Monthly Archives: January 2009
Our last challenge to you is “Just Do It”. Many times we find that people wait until every little detail is perfect until they begin to try to use the technology. Once you know that your equipment is operational, get started doing something. Find a teacher that is curious and adventurous and ask what he or she is teaching during the spring semester and find a connection that fits into their curriculum. Before you know it, you will have active videoconference participation.
We have heard from several of you that you have enjoyed reading along with us this month. Let us know if we have missed things or if there are other topics that you would like us to address. We have learned much about collaboration during this blogging adventure and hope that you have learned along with us.
Leave us a note about what you learned or how you plan on using this information. If you are a “first time commenter”, click the link that says Comments and post your thoughts for us.
How to comment on my blog:
How to comment on Janine’s blog:
May the connection begin on time.
May the batteries in the remote not run down.
May the video move fluidly and the audio be a robust sound.
Here’s wishing you many quality curriculum connections in the months to come.
All the best,
Janine and Roxanne
Guest blogged by Janine Lim
Now that you’ve been through this little training experience, it’s time to join the global learning community!
Megaconference Jr. is one of THE videoconferencing events of the year for K12 videoconferencing. It’s a 12 hour videoconference, facilitated by students, with student presenters featured. An incredible global experience, a chance for networking with other schools, and an opportunity for learning what other schools are doing with VC.
What to Expect on February 19, 2009
Because this is a large videoconference with many sites participating, it’s quite different than point to point experiences. So make sure you come into the experience with appropriate expectations.
- You will see 30 minute sessions on all kinds of content and topic areas. The presentations come from elementary, middle, and high school students.
- You will see a variety of presentations styles and tools. Some you’ll learn best practices; others you’ll have ideas on how to improve the presentation. Take it as a learning experience for everyone.
- You will NOT have perfect audio and video. You should lower your expectations for the video quality. This is partly due to the huge number of sites connecting and the variety of bandwidth capacity represented.
- Megaconference increases the opportunities for global education. So INCREASE your expectations for global learning, and increase your patience and tolerance for international connections.
- You will also see that some participating sites are new to VC and don’t know how to behave. i.e. MUTE your microphone in a multipoint. Take it as a learning lesson of what not to do. And make sure you are MUTED unless you’ve been called on to ask a question or interact.
Make the Most of Your Participation
- Set up Megaconference in your library and have different classes come in and out throughout the day as they have time. Take the schedule and share it with your teachers. But warn them to be flexible because sometimes Megaconference gets off schedule due to the realtime nature of the event.
- Make it an event to showcase the possibilities. Invite teachers and administrators to view.
- Offer refreshments.
- Have prizes. Make a geography game of it. Who can identify the location of the presenting site?
- Hang up a large world map and have students mark the locations of the sites presenting throughout the day. Print the participants list (after registration closes) and have students find and mark the participating sites on the map.
- If you’re not an interactive site, pretend that you are. Have the students answer the questions (but stay muted!).
- You can sign up to be a view only or “not interacting” site. Some schools prefer this for getting their feet wet.
- Or you can sign up to be an interactive site. 3 schools get to interact in each session. The interactive spots go quickly, so hurry if you want to do this.
- So, take a moment now to sign up! (If you usually register for VCs through someone else, you may want to check with them first on how you should register.)
- If you have a story or suggestion for participating in Megaconference Jr., please comment and share!
Guest blogged by Janine Lim
One of the scariest things about videoconferencing is when it doesn’t work and you have a classroom of students waiting. Yesterday Roxanne gave you some great tips for accessing your lifelines. Today, we’ll examine the most common problems in a videoconference and give you tips for solving them. This is actually part of a training that I conduct for my coordinators, and we try to simulate each problem during the training.
First, there are four parts to a successful videoconference: sending video, receiving video, sending audio, and receiving audio. Most of the common problems related to one of these four parts.
The solutions under each problem are listed in order. The top ones are the most common solutions to the problem.
TV is Black / I Can’t See / I See Black / I See Blue
- Check the TV/monitor/projector. Is it on and is it connected correctly? Some of my coordinators keep a picture or drawing of how all the cables are supposed to be connected.
- Check the monitor. Is it on the right channel? Make a note for yourself on which channel it should be.
