Adventures in Online Synchronous Communication

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys] 

What is your favourite form of online synchronous communication? I am pondering this today as I write the 5th and final blog post as guest blogger on Dangerously Irrelevant. As I much as I love and become immersed in the asynchronous communication modes of being online there is nothing better than a quick fix or an interaction or meeting that is in real time. Let me share with you some methods I have used recently for real-time (synchronous) communications. For a start there is always GChat! using GMail and having access to friends and colleagues around the world via the chat facility gives me a warm glow (you too?). For example, this screen shot was taken today. The different colours represent online activity: Green (online), Red (online but busy), Orange (online but away from computer), and Grey (has been online recently but gone now). It is early Saturday morning here in Qatar as I write this so I can see that Vicki has probably gone to bed in Georgia, my friend in India has gone out shopping, Elizabeth and Dean are possibly still awake in the USA, Judy in Australia is up but busy, Saad is up and online in Dhaka, David in Singapore, and Chris in France…well it’s early in the morning for him but he is often online at odd hours.  What an international group I have represented here!

Advantages of GChat:
archive of chats stored in ‘Chats’ mailbox. Message can be sent to a person not online, they will receive it later.

Skype of course has to come next! What a wonderful tool. I use Skype in the classroom, I use Skype to communicate with family and friends around the world. Here is a link to an article I wrote for ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology  magazine Using VoIP to Foster Connectivity and Communication. It is also reproduced here on my wiki.

Advantages of Skype
: Can include video and text-chat and audio chat, can include a group of up to 9 people. A Skypecast can include a lot more! Skype calls can be recorded using applications such as PowerGramo or Pretty May.

Another tool,
UStream, is being used by many educators to share, once again in real time initially, what they are presenting, thinking, or discussing. This image is from Educon 2.0 in January. George Mayo presented on global collaboration and Skyped a few of us in to his presentation, which he also had running through UStream. This shows George in conversation with Clarence Fisher. The Skype calls and conversation were seamless and George was adept at directing the live audience as well as the virtual audience along a path of exploration.

I am really loving
Elluminate this year. The facility of audio, chat, whiteboard combined with being able to import PPT files and images, videos, take polls etc etc means it is a very powerful tool for synchronous work. Yes, I know it is expensive for a school, however don’t forget the free V-Room that will take 3 people and is fully functional.

Get your free Elluminate vRoom

It is through Elluminate that we run the student summits for Flat Classroom Project. Each student and teacher in the summit prepares a JPG file and uploads it ready to talk to the images on the file that represent their work and experiences.

Advantages of Elluminate
: Video of presenter possible, audio of one or more participants, back-channel chat.

Student from LACHSA presenting in Elluminate (Flat Classroom 2007)

I cannot finish this post without mentioning Twitter. Yes, I know this is strictly not synchronous however often it feels like it! For example this morning I tweeted this:

To which I received these responses:

and also a direct message via Twitter from @mohamed: "instant messenger because of presence and ability to have trusted connections. Now if only it was integrated with SMS"

My Twitter community is always there for me. Learn more about Twitter, find more Twitter resources. Follow me on Twitter.

Advantages of Twitter
: micro-blogging with usually fast response from followers, able to share ideas without getting into a ‘real conversation’, archives all tweets, integrates with mobile phone technology.

Also, to share another synchronous online experience…….Not long ago
I also had the opportunity to be part of a ‘fishbowl’ classroom
project. Karl Fisch sent me an invitation to ‘live blog’ with students at Arapahoe High School as they discuss Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind.
A class blog post had been set up and as we listened to the live
conversation by the ‘inner circle’ the outer circle (educators and
outer students) posted comments to this post. We used an online tool
MeBeam with success to webcam the educators and the physical classroom together.
Here is an image of participants using MeBeam with the blog comment window open as well.

Julie Lindsay, guest blogger

[A special thank you to Scott McLeod for inviting me to be guest presenter over the past week. This has been quite a challenge and I have appreciated the opportunity to put more extended blog posts together.]

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My 2020 Vision for Global Collaboration

Logo[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

I have been reflecting on global collaboration and what it means for teachers, students and the wider community. I have also been reflecting on sustainability of online spaces and how much of what we are ‘producing’ in terms of creative output  has not been preserved over the past 15 years. Let me be more specific.

