Monday, July 31, 2006

Day 1 of Jazzing Up the Curriculum

Today I woke up at 5:30 AM (EST) to get a good start on the first day of our 123VC Videoconferencing Training. Does that mean my colleague Ashton in El Paso had to get up at 3:30 AM (Mt.)? I stopped off to buy coffee and bagels for the group, set up the videoconferencing equipment in the room and greeted the participants as they arrived. There are 15 teachers in our NYC group. The local activity time was way too short and before I knew it we were connected to three other school districts all in Texas. I made the "jumping in to the deep end of the pool" analogy for my NY teachers who for some had never even seen a videoconference. Things pretty much went that way all day. Learning by doing. By the time the day came to an end I had a group of videoconferencing veterans. They were muting the audio, panning and zooming, chatting in chat rooms and making IP connections like pros. I'm exhausted but excited and looking forward to Day 2.

Read Around the Planet

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Getting Ready for 123VC Jazz

During the week of July 31st through August 4th, 18 teachers from my Region and I will be participating in a most unique and exciting videoconferencing professional development. It is called 123-VC! Jazzing Up Your Curriculum with Videoconferencing. The unique part of this PD is that it is conducted almost entirely through live interactive videoconferences with other teachers in Michigan, Texas and Missouri. It is also an opportunity for the participants in this training to simulate the kinds of projects and collaborations that their students will be doing in the coming school year. The planners which include distance learning leaders in 8 different school districts in 4 states have been working on this training for months and are using Moodle an online collaborative management system to develop the entire course. From schedules to handouts, from readings to blogs everything is posted in this online environment. The logistics of this training is daunting. Each day after a brief half hour of local time "taking care of business" and introducing or going over some of the important topics each location will connect to usually three other districts. One of the days all eight groups will connect to each other. Then all the participants will be introduced to a project or projects and then simulate the activity and videoconference that the project requires. Of course the simulations will be light hearted. For example "MysteryQuest" a geography program where students research cities and countries in the World will be turned into "MysteryQuest Beaches". Our teachers will be finding those pleasure spots where sand and surf and fun take center stage. After lunch all eight sites will connect together for an hour to hear speakers on special topics. Then (and here is where logistics and daunting come into play) all 18 of my teachers will break into much smaller groups to connect to similar small groups to work on a vc project to do with their classes in the fall. So, I will need to provide at a minimum 5 other videoconferencing sites.
This week the pressure is on to ready the middle school we will be meeting at so there are at least 5 locations in the building where the teachers can go at the end of the day for their small group projects. I already have a vc unit in the media center. Another room that has an ISDN connection and is air-conditioned I hope to use for the majority of the day. However, I already had problems with the ISDN lines last Friday. So, I need to contact our local phone company Verizon first thing tomorrow. I hope to get another cable modem for the other library in the building and have cable installed in one of the computer labs. Of course I need to borrow additional Polycom units. Since the school right now has only two. So, my to do list for tomorrow looks something like this:
1. Call Verizon for ISDN repair.
2. Confirm TimeWarner for install on Tuesday.
3. Borrow 3 VC Units. Set-up and test.
4. Order breakfasts and lunches for five days.
5. Purchase binders for handouts
6. Copy handouts and fill binders
7. E-mail participants reminding them about the workshop (It is summertime and they do forget).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reflecting On NECC

It is exactly one week since the opening night program of the NECC 2006 conference. One week ago I ate my first corn dog and stood on the terrace of the appropriately named Sails Pavillion and watched the fireworks in the San Diego sky. I am usually on the opposite side of the country watching the Macy's fireworks over the East River. No matter, the feelings are always the same, a surge of patriotism and of course anticipation for the summer vacation that is before me. That night it was excitement for NECC and the experiences that woud unfold in the next few days.. NECC did not disappoint. As usual (this is my third consecutive conference) I felt like a kid in a candy store. Too many delicious choices and not nearly enough time. I like to use the online planner before I go but there are way too many triangles with exclamations points a warning sign of a conflict in my schedule. Anyway I got to do a lot of hands on workshops and sat through some very interesting sessions but most of all I got to network with so many potential videoconferencing partners.

Podcasting amd Moodle were two hands on workshops I really enjoyed. Videoconferencing is a blended technology. There is room for all types of other technologies and programs to enhance and extend the IVC experience. The pre-conference and post-conference activities afford the opportunity for many other technology applications. A collaboration tool like Moodle or a multi-media product like a podcast are great technology tools for students and teachers to incorporate into projects.

I also got to participate in a variety of live videoconferences. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does three programs. They look at the 50's and the 60's and the historical and political effects of Rock and Roll. I felt like something of a relic having been at Woodstock in 1969. I definitely want to see that videoconference in its entirety and of course I can be an eyewitness resource! I also got to see COSI (Ohio's Center of Science and Industry) and a look at their Open Heart Surgery live videoconference. This one is so popular that it is already entirely booked for the 2006-2007 school year. I saw a portion of the program and although fascinating NOT for the faint of heart. Another one I really enjoyed was a live visit with Jim Stovall, blind author of the book, The Ultimate Gift. He not only was an inspirational speaker but as an author provides an exciting interactive opportunity for students to read his books and then interview him. This is the purpose of ASK (Authors, Specialists, Knowledge) a videoconferencing project which is an organized process that provides students with the opportunity to interview an author or a subject specialist in the topic they are reading about in a novel. One live videoconference I participated in and definitely think I'll pass on is Grossology Live, a videoconference devoted to bodilly functions. I think the students would probably have a good time but there is something to be said for "good taste" in programming.

Probably the most fascinating videoconferencing session I attended was "HyperMirror Videoconferencing! Japan-LA-NJ Collaboration". The project was a water quality study between classes in New Jersey and Japan. The interesting twist was using the HyperMirror technology. This technique developed by a University in Japan uses chroma-key to merge two videoconferences into one so that the 2 sites look as one. I first saw this technology used with Internet2. It was very exciting to see it can also be used with our H.323 connections. The effect is obtained by using a blue screen. In this session two blue plastic tarps were hung and the presenters in San Diego and the students in Japan appeared to be together on the screen. I would love to incorporate this into some of our videoconferences this year. At the end of the session I had an opportunity to shake hands with the students in Japan. Talk about interactivity.

Besides all the wonderful sessions, exhibits, vendors and keynotes, I came away from NECC 2006 with a stack of business cards. Each card represents a project, or person or geographic location that I look forward to working with or connecting to this coming school year. The web is wonderful for finding videoconferencing projects but meeting someone face to face and sharing a good conversation is the best way to make a real connection. I'll keep you posted in subsequent blogs how my NECC encounters pan out.