Tag Archives: International VCs

Guess My Pet with Wales, UK

Wales PartnersThis morning Bridgman Elementary is connecting to Wales in the UK for a project that was written in the Jazz workshop this summer: Guess My Pet. Before the videoconference started, I noticed the teachers using best practice to set presets on their visuals (which were neatly mounted to hold them still). Nice to see Jazz lessons being put into practice.

Each class had little introductions ready to share to get to know each other and where they are. Then the classes began sharing the clues about their pets. Everyone took notes on the clues; then the classes muted for a while to guess. here are some examples of the clues:

  • It’s got long or short hair.
  • It makes a squeaking noise.
  • It lives in a cage.
  • It runs on a wheel.

Pet DrawingAfter guessing, the classes shared pictures and facts about their pets. The classes also shared a graph of what types of pets they have represented in their class. Pet Graph

We had a few technical glitches along the way, but overall the students enjoyed the process, practiced their reading, listening, and presenting skills, and got to know students in another country! The classes plan to continue the partnership with pen pal letters between students.

Eco-Conversations: Water Bottles

Today Buchanan Middle School has four Eco-Conversations connections, two with the UK (Wigan and Torfaen), one with Ontario, and one with Texas. Our focus for these sessions has been on water bottle pollution.

Our class prepared posters explaining the effects of water bottle pollution, including pictures of the local environment. The classes have been collecting water bottles to recycle and they have a mattress bag full of water bottles.

Eco-ConversationsThe first session was with a school in Wigan, and they told us about their recycling program. The real learning in this connection happened in the question and answer time. For example, the two classes shared where they have access to recycling. In Wigan, they can recycle all kinds of things including clothes and shoes at the supermarket. We don’t have EcoConversationsthat in our area – mostly just plastic recycling at the grocery store. Another question from our class was, “Do you think our accents sound different?” which started a discussion of how we sound different to each other. Our class also showed a toy car made out of water bottles and an RC engine. The students in the UK loved it.

Our second session was with a school in Torfaen, Wales. Both teachers in this session are graduates of the Jazz workshop. Our class shared an introductory PPT about their community with pictures etc. EcoConversationsOur partner class had posters and pictures to talk about recycling and reducing their carbon footprint, complete with footprint notes. They talked about the costs of water bottles, and the lack of fluoride in bottled water for young children’s teeth and bones as well as other environmental issues. Their eco club told us a story of correcting their principal in his use of electricity. “I was shamed in front of the school,” he said! Everyone is learning together to reduce their consumption. Then our class had each group share their posters about water bottle issues and the water bottle pile and toy. Then the class in Wales asked our students questions. Both classes asked each other about their sources of information. Our friends in Wales have required recycling, but we don’t know of anywhere in the US that has a law that everyone has to recycle. We learned about “Dan the Can” and the students drew and colored pictures of him and brainstormed some other possible projects between the classes. Eco Conversationswe found out that it’s free to recycle in the UK, but we have to pay extra to recycle. Our partner class started their eco club 4 years ago and won this flag for their work in the community, planting trees, educating others, showing how they are saving energy, etc. They are understandably very proud of their flag!

Our third session was with a class in Barrie, Ontario. Both classes shared presentations with each other. The class in Barrie surveyed the students in the school and found that the students thought bottled water tasted better. Then they did a blind taste test and they preferred the tap water! They included both US and Canada stats in their presentation and had Recycle Bingreat pics to illustrate their facts. During Q&A time the classes ask each other several questions that had a show of hands: how many drink tap water at home? how many recycle water bottles? how many like water bottles? It was a great way to compare and see how well the students at both classes were applying their learning. The class in Ontario showed us their recycling bin too.

Our fourth class connected to McGregor, TX. They had lots of great facts and issues about water bottles including the amount people spend on water bottles, the issues of BPA plastic, etc. The students really enjoyed sharing, and our teacher shared with the TX students some of what we learned from the other classes this morning.

We have one more section that is connecting to a class in British Columbia in November after our state testing is done. This project has again been a great experience for our students!

Videoconferencing Across Cultures

This post is part of a series examining articles on the communication aspects of videoconferencing.

