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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.

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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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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inkscape-lesson3.jpg

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!