Friday, June 09, 2006

How Many Activities are Too Many?

In a recent video conference it became glaringly apparent that even though it is important to schedule your videoconferences and plan an agenda, it is still important to leave as much time as possible for discussion. In scheduling your video conference, be sure to include some preliminary research, work or activities to prep your students for the conference. This empowers them when they are trying to participate in discussions around the topic that is being discussed, and also allows them to determine other’s points of view and for them to potentially take a position on a subject, which can result in a lively debate. But how many activities are too much during a session?

This is a difficult one to answer, but generally speaking, you should limit your activities to about one activity per 20 minutes of conference. That means, in a typical video conference of one hour, you should only have three topics that are going to be discussed, debated, or investigated. The reason being, even though the topic may appear innocuous and not emotionally charged, it might turn out to be an incredibly charged topic for the other groups participating. We recently conducted a video conference on climate change. In Canada, one of the hot topics is the fact that our federal government might be withdrawing us from the Kyoto Protocol for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It was interesting to see the dynamics and how the school that probably had the most to gain about pulling out of Kyoto due to their location, had the least to say on the issue. The point being the other three sites were very emotionally charged about the topic, resulting in some heated and lively discussions. Due to the emotional nature of the topic, as the facilitator, and trying not to impose upon the discussion, I let the topic run its course. We unfortunately did not get through the entire agenda, instead we only touched upon 2/3 of the agenda. This was problematic for the others who did more research on the other ideas, even though they were still able to get their points across, though abbreviated. The point being, it is better to finish early when doing a conference than to have issues and items left on the table due to time constraints. Make sure your endeavour to leave time for discussion and discourse, which is where the real engagement of the students takes place. By rushing through items trying to cover a predetermined agenda, this discussion is usually the first left behind, and is the most beneficial. Our students long for that type of engagement with others, especially others from different parts of the country and the world.

It is imperative that an agenda be set for the video conference you are conducting, including preliminary activities, research and material creation, but don’t try to cram everything into a session. Instead ensure that you leave ample time for discourse, discussion and debate. The real learning takes place during these three D’s.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

How Many Agenda Items are Too Many?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

ECOO Links: Video Conferencing for the Rest of Us

At the presentation that I am presenting for the Education Computing Organization of Ontario entitled, “Video Conferencing for the Rest of Us”, I will be referring to some extremely useful links that you will want to examine as you begin, or continue, your video conferencing experience.

Billy Joel Flash File:

Eagle's Nest Web Cam

Informational Sites
These sites can be used for information on upcoming events, pedagogical support for video conferencing, video conferencing ideas and for general knowledge on video conferencing:

Shawn A’s Blog: Video Conferencing in Education

OCDSB’s Video Conferencing Website…the C.O.B.E. Project

OCDSB’s Expedtion Everest Website (examples of video conferencing including video)

Video Conferencing Alberta (Ministy of Education Site)

Communication Research Centre’s “Virtual Classroom”

Global Nomads

Vendor Sponsored Sites
Isabel from Agora

Polycom’s Educational Site,1816,pw-4733,00.htm

Adobe Breeze


Microsoft Live Meeting

Web Conferencing and Video Conferencing: The Full Spectrum of Internet Conferencing

So what is the difference between web conferencing and video conferencing? One could easily look at the definitions of each to determine the differences and similarities, but it runs deeper than that.

By definition web conferencing is:
used to hold group meetings or live presentations over the Internet. In the early years of the Internet, the terms "web conferencing" and "computer conferencing" were often used to refer to group discussions conducted within a message board (via posted text messages), but the term has evolved to refer specifically to "live" or "synchronous" meetings, while the posted message variety of discussion is called a "forum", "message board", or "bulletin board"., May 3, 2006
The definition of video conferencing is:

communicating in real time with two or more people at different locations via, May 3, 2006

So there aren’t really big differences in the definitions, but there are differences in the types of conferences.

I would suggest, the differences are quite deep. We try to offer our teachers in our district the full spectrum of video conferencing techniques so that at almost any junction, we can offer a video conferencing option. For example, if a class wants to “meet” with another class in another country, they can easily use the web conferencing option to conduct this initial contact. Web conferencing occurs over the internet, requires very little in the way of downloads to run (if any at all), requires low bandwidth to be functional and can easily be done without the use of dedicated research networks. The downside to this technology in this case, is that there will be a noticeable latency, or time lag between when one person speaks and the other person receives the signal, which can cut down on collaboration, as people need to learn how to collaborate with this lag.

