Tag Archives: virtual classrooms

Is Face to Face Better than Virtual?

tweet re f2f rather than virtual

One of my highly valued colleagues, Sue Waters,  tweeted out the link to my blog post on Blended Technology Use for Great Learning. It was with interest that I read a response to her tweet by @strong99 who thought it would be better to have the author/illustrator teach face to face. Below is part of the conversation.


Technology has broken down the barriers of distance. This linkup was free, took very little effort to organise, gave us a top quality presenter from another country, highly engaged the students and taught them how to make simple, effective illustrations for their storytelling.

However, it gave food for thought as to whether  it is preferable to have someone come into the classroom if cost, effort, availability etc was not a problem. Here are some arguments for using  technology in preference:-

  • students engage with technology and not always with a person
  • if the presenter is physically there, time is limited and there may be little time for questions. Students have so many questions and many of there questions are really good and it is what they want to know within the topic. Having access to the Smartboard, allowed us to key in the questions in the chat. We added at least one auestion for each student, all of them different.  (Some are listed below). Only four students got to ask questions with the traditional methods of using the microphone and web camera. The questions from the chat were saved and viewable by all involved. These questions even if not answered by the presenter, give the teacher an avenue for further research, learning and mentoring with the class.
  • Using the smart board and polycom equipment meant that all students could see quite clearly the author at work illustrating and stroke by stroke how she created the drawings.
  • It is of high interest for students to be sharing their virtual classrooms with those from other schools whether they be in Australia or New Zealand or other countries. It brings a different perspective to the topics at hand and increases the thought processes beyond their own small own small class.

What do you think? If money, effort, cost, availability were of no consequence, and the presenter was highly engaging, would you choose face to face or virtual linkups? Why is one preferable over the other? How successful have your video linkups been? What makes them successful, what makes for unsuccessful connections?


MS Lync for education


MS Lync is now available to all Victorian Education Department staff and should replace MS Communicator as a tool for communication. The following notes were taken from a session by Graeme Oswin of the Grampians Regional Office. MS Lync is a virtual meeting software that is being considered for general classroom us.


  • Free to Victorian  Education Department staff
  • Available to all staff
  • Simple to use
  • Powerful sharing and collaboration features
  • Person to person or group conferences
  • Scales  well – Video Conferencing equipment does not scale well.
  • Integrated with MS Office
  • Windows and Mac versions
  • Distribute large files and attachments
  • Conferences recordable
  • Integrated with Polycom VC units

Video does not work well in online version with eg global connections.


  • Requires computers to be online
  • No direct student access
  • Students  would need to use teacher login
  • Less suited to large groups – best used for individuals with headset
  • Does not support advanced camera actions such as pan and zoom


  • New video call, share whiteboard, with annotation tools at the bottom.
  • Can create groups in projects
  • Set availability
  • Can send email for meeting alerts

Have you used MS Lync for online meetings or for classroom use with students? If so, what do you have to share? Please leave any questions or experiences as a comment.

Oh me, of little faith!

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This week, I was fully reminded of the fact that I should never, ever doubt the ability of students and what they can achieve when highly motivated and engaged. Thinking it would be great to blend two classes – one in Boston, USA and mine in Hawkesdale Australia in a virtual classroom, it was suggested to Lorraine Leo, my great colleague in USA. Lorraine suggested Friday 16th our time, or Thurs night 15h March, their time. Yikes! That was only two days away and we had nothing organised.

The challenges

  • That was only two days notice.
  • the interesting mixed collection of students in my year 9/10 ICT elective class
  • the student mixed ability levels
  • lack of time to practise, rehearse etc.
  • our continuing problems with sound on the student netbooks (they had just been reghosted and handed back to students)

As there was one single, precious lesson prior to the online session, we tested sound/audio/access/application sharing/use of web camera etc to Blackboard Collaborate, the webconferencing software tool to be used and also brainstormed some ideas on a wallwisher. However, the time was not long enough. Students were then told to bring their photos and scripts with them on Friday ready to share with their global counterparts.

