Tag Archive for skype

Whither the virtual audience?

studnet speaker

We successfully broadcast Catlin Gabel’s workshop to design the school’s next community event(s). I had the uStream working smoothly, the facilitator played his role perfectly, and we included the contributions from virtual participants in the real workshop. In the two weeks before the event, we made at least eight announcements in newsletters, email messages, and online articles that people would be able to attend the workshop online. We have some 3,000 alumni and 500 current families from which to draw a virtual audience.

Only five people showed up, and two were my IT colleagues.

What happened? What is the potential of live web broadcasting in a school?

I have seen uStream used most successfully in an educational setting to live broadcast major speeches and conferences. I recently tuned into a great presentation at Castilleja School. A Stanford professor was explaining how all websites, but social networks in particular, are vehicles of persuasion. I was the only virtual attendee.

Broadcasting educational technology conferences seems popular of late. The audience is large, widely dispersed, and technologically savvy. Still, having been a virtual participant before, the presentation quality is poor enough that it makes difficult to pick up everything that is going on. Our virtual participants on Saturday made the same comment.

I don’t feel compelled to live broadcast major events at our school. I would rather record with videocamera and then publish the next day, in higher quality than uStream and as a permanent addition to our site. Just last week, I recorded our Martin Luther King, Jr. community meeting (elementary), published it to a private page for our community, and already it has been viewed 70 times.

Perhaps people are just too busy to attend a live, five-hour online event at a specific time. They can play recorded online video at their convenience. Maybe for this event, we should have eschewed live participation in favor of making a highlight reel of the major points in a recorded video format. Or maybe the gesture of opening the meeting to virtual participants was a sufficiently important to justify the work involved.

Perhaps we were competing for audience against ourselves. If the 100 most interested people actually came to the event to participate in person, how many more did that leave to participate virtually?

Have you seen the new Cisco ads showing telepresence in classrooms? Who really thinks that schools will be able to afford high-end video conferencing of this sort? Grocery stores have far more flat-panel televisions than schools these days, and they sell food.

I would like my next attempt at live broadcast to involve a sports event. Sports have the immediacy of experience that demands a live broadcast, color commentary could be fun and interesting, and the project would involve students. However, we would still be competing against ourselves for audience, the potential audience is relatively small, and a lot of people might feel content to just find out the score the next day. It’s worth a try, though, as students studying at home could easily tune in and follow the game.

I could imagine a schoolwide event during which we partnered with one or more schools elsewhere to pursue the same agenda and discuss similar topics. However, I would choose Skype for such a broadcast, so that it would be equally bidirectional.

Have you used uStream in a school with more success? Did you draw an actual audience? Please tell us about it.

Planning International Collaborations

Our middle school spanish teacher and I met with two staff members from Mercy Corps today to lay the groundwork for collaborations between Catlin Gabel students and schools in El Salvador and Guatemala. It quickly became apparent that we have at our disposal so many different options for how to take the first steps in that direction and subsequently deepen the relationships.

Spencer in Guatemala
Spencer at the Centro Educativo Maya Ixil in Chajul, Guatemala.

Despite our experiences working with schools abroad, we mostly have questions at this time.

  • When will a satellite-enabled cell phone or laptop modem become affordable enough that we can bring internet connectivity to a remote village in a developing nation and leave it there when we depart? When will video Skype become a standard feature on mobile phones?
  • When will the numbers of kids in developing countries who are online in social networks reach a critical mass, so that appreciable numbers from an individual school can spontaneously connect with our students? What happens when we realize that students have far more developed competencies for social networks than do the adults?
  • When should we choose to set up a teacher-teacher professional development relationship with a school rather than going student-student?
  • Is a highly organized, teacher-led, curriculum-based instruction still the best model for global school-school partnerships? At what point can we turn the leadership of the relationship over to the students, for example by setting up a private social network for the exchange and then letting the kids go at it?
  • What language-social studies teacher partnerships can we leverage within our school in order to provide both meaningful learning experiences for both second language acquisition and study of world cultures?
  • How far into our school’s core curriculum does a school’s global education program have to penetrate in order to be successful?
  • Most of our global relationships are due to the passion and commitment of a single teacher. How does one broaden responsibility so that the school owns the relationship, and it continues after the original teacher departs or alters his/her priorities?

    Spencer adds:

    I would add one piece to the last comment about broadening our commitment and having the school steward the relationship as opposed to the individual teacher. I really like the model of individual teachers creating and fostering these international relationships, but we do need some oversight on the bigger picture of how many relationships we can sustain and to which we can dedicate ourselves wholly. Some relationships will naturally form and also end in time. I think this is ok and logical.

  • So good, you can hear a cricket chirp!

    I received a pleasantly unexpected call from Stephen in Botswana yesterday to discuss Maru-a-Pula IT matters. Throughout the call, I could hear what sounded very much like a cricket chirping. Was it an artifact of the Skype transmission? No, it really was a cricket that had snuck into Stephen’s office! Good think he wasn’t calling from home. They are a challenge to find and catch.

    Botswana cricket via Skype (mp3)