Tag Archives: Communication Tips

Updating my VC Confirmation Letter

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to share with you since the beginning of the school year! I’ve been inspired by Roxanne’s work to polish my own work.

One thing that I looked carefully over in August was the confirmation letter I send to my schools. Just about every VC my schools do is scheduled through my office. And when it is scheduled, we send a confirmation letter. It used to be really long!!

But not everyone needed all the information all the time. So I moved several chunks of the letter online to my new preparation page:

Then I added these resources:

As well as some tried and true classic preparation resources:

Moving this online allowed me to majorly tighten up my confirmation letter. Now it looks like this:

To: teacher
CC Principal and VC Coordinator(s):

Subject Line: VC Confirmation: *title*: *date*

This letter confirms that your videoconference program has been scheduled.

*title*, *content provider*
*date & time*
## students attending (please correct if inaccurate)

The total cost of this program is $XXX.
Your district will be billed $XX after the program. The remaining funds are paid by REMC.
If you must cancel, please do so at least 5 business days before the event, or you will be charged for the event.

Preparing for Your Videoconference
Please be ready to start 5 minutes early.

You may contact **content provider** to discuss the content of your presentation.
Phone: *****
Email: ****
Please remember that any scheduling changes need to go through Berrien RESA.

**Content provider** will send you materials for this program. If you’re not sure what to do with materials or the materials don’t arrive, please call me right away!

Additional preparation resources are online here (worksheets, student letters, questioning lesson plan, ASK prep info, and more):

If you have any questions, you may call me or email me. Thank you.

Short & sweet! I think this works much better. Additional resources are there for those who need them, and the email only contains the most critical information.

What about you? Have you recently polished your communication for teachers who are busy speed readers?

Starting a Multipoint VC Professionally

I’ve been watching a lot of multipoint VCs lately, and so I thought I’d write today about what seems to work well. Most of these tips I’ve learned from COSI Columbus with their surgery and expert interviews or from Arnie Comer’s ASK and LAPS programs at Macomb ISD.

  1. Make sure all sites are muted in the waiting time before the session.
  2. Have a splash screen with a logo or graphic representing the program.
  3. Greet each site as they enter.
  4. Connect all sites 15 min early with 3-4 sites; 20-30 minutes early with 5 or more sites.

These simple rules can tighten up a multipoint meeting and make it much more professional.

Sometimes issues and problems can happen, but there are ways to address them:

  • If sites are unmuted, ask them to mute. If they don’t hear respond, the bridge operator can hard mute them on the bridge. Yes, I’m one of those control freak bridge operators! Silence at all costs! 🙂
  • If sites are not connected, call them on the phone to figure out what is wrong and trouble shoot/solve before the program starts.
  • If a participating (not presenting) site is late, start without them so that the other sites aren’t penalized.
  • If facilitators are at more than one site, have the side conversations before the classes join and stop when the other sites join in. Think of it as talking in front of live audience with a podium and mic. You wouldn’t have a side conversation by a live mic in front of a waiting audience if you were in person.
  • If there are any other problems, as the facilitator, unmute your microphone and address them as soon as possible.

What other tips would you add? Please comment!

Day 17: Your Lifelines

20 Days to Being a Better VC CoordinatorGuest blogged by Roxanne Glaser

Videoconference coordinators come in all forms in our schools. We have teaching assistants, librarians, campus technologists, technology directors, classroom teachers, and administrators. As we have mentioned earlier, the one commonality is that the majority of them have full time responsibilities in another capacity.

Bottom line: Everyone is busy.

How can you help a teacher during the time of the connection?

Best way to help: Stay in the room with a newbie to videoconferencing so that you can talk them through the first connection. You should know if you have to dial a number or if the other site is going to dial to you. Be sure to talk your teacher through his or her first couple of connections to orient them to both the technology and the ettiquette.

“Here is how we dial the connection. Here is how to mute the microphone. Move the paper away from the microphone. Sometimes the picture does freeze a bit–that is okay. Do you have questions prepared for the connection? “

If you cannot be there, try to at least get the unit connected and microphone muted.

When you have to leave, provide the teacher a lifeline and a plan.

1. Make a sheet with the phone number of whoever they are connecting with (content provider, other school, bridging service, etc). Put the phone numbers in order of which to call first. If you are connecting through a bridge, you will start with the bridge that you connect to and then they can assist at that point.

2. Remind teachers to have something for the students to work on in case there is some wait time due to technical difficulties. Some of our classes review content for presentations. If it is the other site having issues, you can also check presets on your camera. Math fact quizzes, spelling words, 20 questions, or other content related sponge activities also work well.

