I was delighted to discover via Ben Rimes’ Tech Savvy Educator my new favorite blog – Janine Lim’s Videoconferencing Out on a Lim. Her 35 Staff Demos post includes some great tips for getting teachers to understand and feel comfortable with this powerful tool that can very quickly blast open the walls of the classroom.
I started videoconferencing with teachers and students five years ago, just as California had increased the bandwidth at all California colleges and universities, with the obligation that they leverage their resources to K12 sites. In the spring of 2002, I bussed three groups of Elk Grove students over to our nearest college campus, CSUS, for three separate video conferences. At the time, my district did not have the bandwidth or a camera to connect from classrooms. The first conference connected a group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from a Title 1 school in Elk Grove to a 6th grade class in Santa Barbara that wanted to share an interactive tour of artifacts from the Henrietta Marie, a slave ship that sank off the coast of Florida over 300 years ago. This traveling exhibit was stopping at a number of sites across the nation, but Elk Grove (south of Sacramento, California) was not one of the stops. Sixth graders acting as virtual docents to a group of their peers who had no possibility of viewing the exhibit in real time was definitely a winning concept!
The Elk Grove students, of course, wanted to reciprocate and 3 weeks later hosted Voices from the Fields, an interactive interview to connect the Santa Barbara kids with Maria Mejorada and several of her CSUS students, all who had grown up in migrant labor camps across California. A powerful session!
The 3rd videoconference, Always Running, was actually two conferences. The first connected an English class at a continuation high school in Elk Grove to a continuation high school in Lompoc, California, to talk about Luis Rodriquez‘s controversial novel Always Running. Following this first conference, the students blogged about what it meant to them to be “always running” in their own communities. After finishing the novel, the two groups met again via video conference, but this time Luis Rodriquez traveled to the LA County Office of Ed and joined in. We had stumbled onto a tech tool that could truly change the lives of students.
In all three of the above interactive videoconferences, students had taken content from their language arts and social studies programs, researched, questioned, read between the lines, and stepped out beyond the textbook and walls of the classroom to share their thoughts and concerns about social justice. I can’t help but compare this model of technology integration to the test prep “read passage/answer multiple-choice questions” version/vision (or lack of) of tech integration that seem to be spreading faster than a California wild fire.
Five years later and many video conferences since, all Elk Grove secondary sites and nearly all elementary sites now have the bandwidth to connect right from the classroom. We don’t have videoconferencing cameras at every site, but I have one packed and ready to take to sites (I work in my district’s tech services dept). And, “oh, the places we will go”….
Our California Parks is doing an outstanding job of making state parks accessible to classrooms with a growing variety of virtual field trips. But I wasn’t really getting the concept of unlimited possibilities across by just telling teachers about videoconferencing or even showing them a few clips from past events. Thanks to the Park Services commitment to K12, I’ve been able to bring them on live during faculty meetings to connect with rangers in the desert at Anza Borrego and the tide pools of Sea Cliff to talk about videoconferencing possibilities for their students. Teachers are leaving the meetings totally energized and jazzed about interactive videoconferencing.
I can see that one of my Youth Radio colleagues, Cheryl Lywoski, has already responded to Ben’s post. I want to remind Cheryl about the Megaconference Jr., a fabulous annual event that connects classrooms around the world in a 24-hour conference. This year Jim Faires’s Elk Grove classroom went international right out of the classroom and joined the Megaconference. The kids did an excellent job presenting the Youth Radio project. But what we always see when connecting kids is that kids just want to talk to other kids. In this case, the world got a little smaller as Jim’s students noticed that the class they were talking to in Australia were dressed in shorts – since it was summer “down under” – and the class in Taiwan was already into Friday – it was Thursday in Elk Grove. So Cheryl, if you read this post, Jim and I have already talked about the possibility of a virtual (via video conferencing) end-of-the-year pizza party for our Youth Radio sites 🙂
I’m adding Janine Lim’s blog to my short, but growing, list of IVC resources: