Embrace the Power of the Web

3 05 2009

It’s all about connections. Links in the virtual sense, being able to go from here to here. But also in the physical sense, traveling here, thanks to friends you made here. Making friends there, that you can easily bring back here.

Here’s what some of my connections look like:


Twitter Map

Twitter Flock


Facebook Friend Wheel


Elliette on Skype

If you don’t understand the power of these connections, you’ll be falling farther and farther behind. Probably without even knowing it….

The New Digital Divide

Because, really, even if you all work here, sometimes you don’t have time to meet there, so you can just as easily meet here:

Unit Planning, 21st Century Style

So, what I’m really trying to say is: embrace the power of the web and find your connections! You never know where they might take you!

Made in Japan

3 05 2009

Alex and I have always wanted to go to Japan and we finally managed to organize a trip there for our Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday a few weeks ago. We’re pretty well-traveled, so normally I wouldn’t think one of our vacations is worth a blog post, but this trip had something special: my PLN.

Twitter Meet-up

One of the reasons we decided to go to Japan this year was because I actually had quite a few friends living around the country. Not friends from college or high school, or former colleagues, in fact, I had never met most of them face-to-face. But we share ideas, collaborate on projects, and chat almost every day, thanks to Twitter, Skype, G-talk, and my RSS reader. Because of these virtual friendships, we were able to take a very unique tour of Japan, stopping in at three schools, staying with friends, and really experiencing a taste of life in Japan.

Of course, through all of this, I got to know my virtual friends so much better. It still amazes me how deeply we can connect online, and just how real my virtual friendships are. Meeting Leanne, Rhonda, Christine, and Genki for the first time wasn’t really like the first time – I knew them already from our many conversations!

Tweet-up DinnerThis isn’t the first time I’ve met members of my PLN face to face, but it is the first time it hasn’t been at a conference or professional event (or on my own “turf” in Bangkok). I love that we originally connected based on our professional interests, but that we can build on that foundation to create a true friendship that extends beyond work.

Thank you so much, friends, for making our trip to Japan so absolutely fantastic! We never could have done it without you!

The best thing about holidays is spending time with friends, and thanks to my PLN, it seems like I have friends almost everywhere!

How have you connected, in person, with your PLN?

Gone Skype’n!

9 02 2009

Back in November and December I worked with a small group of grade 5 students on the Flat Classroom Project. Our group acted as a Sounding Board for the project participants, and after finishing their part of the process, were very interested in actually speaking to some of the students whose work they had peer reviewed. Thanks to the wonderful Anne Mirtschin in Australia, within days of our request to find a class to Skype with, we were chatting about the project with a few of her high school students.

In order to get ourselves prepared for the call, we determined a list of questions in advance and wrote them on the board, along with the name of the person who would ask the question (and then answer the following question from our Skypers in Australia). We set up the room so that everyone could see the Smart Board, and so that our friends in Australia could see all of us. We left one seat open at the very front of the room, in the perfect position to plop down right in front of the webcam, so that each student can walk up, one at a time, to ask and answer questions.

We spent about an hour online with Anne’s class, learning a little more about how her students created their final projects and what it was like to collaborate globally on such a challenging project. They did an excellent job answering all of our questions and they also shared a few interesting facts about life in Australia (there was some eating of Marmite on camera for proof). Next time around I think we’ll have to prep a little hands-on demo for life in Thailand as well!

After the chat, the grade 5′s shared their thoughts about being able to connect with other students around the world via Skype:

  • I enjoyed meeting new students because it’s fun to connect with other people from around the world
  • I liked learning about another culture from a person in that country
  • I liked learning about the process of how they worked with other students around the world – we could do that too!
  • It was fun to be able to talk to them “in person” and to tell them that we enjoyed the project and to see if they enjoyed it too. I like to talk with other people better than writing.
  • I liked Skyping with other students, not from our class, because then you get different opinions and you get to interact with different students.
  • I learned a bit about Australia
  • I learned how a Skype connection works, and to be a little patient because it has to travel very far!
  • I learned that the FC students worked with more people than I thought they did
  • I learned that they didn’t know that much about Thailand – so it was helpful for them to talk to us too!
  • I learned about their school – they have very small classes.

