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Remote lessons with Dimdim and Skype March 4, 2009

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After a break of over 6 months, the tohatoha collaboration has gone live again. The break has been forced upon us because of a series of events beyond our control. Helen’s class had their summer vacation and no sooner had they come back in September, when Helen had a car crash that ensured that she was at home recuperating for the majority of term 1 in the UK, then it was our southern hemisphere summer holidays and the rest they say is history! So after a long break we are back.

Last night was the first time that Helen and I have put into action something that we have been working on for a long time. We used a free meeting service called dimdim. This little tool is fantastic, it not only enables each member of the chat to see and hear the meeting organiser, up to three other members of the meeting can also be audio contributors too. However the particular features of dimdim that I like are that a whole class of students can log in to my meeting or lesson and I can not only see who has logged on I can chat with each one of them either publically or privately via the text message options. Better yet I can also share my desktop with the entire meeting, so that I can demonstrate how to use any program that is on my computer and in this particular instance from a distance of 12 000 miles away!

Last night we used Skype as the audio and video bridge and dimdim as the “interactive whiteboard.” I ran two lessons with two different classes and the final lesson ended at 00:14 NZDST. Today I am pretty tired! In one of the lessons there were 33 individual students plus Helen all logged into the same meeting and although there was a short delay between my actions on the screen turning up on the screens in front of the students, the delay was not long enough to affect the lesson flow. At this great distance I was able to teach students how to import live data into Excel with ease. Lesson two is next Wednesday starting at 22:00 NZDST so if you wish to join the meeting/lesson and see how dimdim could work for you, let me know. You can see how the lesson looked from a UK perspective at the tohatoha blog.


Ulearn08 – Breakout 1 Mogulus September 30, 2008

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I have been beavering away for the last couple of days on my presentations for Ulearn. I have created a set of resources for the attendees of my breakout 1 session.   However, despite re-assurances to the contrary from the conference organisers I am very nervous about the ability of those attending to be able to access Mogulus en masse, via the conference wireless network. I have no doubts that the network will be working, it is just that I know that Mogulus uses a lot of bandwidth; indeed I dubbed it the ultimate bandwidth killer when I first discovered it last year.   Therefore, to have 31 computers all accessing the same site from the same wireless networkat the same time may be asking for trouble, especially as we will also be accessing You Tube at the same time…!

To combat the potential for meltdown I have made a series of pdf instruction sheets and a Ulearn TV station for the conference.  I have combined all of these resources into a wiki.  I will also be using Mogulus in my second session, however this time it will be to broadcast live my presentation via my other TV station, in order that Helen in the UK can see the tohatoha presentation.  I will also be using Mogulus to record this session for later broadcast.

If you want to check out the resources ahead of time, or will not be attending my session, please use the links below:




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Plymouth – Woodford School July 1, 2008

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I said that sleep was over rated at the start of this trip. I have to say that sleep has been something that has largely eluded me. I think that my brain must be on over time or it may be an indication of how stressed I really am. Most nights on this trip I have had both late nights and early starts in some combination or other, due to late arrivals or early departures. What has been constant is the time that I am waking, I am waking at 3:15 AM and once awake find it really difficult to get back to sleep, today was no exception. I find hotel rooms stuffy anyway, but the Copthorne in Plymouth also had its heating on, making the atmosphere really opressive. I tossed and turned from 3:15 onwards until I finally gave in and got up at 5:50, watched the news and got up.

Today was the day that I finally got to meet my virtual students and they their virtual teacher. Helen picked me up from the hotel and we headed out of the city to the east to Woodford and her students. After signing in, I met the staff who were all really excited to put a body to a face, having only seen and heard me from the neck up via Skype!

I worked all morning with Helen and Jim’s classes, class three and four respectively. Each class had a double ICT session with me and we worked on Inkscape, the students using the pen tool to trace and create a digital portrait of themselves from a photo. The children found some of this tricky, but they perservered. They will now continue and complete this task after I have gone.

For lunch I was a made a special school dinner of shepherds pie and apple crumble and custard. These particular school dinner delicacies are not on the Plymouth Local Authority authorised school lunches menu, so the cook made them especially for me! It took me back to my school dinners from 40 years ago, wonderful. Thanks cookie, it made my day, it was lovely and I really appreciate the effort.