Feeling quite nervous on Friday about whether:-

  • anyone had brought photos and more importantly how many had not done anything
  • they had anything to talk about and would they stutter, stumble and take frights (as many of these students are extremely shy)
  • they would behave online
  •  the webcam would be used to good effect
  •  the application sharing of pivot and some stored photos on student computers work etc…
  • sound/audio would all work

I was surprised to find all of them were all organised. They had taken time consuming, fascinating photos at home and on their farm, had brought products into share and wanted to come in at recess to get organised. Some of these are students who rarely complete homework! Here is what it all looked like.

  • an opening comment by Lorraine : Thank you for inviting us to Australia to visit your students.
  • Problems as always with sound – most students had to come to my laptop to speak and demonstrate
  • in my nervousness, I forgot to go through the tool bars and elements of Blackboard Collaborate at the beginning, but most seemed to work it out as we went a long.
  • A classroom of 21 participants, including Mrs Leo, the teacher from USA, 5 of her students, logging on from home (as it was 7:30pm at night for them), two adults from Japan – one  a university professor creator of a global project – World Friends with Scratch, the other a parent, a student teacher from Saskatchewan Canada; a parent of one of my students and Mrs Leo’s mother, an amazing 86 year old lady in blackboard collaborate for the first time. Such a blended classroom, made possible with technology.
  • my students presenting on topics such as:- Hawkesdale, my farm, my pets,our school, my interests, pivot and demonstrating sample student work, including quilting.
  • Once the initial nervousness dispersed, the obvious pride that my students took in sharing their passions, how well spoken they actually were and that they were all organised!
  • the support that students gave each other
  • the fast paced nature of the chat, where participants asked questions, gave feedback and generally shared across the globe.
  • interacting on the collaborative whiteboard to share names, farewells, favourite technology.
Despite being  pushed outside their comfort zones, students really enjoy interactions such as this. They find it fun and engaging and are curious about each other. Each person has a voice and is able to interact in the chat. A big thank you to our global participants for coming to learn about us and to Mrs Leo for her work in making it possible.
I love this comment from a thankyou email from Lorraine:-

 Thank you again!  I really appreciated your time and all of the behind the scenes work in putting the meetup together. I know that for many of my students and for Noriko and my mom, being in a Blackboard Collaborate room was a completely new experience.  Can you only imagine what it must be like for my mom — at 86!– listening to students all the way over in Australia!  She really enjoyed the experience and I’m sure will want to be included the next time there is a meetup.

Read the student reflections

  1. Georgia
  2. Rachael
  3. Sean
  4. Tamiko
  5. Kim
  6. Jess
  7. Ivy
  8. Aza
  9. Nathan

Here is the link to the recording

Learning Vedic Maths from Sebastian

Frequently time (or the lack of it)  gets in the way of documenting some of the journeys we take. Last term, Sebastian taught my year 11 IT class about vedic maths, using web conferencing via elluminate (Blackboard Collaborate).

 Sebastian Rajattan from India is an educational innovator from Kerala, India. Verdic maths  is  the name given to the ancient system of Indian Mathematics and was commonly taught to the peasants.

The Learning

  • Initially coping with a different accent, for our students who are isolated culturally.
  • Concentrating intently on the slides and presentation.
  • Learning to work with a more visual type of maths
  • Learning about another culture
What worked well:-
  • Sebastian was well organised, competent in the use of elluminate, and had prepared  some great slides to illustrate the concepts.
  • Students correctly answered his questions, so they had learnt from him.
  • He kept the presentation moving and engaged the students with interactive activities.
  • Using web conferencing tools such as elluminate, allows the students to interact in the chat, respond to questions and concepts and to respond individually to questions asked.
  • Great to have someone like Sebastian who is used to working with students, keeps the session moving, knows his topic and how to interact with students.
The constraints
  • The powerpoint presentation failed to load from our end
  • All slides had to be quickly saved as image files and uploaded individually. This pushed some out of order, making it difficult for the presenter.
  • One of my boys could not logon with his netbook or with many of the spare desktops, but finally found a computer that would. This is frustrating for the students.
The bonuses
  • As Sebastian used his video camera, we could see the women in his household say goodbye as they were about to go out shopping. This gave the students a glimpse of the beautiful Indian dress.
  • As our school was being under research on our use of technology, a  research student sat in on the lesson with us, and experienced the magic that technology can bring.
Thanks Sebastian, it is great to know you, thank you for teaching us  and it is hoped that we can continue to make connections.
Footnote: I met Sebastian through a skype group. How do you meet your contacts?