This is just one of the many Skype experiences these students are fortunate to have in their regular classes. Last week I was able to watch Chrissy’s class participate in Silvia’s Around the World With 80 Schools project as they Skyped with a very small school in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Our students came in a little early and the class in Canada came back after school to get to know each other. Watching their mouths drop in surprise when they find out our school has 7 fifth grade classes and they only have 11 sixth graders and that our lowest temperature is around 15 degrees C, while there’s is -50 degrees F, was priceless.

Such a simple tool, with such a powerful impact!

Even though a Skype experience certainly can’t beat a real-life visit to Australia or Canada, our students certainly have a more in-depth, personalized understanding of their peers around the world than they would have without Skype. Making these personal connections is such an easy way to give students a more global perspective – and it’s free! What are you waiting for? Get Skyping!


5 12 2008

Our second K12Online LAN party was a hit! In order to appeal to a different crowd, we held this one at ISB Teacher Housing right after school on a Thursday evening. Although it was definitely more convenient for most teachers, trying to get energized and focused on learning after a long day of work was a little more difficult than our previous Saturday morning party. Thankfully, we had three amazing guests visit and chat with us via Skype, which kept everyone engaged for the two-hour event.

@AllanahK via Skype

First up, we had the wonderful Allanah King from New Zealand share the story of how she got started using new tools like Skype, blogs, wikis and podcasts in her classroom. It was quite late for Allanah (I think something like 10pm) but she was as enthusiastic and passionate as always! Having Allanah there to start our party was a great way to demonstrate the power of connected learning from the outset – and to be able to use a tool, which is new for some, to kick-start our conversation was the perfect beginning!

After we chatted with Allanah, we watched Brian Crosby’s excellent presentation, “Video-Conferencing It’s Easy, Free and Powerful” about his experience using Skype in the classroom. I have to admit, no matter how many times I watch Brian and his students talk about involving Celeste in their classroom, I tear up. This presentation ended up, totally unintentionally I have to admit, setting the tone for our entire party. We spent most of our time talking about the power of Skype in the classroom. Chrissy and I shared a few examples and we brainstormed about the potential of bringing expert voices and outside guests into our daily learning environment.

Hello Old Friends! Continuing along our Skype theme, we had a very welcome visit from Nancy von Wahlde in Madrid, Spain. Amazingly, two of our current ISB teachers, Erin and Ali, had worked with Nancy (and many of her colleagues) in previous years. We had an unexpected reunion, which really brought home the potential of Skype. Nancy was right in the middle of her day in Madrid, so we got to see a few of her students in action and experience the hustle and bustle of the American School of Madrid with her.

Finally, we had a perfectly-timed call with Chris Betcher – who was using Skype on his mobile phone while spending some time with his family (Chris, you never cease to amaze me!). Chris shared some of his IWB secrets (soon to be published in his book, Teaching With Interactive Whiteboards) as well as tons of advice on how to use Moodle in the classroom (which ISB has recently implemented in the middle and high schools). As usual, Chris had a wealth of resources to share, not only about IWBs and Moodle, but also podcasting, screencasting, and digital video editing (we got the inside scoop on how he made his fantastic K12Online presentation about tagging).

Makeshift Projector StandAlthough we had a somewhat makeshift setup (check out the wobbly projector stand we put together with some of Ali’s still unpacked boxes from her move to Bangkok this year), this was another powerful experience of learning together. At the end of the session, we brainstormed ways to kick ‘em up a notch to get even more people interested. Here are a few ideas that we came up with (mostly thanks to John, so I can’t take much of the credit):

  • Send an e-mail to the people who have expressed an interest to get them talking about the event in an effort to create a “buzz.”
  • Ask attendees what they want to learn about next – come in with a plan or a focus that can be advertised in advance (an excellent idea, requiring more work than I’ve put into the parties thus far). Although it was unintentional this time around, I really liked having a focus on one specific tool – sometimes it’s easier for people to wrap their heads around one idea than being bombarded with many different things.
  • Finding a way to use the tools we’ve learned about in previous evenings in the weeks leading up to the next party.

One more thing that we plan to do next time around is share the new Elgg group that we’ve created for our early adopters – this is definitely our target audience!

We’re thinking our next session will be next Saturday, December 13th, back at my apartment downtown in the late morning. So if you’re around and interested in sharing your thoughts with us, please let me know! We love having guests and hearing all different perspectives.

Anyone have any suggestions for making our next party even more LAN-tastic?