In the afternoon I spent it split between the infants school and the junior school. I went down to Julie’s class, Robin Class. This is the class that has been working with Natasha’s class at Meadowbank. I had a package for them, photos, letters and a book made by room 27 at Meadowbank. The students will read these at a later date, but were intrigued about New Zealand and spent about 30 minutes asking me lots of questions, we got into a bit of dead end about swimming pools, getting changed and the organisational aspects of wet togs… They were amazed that children in New Zealand can walk to school in bare feet, they were concerned about all the broken glass on the streets. Obviously for these kids the prevalance of broken bottles and other sharp objects on their paths is a very real issue. Back in Helen’s class we did a similar exercise and this time the students were more fascinated about the numerous similarities between them, their Meadowbank counterparts and school in general.

After school I ran the staff meeting. I gave the combined staff of the infant and junior schools a presentation, outlining the argument for pedagogical change in the classroom, how the learning landscape is flattening, where access to information is not the preserve of the wealthy few, but that it is more egalitarian than that now. In addition I spoke about how we need to prepare our students for the rigours of the information age. I showed them the Karl Fisch ‘Did You Know?‘ video and outlined how Meadowbank is addressing some of the issues the video raised and how with our digital classrooms, we are providing the appropriate range of tools for students to use and how in tandem with that we are implementing the pedagogical change required of teachers. There were many questions and I think that perhaps I may have opened up some eyes, certainly the question and answer session was quite lively.

I am writing again on the train heading back to London Paddington, Brunel’s great terminus. This whole trip has been a fantastic success. Helen and I have proved that not only can we work remotely, but work very well together in person. We have got lots of ideas that we will be working on through her summer holidays. We created the biggest buzz at the conference in Prague, Helen will have the UK academics beating a path to her school. I have visited her students, presented my idesas to her school and have opened some eyes there too. My trip has cemented the partnership between Woodford and Meadowbank. Meadowbank can expect more teachers wanting to partner with them from Woodford. Parting at the station was not a sad affair, it was simply a change in state, from three dimensional to virtual, from the unusual to the usual. It has been an affirming and liberating trip, quite simply brilliant!

Tomorrow is Athens, another long day of sitting, security checks, late departures and late arrivals! Wednesday is the reverse. Thursday is lunch in London with a great friend and Friday is the start of the homeward trip on one of those shiny new A380’s. This can only start after another protracted and final round of security checks… I think that my body has been permanently irradiated with all the x-ray machines that I have been through in the last week!

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Prague – conference day 2 June 26, 2008

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Today was the day that we were to present our paper.  The first keynote presentation of the conference was given, it had been delayed 24 hours due to Easy Jet losing one of our speakers.  In fairness I think that the flight had been cancelled due to technical issues and so the speaker could not get to us yesterday.

The keynote meant that Helen and I finally we got to sit through a presentation that was not based around the interpretation of statistical analysis culled from some University funded research and got to listen to something that we could actually apply to our classes.  I will post about this later as it needs some research into websites and gps modules on PDAs but looks very exciting.

As the time drew nearer to our time slot, Helen grew progressively more anxious about the whole affair.  I was more sanguine although the butterflies were swarming somewhat by the time of the tea break.  We had one moment of stress when the flash video embedded into our second slide would not play.  Despite having triple checked everything before leaving New Zealand this one thing decided not to play ball today.  It was doubly difficult as I then had to try and troubleshoot the error using a computer that had been set up for Czech users and therefore all the menus were all in Czech.  Time ran out and we just had to run the slide without the animation, a shame really as it was a video made from Google Earth that flew from Woodford school to Meadowbank and back several times, visually illustrating the link and the distance over which our partnership has been created.

The presentation went really well and we infact ran out of time.  When it came to questions we were asked a lot of questions and the buzz in the room indicated that we had struck a chord with our audience, all the seats had been taken for our session and many were standing at the back too.  Not that we can claim the entire audience as there were two other presentations that followed us.  The questioning and congratulations continued as the other presenters set up for their session.  We felt very pleased at how the presentation had been received, the general buzz and the questioning.

At the end of the whole session we broke for lunch and were promptly joined by three others who wanted to continue discussing what we had presented, it was a very affirming moment.  At lunch we were questioned more closely about what we had done and how we had done it.  I also expanded on my ‘dial an expert’ initiative and they were interested in my links with Sandi in New York and remote music teaching.  We also discussed Second Life as a vehicle for learning, it was a really excellent lunch and passed far too quickly. As a result I have been asked to speak to a conference of Primary Head teachers in England later in the year.  At this stage it might be via a Skype connection or there was even talk of me being flown up to London to present next year.  This is all very affirming stuff and I have said yes to the offers too.