Now if that same class wants to video conference in a more collaborative manner with the class in the other country, we can then offer our full video conferencing solution, which will allow them the opportunity, if the other class has the hardware and bandwidth, to collaborate in an environment made for larger groups of people and allows for smaller latency, which can increase the collaboration between the two sites by promoting easier dialogue. The issue here is to ensure that both classes have the same type of equipment (h.323) and whether or not they can have access to a high bandwidth network (like CaNet 4 in Canada the “Internet 2” in the U.S.). Even if both sites do not have access to a research network, the collaborative video conference can be done, but you would be at the mercy of the “commercial internet” (what most internet traffic travels on) which may work, but using lower bandwidth, resulting in a greater latency.

By offering our district the full spectrum of web and video conferencing, we are able to allow at least some video conferencing connection to even the lowest of bandwidth external sites, which results in the collaboration that we are after.

Even though there are differences in the two technologies, we use both in a manner that can allow our students to experience video conferencing in a meaningful, engaging way. By exploiting the differences in the two technologies, you can enhance the experience and bring the technology to more students, therefore enhancing learning in the classroom.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

How Many Participants Is Too Many?

One of the most common issues that arise in multipoint video conferencing is how many participants are too many? This is a real tough question, but one, through experience, starts to become self-evident. The larger the number of sites participating, the less the collaboration that can take place within the groups. Collaboration is the key to the success of video conferencing, otherwise, students and participants could be watching television or a streamed web cast on the internet.

Typically, as you add each site to a video conference, there appears to be an exponential decrease in the amount of collaboration that occurs within the conference. The less collaboration results in less engagement of the students, which then starts diminishing the reason for the video conference. So how many is really effective?

I would say that any more than four sites is onerous, but you can be creative in how collaboration can be fostered in conferences that are larger in group size. For example, you can have a plenary session where all sites join to go over the main theme of the conference, but then go into small video breakout sessions where small groups can then collaborate on the theme of the conference. These small group breakout sessions allow for greater collaboration than everyone being together all the time. After the small breakout sessions, groups would then combine in a concluding plenary session to complete the conference.

Since collaboration is the key to all video conferences, you need to be creative when you are hosting conferences of three or more groups, but it can be done!

Video Conferencing In Education...the Everest Experience

Video Conferencing in Education...the Everest Experience

Video conferencing has allowed our school district to “shrink the world” by brining experiences to our students that they might not have otherwise had. We have been able to do this by creating projects that have needed the use of video conferencing to be successful, which creates the need for using video conferencing in the classroom.

An example of this was a project we participated in last year, called Expedition Everest, where we were involved with a mountain climbing team attempting to scale Mount Everest. As part of this involvement, the climbing team, using satellite technology, transmitted taped video files centred around curriculum developed by our teachers, gave us regular audio updates, participated in four on-line chats and conducted two synchronous video conferences. One happened at the start of the climb in Katmandu, where the climbing team introduced us to a Sherpa, who was part of the expedition, and his son. The second occurred after one of the climbers was able to summit Everest at base camp, which is approximately 17 000 feet.

By far the greatest engagement the students had was with the synchronous video conferences that introduced them to participants in the climb and allowed them the opportunity to ask the climbers questions and congratulate the one climber on her great achievement.

It became very apparent during this project, that video conferencing can “shrink the world” and can have a profound impact on student engagement.

For examples of what was done during this project, check out:

Teacher involvement in Video Conferencing

Teacher involvement in Video Conferencing
By Shawn A

It has really become apparent that in order to run a successful video conference, there needs to be pedagogical backup sent to teachers to ensure that they are aware of what is going to happen and how things can work efficiently. With increased usage, this type of backup would become redundant, as students and teachers will become more familiar with working in this environment.

It becomes very obvious that in order to be successful, especially at the younger grades, you need to have a three stage video conference.

Stage 1-Discovery: The first stage needs to be a “meet and greet” where students can use the equipment and experience the novelty of seeing themselves on camera. Sometimes issues arise during this first use, as students aren’t really thinking people on the other side can see them. This can be halted by letting them see themselves without there being a connection to another site.

Stage 2-Experimentation: The second stage still have students experiencing the novelty, but as this conference progresses, students start getting down to work. During this conference, teachers can introduce activities, start assignments, introduce group work and introduce expert mentors.

Stage 3-Production: This stage is where the students are used to the technology, used to working in this environment and therefore, they get down to work. It is where they become productive

For the older grades (high school), these three stages of video conferences happen in quick succession. In fact, for most of the older grades, these stages occur while their one video conference is going on.

I recommend taking the three-stage approach when initiating video conferencing to students so that they can flourish in this new environment. When teachers know that these stages occur, they can use these stages to their advantage, by expecting these stages to happen.