3. If there is not a phone in the room (or a teacher cell phone), send a student to the office (or nearest phone that you can dial out on) with a hall pass with the phone number to dial and a description of what the problem is.

One Final Note:

If you know that the people you have been working with on this project or connection use Skype (or another IM program) and you have already used this method to communicate with them. Use it now. Skype is also great for supporting international connections.

Comment Challenge

  • Create a “lifeline template” to use for your connections–include phone numbers, technical information, time and date of connection.
  • Super Duper Challenge–Add a brain quest game, story book, etc on your videoconference cart in case the teacher forgets to provide a back up plan.

Day 15: Kid Producers

20 Days to Being a Better VC CoordinatorHow much do you let students help you with videoconferences? For this challenge, let’s think about some appropriate ways to involve students in the production of the videoconference.


One of the most simple ways to involve students is to have them in charge of muting the microphone. I’ve seen this work well in a couple of ways (about 2nd grade and up):

  • A trusted student is responsible for muting and unmuting in a multi-point conference such as an ASK program or an interview with an expert.
  • OR, as each student comes up to the microphone, they press the button on the microphone, state their question or comment, and then press the button again.

I’ve seen these examples using with the button on the Polycom microphones (instead of giving the student the remote control). Those of you using other systems, how does this work for you? Please comment and share!

Cameras and More

Some students prefer to be off camera, while others love to “ham it up” with strong voices and great announcing skills. Encourage this diversity by involving your students in different ways during the videoconference. (Thank you Kim Pearce for these ideas to organize students with production jobs.)

  • Teach the students to use already set presets, or even how to set the presets. Have a student or two responsible for the switching presets. This is helpful when you have different visuals to show. Watch the student presentations in the middle of this MysteryQuest video for examples.
  • Build on the visual nature of videoconferencing communication, and have an art crew for the backdrop, a lighting crew, and stage hands. Let these visuals from Dew ISD, TX inspire you:

Comment Challenge/Comment

  • If you haven’t allowed students to help with a videoconference yet, which of these tips will you try first?
  • Do you have any other tips for involving students in the production of the videoconference?

Comment and tell us about it!

Day 14: Questions, Questions? Questions!

20 Days to Being a Better VC CoordinatorThis week, we’ve been giving you tips to improve the quality of the interactions in your videoconferences. The question and answer time can be when the videoconference spirals out of control, or it can be a profitable learning experience.

Has this ever happened to you during Q&A time?

  • No one can think of a question until after you disconnect.
  • All the students start asking questions at once.
  • All the students answer the question at the same time and other class can’t hear the answer.
  • The students ask only questions such as, How long is your recess? and what are your favorite subjects?
  • The students can’t think of questions; so they ask the same questions that the other class just asked them.

Let’s Improve Those Questions

    1. Before the connection, learn a little about the location of your partner class. As a class, brainstorm some questions to learn more based on what you learned. For example, let’s say you’re connecting to a class in Midland, Michigan, which has a Dow Chemical Plant. Students might ask, how many of your parents work on the plant & what jobs do they do? Or, how does the chemical plant impact your community?
    2. During the connection, after each class has done their formal presentation, mute for 2 minutes to brainstorm questions. What could you ask the classes based on their presentations? What else do you want to know? You might even have some feedback/compliments to share with your partner class. For example, “We liked your PowerPoint presentation. Was it hard to find pictures for it? Where did you look?”
    3. Designate 3-5 students on a “question answer team.” These students are responsible for answering the questions from the partner class and make sure that one student answers at a time.
    4. Set up the question. Have the student(s) start with, Hi my name is _____. Then lead the question with a statement. For example, In our class, we have horses, dogs, cats and a lizard as pets. What pets do you have?
    5. When facilitating a multipoint session, don’t say, “Any questions?” Always call on schools by name (in the same order) so they know who should be talking.

    Comment Challenge/Comment

    • Try out one of these tips in your next videoconference. Tell us how it went.
    • Do you have any other question tips?
    • Do you have any stories of great questions students have asked?

    Comment and tell us about it!

    Day 13: Who Are You? and Where Are You?

    20 Days to Being a Better VC Coordinator

    Videoconferencing is a communication technology. “I know that,” I hear you say. But think about this. When was the last time you were in a videoconference and you didn’t know the name of the person you were talking to? I bet it was recently. It happens all too often!


    So for today’s challenge, let’s think about some tips to polish your introductions.