The rest of the day continued in a similar vein, the afternoon was dedicated to seeing how ICT has been implemented in schools from a Czech perspective, there were two particularly excellent presentations from students.  The first one was a whole bunch of interactive whiteboard activities that the sudents have created, they demonstrated the whole ‘interactive’ element of the whiteboards with them being the teachers and controlling the board.  There has been lots of disucssion over the last two days about effective whiteboard use and the concensus is that best practice comes when the teacher ceases to be the ‘controller of the board.’  There was an excellent presentation by a 19 year old student who designs and builds his own line following robots.  He has only been doing this for a year and already he has built a robot that fits inside a matchbox!

At the end of the day there is a always a reflection session.  Today Helen and I and our presentation was the focus of discussion for half of that entire block of time.  What we have done has made a significant section of the delegates sit up and think about the possibilities of an online collaborative learning environment to engage students in their learning.  We have certainly made the most audible buzz of the entire conference so far.

At one point one of the academics stated that  what we were doing and us in particular are not special,  there was an audible intake of breath from a lot of the other delegates, there was a feeling that this was a bit much!  But this particular person had earlier complimented us on what we had achieved and done.  It was a bit of a slap in the face at the time, but I do not think that is what she intended and on reflection I feel that what she was trying to say in a rather inelegant and clumsy way was this:  What Helen and I have achieved is the result of a mash up /a combination of readily available and  free technologies on the web.  We have subverted their use to our own ends and have put a lot of effort into getting our tohatoha community to work and it now has its own momentum.  

I still think, despite what she said, that this has taken vision on my behalf to marry up these technologies.  It has taken tremendous effort from both of us to sustain the community.  We will continue to explore new and varied ways to improve the methods of communication between students and between teachers and students.  

For me the bigger question and I think the implied criticism from this particular academic was; if these tools are so readily available, why are there not more of these communities doing exactly what we have created?  Discuss:

Good to go June 18, 2008

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Image from: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200710/r194207_736065.jpg

My bags are packed, tickets double checked. (Not that they issue tickets these days! I have a print out from my computer and have already reserved my seats there and back!) All cables and electronic peripherals that seem to be the indispensable ephemera of modern existence are all charged. International adapters packed and presentation printed off, saved in three places and even posted to a wiki (just in case!). Camera with plenty of CF cards packed and lenses polished. I am good to go.

The next couple of weeks will be daunting, fun an adventure all mixed into one. Tomorrow night (Thursday) I depart Auckland for Singapore, I hope to blog along the way if I can tap into some wifi hotspots. Not long to wait in Singapore, before getting on the London flight. I arrive in London Friday afternoon, local time. 2:15 AM Saturday morning for my body clock! I sat down and worked it out, this will be the 23rd time I have done this trip (Auckland to London or London to Auckland), I am currently working on a carbon footprint post…. As Steve Kosovich said to me recently, I will have to cycle to work for several eternities to work off that personal carbon debt!

I fly to Prague on Sunday and stay until Thursday. On the Friday I will ‘drop’ in on my old school in St Albans in Hertfordshire and surprise them, mind you if they read this, it will not be a surprise! I will be catching up with friends along the way too. On the Sunday I take a train to Plymouth, spend the remainder of Sunday on the trail of all things Brunel, especially the Royal Albert Bridge. Then on the Monday I will spend the day with Helen’s class and after school give a presentation at their staff meeting about how ICT is happening here on the Supertanker.

That evening it is back to London, then on the Tuesday I fly to Athens to meet my daughter who will have just flown in from Auckland, ensure that she makes her connecting flight to the island where her grandparents live for half of the year. Wednesday it is back to London and on the Friday I fly out of Heathrow on one of those shiny new A380 double deck super Jumbos that Singapore Airlines have just purchased.

Sometime on that Saturday evening I arrive back in Auckland.

As I have said, I intend to blog along the way, post a few images of my travels and generally divert from the educational norm of this post for some gratuitous tourist snaps! I will also be feeding back from the conference too.

For the next two weeks I think that, excess coffee, spirulina and the mantra that sleep is over rated will be the norm if I am to achieve what I have planned on my overly full itinerary. If there is a fuel embargo, French Air Traffic controllers strike or some such fact of European life, I am going to be in a bit of a bind as there is no room for error!

C’est la vie!

Countdown to Prague May 31, 2008

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I leave for Prague on 19 June and things are starting to hot up. Helen and I have been collaborating via Skype to put our presentation together since March 5th when we heard that our paper had been accepted. In that time we have been shuttling backwards and forwards various iterations of our slide show (yes PowerPoint!-in truth I have created it on the Mac using Open Office Presentation and then embedding the Flash videos in PowerPoint. I have spent some time using Blender to animate our school logo for the presentation ) At the moment we are on our 6th iteration and even that has been modified several times in the last week. There is nothing like a looming deadline to bring out the jitters.

