Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Video Conference with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich

Our first video conference (VC) took place today. This was between Class 2 and The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG). The session was all about the Moon, and had been booked 2 months previous via Global Leap. The time since the booking had been spent identifying an appropriate location (as FLaT room is being finished), working with our IT guy on firewalls, protocols, ports, network hardware etc, and communicating with Clarissa at the National Maritime Museum, Mike at Global Leap, Stuart at Learning Teaching Scotland, and Jim and others at JVCS, Edinburgh. The reason for relying on so many people working in the field of video conferencing was that our connection with Greenwich did not appear stable, therefore we had to register (as a guest initially) with UKERNA which is a VC booking service available to the UK, though not as yet Scotland. JVCS used the UKERNA 'bridge' to guarantee our connection.

The class entered the room at 9.18am, unaware that Graham Dolan from ROG had called us (and been automatically connected) at 9.15am. It was a surprise to find him inviting us to sit down and introduce ourselves in our own classroom with him 500 miles away! Seriously, it is important to be on time; sessions and connections are limited eg the UKERNA 'bridge' was set for 9.15 - 10.00 (yes, we did lose him at 10.00). Layout of the room (seating, light, background, complexity of foreground) need to be gravely considered and we benefited from our class of 3 being able to fit into the view of the V500's lens without being too distant. Graham, spoke about the moon and it's: views, stages, orbit, craters, eclipses, landings, gravitational pull etc. The session was interactive, though pupils had very little prior knowledge and were happy to listen and watch. Graham made use of PowerPoint slides as well as hand-held contraptions. Next time we will project the VC onto a white wall as it was difficult to see some of the objects that he was holding when there was a split screen. The benefit of communicating information on the class, their backgrounds, and stage of education was vital, as it allowed Graham to differentiate.

Afterwards, the session was evaluated. Key positives from staff included, "worked really well", "allowed all boys to interact", "showed genuine interest", "(pupils were) respectful", "eliminated petty interruptions", and "positive experience". All pupils strongly agreed that, "I would like to take part in more video conferences", "This was a good use of my time", and "I would be confident to work with other young people using VC".

We will continue to work with Global Leap, UKERNA, and LTS to provide our pupils with video conferencing opportunities. Soon, we will look at establishing a link with a school via the British Council, though in the meantime we are still planning a VC in the new year with Rathmore Centre in Antrim. Next time we will: book a longer slot to allow for introductions and plenary, work on improving 'upload 'speed, work with the 'far end' to see objects more clearly, and ensure that content is linked specifically to the curriculum at an appropriate level.


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