I had an amazing experience today. I presented at the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario’s conference via Skype. I was in my classroom, with my 8th grade students, presenting on “Collaboration: Learn it; Use it; Teach it.” While I was prepared, the experience was nothing like I expected. So here are some lessons learned, because, in a day and age of budget cuts, we may all be sharing our ideas through video presentations, rather than in person.
First let me start by thanking Cal Armstrong for coordinating the experience as well as the teachers who were willing to give this kind of a presentation a try. I think that we all learned a lot from it.
First of all, wifi will always be problematic! I had created a Google Presentation that I had shared with my students and with Cal Armstrong in Toronto, who was coordinating up there for me. My goal was to have my students share their thinking and responses in the sidebar, so that while the presentation was going on, my students could be sharing their experiences as well. Only, when it got to be time for the presentation, about a third of them weren’t allowed to join the session. They were panicking, because I had assigned them all jobs to do, many that included being part of the conversation. Thank Heavens for a Tech Team that is always there to support my efforts who managed to get all of the students on by the time it was time to begin.
Second lesson, when you are on a small computer screen in a room, you are not always heard. I had an activity organized where the teachers, after receiving a playing card at the door, were to get into groups by number. I gave the directions three times and then asked them to find their groups. All I heard through Skype was “Hearts over here!” “Clubs in the back!” When I tried to correct them, because I wanted them in groups of 4 at this point, no one heard or responded. It wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine. I had created an activity with too much complexity for the means of interaction. If I had been in the room, I have no doubt that the directions would have been heard and understood. I could have said, “Twos over here. Threes over there,” but through the computer screen, what they expected was what happened. I should have taken more time to tell Cal ahead of time about what was going to happen, so that he could have been more of my feet on the ground. Or I could have been clearer to him on the spot, rather than trying to be heard. Lesson Learned!
I gave up on the groups of four and simply set them to their task, to develop together a definition of “collaboration.”
For me, the point of the presentation was to talk about collaboration while having the participants experience it. I am working hard when I present to move away from the “sage on the stage” which is criticized in so many presentations by people being “sages.” I want to model the kind of learning that we need to have happening in our classrooms. That is challenging when using Skype, because activities required action in the space that the presenter is not in. I think it can be done, but I need to figure out directions and preparation that have more clarity.
So, with the teachers in larger groups, organized by suit, I punted. I had been planning on having more shifting and having different groups working together, so that they experienced collaboration with a variety of ways and with a variety of people, but it was clearly more than Skype would make possible. It wasn’t really a problem, just a moment of shifting.
The other challenge came in using Skype effectively. While I skype all the time, I have never had to use it while focusing on the slides of a presentation. I had the Skype call in a small box on my screen, while my presentation was the main screen. I was wondering if my distance from the screen, etc. was correct, but it wasn’t the top priority. I wanted the teachers to see my class working with them, so I moved around and shifted the laptop. At the end of the session, I learned that for most of it, the people in Toronto had been seeing the top of my head.
While I had figured out ahead of time where to stand and how to get shots of my students, somewhere in the transitions, I had shifted my laptop enough to cut off my head. I should have asked during the presentation, but I just didn’t of it. I had considered having two laptops, one with Skype and one with the presentation, but thought that it would work with one. Clearly a mistake! Next time, one designated for Skype and one for the presentation.
Also, when working with teachers in Toronto and students sitting behind me, I should have had my students doing more. While they loved the experience of sharing with teachers in Canada, they would have liked to participate more actively. They had jobs to do, serving as notetakers, timekeepers and photographers, but they wanted to do more. They were sharing their ideas in the sidebar, but they wanted to talk to the teachers and respond to what they were hearing. I hadn’t expected that. They had been nervous and a bit intimidated when we practiced, but when they were “live,” they wanted to participate. That is definitely something to consider for the future, because they have lots of experiences they could share.
So I had better figure out the challenges of digital connections and begin to make them work! Again, it was a presentation and experience that couldn’t have happened without the help of Cal and the teachers in Toronto who shared their time and their thinking! What a learning experience for me in collaboration!