In the last week in particular I have been burning the midnight oil working not only on the slide show but the script too. Not that we are going to read our paper, it is just that we are working out exactly what needs to be said in relation to each slide. This process is fiddly enough when preparing a presentation individually but in our case, working as remotely as we do, it has proved very time consuming. In this particular case we seem to dove tail very well and despite the long hours the show is looking very good; on three nights this week I have stopped working well past midnight, by Friday I was very jaded . We are finally starting to feel OK about our presentation. When we actually get to meet and work together on 21 June, we can then put the final touches to the show.

Part of our anxiety is knowing exactly how to pitch our paper. We are not sure yet how many people we will be presenting to and what the composition of the audience will be. We are hoping that our audience will comprise fellow classroom practitioners, however the conference is being held at the Charles University as part of its 660th anniversary celebrations. Therefore the conference could be more academic than practical or collaborative, if this turns out to be the case is our paper of sufficient rigour or of a standard that we can be proud to present to an audience not of our peers? Time will tell, but by the early hours of this morning I had completely re-written the script (again!) It is now time to draw a line in the sand, be satisfied with the quality of the story that we have to tell and as the Nike ads implore us, just “do it.”

I knew that when I wrote the last paragraph, I would not be able to resist making some changes…. Helen had re-read the script overnight and had sent her alterations back. Having had a good nights sleep and having read her alterations, all good, I have spent several hours again today tinkering, each editing pass makes the script tighter and more polished. When will we stop tinkering? I doubt that we will!

I am sure that I can squeeze a few more edits in between now and June 19!

Voicethread – collaborative questioning May 15, 2008

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It has taken a bit of effort to organise, but I think that the end result is worth it. The latest buzz tool to go around the blogsphere is Voicethread. For those of you who have yet to discover the delights of this programme, you need to see my tutorial on the ‘How to…‘ page of this blog.

Today I decided that it was time that my blog practiced what I preach and have decided to make this space my own Grand Central Station (personally I would prefer to call it Paddington, for obvious reasons but that is not the location of the well known metaphor) for all of my initiatives, including the video tutorials that I create for my cluster. I digress.

Over the last few weeks i have been setting up with two classes here on the Supertanker and with two classes at Woodford Junior School in Plymouth, a questioning initiative. It works like this. We have sent head and shoulder photos of each other and they are now displays on our respective class walls. We have exchanged names but the names and the photos do not correlate. Each child has been paired with a random student from the other school. Their job now, through careful observation of all the photographs and careful questioning, is to work out who their partner is. The questions posed have to be answered by the partner and the word picture built up will then help, through reasoning, the students to identify each other. As this process continues the students will glean additional information and this additional information will be included into a combined Inkscape artwork that the children will shuttle backwards and forwards to each other as they work on the same work in opposite time zones.

On Tuesday I worked with both sets of students in New Zealand and in England. Already the project is highlighting all kinds of assumptions that students make about those around them. As the students in the UK were recording their questions to us and listening to their own partners questions to them a whole raft of challenges to the accepted norm arose. The first was names and how to pronounce some of them, the second was accent or dialect, more and more of these little issues will arrive. We started to explore these issues last year with our “My world through your eyes” initiative. Trying to explain to Kiwi kids what a pastie was or what or where Bodmin was, was an interesting exercise as was Tip Top Corner and Te Kuiti to the UK students! We all make assumptions about our immediate environs and those that are not privvy to that local knowledge listen to what might as well be gibberish as it has no connections to their own collective consciousness.

Helen and I are quite excited about this latest collaborative project. The questions and responses are being collated on our voicethread, check out the initial efforts of the students this week:

Meadowbank / Woodford Voicethread

Teaching whilst eating ice cream! March 19, 2008

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The latest installment of our remote teaching, ‘dial an expert’ initiative has just taken place and how different this lesson was from the last four.  How far the students have come, how more relaxed we all were at using this method of instruction.  Helen and I have spent the last couple of Friday evening/mornings (depending on which time zone we were in!) ironing out the wrinkles in my real time teaching experiment, where the students would not only hear and see me and me them, but see the program being demonstrated in real time too.  We still have have a few image quality issues to resolve, but in essence we have proved, even if it is a little clunky that we can teach via this method.  It just needs refining a little more before we launch the procedure on a live class.

