Sunday, December 14, 2008

Using iChat for video conferencing

We did our first school-school video conference a week ago (12/5). Our Technology Magnet Cluster partner school is Kellman Elementary, near Sacramento and Polk. Shane Jonas, the lead tech teacher at Kellman proposed using Apple's iChat as an easy way to have students at the two schools meet. And guess what? It really was an easy, easy way to have the students interact. We recorded the Dvorak side of the conversation, and you can see it on the Dvorak website.

Our building has a funky wireless infrastructure (only one access point on the third floor), and I ran into some network issues at the beginning (not shown on the video). It was a classic error of testing out the conferencing on the second floor, where the connection is strong (three strategically placed access points), and assuming that it would work the same on the third floor, and not allowing enough time to set things up on the third floor before starting the chat. Shame. Once we started the conference, though, everything worked just fine. The students were very patient.

Kellman had a video camera with a Firewire connection, which seems to be a requirement for an external video camera for iChat. This allowed the Kellman side to be much more flexible with the video (though this is hard to see on the video). We used the built-in camera on the MacBook (only USB cameras here), so the students had to scrunch together so that they could all be seen by Kellman, and the Dvorak teacher, Ms. Minter, had to remember to step in front of the MacBook to be seen by our camera. Ms. Minter's classroom has a wireless "audio enhancement system", which amplified the sound nicely for the microphone in the MacBook and enabled the Dvorak students to also easily hear the Kellman students. Kellman used an external microphone; I'm not sure how they did the audio.

Except for the initial technical difficulties, I think it was a very successful first time out. The students seemed fascinated by the whole thing, and there are a lot of possibilities for this kind of interaction and collaboration going forward.

For next time: Allow more time for set-up and pre-conference testing; also help the students understand the importance of preparing remarks ahead of the conference.


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