- If you were able to see the dialing screen/menu before you connect, then it’s not your TV/monitor/projector. A blue or black screen is often a firewall problem on either end of the call. Try one of these test numbers to make sure you can connect outside your district on your own. Have the other site try connecting somewhere else too. If you can both connect to other places but not to each other, it’s probably a firewall problem. If you have access to someone with a bridge/MCU, ask them for help (usually at your educational service agency).
- Once in a while the flat screen TVs won’t cooperate. If so, unplug the power, wait, plug it in.
Audio: I Can’t Hear
- Check your TV/monitor volume. Check your videoconference system’s volume too. Both should be about in the middle (if your system uses both).
- Have the other side check their microphone. If you see a Far End Mute icon, you know their microphone is muted. (This only shows up in point-to-point calls). Ask them to unmute. Tell them you can’t hear. Have them nod their head or wave if they can hear you.
Audio: They Can’t Hear Me
- Check your microphone. Are you muted? Check your screen – usually you’ll see an icon if it is muted. Or Polycom microphones are muted when the light on it is red. Unmute so the far site can hear you.
- Their TV volume might be turned down. You may have to write them notes on a sign to hold up in front of the camera or write on paper under the document camera. (Or call them on the phone.)
They Can’t See Me
- Have them check their monitor/projector/TV. Is it on & on the right channel?
- It may be a firewall problem on their end. See “I Can’t See” above. Have them try connecting to the one of these test numbers. They should determine if they get a picture and then call you back again and report. If they can’t see a picture on your system or the test site, they should talk to their tech person. If you can both connect to other places but not to each other, it’s probably a firewall problem. If you have access to someone with a bridge/MCU, ask them for help (usually at your educational service agency).
Call Rejected or Busy Signal or Call Rings & Rings
- If you call and get a “call rejected” error, usually the other person is already in a call.
- If the call rings & rings, usually something in the network between you & the other site is not allowing the call to negotiate. Both sides should try a test site. If your test call just rings & rings, then it’s not connecting through firewalls. If you have access to someone with a bridge/MCU, ask them for help (usually at your educational service agency).
Alerts: What Do They Mean?
- IP Network: If this is down, then you don’t have a live Internet connection. Try another Ethernet jack in the room. Using a spot where a computer was connected and working usually guarantees a good connection.
When All Else Fails, Reboot or Redial
- If you have a lot of connection problems, sometimes redialing will help clear it up.
- If nothing is working, reboot the camera. Turn the camera off (reach up!!), wait, turn it back on.
Polycom Specific: “Flippy-Do-Button”
My schools all have Polycom endpoints, and another common problem is when you accidentally get yourself in the big screen and the far site in the picture-in-picture. How do you switch it back?
This happens with the button that I call the “flippy-do-button”. I’m sure there’s a more technical term! On a VSX7000, if you press the Camera button while you are in a call, you’ll see an icon with two arrows pointing around. If you select it, you’ll swap the far and near pictures. It’s easy to change it accidentally by pressing the camera button and then 1 or the enter key. To get it back, just press Camera, 1. Whew!
- Take this Word file with basically the same information presented here. Fill it in with your favorite test site number and your videoconferencing support number. Add the channel for your TV/monitor (if applicable). Then tape it to your videoconferencing cart in a prominent location.
- Please comment and add any other troubleshooting tips you have.
Videoconference coordinators come in all forms in our schools. We have teaching assistants, librarians, campus technologists, technology directors, classroom teachers, and administrators. As we have mentioned earlier, the one commonality is that the majority of them have full time responsibilities in another capacity.
Bottom line: Everyone is busy.
How can you help a teacher during the time of the connection?
Best way to help: Stay in the room with a newbie to videoconferencing so that you can talk them through the first connection. You should know if you have to dial a number or if the other site is going to dial to you. Be sure to talk your teacher through his or her first couple of connections to orient them to both the technology and the ettiquette.
“Here is how we dial the connection. Here is how to mute the microphone. Move the paper away from the microphone. Sometimes the picture does freeze a bit–that is okay. Do you have questions prepared for the connection? “
If you cannot be there, try to at least get the unit connected and microphone muted.
When you have to leave, provide the teacher a lifeline and a plan.
1. Make a sheet with the phone number of whoever they are connecting with (content provider, other school, bridging service, etc). Put the phone numbers in order of which to call first. If you are connecting through a bridge, you will start with the bridge that you connect to and then they can assist at that point.