For the past 12 years I have participated in online global projects with my students. In 1996, my school in Australia, Eltham College, received an Honorable Mention in the Environmental Awareness section of  the International Cyberfair project (organised by the Global School Net). This project had an amazing affect on our school community. To be able to publish images, sounds (yes, we even got up at dawn and recorded the Australian bird song as the day begins to upload), ideas and thoughts from our part of the world and share them internationally was an amazing achievement in the early days of he Internet. In fact many of us got up at 5am (pre-dawn!) to come to school and listen to the Cyberfair awards ceremony that year (at a reasonable time in the USA of course) that included an opening address from Al Gore. Those were the days. Alas, the website for this project is gone, changes in school server and ISP hosting etc etc have deleted it long ago.

In my first 5 years as an international educator I ran Learning Circle projects with classes in Zambia and Kuwait as part of the iEARN initiative. These involved grouping 6 or so classrooms from around the world into a ‘project’ that was self-determined according to curriculum section. The outcome from the interaction was often a hard-copy publication or a website. I still have two of the ‘books’ produced during these years with students writings and ideas from the various international locations. I am excited to see that iEARN are now in Qatar and promoting collaborative projects in this region.

When I moved to Bangladesh and International School Dhaka we participated in the 2004 international School’s Cyberfair and won the Platinum (first prize) in the Environmental Awareness section for Poribesh Bachan (Bangla for being aware, taking action). Once again this was a community project and we had great fun compiling images and records of the current environmental state of Dhaka and initiatives that were moving it forward at that time. Alas, this website is not available online anymore.

In the past 18 months I have been a co-founder (with Vicki Davis) of the Flat Classroom Project and Horizon Project and global collaboration as I knew it suddenly took on a whole new dimension. I have written about this new ‘Global Collaboration 3.0‘ earlier however let me make some salient points here as to why we now have a whole new focus for online collaborative projects and what that means for education.

What is my 2020 Vision for global collaboration? (thanks to Karl Fisch for his inspiration and for being the Keynote speaker for Horizon Project 2006)

  • Global collaborative projects need to be embedded into the curriculum. We need to be looking at how students can have experiential learning opportunities at all levels of education. As a middle and high school specialist I expect my students to have had at least one global project experience before they leave Primary school, and then to have at least one global project experience each year of middle and high school. I do not think this is unreasonable or unrealistic
  • We need to continue (or start) to foster technology integration as part of what we do in schools. Gone are the days where students come to the computer lab. to do IT. Moving towards 1:1 mobile computing programs is a start, providing professional development for teachers in embedding IT into their curriculum is even more important, providing the support via integration facilitators is also essential. Facilitators must have a no-class load within a school and could be IT and/or library/media specialist or strong curriculum specialists comfortable with online tools and Web 2.0
  • We need to be unblocking viable connectivity tools so that digital access and participation is available for all classrooms around the world. Can we get governments and school organizations to talk about this at the same table? Can we develop a set of essential tools that ALL schools around the world access in order to communicate?
  • We need to be developing digital citizenship skills and courses within schools, starting once again at the Primary/Elementary school level. It is so important to be able to work professionally online and to understand the dynamics of online communication. This does not come easily to most beginners. Students who are perhaps used to being online via Facebook or MySpace have a perspective of how to be social but not professional online communicators. There is a difference and we need to highlight this.
  • We need to be investigating sustainability of online spaces and archiving successfully projects and collaborations. Currently we use wikispaces and ning (amongst others of course)….will these still be around in 5 years time? If not, what happens to the amazing content and productivity from classrooms all around the world? Will it be lost for ever?

I have a strong belief in the power of online connectivity and global collaboration (in all of it’s many forms) at the school level to make a difference to the world we live in through fostering better understanding and cultural awareness. These are not just words. I have seen this happen through the projects I have run with my own classes.

What is your 2020 vision for global collaboration? Do you have a global collaboration on your horizon?
I invite you to join our Flat Classroom Ning, Horizon Project Ning and also to have a look at our current project just starting, Horizon Project 2008, where we have 11 classrooms and over 250 students from Australia, Austria, Japan, Spain, Qatar and the USA.

Julie Lindsay, guest blogger

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My Life in Qatar: A Tall Spike in an Unflat World?

