Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Lync in a Snowstorm: Video-conferencing the Music Classroom

Okay, so it's not Buffalo, but one of our teachers lives out in the country and due to the recent snowstorm was unable to come to school.  Normally, that isn't a great emergency as we do our own coverages for missing teachers internally so students tend to get a teacher who can keep them moving in their subject areas.

But I was chatting with our snow-bound music teacher while she was at home and she was worried about one of her classes that she wanted to touch base with.   I mentioned that it wouldn't be a problem to quickly throw together a Lync video-conference with her students and I'd be happy to do the physical setup at the school end.

So she went to Outlook and created a Lync meeting -- it's easy if you've ever made an appointment in Outlook... click the NEW LYNC MEETING in the toolbar and it creates a conference room that everyone is invited to.  Although you set a time, it exists as soon and as long as someone logs in.
So, she sent the Invitation around to her students and me and waited for class.  I arrived with my tablet and had all the students enter the Lync room and mute their microphones.  I plugged in our Yeti microphone and set it as close to the conductor's stand as possible and turned my tablet's camera to face the students (next time, bring external camera!)

I also use the projector to display my screen.  This way the chat window and teacher video was visible when the students were performing for the teacher (and thus had tablets closed) and when the teacher was sharing her screen to go over the OneNote every student could see.

In fact, the teacher started the class by going over her Course Plan with the students, reminding them about upcoming assignments and the December Exam.  The teacher is an advocate of tagging (in fact, she's a master of it!) and so you can see how different items in the students' course calendar are "hashtagged" with meaning.  The students would unmute their microphone and ask questions and then re-mute and the teacher would respond by video. 

After discussing her plans, she turned to performance... while she couldn't conduct (she is on a slow rural wireless connection and there was too much lag) she had a student mark the time and the students played for her.  The clarity of the video and the sound was sufficient that she gave direct criticsm and praise to each student -- I have to admit to being surprised that she could see and hear how students were mis-playing.  They played and replayed a couple of pieces for her throughout the class and she gave feedback each time.  By the end of the class another music teacher had dropped by to see how things were going and he was quite taken with the setup. She concluded the class by returning to the OneNote Binder and going through reminders and then signed the students off.

Now, it's important to note that this will not be our approach to Snow Days.  In our context, Snow Days are a rare and special thing -- a Canadian treat to a boarding school that cannot be tampered with.  But in a situation where a teacher wants to directly interact with her class, the opportunity to use technology to facilitate that needs to be met.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"You don't want to use OneNote; it's too hard..."

So I was sitting in the Faculty Lounge yesterday (as I am as much as I can... see It's too far...) and I was chatting with a Social Studies teacher.  She was asking about the Microsoft conference I had attended last week where I had the opportunity to share our story with folks from across the Americas.  She wanted to make sure I knew that she was thrilled with the OneNote Binder (our super-charged version of Microsoft's OneNote Class Notebook).  And then she said You know, when I first came to our school I noticed some math & science teachers using OneNote and asked about it in my department and was told by my colleagues
'You don't want to use OneNote, it's too hard'.

I, of course, cringed.  But then I asked her why she changed her mind and was now a big fan of OneNote.

She said I went on maternity leave [the year we introduced the Binder] and when I came back, everyone was using the OneNote Binder and it was just so easy!  I noticed how one of our teachers had all of his resources organized for the entire year but could still add breaking news and adapt his instruction throughout the year.  I could see all the students' materials and provide feedback really easily.

I asked her, how long did it take you to get used to the OneNote Binder.  She smiled (that raised my spirits) and said It was just so obvious that in seconds I realized how it worked.

A photo from Microsoft's "Dragon's Den" in Barcelona March 2014,
where we unsuccessfully pitched the idea for the OneNote Binder
So I uncringed.  What made all the difference was the push-button ease of having the structure in place of the OneNote Binder.  On its own, OneNote can often be frightening (I refer to is as the fear of the blank page).  When you add in the structure of the OneNote Binder, an environment teachers and students are already comfortable with, they can easily start the process of digitizing their curriculum, expanding the collaboration amongst students and classes, and broadening the space we define as the classroom.

Since Office365, OneNote and the OneNote Notebook are all free for K12 schools, you should likely give it a try!

*I paraphrase except for the quote in red.  That was way too memorable to get wrong!  And I had to write a blog post just to get it out of my head.