Article Reference Dustdar, S., & Hofstede, G. J. (1999). Videoconferencing across cultures – a conceptual framework for floor control issues. Journal of Information Technology, 14(2), 161-169. doi:10.1080/026839699344656


What are you things that you do in a face to face meeting that are hard to do in a videoconference multipoint videoconference meeting?

  • Stand up, pace or gesture menacingly if you want to impress authority on others
  • Fidget to signal that you want to talk
  • Hum or gesture to indicate support or criticism

Floor control is who gets to speak and what mechanisms are used to see who can speak in a meeting. These meeting norms may also be different based on cultures.

This article was considering desktop videoconferencing where people pay for the videoconference and want a quality meeting experience. Only one person can have the floor (permission to speak) in an electronic meeting.

Cultural differences noticed in this study are Hofstede’s 5 Dimensions: power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, competitiveness vs. cooperativeness, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term vs. short-term orientation.  (Take a moment to just read the quick wikipedia overview. It’s interesting!)

Differences in culture can affect what method of getting floor control is used. Maybe the person with high prestige is the person who says who gets to talk. Or everyone just jumps in and sometimes talks on top of each other. Floor control becomes more & more important the larger the meeting is. The differences in culture can lead to severe communication breakdowns that are magnified by the videoconference.

Other challenges in a videoconference meeting include:

  • Saying yes or hmm mm, or mm to let a listener know that you agree or are hearing. With all the sites muted, you can’t get this feedback.
  • You can’t turn to your neighbor for a side conversation. (This can make meetings get done faster! On the TWICE board which meets only twice a year face to face, many of us also use Skype, so we can Skype chat with each other if we have a side comment. )
  • There might be other people in the room listening to what you have to say that you can’t see. In my opinion, it’s really rude to be part of a meeting and let someone listen who isn’t part of the group. They should be shown on screen & introduced.

Suggestions for applying culture understanding to cross-cultural meetings:

  • Individuals from low power distance cultures should get used to waiting for a silence before they talk. Wait time!
  • With a variety of power distance cultures, one should make sure that all participants are invited to give their feedback.
  • Laying out the rules of the meeting up front will be helpful for everyone. Who will get to talk & when? If you want to talk, how do you get permission? Figure it out and tell everyone!
  • Make sure the participants know who is in the “meeting room” and something about them. It should not be “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” People only feel comfortable when they know something about the other people in the meeting.
  • Plan to orchestrate the meeting more than a face to face meeting.
  • Be sure to stay within the stated time length of the meeting.

Suggestions for designing software include having all these capabilities:

  • A way to indicate you want to interrupt
  • A way to show people’s responsibilities
  • A way to grant floor privileges to others
  • A way to know more about the other participants
  • A way to have a side-chat
  • A formal protocol

In my opinion, without software, these can be designed by the meeting leader with a little thought and creativity.


  • This article had great tips for meetings, whether cross-cultural or not. If the meeting leader considered these ahead of time, it would make for a smoother videoconference meeting.
  • It would be so interesting in a high school international videoconference to discuss the five dimensions of culture and compare notes. This would help raise students’ awareness beyond “what do you eat” and “what music do you listen to” so that they have a deeper understanding of cultural differences.
  • Raising awareness of these issues before an international videoconference may make students and teachers alike more sensitive to the needs and perceptions of the other class.

Your Turn: What do you think? What tips do you want to apply in your next videoconference meeting? What about in your next international videoconference?

Benefits of VC: In the Words of a Teacher

I have another session of the Planning Interactive Curriculum Connections class starting this week. We have 9 participants and two are from Guatemala! (We could squeeze you in if you register today or tomorrow.)

In the first week, the participants read some articles and share the benefits of videoconferencing. One of the participants, Kelly Hawn, is a teacher at F. C. Reed Middle School in Bridgman, MI, here in my service area. This year, Kelly has done Eco-Conversations and been an audience for a KC3 contestant class in Alberta. Here is her list of benefits of videoconferencing:

  1. Students are more engaged in learning from others than from textbooks.
  2. Students like presenting to other schools and they practiced their presentations ahead of time, therefore reinforcing their content.  They took their presentation much more seriously because they were presenting to someone they didn’t know. It’s so much better than presenting to their own classmates.  They put in more time and did a much better job than they would have if they just presented to their classmates.
  3. Students were allowed time to ask questions about the other school (weather, class schedules, favorite things to do, what music they like, class size, school uniforms, and so much more).
  4. The students became pen pals with students from other countries and states and we also exchanged gifts and pictures.
  5. The students want to reunite and show and learn more.  Currently my Social Studies class is studying Europe and they want to do another VC with England to ask them about some things we are learning in our textbook.
  6. The students love the fact that they can see and interact with another school with immediate feedback.  The Alberta school was amazed at how big our school was compared to theirs (and our school is small).  Students in England wore uniforms and was an all girls schools.

