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The Supertanker’s H1N1 Pandemic Response June 11, 2009

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This week has been full of NZEI e-mails, Ministry missives full of  information and strategies that fall short of directives, all  to do with the potential threat of the H1N1 virus.  What has really got teachers on the Supertanker riled though is the the potential threat to their sick leave entitlement should they be ‘stood down’ for quarantine reasons in the near future.

It is clear from the dispatches from the Ministry front line that ducks are being lined up, should the expected pandemic arrive and the rhetoric from official sources is not if, but when.  We have all heard of this before with SARS but  nothing eventuated.  However, somehow this particular variant has whipped up more of a media frenzy than before.  The cynic in me thinks the H1N1 ‘crisis’ is a global smoke screen designed to take our attention away from the true crisis, the  financial free market morass created by years of  institutional greed and  global corporate contempt .  This is somewhat backed up by the statistics.  In the US, in an average year,  41 000 people die from the normal influenza virus, (go back and read that figure again).   To date the US has had 50 deaths from the H1N1 variant, not exactly cause for concern based on the previous figure, but don’t get me started on conspiracy theories!

So what has this to do with the Supertanker?

Today the lepers bell tolled in our vicinity, the dementors’ cold cloak of H1N1 has touched our wider community.  We are now a statistic on the global H1N1 map, which resembles my clustr map to the right.  The local day care centre reported its first case of suspected H1N1.  As a result several children were sent home, quarantined.  The whole unit may have been closed, but I am not sure. (12 students with the virus in Hong Kong has caused the territory to close all of  its primary schools for 14 days.)  One of the children at the unit is a child of one of the staff on the Supertanker and as a precaution both the staff member and the child have had to be checked for the symptoms, no doubt swabbed, prodded and made to go arrgh by a community nurse.  They are now at  home, whether the staff member has been stood down, quarantined or will be back tomorrow has yet to be seen.  And this brings me back to the loss of sick pay chuntering that has been raging this week in the staffroom.  About 8 of the staff on the Supertanker will be going overseas in the school holidays, mostly to Australia, the current hot spot for H1N1. As it stands if we are asked to voluntarily quarantine ourselves, if we show flu like symptoms, we will have our sick pay entitlement docked the 7 day stand down period.

The solution?  Should we be stood down for quarantine reasons, we can still teach remotely.  As those of you who read this blog regularly will know I have been teaching the students of Woodford Junior School in the UK on a regular basis for over two years.  Therefore, next week I will be running a whole staff meeting training the staff  how to use Dimdim, how to run lessons using the whiteboard, share documents and how to communicate with  the whole group or work privately 1:1 with attendees.  I will also show how to pass the ‘chair’ to other users and how to manage the audio and video functions.  Therefore, should we be stood down, we will not be losing our sick pay entitlement as we can still teach our classes, even if they have been quarantined too!  The school might be empty, but the lessons will continue.


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.

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!