Reflections on Connecting East

Way back in January, Katie and I began our foray into staff technology PD with our Connecting East initiative. It was loosely based on the 23 Things model started by the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. What made it different is we didn’t choose to focus on 23 Things, but instead had 10 weeks of tasks for participants to complete at 4 different ability levels: Novice, Apprentice, Practitioner and Expert.

We kept the incentive feature of the original 23 Things (the prize draw includes iPod shuffle, wine or book vouchers), as we felt there needed to be a carrot at the end, especially when working through parent-teacher conferencing time!

Our broad, overall aim was to encourage the teachers at our East Campus to use more technology in their classrooms. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and we are about to find out what participants thought about the tasks as a whole when they reflect on the process on the Connecting East blog for the final week of challenges.

I thought I would take the time to document some of the things I learned over the course of the 10 weeks. Here goes:

Cut to the chase

Think like a participant! My long, chatty blog posts at the beginning of the 10 weeks were too much for time-starved teachers, who just wanted an answer to the question: What do I have to do? Much though it pained me to realise, they weren’t interested in my witty repartee. Same thing for the wiki, where we thoughtfully designed a structure (see example below) which outlined the definition and examples before launching into the tasks:

Once it became clear that (generally speaking) participants weren’t interested in the info/history of the task, we modified the structure of the wiki to the one that follows, where after a brief definition, we went straight into the tasks:

We (somewhat sneakily) went a stage further by incorporating what we hoped people would read (in terms of examples etc) into the tasks themselves, so they became requirements, rather than options.

To link, or not to link?

In the early days of the initiative, I tried to be a good blogger and link to everything link-able (see example below).

Linking might be a good idea in the general blogosphere, but many novice participants found it confusing, as they saw a link and wanted to click on it. They weren’t sure which links they were supposed to click on and meant that we had a lot of explaining to do when it came to our Fruity Friday drop-in sessions.

To counter this phenomenon, we removed links behind Image Chef generated pictures, and put a giant button at the bottom of each post (see below), so participants would know exactly where they needed to go for the tasks.

Not everyone’s a techno-geek

When Katie and I were planning, we had a tendency to assume participants knew what we knew. E.g. just sign up for Delicious and get started. We really had a huge spectrum of ability levels, from people who were unsure what a username was, to people who had their own blog and were quite happy embedding things left, right and centre. The challenge was to cater to everyone’s needs.

I believe the 4 levels of tasks did that, however we benefited by running the tasks by people somewhere in the middle, to see if it made sense to them. We asked some participants how they thought novices might find this task etc, which provided us with valuable feedback for our planning. Call it a reality check, if you will!

Be flexible

Go with the flow. Some weeks, it was obvious that teachers were more focused on their upcoming Parent-Teacher conferences (and rightly so), than on completing our challenges. In these instances, we extended the time allowed for a set of tasks. I am sure the participants were as grateful for the extra time as we were.

It’s a time-hungry exercise

We volunteered for this initiative, so we’re not complaining, but I don’t think anyone has any idea just how much time we put into this process. Informal meetings before school, snatched conversations between classes, working late after school and having homework tasks in the evenings, was how we kept on top of it. I know the work we put in this year will be useful for subsequent years, but there were days when I thought maybe 2 weeks would have been easier than 10!

Two heads are better than one

I simply couldn’t have pulled this off without Katie. Having a like-minded person to bounce ideas off made all the difference! Going into this exercise, I would say that working with a blog was well within my comfort zone, whereas I was less confident with wikis. Developing this PD was a fabulous opportunity to improve my own skills. I can definitely say I’ve improved, however poor Katie had to help me out with html code and layout issues on an embarrassingly regular basis!

Katie and I complemented each other nicely, and participants were given a much broader range of perspectives as a result.

Face-to-face matters

The Fruity Friday sessions really worked, as they gave people an opportunity to drop in and get small-group or one-on-one assistance when they needed it. Some people turned up religiously every week, and others came in a couple of times. Either way, if they needed us, they knew where to find us.

Where to next?

