Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A School Named for Distance Learning

Today was an orientation for students and parents for Bell Academy, a new middle school that is part of the New York City school system. Bell is an acronym for Bayside Enrichment and Long-Distance Learning Academy. I will be working there this year two days a week. It is very exciting to be working in a school whose central theme is distance learning. I have worked in several schools that had technology themes and the middle school I have been working in for the past few years is a magnet school of telecommunications. But with Bell Academy, distance learning specifically through the use of videoconferencing is front and center. The enrichment component is much broader than just the technology of videoconferencing but it also reflects how videoconferencing is integral to enriching the curriculum. The school will be following the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Model (SEM) . The main objectives of the Renzulli School-Wide Enrichment Program are:
• To expose students to topics that may not be included in the essential curriculum
• To increase student skills in research and problem solving
• To increase student awareness of personal strengths and interests
The use of videoconferencing will focus on exposing students to a wide variety of experiences. They will hear from experts and specialists in many fields and learn about different kinds of occupations, and hobbies. They will have the opportunity to observe and participate in demonstrations, experiments and research through videoconferencing with other institutions and other classrooms. They will travel the world without ever leaving their school. I am really looking forward to working with the students and their teachers in finding programs and collaborations that will "enrich" their learning and thinking. I don't think a school needs to have distance learning in their name to enjoy the benefits videoconferencing can bring but it can't hurt either.

Friday, August 03, 2007

VCing From the Comfort of Home

On July 25th I had a videoconferencing first. I participated in a videoconference using H.323 protocol with a group of distance learning coordinators in upstate New York from the comfort of my own home. At the end of school in June I brought home a Polycom 4000 desktop unit that one of my schools had won during the Megaconference 2005 roll call. The unit is an all in one piece of equipment. The camera, monitor and microphone are all built in. I used my home cable modem to participate in the call. I am actually very comfortable using a cable modem since that is what our schools use to participate in videoconferences.
This past May I heard from Michelle Bartholomew, of Broome Tioga BOCES. BOCES, stands for the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and provides school districts in New York State with a program of shared educational services. Sharing is an economical way for districts to provide programs and services that they might not be able to afford otherwise. Hence their interest and involvement with videoconferencing and other technologies. NYC schools are not part of BOCES but of course I welcome the opportunity to develop new partnerships and collaborations. Michelle was especially interested in learning about 123 Jazzing Up the Curriculum with Videoconferencing. I participated in facilitating that training last summer with a group of 16 NYC school teachers. The coordinators I videoconferenced with this month represented all the different BOCES programs in New York State. It was their goal to develop their own Jazz type training.
It was a lot of fun to videoconference with these people and especially from my very own home. Of course I had to apologize for the barking of my dog Moby. The videoconference coincided with the time my mail is delivered and Moby is no fan of the mailman. But other than her ocassional barking I thought the videoconference went very well. I had e-mailed some Jazz material to be distributed prior to the conference. I was able to present the Jazz schedule and structure. They were able to ask questions and clarifications. I was able to meet and network with these distance learning coordinators from my state. Best of all, Michelle sent an e-mail to thank me for participating in their Jazz planning session. She told me that they decided to put together a mini jazz session that they hoped to have on December 11 and 12. She also said that they will be contacting me at some point as they would like to have me as a guest speaker during that session.
Probably that videoconference will take place from my school without Moby. However, it was wonderful to be able to participate without the commute and from the "comfort of my own home",