Thursday, April 30, 2009

100th Day of School Project - Revisited

In March, MAGPI, UNC-Asheville, and Peachtree Publishing sponsored the 100th Day of School Videoconference Celebration with author Dr. Lester Laminack. 12 schools (Grades K-2) from across the MAGPI region read Dr. Laminack's book, Jake's 100th Day of School and created class collections of 100 objects. The projects were incredible. Here are some of my favorites:
  • 100 images of their school mascot
  • 100 images of their community
  • 100 pieces of candy
  • 100 snack ingredients
  • 100 "words we know"
  • 100 kind deeds (or random acts of kindness)
During the videoconference, students listened to Dr. Laminack, presented their collections/projects to one another and asked Dr. Laminack questions. Cathie Cooper from Garnet Valley School District was kind enough to share this video of her students presenting their project. A fabulous example! Thanks to Cathie for sharing (and thanks to the students in the video, and the students' parents for allowing us to post)!

And check out the project students at Hempfield School District did (posted on their blog!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Supporting Videoconference-Based Learning Events with Virtual Reality

On April 2nd, MAGPI tried our first simultaneous multisite videoconference and virtual reality program. Students at seven schools participated in “Fleshing the Bones: The Art and Science of Drawing Dinosaurs” videoconference with The Academy of Natural Sciences. While students were interacting with one another and the instructor via video, they were also manipulating images and bones in a virtual environment that we provided to each participating school. Virtual environments were installed on computers that individual or pairs of students could access. We decided to this rather than having students access an environment from thirty different computers in a single location while the videoconference was happening; we were concerned about bandwidth limitations within individual classrooms.

Now, the virtual environment containing the digitized images was basic and students weren’t interacting with one another within the virtual environment - - they were only interacting with digital learning objects. But the advantages of structuring the learning experience in this manner were clear:
  • Students were able to clearly see intricate details and individually manipulate images of dinosaur bones on their own computer screens - - rather than view them via content sharing on a videoconference endpoint (which isn’t always ideal). Because students were interpreting the visuals and then drawing dinosaurs based on those visuals, details were very important.
  • There was multifaceted interaction throughout the videoconference, which kept students engaged. They were simultaneously interacting in a class-to-class video environment and an individual student-to-learning object environment. Negotiating both environments takes skill - - but our digital native students are fairly adept at this. How many times have you seen a high school student juggle several interactive technologies at once?
The virtual environment students used was created using Virtual Reality Development Lab equipment. MAGPI has partnered with VRDL and is going to be loaning this equipment to schools for 30 day project periods next school year. We’re excited to see what VRDL environments students and teachers design! As I mentioned before, the VRDL environment we created alongside the Academy of Natural Sciences for this program was fairly basic; however, I see a lot of educational potential for this technology - - especially when we put students in the 'driver's seat.' It’s also a great tool for building realistic immersive experiences for students they cannot experience in ‘real life.’ For example, the creators at VRDL often talk about how middle school students created a Japanese Internment Camp VRDL environment as a history project.

I believe the next challenge for combining high-quality interactive video with virtual environments will be to have students interacting with a more complex virtual environment. After that, we might be ready to try having students simultaneously interact with one another (and an instructor) via video while immersed and interacting with one another in a virtual environment like Second Life or Active Worlds. Of course, there has to be a compelling educational and pedagogical reason to do this - - and there’s the added challenge of finding schools that allow students to participate in immersive interactive virtual environments! However, I’m looking forward to exploring even more ways to enhance videoconferencing with other tools and would love to hear your stories.

Many thanks to Gail Barna at Western Wayne School District for sharing these photos of her students participating in the program!

Take a look at student comments from Keystone School District's Technology Blog! (added 5/13/2009)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Twitter and Videoconferencing

Janine Lim, a videoconferencing colleague of mine at Berien RESA in Michigan and all-around VC guru, has a post on her blog today about Videoconference Twitterers. Check it out! And thanks for the mention, Janine!

Personally, I'm pretty excited that Collaborations Around the Planet is now on Twitter! Real time updates for collaborations. What a great idea. If you're interested in collaborations, I highly recommend that you follow all of the people on Janine's list and definitely follow CAPspace.

