MACUL Journal Article
Out on a Lim with Ed Tech: By Janine Lim
Two-way video conferencing promotes cross-school projects connections and collaboration

Two-way video conferencing can be used not just for virtual field trips to content providers, professional development, and sharing classes between districts. It can also be used to foster cross-school collaborations and project connections. Let’s look at some examples of projects and the ingredients of a successful two-way video class project.

Read Across America Day
This year, a special NEA Read Across America event was sponsored and organized by Two-Way Interactive Connections in Education (TWICE). TWICE is a group of Michigan educators and technicians dedicated to promoting and supporting collaborative connections using two-way interactive video for the benefit of students.

In January and February, TWICE provided the opportunity for schools in the continental United States to connect using two-way interactive video to both read to and be read to by another class. Classes from kindergarten through high school registered on the web site (www.twice.cc/readacross.html) and then were matched with another class based on requested time and grade level. Participating schools were responsible to negotiate test calls and line fees.

Then on March 1, students read to each other using two-way interactive video connections. Some shared a Dr. Seuss book, others shared a favorite book in the form of a skit or choral reading, and others shared a poem, a song, or a rap. Over 200 classrooms participated from California, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

TWICE will be sponsoring this project again next year, so plan to participate!

Michigan Collaborative Project: Michigan Week
The Michigan Collaborative is in its fifth year of development. The project was established as a pilot project during the 1997-1998 school year. During the first year, fourth grade students from 11 Michigan cities and towns exchanged information via video about landforms, farming, grange halls, shipwrecks, and their towns and cities. The response was overwhelming from the teachers and the students involved. The project improves in quality and participation each year. Last year over 40 classrooms participated.

The project is targeted to fourth grade classes that study Michigan as part of their curriculum. Students take virtual field trips across the state of Michigan during the first two weeks in May each year. Students across the state have the opportunity to share the uniqueness of their area with other students. Connections last about 45 minutes, with each classroom presenting for 15 minutes of the scheduled exchange. For the final 15 minutes, students ask each other questions. The student presentations focus on a unique characteristic about their town, city or region of Michigan. Unique information may be historical, recreational, physical structures (man-made or natural), a tourist interest or other feature that makes the area different to the other parts of the state.
This year, teachers must commit to the project by March 15. Then teachers will be paired together in late March. The presentations and connections for this year will occur May 6-17, 2002. For more information, visit the Website at www.macomb.k12.mi.us/ims/it/IL/DL/michcoll.htm.

Other Projects from Berrien and Cass Counties
In Berrien and Cass counties, we have encouraged similar school-to-school connections. Here’s a sampling to give you more ideas:
For the last two years, Summer Literacy K-3 classes have shared presentations on what they'd been learning.
A Spanish class from one district connected several times with a native Spanish-speaking teacher from another district. Students practiced their oral language skills.
Classes who are pen pals met via video conferencing, introduced themselves, and shared their writing and songs.
As a culmination for a service learning project, students from four local districts shared an overview of their projects and asked each other questions. Video conferencing allowed them to participate without leaving their home districts.

Planning Your Own Project
When planning to participate in a similar project, start by thinking about your curriculum. What are you teaching the next couple months that could be enhanced or extended by having your students connect to another classroom? Each of the core content areas should address the Michigan Curriculum Framework standards that require the students to present information.
After deciding what curriculum area and unit to focus on decide what you want the students to present or share with the other class.
What format will you have for the connection?
How many times will you connect?
What will students need to do to prepare ahead of time?
Here are some more project possibilities:
• Discuss or share readings from a literature study
• Oral presentation (keep it short)
• Play
• Rap/song
• Demonstration
• Reading/reader’s theater
• Game show or quiz bowl
• Debate or competition
• Can you think of others?

Make Equipment Arrangements
You should next talk to your technology coordinator for your building or district or ISD and find out the procedures for scheduling the video conferencing room.
When you talk to your technology coordinator, check on the support you will have as well. Will you need to learn how to use the equipment and camera controls or will someone do that for you during your connection? Check on procedures for cost as well. Videoconference connections usually take the equivalent of six long distance phone calls, so there is a cost involved for the school that places the call.

