterton Secondary College, Heywood and District Secondary College and Hawkesdale P12 College will be involved in a six week online music project, Ping,  

Ping is the result of collaborative project between the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria, The Song Room, and Country Education Project. Generous support has been provided by the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust

The project

  • Focus – listening, arranging and organizing sounds
  • Staff and students involved, will create sound stories
  • 5 workshops. MSO (Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) will come in for about 4 of these workshops and discuss their instruments, including physics, history etc
  • MSO will record specific requested sounds for student use
  • Completed stories will comprise 5 tracks or more, convert to mp3 file, embed in the blog.

A blog has been set up for use by all staff with students and features

  • Links
  • Posts
  • Discussion forum- for both staff and student use for discussions, problem sharing and solving.

Requirements: Audacity beta version 1.3.7

So before we commence students need to

  • Register
  • Write a post
  • Learn how to make a comment

Work can be taken home and accessed from home.

Software used

·         Emails and usernames for all students

·         Students rmust register on the blog

·         Individual student PC access for elluminate meetings

·         Headsets with headphones and microphones or headphones and desktop microphone

Students will also require sufficient download and server space.

Ajax introduces ping to the staff involved

Ajax introduces ping to the staff involved




A virtual school becomes evident

Jean Pennycook amongst her beloved penguins

Jean Pennycook amongst her beloved penguins

A penguin egg hatching

A penguin egg hatching

Today bore witness to the start of a virtual or web2.0 school. Jess McCulloch and I had teacher professional leave this year to lay the eplanks in web2.0 or virtual school. This would have to be one of the highlights of this project.

My valuable contact from Boston, Lorraine Leo connected us to Jean Pennycook, living in a tent, in Antarctica for a webcast. To ensure all went well, a backup date and time had been pre-arranged. Our primary teachers, (now there was a real purpose to use virtual classroom software, discoverE)  rather nervously entered the virtual classroom yesterday to test the sound and gain confidence in the use of the classroom. Three year 9 girls acted as the technicians (students became experts) and supported the staff. This procedure went well and full credit to the staff for their quick acceptance of this software as they had not been exposed to it before. It was agreed for management purposes that most classes remain in their own rooms and log on as their class name. However, prep/one/two were combined and the secondary students were combined in the library (years7-9)

This morning we held an early recess and logged everyone on to their discoverE  classrooms. One staff member who was absent yesterday was required to respond to Lorraine in Boston but came to me and said she had no idea how to talk or chat to her. Imagaine my surprise when at recess we were testing the sound with Lorraine and this teacher took over with utter confidence and performed the tests. After some internal gliches, we were so pleased to hear Jean Pennycook  online with perfect audio transmission. Jean talked about the penguins and her research with them. Lorraine and Jean had prepared a presentation of slides with some wonderful photos.

Reflecting back, the eplanks of a virtual school were in evidence by the following factors:-

  • students as experts (year 9 girls became the experts on sound checks, software management etc and worked with Lorraine in Boston)
  • teachers from Taiwan, Adelaide, Sth America, USA were in the classroom (global teachers)
  • several students were in their homes in the USA listening and particpating (global students)
  • Geoff the software developer from Perth was in there (virtual team involving all aspects of the linkup)
  • every class and student at Hawkesdale P12 College from 5 year olds through to 15 year olds – a broad age group whom Jean managed to keep captivated for more than 1 hour (virtual school)
  • the vast majority of our staff (including those who were not timetabled for this timeslot) were in one of the virtual classrooms.
  • each class was a virtual classroom with teachers confidently managing audio and chat questions.
  • The chat moved furiously and fast with lots of questions from all year levels. Time was allowed for our students and the global students to ask questions using the microphone.
  • Jean allowed self directed student learning to occur, in that she paused to answer the student questions, rather than always speak to the slides. The students had some great questions that not only related to the penguins but to her life and experiences in Antarctica etc (student directed learning)
  • Parents came in to our classrooms and also listened to the webcast (parents as partnerships).

A huge thank you to all concerned for this wonderful 21st century educational experience.

Listen to the recording of the webcast and read some of our other staff’ posts


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