How about you? What do you see as the benefit to videoconferencing in schools?

Lit Review: The Global Classroom: Advancing Cultural Awareness in Special Schools Through Collaborative Work Using ICT

Lit Review: This is a post in a series focusing on the research studies on videoconferencing.

Abbott, L., Austin, R., Mulkeen, A., & Metcalfe, N. (2004). The global classroom: Advancing cultural awareness in special schools through collaborative work using ICT. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 19(2), 225-240. doi:10.1080/08856250410001678504

Summary: This article reported on a qualitative study which was comprised of 10 teacher interviews. The participants had been part of the Dissolving Boundaries Programme, which pairs schools in the North and South of Ireland to design and implement a year long collaborative project. Examples of the projects are here. Many of the participating schools are special needs schools serving a wide variety of students. Two technology tools were used – an asynchronous space with threaded discussion, and videoconferencing. The teachers preferred videoconferencing because many of the students did not have the skill to type or remember how to write to their partner. Talking was much easier.

The keys to success in this project were the strong support at the school level, good relationships with their partner school, planning a timetable carefully to meet the needs of both schools, convenient access to equipment, and both partners being comfortable with the technology. The project is highly supported by the department of education in both countries as well.

Comments: This is a great model of long term collaboration over videoconferencing. View the picture gallery online here. It’s interesting that for the special needs students, the real time videoconferencing was much easier. If you haven’t looked into this project, it’s worth your time!

Teddy Bear Match with Wales

This morning we’re off to Wales to share a teddy bear match. The two kindergarten classes have created a 2D teddy bear, and then sent each other instructions to make each other’s teddy bears.

One thing they noticed was that we measure differently – in inches vs. centimeters. That made the project a fun challenge and a good learning experience!

Teddy BearGalien's Teddy Bears

The Wales students sang a teddy bear song to us.”Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch your nose.” Our students sang a counting teddy bear song.

Our students explained how they learned that Wales is in the UK and that they could visit by going on a boat or flying in an airplane.

A quick little exchange for short attention spans, but a great experience for all involved.

Lit Review: Video Conferencing in the Classroom

Lit Review: This is a post in a series focusing on the research studies on videoconferencing.

Arnold, T., Cayley, S., & Griffith, M. (2004). Videoconferencing in the classroom: Communications technology across the curriculum. In T. Arnold (Eds.). Available from http://www.global-leap.com/casestudies/book2/index.htm

Summary: This book of 97 pages is still one of the best resources for an overview to videoconferencing and how to use it in the classroom/curriculum. Authors include Mike Griffith, of Global Leap fame. It was originally published in 2002 and was updated in 2004.

The first chapter reviews the components of videoconferencing and provides suggestions and guidelines on purchasing equipment. This of course is a little dated, with ISDN still listed first, and concerns expressed about the quality of videoconferencing over the regular Internet. These problems aren’t as much of an issue as they were in 2004 and earlier.

The Getting Started section has suggestions for setting up, getting training, and some introductory videoconferences just like Cheryl is offering for her schools. There are step by step guidelines for making your first exploratory sessions a success.

The next section has extensive detail on how to plan for “the use of videoconferencing across the curriculum.” For each major curriculum area, there are a plethora of ideas for collaborations as well as connecting to experts. Non-UK readers will need to translate the references to the Key Stages.

The next section gives a detailed overview of the Global Leap website and the resources and tools found there for subscribing schools.

Section E has detailed information on preparing for the videoconference, including a nice list of best practice tips. Section F goes into further detail on videoconferencing technology and all the options and choices, followed by a detailed glossary.

The authors reflect on the future of videoconferencing in Section H, with specific requirements that would be useful for vendors hoping to improve their products for educational videoconferencing.

