We Can’t Afford Not To!

I taught a graduate class for some teachers from my district last weekend. It’s one of the ways our district offers professional development to our teachers by partnering with a local university. The teachers in my class were coming to learn about tools for connecting, communicating, and collaborating inside and outside of their classrooms. Some of these teachers had taken my classes before, but they had not used many (if any at all) of the tools and ideas we were going to be exploring. I started class very excited about the opportunities that await them as they use these tools in their classrooms.

One moment in particular on Saturday the teachers really saw the potential to connect their classrooms to virtually anywhere in the world, and that was when we talked about Skype. I had my good friend Steven Anderson Skype into our class (on a Saturday morning) from North Carolina. Steve and I did a bit of virtual team teaching for about 15 minutes on the potential that Skype has to take our students pretty much anywhere in the world. None of the conversation focused on how to use the Skype software itself. We solely focused on its instructional use to connect our students to other classrooms, experts, and authors around the world. Talk about authentic learning experiences! If you didn’t know, Skype now has an entire section of their website devoted to helping teachers connect with other teachers and have students work collaboratively work on various projects. I really love it when a big company like Skype recognizes the need to put a big focus on education. Major hat tip to Skype for doing this and I’m excited to see it grow.

My teachers were very excited at the thought of being able to Skype an author into their classroom, become pen pals with a class in another country, or virtually take their students to a science or history museum. All for the small investment of installing a free piece of software and purchasing a webcam. Many of these teachers already had a webcam in their classroom but were only using it as a document camera! I don’t consider that any fault of theirs. It made me wish I had worked with teachers more widespread much sooner (we do have some teachers here and there already using Skype).

My daughter is in kindergarten and already understands the power of Skype. See, one of her classmates has been very sick this year and has had to miss a lot of school due to treatments and hospital stays. My daughter’s teacher has kept the class connected with this student via Skype regularly throughout the school year. This way the student does not feel like they’re missing out (as much) nor do the students have to wonder how their classmate is doing when physically absent from school. One time they even got to Skype while the student was in the hospital and learned about the various tubes and machines they saw next to the hospital bed. My daughter talks about it all the time and gives updates at home about their Skype visits. Pretty heartwarming and pretty powerful huh? I love that her teacher has made this a priority all during the school year.

I was recently talking to another good friend of mine, Shannon Miller, who is a pro at connecting her students to other classrooms, professionals, and generally awesome people all over the globe. She recently even won a  Shorty award because she’s so good at this! Shannon and I were talking about how it exciting it is to see kids excited about this. We also talked about how very important it is for schools to be doing this. Why aren’t we doing this at school more? Is it really that difficult to pull off? Free software, a webcam, and an internet connection is all we’re talking about. Of course there’s a time factor upfront for the teacher to make the connection and get it scheduled and everything organized that goes with it, but the payoffs are so well worth it don’t you think? Kids getting to learn about dinosaurs from an archeologist who is actually at the dig site, or students getting to ask questions to an author whose book they just finished reading. That’s powerful stuff folks!

I invite for you to read another post written recently by my friend Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey that is titled Learning Like Never Before. Skype is just one of many tools that allows our students to learn like never before. If you’re already doing this, please don’t forget to share with as many as you can. We truly can’t afford to not do this for our kids. I want to share with more teachers about making meaningful connections across our districts, states, and countries.

Some other Skype resources you’ll want to check out:

Skype in the Classroom LiveBinder

Skype Call = Learning Call

Educators Move Beyond the Hype Over Skype

It’s an “UN” Thing

Have you noticed what’s happening in educational professional development? It’s spreading like wildfire around the country. I’m talking about the un-conference. If you’re unfamiliar with the term it’s a planned, yet very informal gathering of educators. The event itself and the location is scheduled well in advance. However, the sessions are not advertised until the day of the event. Why? It’s because the participants of the un-conference are the driving force behind the learning that takes place that day. When attendees arrive that morning, those wishing to present can select a time slot and topic they would like to present on. When all the time slots are filled, the day’s sessions have been planned. It’s then published to share with the rest of the attendees and one then can select the sessions they’d like to attend for the day.