2. Remind teachers to have something for the students to work on in case there is some wait time due to technical difficulties. Some of our classes review content for presentations. If it is the other site having issues, you can also check presets on your camera. Math fact quizzes, spelling words, 20 questions, or other content related sponge activities also work well.
3. If there is not a phone in the room (or a teacher cell phone), send a student to the office (or nearest phone that you can dial out on) with a hall pass with the phone number to dial and a description of what the problem is.
One Final Note:
If you know that the people you have been working with on this project or connection use Skype (or another IM program) and you have already used this method to communicate with them. Use it now. Skype is also great for supporting international connections.
- Create a “lifeline template” to use for your connections–include phone numbers, technical information, time and date of connection.
- Super Duper Challenge–Add a brain quest game, story book, etc on your videoconference cart in case the teacher forgets to provide a back up plan.
Schools’ resources are valuable and must be spent wisely. Resources are both staff time and money. Here are some tips about evaluating the quality of your connections so that you can spend your time and money wisely.
Top 3 Quality Indicators for Curriculum Videoconferencing Connections
1. Are you teachers and students actively engaged during the connection? Some connections are compelling as VIEW ONLY, but the majority of the connections that I have participated in where students learned the most were connections where they were participating in a challenge, a quest, a lesson, or asking questions.
2. Are teachers and students provided with quality program materials and resources prior to the connection? COSI Columbus provide amazing kits with their connections. The kit for the knee surgery comes complete with 30 student viewing guides, hammers, glitter bug lotion and much more! Greenbush sends live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches for their program. Center for Puppetry Arts provides patterns and instructions for all the preparations needed for their programs.
CAUTION: Materials that have to be shipped back to the provider at the expense of the school can be a pain for coordinators to manage. Be sure to ask about materials or kits to make sure you can keep them or if they need to be sent back.
3. Is the challenge and instructional level appropriate for the students? I am always skeptical when I see a program listed as available for K-12. SeaTrek has a chart showing programs that will work for a certain grade level. NASA Digital Learning Network lists programs for K-12, but in the lesson materials they are divided as K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. That tells me that they have adapted the materials and the language so that it is appropriate to the different learning levels.
TWICE has a great document for a more comprehensive look at quality indicators of a videoconference field trip or program. http://www.twice.cc/media/QualityIndicators.pdf
Many content providers have program evaluations to be completed by the classroom teacher after the program. Make sure that your teachers take time to complete these. Content providers use that data to improve programs and in some cases secure grant funding to provide free programming to schools.
Classroom Evaluation of Learning Processes
Teachers can use evaluation strategies with their students to ensure learning is occuring and to improve classroom management for the next connection. As a Tribes trainer, I believe in the group dynamics of learning and the power of reflection in the learning process.
What did you learn about the content? (including preparation and presentation skills) This rubric was created by Tracy Poelzer from British Columbia and can be used with MysteryQuest connections.
link to MysteryQuest rubric by Tracy
What did you learn about the technology?
How did connecting with other classes or experts enhance your learning? Would this have been better done with the class next door or did using the technology impact how you learned?
What did you do that contributed to your learning?
Be specific here. Focus on the behaviors that you want to nuture during the next connection. These can be explicitly taught by using the “Looks Like, Feels Like, Sounds Like” strategy. Make sure students know what these abstract behaviors will be during the connections.
- Did you listen to others in your group or the presenter?
- Did you participate fully?
- Did you value other people’s ideas?
- Did you work well together with others?
See page 38 in the Planning Kid2Kid Videoconference Projects booklet for more evaluation ideas.
- Which content providers have you found that have excellent preparation materials?
- Who are your favorite content providers providing quality programming for PreK-2, 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12?
Guest blogged by Janine Lim
How much do you let students help you with videoconferences? For this challenge, let’s think about some appropriate ways to involve students in the production of the videoconference.
One of the most simple ways to involve students is to have them in charge of muting the microphone. I’ve seen this work well in a couple of ways (about 2nd grade and up):
- A trusted student is responsible for muting and unmuting in a multi-point conference such as an ASK program or an interview with an expert.
- OR, as each student comes up to the microphone, they press the button on the microphone, state their question or comment, and then press the button again.