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

This is my third blog post as the guest of the week so I thought it was time I introduced myself a little more and talked about where I currently live and work. As you can tell by my accent, I am from Melbourne, Australia but have been working and traveling as an international educator for over 10 years, along with my husband (mathematics teacher) and daughter (just hit the terrible teen years!). Places I have worked are Zambia, Kuwait, Bangladesh and now Qatar. Being our first year in Qatar we are finding our new school, Qatar Academy, challenging in many ways. However I am finding my new position as Head of Information Technology and E-Learning to be a wonderfully rewarding experience with lots of amazing opportunities to contribute to the growth of the school.

I am also responding to Scott’s post earlier today, The World is Spiky, where he shares some interesting insights from Richard Florida’s new book Who’s your city. From reading the words of Florida I think Qatar is in fact a ‘tall spike’ in an unflat world. Definition of this: "the tallest spikes that attract global talent, generate knowledge, and produce the lion’s share of global innovation."
Qatar is an amazing place to be working right now. I found a blog post from last September after just arriving on ‘Sharing an amazing vision in Qatar‘ in which I wrote:

Here in Qatar I work at Qatar Academy, a PreK-12 school now delivering the IBO curriculum across all levels (PYP, MYP and DP) which is located on Education City, a large campus on the outskirts of Doha. However I work for Qatar Foundation
(QF) for Education, Science and Community Development. QF represents
the innovation and creativity of His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa
Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar. QF is a non-profit organisation
and was founded in 1995, and Education City is their flagship.

I also wrote:

vision and commitment to excellence in education here is amazing. The
money being spent and the rate of development is staggering. QF is the
driving force behind the countries commitment to education and to Qatar
becoming one of the most developed knowledge-based societies around the
world. To do this they are partnering with international educational
institutions, supporting higher research and contributing to community
health and development programs. Her Highness, Sheikha Mozah Bint
Nasser Al Missned, Consort of His Highness, serves as the chairperson
of QF and personally guides the organisation with passion, vision and

Since September the pace of change and development has increased if anything. Education City is like a construction zone, with a new academic medical center, a new library, a new convention center, an amazing equestrian center and many other buildings going up….and fast! In a recent article in the New York Times talking about the rush of American universities to set up in global locations it stated:

And many are now considering full-fledged foreign branch campuses,
particularly in the oil-rich Middle East. Already, students in the
Persian Gulf state of Qatar can attend an American university without the expense, culture shock or post-9/11 visa problems of traveling to America.

Education City in Doha, Qatar’s capital, they can study medicine at
Weill Medical College of Cornell University, international affairs at
Georgetown, computer science and business at Carnegie Mellon, fine arts
at Virginia Commonwealth, engineering at Texas A&M, and soon, journalism at Northwestern.

And yet another article from the NY Times:

Education City, the largest enclave of American universities overseas,
has fast become the elite of Qatari education, a sort of local Ivy League. But the five American schools have started small, with only about 300 slots among them for next year’s entering classes.

Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, after a recent trip to Doha commented:

In Doha, since I was last there, a skyline that looks like a
mini-Manhattan has sprouted from the desert. Whatever construction
cranes are not in China must be in Doha today. This once sleepy harbor
now has a profile of skyscrapers, thanks to a huge injection of oil and
gas revenues.

Then there are the other Qatari government initiatives in education from ICT Qatar that include e-Education and the e-Schoolbag program amongst other programs. I visited the new boys school rolling out the e-Schoolbag Tablet PC implementation and was duly impressed. There are many international consultants and educators currently working in Qatar, advising the government and supporting the vision with extra expertise and knowledge.

Qatar is determined to be a ‘knowledge society’ and with that vision in mind are carefully planning their approach to education. Yes, this is the Middle East and there are certain cultural sensitivities (aren’t there any where in the world?) however I am finding a certain liberal attitude and a genuine desire to move forward. At a recent parent-teacher conference (Qatar Academy has about 85% Arabic students) I was pleasantly surprised at the friendly parents who not only wanted to shake my hand (remember that it is not always acceptable for men to shake a woman’s hand here) but also called me by my first name.

So what does this all mean for the rest of the world?……well I suggest you all keep a close eye on Qatar. This is not a flash in the pan, this is a carefully calculated and planned development that is already making waves and impacting around the world. We have Al Jazeera news, we have Doha Debates, we had the Asian games 2006 and we are bidding for the Olympics for 2016. We have a clean city (I have just been to Mumbai and was brought back to the reality of a large, dirty city..what does Florida call them? ‘third-world megacities’), albeit a little sandy some days. Qatar really is a ‘tall spike in an unflat world’ and despite the environmental concerns caused by over-indulgence (thanks Tom for reminding us), it is a beehive for creativity, innovation and 21st century thinking.

