Videoconferencing Out on a Lim

Experiences, curriculum thoughts, new resources, and technology comments related to K12 videoconferencing.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

International Gems

So today I went back to the Poster Sessions and the Global Gallery, and found a couple more great VC projects!

The first was Professor Dr. Reima Sado Al-Jarf from King Saud University in Saudia Arabia. She is a professor of ELT and Translation. She shared pictures of their videoconference classrooms and how they are connecting three campuses of the university together in maximize access to instructors. Two of the campuses are for female students and the other one is for male students. I'm so intrigued by how the technology is partially breaking down a traditional barrier, in a way that extends access to instruction to all students, while keeping within the cultural distinction between men & women. It's very interesting to see how different cultures adapt a technology or communication tool to their specific needs. We had a wonderful conversation about the various uses of videoconferencing in the curriculum.

Next I came around the other side of the table to see videoconferencing from Alberta, presented by Karen Andrews, VC Program Coordinator for the Alberta Education department. Clearly Alberta is doing some very creative things with videoconferencing! Check out their province VC website at Some stories included:
  • Connecting students with the Ontario Science Center, where students sent their DNA (with permission) to a scientist who discussed the various aspects of DNA related science.
  • Two social studies teachers in Alberta and Ontario connected to Gwen Dyer (sp?) a famous British journalist to discuss the origins of the Mid East conflict so they could help their students understand current events.
  • Connecting 5th grade students, along with their high school mentors, to a famous Canadian artist, Robert Bateman, to learn drawing tips & tricks.
  • Connecting students to a Mars scientist from the Canadian Space Agency.
  • Connecting Calgary students to an expert on Ancient Greece in Toronto with the 12th grade students at her site and discussing the content.
  • Doing "Math Improv" with two high schools and two college math professors. The high school students give each other real-world problems and try to solve them with tips from the professors.
In addition, in the fall they will publish a series of videos on their website to teach VC etiquette etc. This will be a great addition to the VC community.

Plus, best of all, they are doing a huge research project on VC using the Community of Practice Research Model and the results will also be published in the fall.

What a lot I learned from this little poster session!!!!

Now off to fly home. A great conference and I learned lots!


Blogs and VC

So I've been trying to keep on my advertised topic for my blog - videoconferencing! But here at NECC I've been learning other things besides VC along the way!

Right now I'm in the Lessons Learned: Creating Communities Online panel session, and Anne Davis is sharing how she has been using blogs in her classroom. What jumped out for me was her comment, "I've learned more from blogs than any other inservice I've been to." This is why I'm blogging about VC! And I encourage those VCers out there doing VC to share your experiences online too! This is a way for us to learn from each other. We're still pushing the edges with videoconferencing and we need to share with each other as much as possible! As many of you know, I comb the web regularly looking for new resources and examples of the use of VC. If more of us VC people were blogging, we could expand the collaborative experiences between students that we keep saying we want to do more!

Incidentally, the panel brought Anne in via Skype. Audio quality was excellent. Maybe next year's NECC will bring in presenters with VSkype!

The other thing to consider is this - how can web blogs support collaborative VC projects? We've already dabbled in this with an ASK videoconference with blogging support by Jim Wenzloff, Macomb ISD, Michigan.

Back to the session - Tim Lauer is saying the same thing as Anne. "I wish the curriculum people were blogging" so we could be learning from the experts and the people in the trenches teaching students and working with curriculum... I like his suggestion too - that teachers write a paragraph a week about what is happening in their classroom. If VCing teachers were doing this, think how much we could learn from each other!

So if you start up a VC blog, let me know and I'll add a link to your blog here! It's not all that hard, just a commitment to an occasional reflection on your educational VC experience! You can do it!!


E-Mission Blast Off!

Tuesday afternoon I spent some time in the Polycom booth with Elaine Shuck and served as the communication director for an e-mission with Challenger Learning Center for half an hour. I’ve participated before in the 3 hour teacher training, so it was just wild to see it done in about 30 minutes. One other teacher who had participated in e-Missions was there as well and so we helped explain it to the other participants. We jumped in and started calculating data on the incoming hurricane and the volcano as it started erupting. As we went along, our guide from NASA Command Control assisted us in reading the map, deciding where to evacuate the residents, and making the calculations to send our readings in to NASA. A great experience and one I highly recommend!


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Year Long VC Project Format

Sometimes at a conference, you run across the best examples in tucked away in an unlikely place! This morning I went to the Poster Sessions in Grand Hall looking for a specific one on videoconferencing that wasn't there! But in looking for that poster session, I found another, even better example of creative use of videoconferencing and cross school collaborations.

The project is called Bridges Across the Atlantic, and has been going on for 6 years. Two fourth grade classes, one in Rhode Island, and one in Sweden, connect regularly for projects and curriculum activities throughout the year. This was the first year that they incorporated videoconferencing using a new Polycom.

