“Moving Beyond the Newsletter: How schools are using technology to meet parents where they are” was a session given by Chris Wejr via Blackboard Collaborate at the BCCPAC Fall Leadership Conference in Kelowna, BC. I appreciate Chris’ work in enhancing communication between parents, teachers and administrators and wanted to listen and hear how best to communicate WITH parents rather than just dispensing information TO them.
Here is the slideshare of his presentation:
In a nutshell, Chris speaks of different ways to communicate: informing is most common and is usually a one-way street, but communication needs to be more than that. He talks about sharing to build community; building partnerships, engagement and involvement in the student learning through many different channels and demonstrates many different technologies that can support better parent/teacher relationships.
None of this is really new for me, but it’s always good to hear a message again. Listening to Chris, I felt affirmed that I am trying to reach out to my students’ parents in as many ways as possible.
More specifically, though, I am blogging about the platform used for this session: Blackboard Collaborate. I have participated in Blackboard Collaborate sessions many times before, but today I am reflecting on the format and how I find it as a participant. From the front page of http://www.blackboard.com:
Offer a more collaborative, interactive, and mobile learning experience that constantly evolves, and you’ll keep everyone engaged like never before. That’s what the Blackboard Collaborate™ online collaboration platform is all about. Helping you create virtual classrooms, offices and meeting spaces that open more possibilities to more students, wherever they are. Offering exciting new approaches to learning while involving each student on an individual level.
With solutions like these, we can build a better educational experience that will get everyone talking.
So what is the experience like? I think it is a great tool to bring people together, but it has a few drawbacks. This session, in particular, was full of technical glitches. While not unheard of and not unexpected with any technology, it must have been frustrating for Chris, as this was out of his control. For sure you have to look past the technical issues and determine if this is a good format for presenting. I believe it is.
As a participant, it is easy to access (as long as your java is updated!), easy to join wherever your computer allows, and it’s easy to contribute to the discussion. There is a “talk” button if you wish to ask a question (along with a “hand up” button for waiting your turn) and there is a chat window that allows for text discussion while the presenter is speaking. The format is simple, but in the presentations I have participated in, few people besides the presenter actually use the talk button. Perhaps it’s a fear of the technology that makes people hold their ideas or questions to themselves? I know that I am often reluctant to press the “talk” button, too. Maybe I need to change that?
I much prefer the discussion that goes on in the chat bar. Since it is rude to “talk over” someone who is presenting and often it is difficult to give everyone time to voice their opinion (especially when a session is delayed by technical issues), the chat provides another way of asking questions and sharing experiences and expertise. I see the chat feature much like a twitter chat, and follow it in a similar manner to #kinderchat. Because I am a visual learner and find it hard to just listen to someone without seeing their body language and facial cues, the chat really helps me focus on specifics. As wonderful a speaker Chris is (and believe me, I have enjoyed every session of his I have participated in), it is my own inability to focus on audio that makes it difficult for me to just listen and follow what the speaker is saying. As an example, if I am on the phone, I need to focus on something that is moving, or pace the room so that I can focus on whomever is talking to me. In the same manner, the chat line keeps my focus on the subject at hand.
Another positive aspect of Blackboard Collaborate is the ability to record sessions. No longer do we need to be attending a session synchronously, as the recordings allow us to participate after the fact. Granted, you can’t ask questions or add to the chat after the session is over, but the recording allows us to experience sessions that might not have been available to us before. As an example, the Global Education Conference, a week-long, free conference that runs 24 hours a day records all of their sessions so that participants may listen to workshops that are out of their appropriate time zones. In fact, this coming week, Monday, November 18-Friday, November 22 is when the Global Education Conference 2013 is running, and I recommend that you check out some of the sessions that may be of interest to you!