These are my notes from Tim Gore and Jim Sturm’s presentation at MODLA 2008 titled “RoundTrips: Interactive Video Conferencing from Anywhere.” I am recording this session with their permission and will post it subsequently as a podcast here. MY THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS ARE IN ALL CAPS. Their website is roundtrips.org.

The official conference program description for this session was:

The project directors of RoundTrips, two teachers from the School District of Clayton, describe the wide curricular variety of their videoconferencing programs and show how their portable satellite transmitter and videoconferencing/webcasting studio helps students explore a wide range of topics as they connect live to people and places across the country. Distance education, in a live format, has usually been regulated to an inside wired environment. However, we know that much of what occurs of interest for students and teachers in real time happens where wires don’t exist. Because of satellite technology, wires no longer limit us. The goal of RoundTrips is to extend classroom curriculum for students and teachers to places they could not normally go and on that journey to create an interactive environment coupled with sound educational pedagogy. The presentation will include both demonstration and discussion. Demonstrations will focus on how teachers with video conferencing equipment or web access can take advantage of the wide range of RoundTrips adventures. Examples of these adventures from science to social studies and arts to literature can be found on the project’s website at http://www.roundtrips.org. Featured discussion topics will focus on the educational value, creative use, and best practices of video conferencing. Brainstorming and discussion will also consider participants’ interest in curricular applications utilizing the satellite transmitter and other non-satellite RoundTrips offerings.

We do live streaming of all videoconferences and also archive them

The last 3 years of our teaching life was quite different from the 20+
Our classroom became the Lewis and Clark Trail
– grant from the National Park Service
– got the satellite transmitter as a result of that grant

In the course of those years we did 130 programs

we had never done videoconferencing in a classroom environment before deciding to do this project
– originally we
– Bob Dixon at Ohio State was building these mobile trailers (fall of 2003)
– Aug 31, 2003 was our first program, we received our equipment on Aug 25, 2003

lesson: don’t tell people the date when you REALLY need things, tell them at least a week in advance

our trailer
– at optimal speeds, our trailer is 512 up, 1.5 MB down
– the satellite company, Tacheon, has been great for 4 years but now they are oversubscribing and starting to cache

Remote sattellite rig of Roundtrips.org

transmitter lets us videoconference and webstream from anywhere
– our idea is that kids should really be able to go places that bring the curriculum to live, LIFE
– story of a project they just did in the badlands
– mules had to pull the transmitter the final mile to the dig where archeologists were excavating part of a t-rex skeleton

Jim Sturm describing recent videoconferencing project to the Badlands, mules had to pull the transmitting trailer the last mile

Jim talked about programs being authentic, I (Tim) also see them as ripe for disaster
– after all this is LIVE TV!

story of deer camp
– lessons all about inquiry, scientific method, etc.
– deer were supposed to be tranquilized
– ended up wrestling a deer who wasn’t responding to

situation taught the students how experiments don’t always work, things can go wrong
– you have to think on your feet
– students learned a lot about scientific inquiry

Univ of Missouri Ag Dept got an NSF grant to create a solid-state mobile web cam to mount it on a deer, to have a live deer cam

We seek funding from other sources in addition to the Clayton school district
– because of that funding we get to provide these programs free
– we are scheduled for many trips in 2008-2008
– we also schedule trips that are requested by teachers, in Clayton but also in other locations

One of the coolest things about our job now is cold calling people and see
– 9 out 10 times the people we are talking with have never done videoconferencing before

can buy the trailer we have for about $48,000
– has its own build-in, quiet generater
– can go 60 hours or so
– 8 hours of battery built-in
– has big switch to plug in multiple computers
– came with wireless links, can transmit several thousand feet

$400-$500 per month is being charged by Tacheon now for the satellite connectivity
– easily gets to $5000 per year

once we are up and running from a particular location

we limit to no more than 3 or 4 remote sites
– 4 is pushing it

We started wtih 75 minute shows and 6 schools per session
– we realized 75 minutes was way too long
– 6 schools was too long

Our timeframe is 60 min at max
– sometimes 30
– only 1 or 2 schools is best, they really get to be interactive
– you get to see those inter

We provide prep materials for every program we do
– basic info about the program and the setting
– many times those materials come from the hosting organization
– we also think as teachers, what do I want to have as a teacher before my kids do this activity

example: hydroelectric dam where the turbans had been pulled out
– kids in the classroom had been making their own engines with coils, generators
– kids had really developed good background knowledge with their hands-on projects which pre-ceeded the videoconference

MOREnet does the bridging for these videoconferences

Have worked with CSD and their own channel, HECtv, haven’t done live broadcast
– TV stations have Polycom units and signal runs out the composite video signals and audio into their systems
– in St Louis metro region all our programs run live on tv, so students and teachers can either watch on TV and email in questions

Used Marratech in the past with a live chatroom for some programs
– Marratech works very well through school district firewalls
– client side software is free, point to point is free
– Marratech has worked well with us

some of programs work where kids come ready to present about a topic (we’re sharing research about topic X and then learn more things about experts about that)
– we also request that if kids have advance questions that have popped into their minds based on background materials, email those to us with the name of the child you’d like us to prompt to ask that question
– that works well for questions
– we also have spontaneous questions, as moderator I have to keep that balanced
– we keep a rotation, same order of schools
– sometimes do 2 questions per school in the rotation
– on the student side, it works well if the teacher sets up a place for the students to go

we send advance materials discussing protocols
– there is a lag
– we say some things to buy some time

we realized: stop thinking about this as being the “be all end all” on this topic
– this may be a starting activity, a culminating activity, an enrichment activity
– hopefully there will be more learning that continues after the session
– there needs to be a strong sense of organization from the agenda perspective for the classroom teacher (obviously event schedule modifications happen)

Archived past sessions are available online

The moderator does have a wireless earpiece
– inexpensive, camcorder mic stuff
– lets moderator

we have evaluations after each program
– we tend to get much more evaluations back than other people report getting
– teacher and student evals (both are equally important)

what do kids like best?
– fascinating that they can do the experience
– to talk to someone in another area is great
– lots of comments about interactivity with REAL people, REAL experts who are in the know
– the opportunity to share what they have done (as students) is also very engaging

structure of each program vary based on content

example this year for Constitution day
– kids get materials
– very discussion and Q&A orientation

Fine Arts / Artists at work
– students will be interacting with artists who are actually creating

We use Azden mics like you use with a camcorder, have a 16 channel mixer we put our inputs into

we have 280 feet of cable to the trailer (used to be 300′)

work with Truman library

Have 100′ of S video cable to roam with at events
– our wireless connectivity options didn’t work as well, so we stay wired when roaming at events

Have done multiple shows in Monroeville, Alabama where “To Kill a Mockingbird” was set, program is “Of Monroeville and Mockingbirds”
– Greatest part of our videoconferences was the people who grew up with Harper Lee and told about stories of her growing up

Can mail you a DVD

record now to DV tape because of high quality, we didn’t like the quality of the compressed recorded video

other units are in
– ESC10 Abilene TX
– Broward, FL
– Bering Straits, Alaska

We had a phenomenal experience just connecting 3rd graders in Clayton, Missouri, to 3rd graders in Kenya

Most audiences have been grades 4-8
– nature of the school day for middle school and elementary is more conducive for this
– high school bell schedules are not as conducive for programs like this

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