I need to study their links and projects more to see how this format could be used with many other schools and duplicated....


Tuesday, June 28, 2005


At the end of the day today, I attended the Proposed IVC SIG meeting at facilitated by Camille Cole and Jan Zanetis and Ruth Blankenbaker.

As we started, Ruth Blankenbaker provided a way for us all to sign the charter on a fancy antique poster.

The mission statement includes “advancing collaboration, information dissemination, research, and practices.” Of course my main interest is advancing collaboration and that clearly was happening as we networked with each other and talked to “old vc friends” even before the meeting started!

People attending came from various categories including universities, vendors, non profit organizations, educational service agencies, k12 teachers and administrators, content providers, and more. In these areas, we came to consensus on the top three issues that we face in our sub-group.

I was in the educational service agencies group, and we came up with a lengthy list of issues that we narrowed down to sharing information, supporting technology, supporting districts, and funding and equity. The longer list included: sharing information, connectivity, lack of direct control, coordinating projects, locating and matching content and opportunities with interested teachers, equitable access, non-homogenous populations, funding and spending, assessment/evaluation and justification for videoconferencing, economic impact, technology issues, bridges/MCUs/gateways, proprietary and disconnected technologies and professional development.

The other sub groups developed great lists as well. It’s clear that as this SIG gets started, it will be worth joining the conversation as a ISTE and SIG IVC member. ISTE’s goal is that by October 2005 people can sign up to be a member of this new SIG.

MusicPath VC Project over I2

Another session: Now I'm watching an amazing demo of a pianist in Calgary Alberta playing the beautiful grand piano in front of me. No one is at the piano in front of me - he is playig it remotely via videoconference and special software created by Acadia University, Nova Scotia! Karen Wilder from Acadia facilitated the demonstration, and MAGPI, Sunesys, and Yamaha sponsored the high speed connection.

Quoting from MusicPath's website:
MusicPath interconnects digital acoustic pianos, in this case a sophisticated Yamaha Disklavier, through advanced high-speed networks allowing one pianist to play several pianos in real-time, assisted by videoconferencing. This creates a new learning dimension for teachers, institutions and musicians.
Now a pianist here is playing the piano in front of us and also playing the piano in Alberta and Nova Scotia all at the same time!

Did you know there is a built in speed of light delay?! And a 400milisecond delay due to the network and the music software.... as well as a half second delay due to the actual piano mechanisms. But improvisation doesn't mind a bit of delay like that! An exiquisite virtual duet!! It's like two people playing the same piano - except one is here and one is there! It's so weird to see the keys going up and down on the left beside our pianist on this end of the VC.

The piano only takes 56K while the videoconnection is using 768K and of course is actually smoother over I2.

This started with a 12 year old who had finished Grade 10 Royal Conservatory and took lessons via distance using this technology.

Now an audience encore! Of course, it would be Mark George from the Cleveland Institute of Music to volunteer!

This is even more intriguing to me because a few weeks ago I received an email regarding a research article on MusicGrid, another distance/videoconferencing music project from Canada. Check out the article for more details!

Another cool thing about this event is the presenter connected from Calgary is also at a convention, so in addition to this incredible demonstration, the videoconference technology allows us to connect both conferences together!

This event alone was worth the whole trip! These Canadians are amazingly creative with their distances, sparse population, and commitment to quality education!

VC Project Ideas from NECC

My first session here at was Increasing Student Collaboration Online by Harry Tuttle, Syracuse University. Much of the discussion centered around making online conversations work, but Dr. Tuttle shared some really interesting ideas for projects which can be applied to videoconferencing.

He talked about exchanges between classes, which we are familiar with in the Read Across America format. I really liked the idea of having small groups connect to small groups in another class. This format would require some online/email collaboration as well as the videoconference. The videoconference could be used to start and end the small group collaborations. I want to think more about how this could work with specific content.

How to find partner classes. An interesting idea Dr. Tuttle shared was to ask the students, how many of you have relatives in another country? Then the relative may know a teacher and from there the classes can work out what technology can be used to connect with each other for a project.

Another cool idea a participant shared was to ask new students about their previous school and then do a project with the teacher and class the new student came from. This way the new student knows students in the partner class.

Another intriguing idea was to do collaborative projects with another class (in another state, region, country) around a controversy WebQuest, Tom March's preferred format. I’m still thinking about how this could look with a videoconference – maybe with 4 sites and the quad screen format – and each site presents/represents one of the perspectives addressing the controversy. This reminds me of the Decisions, Decisions format from Tom Snyder Productions. I’d love to see a project like this...