In the words of Sheikha Mozah:
"Today we plant seeds, tomorrow we open frontiers, tomorrow is rooted here".

Photo of Doha city skyline, taken late 2007


Animoto of a recent ‘dune bashing’ trip in the desert

Julie Lindsay, guest blogger

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What’s Worth Fighting For in Your School?

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

Change is a process in a school. Change is neither good nor bad but
just is. Rapid change can cause discomfort and upset. No change can
also cause discomfort and upset. Any educational institution that is
not going through some form of change right now is possible missing the
boat, or at least missing the opportunity to create their own boat and
sail on the sea of individualized, student-centered, technology
embedded learning.

the international school world change often comes in measured doses
lasting for the length of a contract (2 years minimum usually). Change
can be personality driven, more rapid and possibly more adhoc in this
realm of education given the desire of individuals to want to make
their mark and then move onto another international school and start
the process again. For the vast majority of expatriate teachers the
results of visionary new programs and curriculum implementations will
not be fully seen by the instigators, as they will be long gone, with
new teachers and administrators in place trying to move forward with an
altered vision, a newly tweaked plan and new enthusiasm. This is not
abnormal and yet it can be frustrating for the school as a whole as
programs come and go and initiatives are sparked and then put out.

A colleague lent me a book last week called "What’s worth fighting for in your school?"
Published in 1996, it talks about the culture of a school and
transforming schools into better places. It got me thinking about how
teaching can be a lonely profession and that building the culture of
collaboration is a challenge. It also got me to thinking about how now,
12 years later, what has changed are the tools that we now use to
foster collaboration but not necessarily the conditions under which
collaboration, risk-taking and change can successfully take place. So
what are these essential conditions for success within a school that
are worth fighting for in the environment of 21st century learning?

At a recent conference, the  ECIS / ISTE IT Leadership conference,
in Prague other IT leaders along with ISTE leaders Don Knezek and Lynn
Nolan, discussed essential conditions for successful change and how
these can be extrapolated into a leadership action plan. This is my
summary/interpretation and what I think is worth fighting for in my

  • A shared vision:
    what has shifted in education over the past five years and how has
    technology advanced and supported this? Proactive leadership can bring
    together a school community to share a vision for transforming learning.
  • Strategic planning:
    systemic and aligned with a shared vision for school effectiveness and
    student learning through the infusion of technology and digital
  • Understanding learning and leading in a digital age:
    It is through better understanding of how learners have changed, how
    the learning environment has changed, how the curriculum has changed
    that we can best plan for effective reform across the school
  • Professional learning communities:
    now this is one I am already fighting for. Encouraging conversations,
    supporting adoption of new techniques, encouraging sharing of ideas,
    resources and best-practice
  • One-to-one computing:
    mobility and ubiquity is the only way to go but this needs to be
    supported through funding for devices and for professional development.
    Not everyone yet sees the value in having a computing tool in hand
  • Online learning community:
    for students, for teachers, for administrators and for the wider school
    community. This can be fostered through supporting technologies
    including Web 2.0 tools. However the tool is insignificant (to an
    extent), it is the interaction and potential for continuous improvement
    and perpetual learning that is the ultimate promise here
  • Team-based professional development: Social learning and community-based exploration of new ideas for learning
  • Sustainability:
    OK, this is a big one. We need to build in sustainability so that valid
    programs are able to survive leadership and other changes. At the same
    time we need to build in flexibility so that plans can be tweaked if
    needed to cater for changing technologies, local emphasis etc.

I was reminded coincidently today of a video a student in my class in Bangladesh created for the Horizon Project 2007.
If you overlook some poor technical quality, ESL spelling and grammar
and actually absorb the message this video has a lot to say about
change, where we have come from with educational technology and where
we could be going. Called ‘
The Future is Now‘, it was part of the ‘User created content’ section of the project.

From the book again:
"What is worth fighting for is not to allow our organizations to be negative by default but to make them positive by design"

What do you think is worth fighting for in your school?