Find a Partner Class
Once you know how to schedule your room, find a partner class. Your ISD may be able to help you find a partner school in your county. Depending on the connections in your county, it may not cost anything at all. You should also post your project on two listservs:
• TWICE listserv (visit www.twice.cc/listserve.html to sign up)
• PacBell Collaboration Collage (visit www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/vidconf/ed1vidconf.html to sign up).
You’ll find many other people on these listservs who want to participate in classroom-to-classroom projects.
After you find a partner class, discuss the format of the connection and compare possible dates and times. Each participating school must check on the availability of video conferencing equipment and schedule following district or school procedures. Then prepare your students for the connection.

Prepare for the Connection
Before your connection, you should visit the video conferencing room and decide how you will set up your presentation in the room. If possible, set camera presets on two to three main presentation areas so you don’t have to worry about moving the camera around during your presentation. Include a preset to show the whole room and begin the videoconference showing the whole class so both classes see who they are talking to.
If you are connecting with more than one school, make sure you know how to mute the system so that you are not sending out any audio. In a multi-point connection, often the video switches to whichever school is the loudest, so it is very important to mute unless it is your turn to talk.

Prepare Students
Work with your students to prepare them for their presentation. Depending on the project, this may include collecting and organizing information. Have the students practice presenting with loud and clear voices. Young children especially need to be encouraged to use strong voices. If possible, involve all students in your classroom for the connection.
Various groups could present different components, or be assigned different jobs such as document cameraperson, computer operator, etc. Plan to involve the other class as well. You could ask them questions, have them say a line or two from the choral reading, or encourage them to ask you questions.
Finally, orient the students to the technology beforehand so that they are less distracted by it and ready to learn from the experience.

Prepare Visuals
Videoconference connections are especially suited to using visuals. Consider how you can make your presentation interesting visually. You may have students dress similarly or wear special costumes or hats. If possible, vary the scene your audience will view. You could even use different areas of the room with props. Make the visuals as simple or complicated as you feel comfortable doing.
If preferred, you can use the document camera to show visuals. A document camera can be used to show overheads, student art, charts and graphs, and more. Be sure to use horizontal or landscape oriented paper to make sure your audience can see the visuals. For easy reading, use a thick blue marker on light colored paper.
If you plan to use the document camera, don’t leave the audience looking at the document camera for too long. Show the students or presenter occasionally. People can feel distanced if they are just looking at visuals and not people. Be sure to practice the presentation with the visuals before hand as well.
Many video conferencing systems also allow you to hook up a computer and share a presentation such as those made with PowerPoint or KidPix. Computer presentations work best with a dark background with light colored bold font. For example, yellow text on a blue background is great. Use large fonts such as 24 pt or higher. Leave a 1.5-inch or more border/margin around the edge of the document.
Be careful of colors: avoid red and hot pink, avoid solid blocks of white, black or red. Red tends to “bleed” on video. If you plan to use a computer presentation, have a backup plan in case of technical difficulties. If possible, have such as print copies of the presentation on hand.
Visuals can enhance a presentation, but don’t feel that you must make a complex detailed visually appealing presentation. We’ve had many successful projects occur with just choral reading and songs. Start with a manageable presentation and then expand it as you become more comfortable.

The Personal Touch
Finally, find ways to include a personal touch to your connection. Take time to learn the names of the students in the class you are connecting to. Use really large nametags or some other quick way to introduce students. Introduce yourselves with a visual of your school, city, and state. Assign a student to be the host. This student will introduce the class, tell what comes next, and say good bye and thank you to the other class.
Connecting to an audience outside your school can be highly motivating to your students. I encourage you to connect to another school and learn from each other!

Janine Lim, Instructional Technology for the Berrien County ISD, coordinates distance learning for Berrien and Cass Counties and trains teachers on effective technology integration.