If I could start over again, I would consider the following:

  • Making it compulsory for all teachers. Sometimes people need a figurative kick in the pants to get going on this, otherwise things may never change.
  • Having whole-school technology workshops during an inset day, to make a big difference in a short time period
  • Promoting each set of tasks at the weekly morning briefing or staff meeting.
  • Having a shorter overall time, e.g. 3 week blocks, where the tasks were shared ahead of time and teachers could opt into blocks that interest them most.
  • Making more of an effort to highlight teachers who are using technology in their classrooms

Photo credits:
Logo modified from carlaarena
Chase: Steve Wampler
Link: P^UL
Geek: sd
Starfish: ooberayhay
Time: Michel Filion
2 heads: Daniel Fardin
Face: Erica Marshall

10 Reasons to try Backchannel Chat

I tried backchannel chat for the first time during keynote addresses at the EARCOS Teachers Conference: ETC09.

What is Backchannel Chat? It’s like note-taking at a lecture, but notes are shared with anyone who has the URL. They might be people in the room with you, but they could also be anywhere in the world. At ETC09, this meant that while the keynote speaker was presenting, a group of us were on our laptops, sharing notes about the presentation, though there were some people in different countries tuning in (see links to transcripts of our backchannel chat at the end of this post). We used TinyChat, which was really easy and straightforward to set up, though others have also recommended Chatzy.

Initially, I found it hard to keep up with the fast pace.  I struggled to answer a question from a friend beside me AND watch the speaker AND type AND listen. Was I focused? I was certainly concentrating. I hadn’t concentrated this hard on a keynote speech before, that’s for sure!

After a few minutes, I got the hang of it and managed to keep up enough to contribute to the discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and now I’m completely sold.

10 reasons you should try backchannel chat:

  1. Keeping up – The great thing about the chat was that if I got behind on what the speaker was saying, I could scroll back over the comments of the other participants and catch up that way.
  2. Remaining on-track – I found @amichetti and @jutecht typed really quickly and managed to keep the discussion focused on the keynote, not just random thoughts. This was helpful for me as a person new to backchannel chatting, who didn’t yet know the etiquette.
  3. Transferring knowledge – I had a better understanding of the keynote as a whole, because I was typing it – transferring it into another form. It was easier for me to remember later, rather than just aurally listening.
  4. Staying Focused – I was more focused on what was being said because I felt I had to attend to contribute to the discussion. I wanted to pull my weight and not ride on others’ coat-tails.
  5. Engagement – The chat had me not only focused, but totally engaged. The number of multiple intelligences addressed at one time was definitely higher than had I only been listening. As @amichetti suggested to me via Twitter, backchannel chats can be particularly engaging when the presentation is more content-focused rather than skill-driven.
  6. Perspectives – I had the benefit of other people’s perspectives. This was fascinating. We all ‘heard’ things differently. When we transferred what we heard into our own words, different perspectives were offered.  Certain parts resonated more than others for each of us, due to our varied prior knowledge and experiences.
  7. Clarification – if there was a word/phrase introduced that we were unclear of, one of us would look it up on wikipedia, so we were getting near-instant clarification of new vocabulary. I couldn’t have done that myself. @nadinedickinson told me (via Twitter) that she like the instant feedback that was possible during a backchannel chat.
  8. Review – I benefited because I had material to review and look over later. Not only did I have my notes, but I had the notes of everyone else in the chat.
  9. Divide and Conquer – people in our chat took on different roles. @Skardalien helped out by looking up words we were unsure of or videos that related to the topic. @amichetti was a speedy typist and great note-taker. What we learned together I felt was greater than we could have accomplished individually.
  10. Fun – I really enjoyed the chance to connect with people during the keynote, rather than being a passive observer. I consider myself an interpersonal learner, and the backchannel chat allowed me to participate in the way I learn best – with others.

During one keynote, I received this tweet from @rhondacarrier: @klandmiles thanks for keeping us up-to-date with what is happening. Very useful for those of us that aren’t there #ETC09

Until that tweet came through, I wasn’t truly aware of the realm of influence of our chat. It stretched around the world! Our chat was helping other people learn across countries, as if they were there themselves. That certainly upped my levels of responsibility! I sat a bit straighter after that!
[Please check out Rhonda’s blogpost on the uses of backchanneling for more information]

So how does this relate to my class? Earlier this academic year, I tested out the chat function in Studywiz with my Grade 4 students to discuss an essential agreement for blogging. I found that some of the kids who would normally not say anything, were the ones who had the most to say in a chat forum. That is HUGE! I need to consider different ways to conduct discussions and ensure I provide a range of options to cater to every child’s needs.

Tips: I would recommend using small groups so the kids can keep up with each other – 22 kids all typing at once makes a challenging chat to follow! I’d do 4 separate chats next time, so everyone can follow easily and participate effectively.

