Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Teacher Training

This week I am in a teacher training mode. With just under two weeks to go to our Poetry Slam I am busy visiting participating schools and training those teachers who will be responsible for using the videoconferencing equipment. Even those teachers who have used the equipment before can always use a refresher course. The first thing is to check that all the cables and wires are connected properly. That the cable modem (we use a TimeWarner cable modem for our IP connections) is showing four green lights, two steady green, two blinking green and most important that we have the remote and the batteries are still good. I carry triple A batteries in my pocketbook like other people carry a comb. We do a test call with NYIT, New York Institute of Technology. They have a camera that is on all the time. It is aimed at the campus parking lot. The audio is a local rock station. It's always good to see the cars and hear music. Signaling our videoconferencing is good to go.

I was out another videoconferencing training yesterday. This one was for a new videoconferencing/videostreaming network we have in eleven of our schools. This new system are Polycom ViewStations that are connected to a server located at a remote site in NYC. This videoconferencing network has the capability of live videostreaming of videoconferences and meetings. The videostreaming can also be archived for later view. This is very powerful stuff. Stan Silverman, from NYIT, talks about videoconferencing in terms of a box of crayons. It use to be a box of 8 crayons, the basic colors. But this is no longer the case. Now videoconferencing is that big box of 64 crayons. The possibilities are endless.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Click 2 Meet and H.323

It's interesting the way things seem to happen. I went to an EEZ meeting on Thursday. EEZ (Educational Enterprise Zone) is a group of videoconferencing providers and receivers (not that one excludes the other) in the NYS area. This meeting was looking at some newer technologies. Video E-mails, Elluminate and Videostreaming were the soup d'jour. I came away thinking what about H.323 and our sophisticated room systems? Are they now the latest technology dinosaurs in our schools? Just as I was reflecting on this and thinking of writing something in my blog, I got an e-mail from someone I was working with on a school to school collaboration in England. He basically said that their schools use a software called Click 2 Meet. He told me it was not compatible with our Polycoms and suggested I get a web cam and download the software. I was frustrated. I have a Cadillac and he is asking me to leave it in the garage and get my bicycle. I was just about to get out my trusty i-sight when I thought let me put it out there and see what other videoconferencers are doing. So, I sent an e-mail to the Megaconference VII listserv. The e-mails started coming in with a host of suggestions and comments. There does seem to be a way to stay with our more sophisticated technology when we videoconference with schools who do not have an H.323 system. Now I haven't actually tried a connection but the e-mails sound hopeful. The people I are am now in touch with are the real deal. For example I received an e-mail from the person who manages the UK Videoconferencing Project. He was very positive on our classrooms connecting. I liked that he said "that the quality of a Click to Meet videoconference is not the same as an H.323 videoconference, but can be adequate for schools that are "getting started with videoconferencing". Anyway, I'll let you know how our vc goes as I hope to make this UK connection soon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Poetry Slam

Right now we are three weeks away from being in the midst of our Region 4 Poetry Slam. This is definitely one of the most fun, innovative way of utilizing videoconferencing with our students. I first learned about this program by attending a Poetry Slam in Region 1 in the Bronx NYC. I went to the Bronx Region 1 Office not knowing what I was in for. What I saw literally blew me away. Or should I say knocked my socks off. Student teams were competing with other schools by performing their original poems over videoconferencing. What struck me first was the quality of the poems. The students wrote on a variety of themes, some funny, some poignant, some chilling but all great poetry. What struck me next was the fact that these kids were excited about poetry. You don't see that often. Especially as the students get older. I was hooked. Lucky for me the Bronx Region were reaching out to another Region that wanted to start a Poetry Slam. They agreed to be our mentor. The art residency, DreamYard, sent two wonderful poets of theirs into our 4 participating school. This poetry residency in itself is enough. Student's writing poetry while learning about all kinds of poetry. Working on their poems by through revision. And then the performance part. Making that poem come alive through expression and movement. Of course I was most drawn to the videoconferencing component. What a novel idea a student poetry competition with other schools and no one having to leave their building. Besides this logistics miracle there is also the media itself enhancing and infusing the performances. In the next few weeks I will write more about preparing for slam as we get closer to the big event.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My First Blog

This is really exciting. Having a blog of my own. Even better yet, one about videoconferencing. Videoconferencing has become a real passion for me. I have been involved in videoconferencing in the classroom for over seven years now. I guess that makes me a pioneer. I remember when the voice took so long to travel over the system that you were in a constant state of interrupting the other speaker. Not too mention "man walking on moon video". Then those pesty ISDN connections that never seemed to work when you needed them. Those were the days. But now videoconferencing, the technology, has come into its own. IP connections have made it more readily available to all. If you plan a videoconference it is more likely than not to happen. The programs are better. The potential is limitless. In short, if you got videoconferencing you're in for a fun and educational experience.
In Region 4, part of the NYC Public School System, there are over 30 schools with videoconferencing capability. The challenge now is not the technology. The challenge is getting the schools to use it. It's not that the teachers or administration are opposed to using it. In fact videoconferencing still has that magical allure. Everyone likes being on "TV". No, it is just in these days of tests and timelines, educators find little time to experiment with new things. I see much of my job is to make it as easy as possible for a teacher and class to participate in a videoconference. This means I need to find, schedule, test and facilitate the videoconference. My goal is to train someone or some others in a school to make videoconferences happen. Nothing makes me happier when I am no longer needed in a school.
There are a lot of wonderful videoconference programs taking place in the Region 4 classrooms. I'd like to share these with those of you who read this blog. I'd also like to share ideas and issues with regard to videoconferencing in the K-12 classroom. I'd like to hear comments from those who read my blog too. So, welcome to my blog. Got videoconferencing?