At the opening meeting our headmaster challenged us to explore our boundaries and to see how we could make new connections. We've been working on globalism the last few years and have partnerships with schools and communities in Honduras, Mexico, India and China. To help support these explorations, we've increased the bandwidth for our school, and since most teachers have a macbook with a built in camera, we were ready to sow the seeds for video conferencing.
Let me say first of all, that I was working as a tech guy in the mid-to-late nineties when CUCME swept through schools, and I had some healthy skepticism that what had been the cross-county wave and smile might become the cross-continental wave and smile. I'm happy to say that this time it was different and the difference came in two forms. Number one because this supported an existing priority at the school there was support and interest from many corners. Number two because it was given to teachers as an invitation to explore and it came with a safety net of support, we had initiative and innovation come from all across the divsions. So here's what we've done so far:
A French teacher video conferenced with a friend of hers in France. The students prepared questions and after the teacher had a general discussion with our virtual visitor, the students took turns stepping up to the camera and asking individual questions. We returned for a visit to see her Creche or Nativity set and to have her explain French Christmas traditions. For this visit, she picked up her camera and moved around her house. When the students were studying a unit on driving, we conferenced again this time with her son who had just passed his French drivers test and students asked him questions about how it was to take his test and how it was to drive in France. I was impressed at how transparent the technology was and how having this authentic audience and conversation seemed to boost ( a la communicative approach) the students interest and enthusiasm for learning the target language.(We did this last year with ichat, an AIM account, and an external camera connected through firewire, and an LCD projector)
Our art department gathered for a pre- and post- meeting with a consultant who was helping them with their strategic plan curriculum review. I was impressed here that the consultant was able to establish rapport with the group and .to read body language so well that he was able to get some of the more controversial topics on the table before his campus visit. (same set up as the French project)
We broadcast graduation and other events to parents who were too ill to attend or who were deployed with the military around the world. (Using quicktime streaming services on our OS X server.)
Our headmaster addressed the lower school parent night via video conference and talked about globalism and how video conferencing technology would make the world more accessible for lower school students (here we used ichat accounts on our our OS X server, an external camera, a shotgun mic, and an lcd projector. We had sound problems because the groups was assembled in the multipurpose room also serves as the lower school gym, but by using the shotgun mic, we were able to make it audible.)
The principal from a partner school in China addressed the opening meeting of the board to give his perspective on global education.(Here we used Skype since our partners in China were familiar with program, we had to really work at getting the set up correct so our headmaster could comfortable be part of the board meeting and yet also participate in the discussion via video conference. Lighting was tricky, we used a pink gel from the theater department to help soften the spot we placed on the headmaster.
The teacher who leads or service trip to Honduras used gotomeeting to host a shared white space and a phone bridge for a meeting of a non-profit group that supports the trip.
A group of students attending a leadership conference in India used Skype to address our upper school assembly. The best part of for me was at the end of the call, one of the students from India asked how the sports teams were doing, and kids called out recent results. It truly seemed like a flat world at that moment.
About 24 teachers came to a workshop on how to use Skype on their laptops and many had a great connections to report shortly thereafter. One teacher found a host family she had stayed with twenty years earlier and chatted with them. Another was able to gather her children around to visit with her ailing mother who lived far away. Another has kept up with her children who are globe trotting across Asia.
Lower school Spanish and Chinese teachers are planning to have students chat one-on-one with children in our partner schools. We hope to have one conversation in English and then the next in Chinese or Spanish.
A lower school teacher is planning to video conference with her son's school in Africa via Skype and to use a modified version of the ol' global grocery cart project from David Warlick.
and we keep looking for more ideas to connect our school with our community, our families, and our partners around the world. I'm sure there is a creative teacher already thinking of something else to do, and I'll update this list when there is more to say. In the meantime, if you've been using any form of video conferencing or online collaboration tools, please add your stories here. If you have a question about one of the projects or the technology used, please feel free to ask me, and I particularly welcome those who have a critical question or thought to express. I feel like we've come a long way since CUCME, but true to my Meyers-Briggs profile I also know that “there's always room for improvement.”