I'm curious how others might be using Twitter in the videoconference world. I originally signed up for a Twitter account to get real-time updates about new and upcoming programs out. That's actually proved to be pretty effective. But I've also heard of folks using Twitter as back-channel communication for videoconference events (as a means of communicating 'behind the scenes' between sites so they don't have to interrupt the flow of the videoconference event). Other schools and twitterers have mentioned that they've 'saved the day' by putting out a call for help on Twitter to other schools for last minute videoconference connections. Are there other ways Twitter is being used?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm new to the "Twitter" world and still figuring things out - - but so far, have found it to be a great real time communication and collaborative tool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Classroom Reactions from "Where in Pennsylvania?" and Creating "Video Ready" presentations

Earlier in April, I ran a "Where in Pennsylvania" videoconference for six classes across Pennsylvania. The idea (again, borrowed from the great folks at Berrien RESA and TWICE) is that students connect from different locations around the state and give the other participating schools clues about their location. We had some fantastic presentations that day!

Mr. Jim Knight from Pearl S. Buck Elementary School discussed the program with his class at the conclusion of the event and was kind enough to share the following student feedback with me:
  • I liked the variety: giving clues, listening to clues, going somewhere to research, returning to guess, and getting to hear if you were right.
  • It was good to see what other classes did after only seeing what our class was doing for the past week.
  • We liked seeing ourselves on camera.
  • We liked seeing how other classes interpreted what they were asked to do and see how they presented the information.
  • It made us feel smart when we guessed the locations of all the other classes.
  • Our location seemed tough to guess. Either our clues weren’t very good, or they were really good.
Personally, I am intrigued by the students' comment "we liked how other classes interpreted what they were asked to do and see how they presented information." During this program, we had skits, power point presentations, poster presentations and more. I agree with the students - - seeing how everyone creates their presentations is one of the highlights for me as well!

But creating presentations that are "camera friendly" isn't an easy task. Here are some tips:

  • When using multimedia in a presentation, TEST the ability to send the multimedia through the codec with your far site and/or bridge ahead of time. There is nothing more frustrating then trying to share hours of hard work and hitting a technical snag - - not only does it slow the flow of the videoconference, but it adds undue stress. Make sure to test with THE far site (not another far site). There could be compatibility issues with different endpoints.

  • When creating multimedia presentations that involve sound, make sure your audio levels are audible. If you're having trouble hearing your presentation when you're in the same physical space, it will be even harder to hear at the far site. Be sure the microphone is close to the speaker if that's how you are sending the audio to the far site (and be equally sure the other sites are muted to avoid any echo cancellation issues!).

  • If your students are performing a skit, the last place you want to put the microphone is at their feet! The far site will hear more feet scurrying and dropped scripts than they will your students voices. Try putting the microphone up on a desk or chair as close to them as possible. And be sure the microphone is in front of them -- not behind.

  • Speaking of scripts -- rustling papers will literally put a kink in your performance. Students will tend to look down and read (which means the far sites only see the tops of their heads!) and the paper flipping will often time mask your students' voices. Use cue cards next to the camera which will encourage students to look up!

  • When students are performing a skit, it's helpful to set camera presets ahead of time so we can see 'close up' shots of individual actors as well as the group shot. And make sure your group shot is 'in frame.' Meaning, if you have 4 performers, make sure that you get as close as you can to those 4 performers without cutting one of them off in the group shot. It's distracting for the far site to see 4 performers in a large space along with an audience of 30 students.

  • Posters, in general, are great tools for videoconferencing; however, the text on a poster should be kept to a minimum (just the highlights - - no novels necessary) and the font size should be very large. If you can read the poster from across the classroom, you're in good shape. If not.... well, your far site won't be able to read it either.

  • Speaking of posters - - displaying them can be problematic. If you tape them to a whiteboard with a florescent light overhead, chances are that the glare from the light will keep the far sites from being able to see the poster. Avoid glossy textures on your posters (and lamination, too! Preserve the work of art after the videoconference!).
I'm sure there are lots more tips out there! What are your favorite ways to make a student presentation "camera ready?"