Other ideas included having several classes research various families on the underground railroad and follow the trail together with various experiences along the way; comparing schools in different areas with surveys and graphing and discussing the answers; comparing architecture in various locations; and 2nd grade sharing information on the 5 types of trees closest to the school. All intriguing possibilities! Now off to learn more!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Project Format

I've been reading the latest Edutopia magazine and the Go National article caught my eye as a potential project format for partner classes connecting via videoconference.
The students in each school read the same play produced by MTC, identifying major themes and analyzing scenes and characters. They can ask questions and discuss the work online with the playwright. Then they write original short plays based on themes in the work they've all read, subsequently posting their scripts on the Web site for comments. In the production phase, a play written at one school is produced by a partner school. Production requires constant intersite communication among partner schools and the MTC teacher/artist in New York who oversees the project. Students in each school select actors, directors, stage managers, and designers. The productions are videotaped, viewed on the Web site, and discussed by all participants.
Imagine the possibilities of two or more classses partnering for projects like this over a semester - connecting via videoconference, web, email, and other communication technologies! What new ideas do you get from this blurb?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How to find international partner classes

Today Neva Kelly, Horseheads Central School District, emailed me with a great question. How do I find a class in another country that wants to collaborate on such a project?

So I dug out the article I wrote for the upcoming fall MACUL journal. Here's a summary/preview with links to the resources mentioned.
  1. Networking. Meet people where ever you can! Some places to start are the Keystone Conference, Megaconference and Megaconference Jr., and even NECC, especially the proposed SIG IVC meeting, June 28, 2005 4:45-6:15 EST. The more people you meet doing VC, the more connections you make and the more you share collaborations. I carefully save contact info for everyone who emails me and keep folders for states & countries where I know someone doing VC.
  2. Listservs. Both megaconference listservs have international classrooms on them. In fact on the megaconference websites you can find lists of participants. Just google their school, hunt around on their website, and you can usually find the VC contact person's email address. I found the megaconference listservs more helpful for international contacts than the k12ivc and ed1vidconf listservs which seem to only have talkative US people on them. I'm sure there are others but they hardly ever say anything so you don't get to meet them.
  3. My online class - Planning Interactive Curriculum Connections. That's how I was able to arrange the Guatemala connection. In my August session I have a few people signed up again from Central & South America - so that might be another opportunity to network and meet via VC. There's still room! :)
  4. Global Leap. Sign up for this and participate in some of their programs. That way you'll meet people and participate in programs with other classes. They have a good directory too.
  5. International programs. Did you ever notice the specialty search on the BCISD Field Trip Database on the TWICE site? Notice the pink box on the right. You can search international programs. Also when participating in global programs such as those from Global Nomads and Global Education Motivators, you often connect with classes from other countries and therefore can meet and collect contacts that way.
  6. Online directories. I've been collecting some of these on the TWICE projects page on the right side of the page.
Anyone else have a suggestion for finding partner classes in other countries?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Updates to the database

Today I updated a few programs on the Berrien County ISD Field Trip database linked on the TWICE site and for our local districts. Here's what's new.
More next time!

VC in the Real World

Just ran across this example of videoconferencing in the world of work. Wired Magazine featured an article on The DreamWorks Machine. Design and development teams from various locations meet virtually to work on movies such as Madagascar. Check out this description of the technology.
By the middle of 2003, DreamWorks was fitted for 21st-century moviemaking with its Virtual Studio Collaboration system bridging Glendale and Redwood City. Headed by Derek Chan, the team built a large conference room, two smaller video rooms, and a remote editing room at each site, linking the large rooms that McGrath and Darnell used to create Madagascar with a dedicated 30-Mbps fiber-optic line, and the smaller rooms with a 24-Mbps line.

The facilities are a work of design genius. The conference rooms are identical down to the maple furnishings and wall paneling, the swivel leather chairs, and the sliding storyboard panels. Chan's team tested 30 microphones to capture the broadest range of voice timbres and 70 fabrics to identify the color match that would make the remote collaborators seem most lifelike. The rooms have enough lumens to light a movie set and are outfitted with special light scoops to reduce shadowing and to keep participants from getting "raccoon eyes." Each room contains monitors and camera controls that allow people on both ends to work on the same files, view the same footage, or easily zoom in on a face, picture, or image.

Sounds pretty cool! What a dream VC room! Another great reason why we should continue to expose students to collaborative events via videoconference. Someday soon they will be working with colleagues around the world using collaborative videoconference technology!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Ideal DL Budget

I just finished the annual report for our distance learning program, and based on the data, I've been thinking about what would be a realistic goal for a district to spend on distance learning programming (field trips, connections to experts, projects, etc.).

Our districts are fairly small, and considering the mini-grants we offer at the ISD, free programming, and free connections to other students, I think a budget of $500-1000 for the district would be an appropriate amount. Right now most of our districts put $0 towards distance learning programming due to tight funding. The district that spent the most in 2004-2005 spent $575.

This funding could come from district tech or curriculum funds, PTA/PTO funding, or other creative sources. What other ideas are out there?