There’s one planned for the Kansas City area, called EdCampKC, on Saturday November 6th. All of the details of the event can be found at http://edcampkc.wikispaces.com. I really feel that this area of the Midwest can benefit from this type of gathering that will allow teachers to learn from other teachers all around our part of the country. We, the attendees completely drive the learning for the day. As far as I can tell, we’ll be the furthest West edcamp to date! Educators from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Texas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota are coming so far. That is exciting! The brain power that’s coming is outstanding.

EdCampKC is a completely sponsor driven event. That is how we make this event completely FREE for all in attendance. Sponsors are covering facility costs, insurance costs, and providing goodies and giveaways. If you are interested in either attending EdCampKC or sponsoring EdCampKC in some way, please get registered on the wiki or fill out the form on our Sponsors page.

I am honored and humbled that so many are making the commitment to travel long distances to come to this event, as well as the financial commitment required. I say a heartfelt thank you to all that are planning on coming and I hope the number attending continues to increase over the next 2 1/2 months. I could also not do this without the support from so many in my PLN that have encouraged this event. We have an awesome website, lots of awesome sponsors, and many more that are helping to spread the word. I could not do this alone. Only together will EdCampKC be a success. We’re still 2 months away! It’s only going to get better!



The Virtual View

A Couple of Recent Experiences

The way we attend conferences has greatly changed in the last couple of years. More specifically, I think of two recent conferences, one of which I attended in person, and the other I attended virtually. The one I attended in person, the Midwest Educational Technology Conference, this past February in St. Louis had a very strong presence of in-person attendees. METC also had a very strong online presence as well. While not all of the sessions of a conference so large can be streamed, all of the sessions in one of the main ballrooms were streamed for those that would like to attend virtually. A list of all the sessions that were streamed can be found here. Sessions by David Jakes, Scott Meech, Angela Maiers, Wes Fryer, and more will be available on-demand in the near future.

This past Thursday and Friday there was another conference happening in Nashville, Tennessee called TeachMeet. This was the inaugural TeachMeet for the state of Tennessee. TeachMeet was started in the United Kingdom by Ewan McIntosh. In a nutshell, TeachMeet is an (un)conference created by teachers, for teachers, for FREE. You can read more about what a TeachMeet is and how to start one of your own here.

The TeachMeet in Nashville last week was created and organized by Jason Bedell. Be sure to read Jason’s thoughts on the conference here. It was two days of presentations by awesome educators such as Steven Anderson, Melissa Smith, Adam Taylor, and more.

TeachMeet Nashville was made very available to those of us that wanted to attend one or more sessions virtually. Jason created a wiki for the conference and on it he published out the daily schedules and Ustream channels for all to access that wanted to. Also, be sure to read Jason’s post on how TeachMeet Nashville Started and How to Start Your Own.

Talking In The Back Of The Class

The backchannel was very active at both of the above conferences. This was conversation happening via Twitter centered around a pre-determined hashtag, or Twitter search term. The hashtag for METC 2010 was #METC_CSD. The hashtag for TeachMeet Nashville was #TMN10. To participate in any discussion regarding or during any conference, simply include the appropriate hashtag in your tweets so that they appear to others searching on the conference hashtag.

I would say that standard practice now is to have a conference hashtag for any educational technology conference. I’ve even seen presenters who use the hashtag actively during their presentation to answer questions and receive comments about topics presented. What a great practice for engaging and understanding your audience!

What have been your virtual conference experiences? Did you find them as beneficial as being there in person?

If you have never attended a conference virtually I strongly encourage you to do so. Will there be glitches? Of course there will be. Will you be able to attend every minute of every session as if you were physically there? Probably not. I encourage you to try it. Start with the traditional “sit and get” by viewing the live stream. Then jump into the middle of the conversation with the conference hashtag. You won’t be sorry at the level of engagement and learning you experience.

Thanks for reading.