Deanne Joosten, Head of Performing Arts – Phoenix P-12 Community College, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2015 shares her experience in teaching VCE through video conferencing
The initial idea
A little over twelve months ago I was asked whether it would be possible to teach VCE Drama through video conferencing. It took me all of three seconds to realise that this was an opportunity to combine two areas I am passionate about as a teacher, Drama and Technology. So with great enthusiasm and my mind racing with possibilities and ideas, my answer was a resounding “YES”!
The immediate challenge was how to take a very practical VCE subject and teach my own class and three other schools at the same time, without disadvantaging anyone. I worried about the lack of face to face contact and how this would affect my relationship with my ‘virtual’ students. The success of a senior Drama class will often be influenced by the dynamics of the group. What would combining four schools together do to the dynamics? It would also mean that ALL of my resources and teaching methods would need to be electronic. What about the technophobe student who prefers to use paper and pen? What about the student that doesn’t have access to the internet at home? I couldn’t disadvantage those students either. Taking all of these aspects into consideration, and with plans to manage some of the potential issues, Virtual VCE Drama was born.
Connecting the schools
I was put in touch with three interested schools covering a distance of 700kms between them. The three rural schools involved were unable to deliver VCE Drama due to low numbers or lack of qualified staff. The remote students joined my classroom in Ballarat ‘virtually’ for each lesson. Each of the three schools had Polycom units and a dedicated classroom for the students to go to each lesson. I did not have a Polycom unit so I used MS Lync to provide the video conferencing component from my end.
A graphic representation of the distance covered using video conferencing. (An example of how technology can make the world a smaller place)
Blending and flipping
Each week I conducted my VCE Drama classes LIVE and I flipped one of my lessons to cater for timetable clashes (I had several virtual students who couldn’t attend Thursday class so I ran it on Wednesday). Many hours were spent scheduling, planning and organising my lessons. However I soon started to realise that the time spent making electronic teaching resources would not go to waste as I would have an incredible amount of resources to use for future classes. I also found that the students were much more engaged in the ‘new and improved’ approach compared to previous classes.
One of the biggest challenges with teaching VCE Drama (units 3&4) in this way was the Unit 3 task, the Ensemble Performance. This required the students to work in groups for an extended period of time and write and perform an Ensemble Performance. Establishing an environment to create meaningful group work when your students are 800kms apart was one of the biggest obstacles I struck initially. To overcome this I created several MS Lync meeting rooms and had students sign in to a room with their group. I would then ‘jump’ in and out of each room and observe the students collaborating, rehearsing and answer questions when required. It was quite amazing at how quickly the students adapted to this unorthodox approach and it took very little time for relationships to develop between the students. Also watching the ways in which the students interacted with the screen/computer as they rehearsed and performed was incredible. They didn’t see it as a barrier, but rather used it as a component of their performance work.
Video created by DEECD Senior Project Manager Gary Schultz showing Virtual VCE Drama in action.
Throughout the year I used a variety of technologies and ICT resources to teach my Virtual VCE Drama class. I created a website which became the main point of reference for my students to check every week and where I uploaded links and resources on a weekly basis. I also used Google Drive, Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, Powtoon, Padlet, Quizlet, forums, surveys, polls and many other ICT tools to communicate, teach, engage and inspire my students.
Occasionally technology failed us and we had to resort to plan b, plan c and even plan d. The first time we experienced technical issues it was the students who were quick to problem solve and came up with a variety of ways to keep the lines of communication open so I could continue teaching the class. When our video conferencing links weren’t working we opened a Google doc and used the chat feature to keep the conversations and brainstorming happening. We always had Skype and Google hangouts on standby. In the worst case scenario, we resorted to the ‘old school’ approach of phoning and teaching via speaker phone. We worked as a team all year reflecting and evaluation our journey constantly as we went.
The journey continues
Teaching Virtual VCE Drama has been an enormous challenge for me as a professional and one which I have thoroughly enjoyed. To my knowledge, I am the first teacher to attempt to teach VCE Drama ‘virtually’ which is an incredibly exciting experience and a great learning curve. This year has also lead me to several other wonderful opportunities. Due to my Virtual VCE Drama work, I was selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. This means for the next 12 months I will be part of a global network of educators who are recognised for being innovative in the way they use Microsoft technologies. Already being part of this network I have learnt SO many things. I can’t wait to try out all the new resources I have discovered through my MIE expert role in my Virtual VCE Theatre Studies class in 2015.
Deanne is available to present at conferences on Virtual VCE Drama and a variety of Microsoft technologies. To contact Deanne directly email firstname.lastname@example.org
Webinar Virtual VCE Drama
Providing VCE subjects using virtual tools is happening across Victoria. Innovative teachers are synchronously connecting with students from other schools to provide access to VCE subjects. Educators often doubt that practical classes can be provided in this virtual fashion. Join Deanne Joosten and hear how she adapted her delivery of VCE Drama to include students from three other schools.
HOW TO CONNECT: MS Lync only
WHEN: Tuesday 9th December 2014 3.45-4.30
COST: No charge (limited to 120 participants)
Click HERE to Register
For more information about Virtual learning refer to http://grampiansvirtualschool.wikispaces.com