I’ve seen these examples using with the button on the Polycom microphones (instead of giving the student the remote control). Those of you using other systems, how does this work for you? Please comment and share!
Cameras and More
Some students prefer to be off camera, while others love to “ham it up” with strong voices and great announcing skills. Encourage this diversity by involving your students in different ways during the videoconference. (Thank you Kim Pearce for these ideas to organize students with production jobs.)
- Teach the students to use already set presets, or even how to set the presets. Have a student or two responsible for the switching presets. This is helpful when you have different visuals to show. Watch the student presentations in the middle of this MysteryQuest video for examples.
- Build on the visual nature of videoconferencing communication, and have an art crew for the backdrop, a lighting crew, and stage hands. Let these visuals from Dew ISD, TX inspire you:
- If you haven’t allowed students to help with a videoconference yet, which of these tips will you try first?
- Do you have any other tips for involving students in the production of the videoconference?
Comment and tell us about it!
Guest blogged by Janine Lim
This week, we’ve been giving you tips to improve the quality of the interactions in your videoconferences. The question and answer time can be when the videoconference spirals out of control, or it can be a profitable learning experience.
Has this ever happened to you during Q&A time?
- No one can think of a question until after you disconnect.
- All the students start asking questions at once.
- All the students answer the question at the same time and other class can’t hear the answer.
- The students ask only questions such as, How long is your recess? and what are your favorite subjects?
- The students can’t think of questions; so they ask the same questions that the other class just asked them.
Let’s Improve Those Questions
- Before the connection, learn a little about the location of your partner class. As a class, brainstorm some questions to learn more based on what you learned. For example, let’s say you’re connecting to a class in Midland, Michigan, which has a Dow Chemical Plant. Students might ask, how many of your parents work on the plant & what jobs do they do? Or, how does the chemical plant impact your community?
- During the connection, after each class has done their formal presentation, mute for 2 minutes to brainstorm questions. What could you ask the classes based on their presentations? What else do you want to know? You might even have some feedback/compliments to share with your partner class. For example, “We liked your PowerPoint presentation. Was it hard to find pictures for it? Where did you look?”
- Designate 3-5 students on a “question answer team.” These students are responsible for answering the questions from the partner class and make sure that one student answers at a time.
- Set up the question. Have the student(s) start with, Hi my name is _____. Then lead the question with a statement. For example, In our class, we have horses, dogs, cats and a lizard as pets. What pets do you have?
- When facilitating a multipoint session, don’t say, “Any questions?” Always call on schools by name (in the same order) so they know who should be talking.
- Try out one of these tips in your next videoconference. Tell us how it went.
- Do you have any other question tips?
- Do you have any stories of great questions students have asked?
Comment and tell us about it!
Guest blogged by Janine Lim
Videoconferencing is a communication technology. “I know that,” I hear you say. But think about this. When was the last time you were in a videoconference and you didn’t know the name of the person you were talking to? I bet it was recently. It happens all too often!
So for today’s challenge, let’s think about some tips to polish your introductions.
- Introduce yourself soon after you connect. Roxanne reminded us of this yesterday. Say, “Hello, this is ______ from ______ school in __________.” We want to know who you are and where you are!
- In large discussions with multiple sites, before stating your perspective, begin with “I’m _____ from _____ and my comment is…”
- Be sure to say the city and state. Sometimes it’s very helpful to include a frame of reference. For example, you probably don’t know where Berrien Springs is! So, I say, I’m Janine and I’m from Berrien RESA in southwest Michigan about an hour and a half around Lake Michigan from Chicago. Now, don’t you have a better picture of where I am?
- Prominently display a sign to identify your location.
If you participate in many collaborations with other schools, here are two tips for making these introductions quick and easy.
- Create a little script that can be used for each videoconference. Write it on a note card and keep it by the videoconference cart/system. Tell us something unique about your area so we can get to know you. The next time you participate in a collaboration (Read Around the Planet?), hand the card to a student to read!
- Create a little PowerPoint with three to five slides starting with a map of your country, a map of your state/province, and pictures from around your town/city. Use a star or other large marker on the maps to show where you are. Every videoconference is an opportunity to reinforce geography!
Your challenge for today is to write your introduction script on a notecard or make a little PowerPoint or slideshow with pictures about your community. Have a couple students help you! Tell us what you included in it.