Ideas for teaching students successfully in elluminate – a virtual classroom

As our two pre-service teachers, enter their virtual placement week, it is necessary to have as much scaffolding in place for them. They will be teaching a variety of year levels and age groups – from 13 years through to 17 years of age, using a number of tools, but mostly elluminate.

Therefore, it is time to reflect on what they need to do before their online class, during the class and finalizing class and have a running sheet set up for them, to use as a guideling. Following are some tips and hints on teaching successfully. What has been left out? How  could it be improved?

Planning for the lesson

  1. Book an elluminate room
  2. Organise your powerpoint slides
  3. Work out features required:- polling,media, app sharing, breakout rooms. 
  4. Plan a running sheet with times allocated for each activity
  5. Use as much interactivity as possible
  6. Consider an ice breaker
  7. Place the participants’link on your blog or in an easily accessible space.
  8. Seek another moderator to help you (if need be.)
  9. Use the chat and the whiteboard.
  10. Vary the activities
  11. Use busy images as much as possible
  12. Think about a discipline plan
  13. Set up a backchannel eg twitter or skype if there is a supervising teacher with the class.

Prior to lesson

  1. Enter room, test audio.
  2. Test, test and always test.
  3. If time practise any special features to be used in class
  4. Move the ‘start recording’ button to the side.
  5. Load powerpoint slides
  6. You may wish to start with a graffiti board, where students can play while others are getting into the room.
  7. Check the number of mics, the connection setting, tools allowed etc
  8. Create a timeout room folder (for those who are misbehaving), Create any breakout folders required
  9. Open any urls that you might wish to app share
  10. Send any files that you may need to share
  11. Make moderators of selected participants
  12. Go through a code of conduct with the students.

During the lesson

  1. Students should test their audio through wizard upon entry, may be allowed to graffiti or ‘Play on a clean whiteboard’ until all are in.
  2. Warn that you are about to start the recording, clean up any whiteboards, ensure class is silent and ready, then press record.
  3. Remember to speak deliberately s..l..o..w..l..y and clearly.
  4. Welcome the class/ give a general introduction to the lesson
  5. Briefly run through the virtual classroom tools
  6. Start with an icebreaker
  7. Use the timer constantly – short sharp activities
  8. Use images, little text
  9. Use polls where possible
  10. Get them to answer a question in chat, don’t press send until told, use a green tick when completed. Then get them all to send response at once (stops cheating)
  11. Use the chat, the whiteboard and encourage the use of emoticons for feedback.
  12. Vary the activities and make as interactive as possible
  13. Use busy images as much as possible
  14. Save the participants list (this is a valuable type of roll marking)

Disciplinary actions

  1. If discipline is required, use capital letters to raise your voice in the chat, send students to timeout room for a warning, keep them there for predetermined time, remove any tools that they have, send back to main room when ready.
  2. If student is constantly misbehaving, keep them in the timeout room. If you remove them from the room, they may still have the link and will just keep coming back in.

To assess student progress during the lesson

  1. Maintain video image on the working class, get some students to individually application share their work so that you can see how they are going.
  2. All questions should be placed in the chat, so virtual teacher maintains control

To complete the lesson

  1. Share any closing activities
  2. Allow sufficient time to pack up any gear eg headsets, netbooks/laptops etc
  3. Set up a whiteboard for feed back or have a preset survey link for students to complete
  4. Dismiss students

Finalizing the session

  1. Switch off the recording
  2. Make sure all participants are removed from the room before exiting
  3. Save the chat
  4. Save the whiteboards
  5. Find the recording link, (usually in an email of person who booked the room) and save it
  6. Share the recording link back on your blog so students can go back to it for revision etc

Enjoy virtual teaching!

Teaching and Learning without a Classroom – Tech Talk Tuesdays

This was the topic for Tech Talk Tuesday with Andrew Douch as our presnter.  Andrew is an innovative and multi award winning teacher. His awards include Microsoft Innovative Teacher of the World 2009 and he is the creator of the popular Douchy’s Biology podcasts on iTunes.  To the delight of the participants and the adding a rich element to the chat and presentation, two of his virtual students also participated in this session.
The chat was even busier than usual. Here is the link to the recording.

Andrew teased us with thought provoking questions such as:-

  1. There is so much online material that students can use, how do they know that it is valid?  Isn’t it better that it is teacher produced and directed?
  2. What do schools do best compared with the online environment?
    Students can opt to learn when they like, where they feel comfortable – not necessarily at linear desks and often on uncomfortable seats! and how they like to learn – with technology.

From the chat:-

From Douchy (samples of his work)

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ej2hFc8u_zQ#t=8m14s
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p835L4HWH68#t=0m42s

From the students

  • I listen to the podcasts when I’m walking, in my private sessions at school and when i’m laying in bed before going to sleep mostly.
  • They are brilliant when revising for an exam!
  • That is the most beneficial thing about it. If you don’t understand it, you can watch it or listen again and again until you do understand.
  • @Anne, I definately spend more time on biology now. It is so much easier and you can access it any time of the day or night, so it is easier to become motivated to complete my biology work.
  • The only thing that is better at school than online is the face to face social interaction.
  • I get private study sessions at school instead of a biology class. I am required to remain at school, but i can study other classes and do homework.

From the adults

  • webinars and podcasts allow all of us to have access to the very best teachers!
  • Podcasts are invaluable for adult ed too – lets folks study when their ‘real life’ isn’t so demanding
  • we don’t all learn best at the same time of day
  • So if one teacher is more suited to online forums, they could have way more kids in their classes and then the work load is not even…Just thinking out loud here… 😉
  • A study in July’s Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine reports that giving teens 30 extra minutes in the morning before classes leads to more alertness in class, better moods, less tardiness and healthier breakfasts.” http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2010/07/08/start-school-later-improve-conduct-grades-and-even-save-lives/
  • looks like the trend is: education is free, assessment costs $
  • I love the idea they use in “unconferences” where they use the “2 foot rule” –if you don’t find a session helpful or valuable, use your 2 feet and go somewhere else. We should all do that.
  • Attendance at school School does provide our remote country students with a social network and a face to face element which they may miss out on a bit online (I know that they network online too, but f2f is also important)
  • Technology is only a tool, not a teacher.  We will always need teachers to support and guide kids in the whole kid instead of only the academic side
  • I love hearing Kevin Honeycutt talk about why he started offering “Artsnacks” courses on his Ning so students in rural communities could learn from an art teacher when they didn’t have access to one in their own school.
  • What about the Essential Learning Standards: Intra personal and communication skills?
  • one of the biggest reasons people give for not agreeing with homeschooling is because they think the students won’t get to socialize and learn important social skills
  • Tech may free teachers up to do more work with the kids in terms of developing social skills
    do you worry that the free online tools that allow this sort of egalitarian teaching might be closed down sometime (a-la ning)?
  • backchannel is a way to process the learning and remain engaged
  • while free online tools come and go there are almost always new tools to take their place
  • almost all of the online programs have a pro/paid version for additional features
  • I remember when I first learned about the internet that I couldn’t believe I could access all of that information for free! Now we expect it
  • Heaps of screen captures and editing tools here
  • love tech tuesdays–even though it’s still Monday for me 🙂
  • often online classes are offered for advanced placement classes or makeup classes in order to graduate
  • @Mary B I am wondering whether if kids log into Elluminate but they are not actually attending just logged in and doing other things, how would you know?
    response: @Mary B You dont. That is why it is important to make it interactive make them answer questions in chat, with mic,
  • make them answer polls, use the whiteboard etc
  • Re online labs vs f2f labs: Hmmm, but sometimes blowing stuff up for real is just so much more fun
  • Up to 500 participants have been recorded participating in a single elluminate session (with Steve Haragdon)
    There is so much food for thought here – what are your thoughts or comments on all this? Will there still be a need for physical schools? Can there be a blend of both environments? What role might they all take?

Tech Talk Tuesdays and eT@lking – some great sessions this week!

School is back in Victoria, Australia after a two week winter break and Tech Talk Tuesdays commences and eT@lking continues! This week there is a fantastic line up of sessions, so dont miss them – all by leading world authorites on their respective topics. An extra Australia series session will also be held on Thursday.