    1. Introduce yourself soon after you connect. Roxanne reminded us of this yesterday. Say, “Hello, this is ______ from ______ school in __________.” We want to know who you are and where you are!
    2. In large discussions with multiple sites, before stating your perspective, begin with “I’m _____ from _____ and my comment is…”
    3. Be sure to say the city and state. Sometimes it’s very helpful to include a frame of reference. For example, you probably don’t know where Berrien Springs is! So, I say, I’m Janine and I’m from Berrien RESA in southwest Michigan about an hour and a half around the lake from Chicago. Now, don’t you have a better picture of where I am?
    4. Prominently display a sign to identify your location.

    Student Introductions

    If you participate in many collaborations with other schools, here are two tips for making these introductions quick and easy.

    1. Create a little script that can be used for each videoconference. Write it on a note card and keep it by the videoconference cart/system. Tell us something unique about your area so we can get to know you. The next time you participate in a collaboration (Read Around the Planet?), hand the card to a student to read!
    2. Create a little PowerPoint with three to five slides starting with a map of your country, a map of your state/province, and pictures from around your town/city. Use a star or other large marker on the maps to show where you are. Every videoconference is an opportunity to reinforce geography!

    Comment Challenge

    Your challenge for today is to write your introduction script on a notecard or make a little PowerPoint or slideshow with pictures about your community. Have a couple students help you! Tell us what you included in it.

    Comment Comment

    What other tips or stories do you have on introductions?

    VC7 – Brain Based Learning Techniques

    James Tapankov: The VC7 – Brain Based Learning Techniques in VC
    At Elevate 2008

    This session will explore the use of brain-based learning techniques in the videoconferencing environment. The VC7 is a list of seven approaches that are guaranteed to enhance the level of interactivity and value to every VC, regardless of its focus. The session will involve the history of the development of the VC7, from its beginning roots to the current project with the VCRLN (Videoconferencing Regional Leads Network) to develop an online multimedia reference to highlight effective aspects of learning via VC.

    I’ve been really looking forward to this session since I read the blurbs for the sessions at Elevate. I’m so interested in what the 7 things are!! James doesn’t have this information online anywhere that I could find, but last night at dinner he gave me permission to blog his session, so you too, can learn about the VC7.

    James’ work is influenced by that of Marcia Tate of Developing Minds and Stephen Covey, and Viktor Flankl – Man’s Search for Meaning. I’m impressed with the connection and grounding in theory.

    His handout has room to write down the 7 things, room to scribble and draw. He does this session via videoconference as well.

    Keys to Brain-Based Learning

    • Relaxed alertness
    • Orchestrated immersion in complete experience
    • Active processing

    #1. Make it meaningful.

    Get everyone involved ASAP. Give meaning right away. Why are we here? Allow input into the “how”. Have everyone to something in the first 5 minutes instead of listening. Aim learning at solving problems together. Process learning in multiple ways. Connect life experiences. Build in reflection.

    #2. Get them active.

    Build in reasons and opportunities to: move. talk. draw. role play. play games. sing/dance. SHARE. “The last thing you want is a videoconference that could be recorded and sent out and it would have the same effect.”

    #3. Keep it fresh.

    Chunk it up, change it up. Take timely breaks. Give things to do OFF camera. Do unexpected things. Plant a “mole”. Change participant perspectives. Use new tools.

    Marcia’s rule – maximum length of an activity: average age – up to 20 age/minimum. Grade 5 students who are 10, then chunk 10 minutes. Adults, 20 minutes max.

    Example of unexpected things. He had some “moles” to pull out this snack that he likes – and everyone would taste it. Garlic sauce covered pretzels.

    #4. Engage the senses.

    Use A/V cues. Involve peripheral learning. Provide physical props. Use music. Use smell/taste. Use touch.

    Visuals around and behind you but you don’t actually reference. This goes along with my idea to crunch MysteryQuest to an hour and change some of the clues to being nonverbal – like the climate and human environment interaction clues.

    How do you convey the other senses when VC only conveys sight and sound?

    He talked about the project he did with Santa and how they used clues. One of the squares in a multipoint is a sign that said “everybody scream” and after they did, Santa came on screen. When the grinch came on that same screen they hand to ring their bells and sing a song to make him go away. They used a green screen to transport Santa in & out of the different places. Like Santa got stuck in the dungeon and they had to answer questions to get him out.

    #5. Make it personal.

    Connect a camcorder. Tell (appropriate) personal stories. Give things to do OFF camera. Do unexpected things. Plant a “mole”. Change participant perspectives. Use interactive digital tools.

