Friday, March 18, 2011

Collaborative Projects Using Google Docs and Skype

Skype in the classroom

7th grade classes in Colorado, USA and El Salvador were working on collaborative presentations in Google Docs related to what a day looked like for kids in their respective countries.  Early in the project as students were editing their google docs excitement erupted. The other class was also online and working on the presentations.  Immediately Google Apps group chat windows began popping up and student exclamations could be heard all around the room. These students were no longer separated by thousands of miles.

We very quickly shifted the entire class into the center of the room and our partners in El Salvador did the same.  We got Skype up and running at both ends and within minutes were video conferencing with our partner school, and the excitement began to crescendo. We had not prepared in advance for this. It was a bit of a surprise, so there was no script, just kids engaging in discussions about each other, face to face with their partners in another country using Skype. Hobbies, favorite books, musicians and the weather were the main topics of discussion.

This impromptu skype lesson developed further as we began to prepare for our final conference with the schools, sharing our projects and asking questions of each others' culture etc...  Skype allowed us to bridge the distance gap and students soon realized that kids in other countries aren't so different from one another.  They enjoyed similar experiences in all avenues of life.

My collaborative partner is this project was Jennifer Garcia the Learning Resources Centre Coordinator from Academia Britanica Custaleca in El Salvador.  Together we coordinated this learning experience for our students and used skype to iron out the details.

Check out the student presentations on the ABC wiki.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Online Learning Environments - Today's Meet

Just yesterday I was listening to someone state their child uses Facebook to do their homework.  "What do you mean?" another parent asked.  The person responded, "The teacher assigns a worksheet and everyone gets together to post the answers on Facebook.  No need to copy papers in the morning anymore."

Students love collaboration.  It's easy to take the good from the above events and incorporate them into a meaningful learning experience using Today's Meet.  Today's Meet is a backchannel, a room created by someone wanting to encourage conversation about a particular topic.  Anyone with the link can join in on the discussion.  The backchannel is where people ask each other questions, pass notes, get distracted, provide feedback, and as in the case above, exchange answers.  Tapping into Backchannels lets presenters of any kind tap into the needs of the audience and engage them at the same time.

I used Today's Meet in class the other day as a sounding board for a lesson related to image manipulation related to iPhoto.  Students in the class enjoyed this means of asking and answering questions.  When I first introduced them to the concept of a backchannel silly, unrelated posts began appearing.  I encouraged this experimentation until the class had a handle on how the backchannel worked.  Students need play time with new tools.  The experimentation period provided an excellent opportunity for a quick lesson in digital citizenship, the need to be appropriate, and a reminder that everything written is visible to all.  There is no delete button.  I am convinced if we increase the opportunities for students to engage in appropriate, online conversations at school these behaviors will transfer to their personal life, especially when they understand the risks of poor choices.

 Students quickly became comfortable with the format of Today's Meet and we focused the conversation on the topic - iPhoto editing of images.  Some students actively participated in the backchannel while some checked in every so often to view the dialogue.   Overall, I was very pleased with the way students helped each other solve problems from across the room.  The backchannel gave everyone an equal voice in the classroom.

Mark Barnes at Learn It In 5 has created an excellent how-to video showing you how to use Today's Meet.

There are all sorts of ways to use Today's Meet in an educational setting.
First, create a room, then have students go to it, either in teams or individually.

Write a backwards story and then use the transcript mode to display the entire dialogue in reverse order (beginning to end.)
Mark Homework 
Check understanding during a lesson
Review game - students post answers
Write supporting sentences to an introductory sentence of a paragraph
Write key points of a particular topic
Brainstorming a particular topic
Warmup - Post open-ended questions to get students thinking on a subject
Editing Exercise - post a sentence that needs correcting

Just be cautious about the room name when you create the room and don't leave the room online for longer than two hours unless you plan on monitoring the room.