Connecting Classrooms through Virtual Presentations
Kylie Lorenzen, a Lead technology teacher in Eston, has always been interested in doing more with technology in her classroom. So when she contacted me to be part of her brainstorming for more ideas, I was excited by her enthusiastic response to using Bridgit to connect her classroom virtually!
Her students had been working on an inquiry project in the Mystery Unit, developing online research skills throughout the process. To showcase their learning, students were given the choice of using either PowerPoint or Prezi as the tool for creating visual representations to supplement their oral presentations. Through the Learning Coaches, Kylie was connected with Joell Tiffin and Colette Charpentier in Outlook High School, and Jeremy Murphy in Davidson School, middle level teachers who were eager to have their students participate as online audience members.
Then, prior to the actual presentations, Kylie and I worked through some of the planning details to ensure that the experience would be as smooth as possible.
1. Equipment Preparation:
- In order for Kylie’s Grade 7 students in Eston to present virtually, they needed to be able to share their desktop with their online audience. In Sun West, we use an presentation software called Bridgit. All participating teachers were relatively new to the software, so they watched a short screencast on how to use the tool prior to the actual presentation day.
- Webcams were also installed in all locations which permitted classrooms to see each other during the opening welcome. The webcams were then turned off during the actual presentations.
- Of course it was essential that the students could be heard during the presentations, so each classroom located a set of speakers and a mic and did a test run on the equipment.
- Visibility was also important for the audience classroom so SmartBoards were used in each classroom.
- During our first attempt, the computers were lagging so much that we stopped the test run. A quick email to the tech department revealed that Eston’s bandwidth was maxed out. There was a Skype conversation going on in another part of the school which had caused the problem. So, we rebooked another time to try again and Kylie informed the staff about the presentation to ensure lack of bandwidth would not be a problem.
- Our second run through revealed that certain animations and transitions on the Power Point presentations caused the slides to freeze up when using Bridgit. To address that problem, students removed all animations from their online versions of their presentations and saved a new copy with a different file name.
- We also discovered that Prezis with embedded videos showed quite slowly on the receiving end. To accommodate this, student presenters learned that they would need to take into consideration the extra time it took to load the video into consideration when moving ahead.
- Finally, we learned that the software ran much smoother when Kylie hosted the meeting and the audience joined rather than the other way around.
How will introductions be handled?
What is expected of the listening audience?
Will the audience give feedback to the presenters? If so, how?
Will the audience ask questions? If so, how will students do that (one at a time? prepared in advance? spur of the moment?)
Will students have a chance to practice with the mics and webcams?
Since this is a both a speaking and listening activity, will students be assessed or self-assess their skills? If so, how?
If the webcam is used, will it be on throughout the presentation, or just at the beginning during introductions?
There is always a degree of uncertainty the first time anyone uses online technology to connect classrooms. “Will the equipment work? Will bandwidth be an issue? How will w we problem solve technical difficulties?”
In this case, Kylie’s preparation helped make this experience enjoyable for both presenters and audience members. I peeked into the Grade 6 classroom at Outlook High during the presentation. Students there were extremely engaged and I overheard one Grade 6 student at Outlook High remark to a classmate, “This is really cool!”