    He thinks the robotic movements of the camera are impersonal, so he likes the camcorder instead hooked into the aux ports. You can really quick zoom in on what is going on that you want the other site to see. Of course you have to have enough bandwidth to handle all the motion.

    When you build relationships with people, you want to see their reactions. Kids love to be behind the camera running it. Hmm. I wonder if a camcorder plus PVX plus Promethean is where I should be heading with my “every classroom” project

    #6. Engage their emotions.

    Use music to direct/adjust mood and focus. Create opportunities for empathy. See first five points. James wants us to contribute too so that these don’t repeat quite so much.

    #7. Celebrate the experience.

    Encourage/reward risk. Enjoy your time together. Be silly when you can. Highlight progress made. Provide opportunity afterwards.

    Celebrate what happens at the end of things – like the big bang finale in Jazz.

    Low threat / high challenge for brain based learning.

    So many “one-offs” happen, so provide an opportunity to keep connecting.

    Presentation Tips

    • Play music while the people talk. When the music stops, everyone stops talking.
    • Use a parking lot to write down questions and comments for afterwards.
    • “I’d love to hear 3 comments.” and he gave away 3 pens.

    James has set up a wiki to continue the conversation and wants us all to contribute and extend these ideas. Gotta add this to the Read Around the Planet materials for this year!

    Training Hosts at the Canadian Space Agency

    This morning at breakfast at the Elevate 2008 conference, I chatted with Marilyn Steinberg from the Canadian Space Agency. I commented that I heard their programs fill up quickly, so she described how they focus on quality, particularly how they train their “hosts” – the scientists and engineers who videoconference with the students. Her training program isn’t published or researched, however, Alberta Education is conducting a three year research project on their student programs.

    I learned some really interesting things from Marilyn as she described their training program for their experts. Sometimes the best learning is in the conversations at a conference!

    Components of the training

    • An annual 7 month training that consists of 2-4 hours a month
    • Three levels of training – beginning, intermediate, and advanced
    • Beginning focuses on room presence when presenting face to face
    • Intermediate and advanced include speaking the same curriculum language as students and teachers, body language in a videoconference, initiating a warm connection in the first 2.5 minutes of the connection, etc.
    • Pairing beginning and advanced presenters in the first face to face workshops at the Space Agency so the beginners aren’t alone

    Lessons for communication
    Marilyn shared some really important communication points for videoconferencing. I asked her how she learned them, and she said by observing. They’ve been doing videoconferences for quite a long time. So here are a few of her tips.

    • An early tip for their experts is how to engage with students and teachers who come to sessions on-site at the Canadian Space Agency. The experts learn not to turn their back to the audience – “only your spouse should admire your backside” – a humorous way to remember the lesson! Moving around instead of staying in one place to present requires the audience to multi-task and follow you.
    • Don’t point to the kid on the front row. Pointing is very aggressive. Instead, call on the student in the first row with a green shirt – with an inviting smile on your face and your eyebrows raised. The student will respond with a smile and you’ve engaged them and made a human connection.
    • Don’t break eye contact with the audience. She talked about how when you’re thinking, you might look down or up to the left. But this just makes you look really scary and shifty in a videoconference. Their presenters practice in the mirror and with each other in preparation for looking at the audience and not breaking eye contact. She described the results of this training in a session where the students are working in the room under the supervision of the remote host/scientist – and students just approach the microphone to ask questions of the scientist. Clearly the scientist is “in the room” in the students’ minds.

    The scientists improve so much in their presentation skills that they come back from their conferences and comment on the poor quality of presentations done at their scientific conferences. They’ve learned so much they’ve become critical consumers of presentations.

    Curriculum Connections
    The other part of her training program is in depth learning about the curriculum requirements of the schools. The scientists and engineers learn how to use the same language that the students are using in their scientific curriculum. This is so critical! How many poor expert presentations have you seen? Marilyn commented that they are “talking to themselves”, which I thought was pretty funny because it’s so true!

    A really brave (in my opinion) component of their training is annual assessment. This isn’t just a three year training where you just walk through the workshops and then you’re done. Each year they assess the experts to see what training they need to focus on for that year. The training is tailored to their needs. She didn’t describe how they did the assessment, but this seemed really brave to me. How many guest experts would be willing to go through this? Yet, clearly they are able to get past the initial hesitancy of their engineers and scientists to the point where they value and appreciate the training. They come back and say this interaction with the kids is their favorite part of their job because of the positive feedback they receive.

    I look forward to future publications and presentations of the great work that the Canadian Space Agency is doing!