Comments: If you’re new to videoconferencing, this book is a must read! Download it now and review it carefully. Even experienced VCers will find tips and tricks to make videoconferencing in the curriculum more effective.

Lit Review: The educational use of videoconferencing in the arts faculty

Lit Review: This is a post in a series focusing on the research studies on videoconferencing.

Badenhorst, Z., & Axmann, M. (2002). The educational use of videoconferencing in the arts faculty: Shedding a new light on puppetry. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(3), 291-299. doi:10.1111/1467-8535.00264

Summary. This article summarizes a videoconference project where art students in South Africa videoconferenced with the Handspring Puppet Company in Cape Town, learned about the planning of an upcoming production, and then videoconferenced again immediately after the production was performed in Belgium.

The article describes each stage of the project. A detailed review of the different types of videoconferencing is included (but not IP H.323 videoconferencing because this was from 2002).

The article also reflects on the feedback from the learners and the assessement of the learning. The students were able to get immediate feedback to their questions and to see real-world applications of their learning.

They found that a well structured agenda with questions prepared ahead of time was crucial. Extensive preparation and organization was required to make the videoconference happen. This hints at the need for staff to coordinate and support videoconference. In addition, the authors suggest that a fixed room with appropriate lighting is best suited for the location of videoconference equipment. “There is justification for support personnel to maintain and run the eqiupment and leave the educators free to concentrate on the learning process” (p. 297).

Interestingly, this article defined Instructional Television (ITV) as two way audio and one way video. I haven’t see this definition before, but it makes sense and obviously at one point meant that. Shows how important terms can be, and how much they change.

Reflection: This article emphasized the importance of planning, organization and coordination, in addition to tech support. These are definitely important pieces for a successful implementation.

I wonder if they did any more VCs after this article, and what they are doing now!

Mexican Dances

Mexican DancesToday we have a couple more sessions with Frank Garcia at the Pedro Zaragoza Foundation. Today’s classes were middle school exploratory language classes. They were treated to several dances, interspersed with some question and answer time. Our students asked:

  • How old were you when you started to learn the dances? (5 years old)
  • How long does it take to learn the dances? (about 3 months)
  • What time is it there?
  • Is it hard to learn the dances?

The students in Mexico asked our students:

  • What are your names?
  • Do you want to learn how to dance?
  • What kind of music do you like?
  • If it’s cold, why aren’t you wearing sweaters?

I would like to think of some more ways the students could interact and do some games. Maybe they could teach our students some simple steps or some vocabulary. I would like our students to be able to share something too, that would be of benefit to the orphans.  What ideas do you have for interacting?

Visiting Students in Mexico

Today I have two last minute planned videoconferences with Mexico. We had planned to have a Jr. High class connect yesterday, but they lost power. Their kids were so excited they wanted to talk to someone today. So last night I sent out an email to my schools and found two classes to connect and chat.

The connections are with the Pedro Zaragoza Foundation and Frank Garcia is the one coordinating. We found him on the CILC Collaboration Center.

Frank’s Dream
Frank is funding this foundation from his own pocket and with donations from local businesses. He’s bringing students from local schools, from the streets, and orphanages to videoconference with students in the United States. They share Mexican dances as well as just “getting to know you” interactions.

Frank would like to see classes in the United States sponsor children to go to school. For just $100 US, they can pay tuition and buy books and a backpack for one student. This seems like a great service learning project, similar to the VC for Hope project that Terry Godwaldt coordinates.

Mexico4th grade talks to 2nd grade
In our first session, the students had a simple exchange. To start off, one student at a time came up and said, “Hi, my name is ___, and I am ___ years old, and I like to _____.” Then the other class would say, Hola John! and wave. The kids loved it!

Both classes described where we were, and we showed them the bright white outside the window (snow!). One of our students played a few notes on a recorder, and the Mexican students clapped for her!

The two principals had a conversation; then the students sang a song for each other.

1st grade Spanish class talks to 2nd graders
In the second exchange, our students were starting to learn Spanish. They sang songs for each other, followed by more meet and greet time. All of the songs both classes shared were in Spanish. Our students had a song about the days of the week, and another for the colors.

We had a great time with these connections, and plan for more in the future. You can too! Just contact Frank!