How does it relate to me as a workshop leader? I cringe now at how I made people turn their phones off during a PYP workshop I led in Jakarta recently. Next time I’d like to set up a backchannel chat as some people feel more comfortable asking questions and/or participating that way. It would give me a chance to check their understanding (and levels of focus!) later on, and perhaps clarify further any points where necessary.

I’m definitely going to look for ways to incorporate backchannel chat into my regular teaching repertoire. How about you?

Links to Backchannel Chats of Keynote speeches at ETC09 can be found on the following pages:
William Lishman – If We Are Not Part of the Solution We Are Part of the Problem
John Liu – “Earth’s Hope” – Responding To Climate Change – By Healing the Planet

Further reading: Ben Grundy’s post on Back-Channel Chat in Class

Photo Credit: FadderUri

10 Great ways to use Audacity with your Students

Audacity is a great audio editor for use in the classroom. It can be used on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, and the best part about it is that it is free!

NB: The Mac equivalent, GarageBand is another great option if you are at a Mac school, but in the interests of all users, I’ll refer to Audacity.

To quote their website, Audacity can be used to:
* Record live audio.
* Convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs.
* Edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV or AIFF sound files.
* Cut, copy, splice or mix sounds together.
* Change the speed or pitch of a recording.
* And more

Here are 10 great ways you could use Audacity with your students.

  1. Make an audio/radio advertisement – My Grade 3 students are using Audacity to advertise products the school produces to support service learning for their Advertising unit.
  2. Promote language learning – record kids speaking in one of their language classes then upload to Voki to create speaking Avatars. One of the Mandarin teachers at our school, Wendy Liao, did this very successfully with Grade 4 students.
  3. Create Podcasts – limited only by your imagination. I recommend checking out what Kim Cofino and colleagues are doing with Podcasts at ISB. Celeste Hopkins and her Grade 2 students use Audacity to create podcasts of book reviews, reports and poetry readings. Mr Balcom‘s students created music tracks for their video podcasts. Find a need and get podcasting!
  4. Record speeches to provide evidence of learning, and upload to Glogster (a wonderful online poster tool) to share with a wider audience, as I’m doing with Grade 4 students for their environmental unit.
  5. Promote reading development by recording kids reading books, as Colin Becker outlines in his post on Emerging Readers.
  6. Create sound stories for images using free sound effects websites, as my Grade 2 students are doing for the school arts festival. You could easily use creative commons Flickr photos as your source of  ‘sound-rich’ images.
  7. Record sound for PowerPoint slides to enhance any presentation (hat tip to Colin Becker).
  8. Record comments/opinions to load to a Voicethread at a later stage. This can be useful if there are problems with multiple users on a Voicethread or to save time.
  9. Record compositions or class singing to share with others (e.g. parents).
  10. Record soundtracks for animations as my Grade 4 students did for their animation project on the systems of the human body.

Do you ideas for using Audacity in the classroom that you could add to the list?
I look forward to hearing them!

What’s in a (user)name?

Quite a lot, I’m beginning to think…

When I signed up with Twitter a year or so ago, I went with the username I have for my shared email account with my husband: klandmiles. It combined our names: mine (Keri-Lee) was shortened to KL and his name is Miles. K-L & Miles = klandmiles. It was easy to remember, we’ve been using that as our email address since 2001 when we moved overseas. I am usually the first to adopt a new tool etc, so I have kept the same username for each new tool I use (delicious, diigo etc).

I didn’t for a moment stop to think about what my username would say about me to others. I met @hitechhall and he said, “Oh, so you’re K – Landmiles!” and he wasn’t the only one! @Skardalien did the same thing, but I said, “No, it’s KL and Miles. This caused him to then ponder, “So how do you pronounce your surname? Is it Andmiles?”

This begs the question; can I really have a 2-person username in this day and age?

Some people I’ve talked to said they feel they’ve outgrown their username or don’t like it anymore. But do we have a choice?

It appears we do! While forcing helping to sign my husband up to Twitter, I found this message on the settings page:

“Change your Twitter user name anytime without affecting your existing updates, @replies, direct messages, or other data. After changing it, make sure to let your followers know so you’ll continue receiving all of your messages with your new user name.”

Do you take notice of people’s usernames? What do our usernames say about us? Do they even matter?

My final question is this: should I change my username or not? Ideas and suggestions welcome 🙂
Should I change my username?
( polls)