  1. Teaching and Learning without a Classroom with Andrew Douch
  2. 5 Ways to use Videoconferencing in the Classroom with Carol Skyring
  3. 5 big global trends in education with Nigel Paine

Tech Talk Tuesdays – have you heard of Douchy’s podcasts – continually at or near the top of iTunes educational podcasts!

Topic:- Teaching and Learning without a Classroom

Date/Time: Tuesday, July 13th 3:45 -4:45pm (gmt+10 Melbourne Australian Time)

In this presentation, award winning and innovative Andrew Douch will explain how he has successively removed teaching & learning activities from the classroom and replaced them with online equivalents that are equally (or more) effective. His journey started in 2006 with a biology podcast (which is now receiving 1000 downloads a day) through which he explains the concepts that were previously only explained in class. Now he teaches biology to a class who does not even have a place in the school timetable! He will share the tools he has used and/or is using, including podcasting, screencasting, instant messaging, various websites/social networks and Elluminate. Some of his students will (hopefully) also attend to give a student perspective.
About Andrew:  Andrew Douch is a practicing teacher of 20 years, and is currently the ICT Innovations Leader at Wanganui Park Secondary College, in Victoria, Australia.
He has won a number of awards in recent years for his work with emerging technologies in education, including an Australian Government Highly Commended Award for Quality Schooling, the Victorian Education Excellence Award for Curriculum Innovation and the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher of the Year.
Link to the session or copy and paste this url into your browser: https://sas.elluminate.com/d.jnlp?sid=2007026&password=techtalktuesdays
Andrew is in demand as a keynote speaker, locally and internationally and is sought as a consultant by schools and Education Departments on the use of online tools in schools. He is also in demand to provide professional learning workshops in schools – showing teachers how they can use freely available tools to transform their classrooms into learning communities, which not only engage Generation Y students, but lead to significantly improved learning outcomes.

Link to the session or https://sas.elluminate.com/d.jnlp?sid=2007026&password=techtalktuesdays

eT@lking  5 Ways to Use Videoconferencing in the Classroom

There are many ways that videoconferencing can enhance the educational experience. In this session Carol Skyring will talk about five ways to extend your classroom and show you how you can involve your students in a variety of experiences. She will give you links to a number of websites where you can find videoconference content and exchange ideas with other educators.
About Carol: Carol has been involved in the design, application and effective use of videoconferencing since 1993. She works with universities, colleges, schools, government departments, large corporations and SMEs throughout Australia, New Zealand, USA and Europe.Several of Carol’s papers &amp; articles can be accessed at <a href=”http://www.scribd.com/cdltoz”>http://www.scribd.com/cdltoz</a> and she is author of the popular blog  ‘Videoconferencing Tips & Tricks

Link to the session   (or https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/launch/meeting.jnlp?password=M.3DD99896D234646A3B71C131316FBF)

Topic:  5 Big Global Trends in Education

This webinar is organised by Carole McCulloch as part of the elluminate “Australia series”. Nigel Paine will present of the topic of “Five big Global trends in Education”
This session will discuss a few of the larger shifts in eLearning that are occurring as a result of improvements in technology, global economic forces and the changing workforce. We will ask questions like: do they make sense in an Australian context? What should I be doing about this now? How quickly will they impact on me?
The participants will be encouraged to share their own stories and examples and it should be fun!
About Nigel: Nigel Paine has been involved in learning technologies for over twenty years. He has run organisations producing software, CD Roms and multimedia materials,one of which won an EMMA (European Multi-media award). His company was the first in the UK to have educational software bundled by Apple for the US market. Nigel is currently visiting Australia from London.
He left the BBC in 2006 to start his own company that is focussing on promoting creativity, innovation and learning and the link between them. He speaks at conferences around the world and writes for a range of international publications. He is also coaching senior executives in companies in Europe, Australia and the USA.
He is infectiously optomistic about the power of learning to transform both individuals and organisations and is a great believer in innovation as a means of constant renewal.
He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and the Royal Society of Arts and has been a visiting Professor at Napier University since 1998. In 2006 he was awarded the Masie Learning Through Leader Award, and has been a Masie Fellow every since.
Link to the session  or
This event is sponsored by elluminate as part of the Australia series.