video conferencing can be used not just for virtual field trips to
content providers, professional development, and sharing classes
districts. It can also be used to foster cross-school collaborations
and project connections. Lets 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
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. Heres 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)
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).
Youll 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
set camera presets on two to three main presentation areas so you
dont 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.
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.
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, dont 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
technical difficulties. If possible, have such as print copies of
the presentation on hand.
Visuals can enhance a presentation, but dont feel that you must
make a complex detailed visually appealing presentation. Weve
had many successful projects occur with just choral reading and songs.
Start with a manageable presentation and then expand it as you become
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.