Tonight’s lesson was a cracker.  We had to use the method that we developed last year, but that was not a hinderance.  The students by now have got used to the whole method of me teaching them from afar, although the music teacher who came in to claim a few students was amazed that this kind of teaching could happen at all.  It helps that by now the students have mastered the basics of Inkscape and tonight we were able to push on and do some more interesting design work.  You can see the resources used in tonights lesson at my latest skrbl page.  What really impressed me most about tonight’s lesson was the students.  They were coming up to the microphone and webcam and asking questions and further supplementary questions just as they would to a physical entity in their class.  Crucially I asked them to give me feed back, ie come back to the camera to let me know that what I had told them had worked and that they had understood it.

Virtual teaching will never replace teachers in classes, but it does have its benefits.  Virtual teaching will not enable the education of masses of students for the price of one teacher, but what I hope that it does blossom into, is the whole ‘dial an expert’ model.  If you have a skill, why should it be locked up into your classroom so that  only 30 or so students are exposed to that skill at any one time?  If you have a skill, be it musical, artistic, whatever and you want to share beyond your current class/ school/ district/ country then let me know, I am sure that we can set up a directory of skills and teachers that can be accessed to benefit students no matter where they are….  Oh and the best bit, I was eating ice cream as I taught!  Try doing that in the class!

Czech Summer – Prague Beckons March 3, 2008

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The 15th century Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, Prague.

Taken from: Prague Picures

Last year an e-mail arrived in my in box from the ICTRN Becta list serv out of the UK. I dip into and out of links and mail that arrives and follow the threads and discussions as my whim takes me. I often contribute but the traffic seems decidedly one way. Still it is a good way of keeping track of trends in ICT in Europe. The specific mail in question was a request for papers for a conference to be held in Prague in June 2008. I followed the link and the conference focus intrigued me.  I was particularly fascinated by the focus because the tohatoha blog was really gathering momentum and Helen and I were planning to do something for International Education week later on in the year.

As I cycled home that evening I began thinking.

I cherish my time on the bike, I am able to get clear headed thinking time as I cycle and some of my most adventurous, innovative and some would say hairbrained ideas for ICT have been hatched whilst grinding the gears on my Avanti Hurricane over the years. I reasoned that Helen and I had a story to tell about the success of our collaboration, which was and still is, going from strength to strength. What especially fascinated me was the strength of our virtual relationship. The fact that we have never met, yet have created something very successful and work very well together is so full of oxymorons, that on paper the partnership between schools and colleagues was almost bound to fail from the start, yet it has not. I pondered:

Why has the partnership succeeded?

What are the ingredients of this collaboration, with no common grounds and a completely randomly created partnership, that have ensured success?

How have the students regarded being taught by virtual teachers?

Just what do the students gain from virtual collaboration?

What are the benefits/pitfalls for students accessing specific skills and talents from a global network of teachers?

What might be the potential impact for educational delivery if students could access JIT skills/training/information that this model implies is possible?

It seemed to me perfect that we share our findings. Later that evening I suggested to Helen that we had a story to tell and that we should put a proposal together to speak in Prague based on the success of our blog collaboration. We wrote a proposal over some days, again via Skype and Word’s track changes facility to come up with a proposal entitled:

Collaborative Triumphs and Planning Tensions: Using a blog to enable classes separated by time zones and hemispheres to work together, the Tohatoha story.

This morning I received a mail from the organisers and our proposal has been successful. I am over the moon! Now the reality hits. This trip needs funding the paper needs to be written Helen is approaching the British Council in the UK and is fairly confident that she can get funding. I too now have to find the cash. There is a delicious irony in the fact that the first time that we shall meet will be in a city that neither of us have ever been to, talking about a project that has been conceived, hatched and executed entirely through the virtual medium of the Internet. June can not arrive fast enough.

Well Done Helen! February 14, 2008

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I was leafing through the latest edition of New Zealand Interface magazine today (February ’08 edition) and as usual I found it a mix of really interesting interviews, articles, tips and links. As it happens there is an interview with Chris Carter our Minister for Education who has noticed my efforts on the supertanker, all very gratifying stuff, I certainly got a lot of positive feed back at school for it today, thanks to a global e-mail sent to all staff by Marnie. But this is not the point of this post, as I was leafing through the magazine I saw the ‘Best Blog’ award for this edition has been awarded to Helen Hardie my friend and my co-collaborator in the initiative, as well as many others in 2007 and plenty more in 2008, that Mr Carter was alluding to in his interview.

Helen’s views make interesting reading, I suggest you all go and have a look. Well done again Helen. Your efforts have certainly caught the eye of the editors of Interface and as a result all of New Zealand will no doubt be beating a path to your blog, watch those stats climb!