I co-taught a new workshop Friday via videoconference for teachers here in Edmond Public Schools (Oklahoma) and teachers at a distance in Rockwall ISD (Texas) titled “Intermediate/Advanced Topics in Podcasting.” Vicki Allen facilitated the group in Rockwall, which included over 30 teachers, administrators and support personnel in the district. We had just four of us in Edmond, but in both districts I think participants learned a lot and walked away with new ideas about using podcasting with students– and supporting podcasting at a district level. We actually recorded a podcast during the videoconference about ideas for using podcasts with students. Participant questions posted to the workshop blog we used were excellent, and I’ll be answering many of those questions (as best I can) in upcoming days as blog posts here. I wasn’t able to field all of them during the actual videoconference.

Vicki gave me the great idea of using a computer video adapter (in this case for my MacBook) to be able to share my computer screen with videoconference participants.

Macbook video adapter

Sharing your computer screen during a videoconference is generally not a big deal, but I was working with a portable Polycom VSX 3000 unit that does not have a “Visual Concert” device that permits computer switching in a videoconference. I experimented a few weeks ago with the demo version of Polycom People+Content IP software during my first videoconferencing workshop on podcasting with teachers in St Louis— but that software just runs on WinXP. This solution, essentially treating the computer signal like a document camera, is more flexible since I can connect either my HP laptop or Macbook into the videoconference. The disadvantage is that PIP video is not supported– with People+Content IP the far endsite can potentially see the computer screen in the large window, and the instructor in a small PIP window. That functionality only works for point-to-point connections with another Polycom unit, however, and since we were connecting via the bridge at ESC10 in Richardson I don’t think PIP would have worked anyway. My experience has been generally that when you videoconference through a bridge, you are only able to send and receive a single video source.

This workshop was a first for me in using both podcasts for pre-workshop / pre-videoconference participant learning as well as blog commenting for “live” questions and answers. The Rockwall teachers listened to most of my presentation on “Copyright, Fair Use, Intellectual Property & Podcasting” that I shared on Nov 3rd at Beyond4Walls. They did this in the morning on Friday, prior to our afternoon videoconference. The result was that participants had quite a bit of feedback, questions and comments relating to those topics to share during our live videoconference. It can be a real challenge to get discussions going during a videoconference workshop, especially when you are working with people you don’t know or don’t know very well, and those people don’t know you. Somehow when adults are seated in a videoconferencing room with fixed microphones and a television or projector to watch, they naturally seem to want a passive, “sit and get” learning experience. That sort of synchronous, non-interactive learning model is well-suited for a podcast (or a video), but really doesn’t leverage the interactive potential of a videoconference. I thought we dealt with these challenges well on Friday, in part by using the podcast content in advance (before the connection) to generate/activate learner schema.

I thought the comments and feedback in the initial part of the workshop were GREAT. I posted these results to the wiki:

The workshop was also a first because it was the first time I’ve used my Macbook to share computer content, from both the Mac OS X side and WindowsXP. I run WinXP using Parallels software on the Macbook, and I loved being able to use the MacOSX accessibility screen zoom features even with WinXP, since I was running Windows “in a window” on my Mac. Being able to zoom in closely to show buttons or other software menus is very handy during a workshop, especially during a videoconference when computer screen resolution has been scan-converted and is therefore worse than “normal” when you are just using a projector and teaching F2F. We were even able to record the workshop podcast in Audacity on the WinXP side (since most of the teachers attending the workshop use WinXP) and used the built-in microphone on the Macbook. This worked slick!

It was great to be getting online directly via my Macbook, since my web browser requests were not forced to go through a district proxy server and web filter. I did fail to request in Edmond that the workshop blog (on blogger) that we used be “whitelisted” on the district content filter, so local participants were not able to access the blog on their computers. (I could from my non-proxy configured Macbook and the teachers in Rockwall could, however.)

I think the workshop could have been even more effective if I would have had someone with me in Edmond helping read the blog-posted comments, or perhaps if I’d done a better job sharing the teaching role with Vicki. This was similar to using Elluminate during the live events for K-12 online: There was a lot happening in multiple places, in that case the white board, the chat room, and the live conversation– and when so much is happening it is hard to take it all in. That’s why team teaching in blended, synchronous digital teaching environments is key!

This was a lot of fun and I certainly learned a great deal, which can hopefully be applied to make instructional opportunities like this even more beneficial and effective in the future. Many thanks to all the teachers and administrators in both Rockwall and Edmond for participating and making this a rich learning experience. I had a lot of fun, and that is always a good sign when we’re trying to learn new things! 🙂

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