Julie Lindsay, Guest blogger

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Conference 2.0: The Global Stage Awaits

[cross-posted at E-Learning Journeys]

life as an international educator is bursting with exciting
opportunities and experiences. Being a guest blogger for Dr Scott
McLeod is one challenge I have been looking forward to. As a leader in
educational technology I blog about my own journey in the classroom as
well as interactions and collaborations with colleagues around the
world and try to make sense of the changing learning landscape.

Recently I have had the opportunity to attend in person conferences in Madrid, Prague and Mumbai. I have also been able to attend virtually a number of online events/conferences, in particular EduCon 2.0, where I was Skyped in by George Mayo to discuss global collaboration and the amazing CUE 2008 this past weekend where I was Skyped in by Steve Hargadon to a session discussing Web 2.0 in Education.  I have been reflecting on what it means to be a 21st century conference attendee and presenter at, as it is being called, Conference 2.0.
Gone are the days when information is only delivered via the conference
presenter and only at the conference. Gone are the days where
information is uni-directional and non-conversational. Gone are the
days when information is delivered via hard-copy handout and boring
bullet-points on a ubiquitous slideshow.

To be a leader in
education today means to be a contributor, not a passive onlooker. A
‘conference’ opportunity is to be embraced for all of the dynamic
cross-links and flowing ideas it brings. Let’s use Web 2.0 tools and
what ever else we can online to enhance and extend the experience and

So what does a Conference 2.0 look like? On one level
it has presenters who have set up learning experiences and objects
ahead of time including posting resources online and organizing virtual
input via Skype and chat etc. Let me tell a story here and then give
credit to some great colleagues out there who are already writing about
this in a more succinct way than I am.

My experience at the ASB Unplugged
conference in Mumbai, India recently highlighted the need to be mobile,
online and interacting at different levels. Connected to the WLAN and
therefore with connectivity to the world (the only way to be at a
conference!) I was able to ‘moblog’ to our school Ning (mobile blogging, or blogging on the run, a phrase coined by David Warlick I believe), Twitter,
Google Chat and search for resource URLs as presenters mentioned
them…all at the same time. In one session I remember Twittering with Kim Cofino, who was also attending a conference in Berlin, Germany, while at the same time chatting with Vicki Davis, who was also at a conference presenting on our Flat Classroom Project and more in Illinois ICE
and wowing the crowd with her exemplary style and sharing her latest
Zoho online material with me, while continuing to blog and interact
with people back at Qatar Academy via the Ning and also with people
around me re the current presentation in Mumbai.

What I really
missed in Mumbai was what is called a ‘backchannel’ where the audience
(real and virtual) can chat about the presentation. An effective way to
do this is to have the backchannel (using a tool such as
projected onto the screen so the whole room can see what is being said
(including the presenter) and react to it as needed. This method was
also used by Karl Fisch, although using slightly different tools, for his fishbowl sessions with students and guests discussing Pink’s ‘A Whole New Mind’ recently.

I also miss at non-Conference 2.0 events is the use of RSS as the glue
to bind us all together. Once again David Warlick leads the way with
his conference
aggregator. I need to know where I can find other blog posts, images,
etc tagged for the events I am in. I need to know what the tagging
standard is so I can use it. I feel this still has not caught on with
educators around the world as it should have done.

I am in awe of the recent blog post by Steve Hargadon detailing his views and experiences with Conference 2.0 ideals and thoroughly  recommend his new wiki Conference 2.0
where, in typical Steve style he has provided a valuable resource and
service for everyone to use when attending/presenting at a conference.
Describing this wiki he states:

Web 2.0 has provided a number of
opportunities for new collaborative events to take place at and around
conferences. The events can enhance participants’ connections, dialog,
and engagement. Here are a number of these activities that can be
planned specifically for educational technology.

A recent blog post "The Ultimate Conference Attendee" by Will Richardson, although a little esoteric, has similar sentiments.

it is true, the global stage does await every real and virtual attendee
at a conference. There are opportunities to foster and continue
conversations, make connections, squeeze the essence out of each
session and breath life into the topic. Is this information overload?
Is this too geeky for the average conference goer….well yes, maybe it
is however let’s lead the way, let’s set the standards internationally
and move beyond the static, dry, hard-copy handout, non-Internet based
session that does not deserve to exist in the Conference 2.0 mode.

Julie Lindsay, Guest blogger

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