What other tips or stories do you have on introductions?
It is truly amazing that I get to work everyday with technology that I watched on cartoons. The technology of the codec takes audio and video and moves it to distances near and far. The trick is to learn to wait for the technology to work its magic and not talk too much when you should be waiting. It takes a few milliseconds longer for video to switch if you are in a multi-point, bridged call like we use for Texas History Mystery or MysteryQuest connections. With these 7 tips, you can make the connection run much more smoothly.
7 Tips for Better Audio in a Videoconference
- Use pauses. Say what you have to say and then mute your microphone.
- When asking questions, ask the question and show a visual of the question (if possible) and then use teacher wait time. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.
- If participating in a challenge or a multi-point event, always go in the same order. A good facilitator will tell you the order in the beginning and follow it throughout the connection. Write this order somewhere for the students to see so that they will know when their turn is coming.
- Place the microphone on a hard surface near the student speaking area. (If you hear a weird echo, the microphone might be too close to speakers in either the television or the videoconferencing system.)
- Assume that we can see and hear you. When you first check in, state, “Hello, this is ______ from ______ school in __________.” Then mute your microphone. The other site(s) will respond back to you.
- Mute the microphone before you move it. ALWAYS!
- Keep all paper away from the microphone. This includes copy paper, butcher paper, tissue paper, newspaper, candy wrapper paper and any other kind of paper that you might have in the room with you. For some reason, microphones magnify paper noise about 1000% in a videoconference. (If anyone knows an engineer, ask them if that is the exact number!)
Here’s an old post by Janine on Planned Pauses
Comments–What are some other tips for improving the audio quality in videoconferences? How do you teach your staff and students about effective use of the microphone in a session?
We began our journey setting up our equipment and email signatures. Next we learned how to find content and some tips about preparing for a videoconference connection. This week we will move into what to do DURING a connection to maximize learning and the quality of the connection.
Videoconferencing is interactive. You can see and hear all parties that are involved. Remember your first videoconference? How do you know if anyone can hear or see you?
As you facilitate for your teachers and students remember the following:
- Assume that the other sites can see and hear you.
- If you cannot see or hear something, be sure to let the other sites know.
- Check to make sure other sites can see documents or objects that you are showing.
- Remind students and teachers to speak slowly and then mute the microphone after they finish speaking.
The simplest form of interactions is for one class to make a presentation then the other class makes a presentation and then you have a Q and A. This is a great way to begin. After a couple of simple connections, then teachers can expand their types of interactions.
The key to successful interactions is to think in terms of what each site will be doing. Challenges or quests work well with students. It is also an effective use of classroom videoconferencing systems.
Examples of Quality Interactions
Math Challenges–A class could develop two or three math problems related to a pre-defined theme for the other classes to solve. Classes will present the math problem and then let the other classes solve it. Possible Topics: Holiday Math, Transportation Math, 100th Day of School, Population Math (Math problem-solving). Or just take the objectives that your students are struggling with on the state-mandated tests and partner with another class to go head-to-head in a challenge.
NOTE: Maybe, SuperMathGirl will have additional ideas for us.
Theme-related Mad-libs–Presenting class has the mad-lib. The class will call on other classes for the parts of speech to complete the mad-lib. Then the presenting class will read the completed mad-lib. If there are three classes participating, the class leading the Mad-lib will give each of the other classes a list of words that they need. (Reviews parts of speech!)
Where is ______? (Think MysteryQuest, but smaller.) Presenting class sets the scene for whatever is missing. Presenting class will give clues to his location and the other classes can guess. (US Geography)
Twenty Questions–Presenting class has some person, place, or thing related to the conetnt being reviewed. The other classes try to guess it within 20 “yes/no” questions. (Higher order thinking skills)
Customs and Traditions Exchange–A class can research customs and traditions in their county, state, province, or country and present clues about them to the other class. The other classes would reciprocate. Then both classes determine similarities and differences. (Social studies and geography)
Here are some more ideas for student interactions
Read Around the Planet ideas
Brain-based Learning blog post from Elevate 2008
Janine Lim’s Project Booklet with templates for all content areas
- Add any other interaction idea that you have seen work well in a videoconference environment.
- Add a pet peeve for interactions during the videoconference.