Distance Learning in Greenville County, SC

PD Thru VC

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on July 24, 2012

Just like everyone else in the world, Greenville County Schools has summer professional development for its teachers. Summer Academy encompasses the entire month of July and provides a smorgasbord of learning opportunities for the teachers, administrators, staff and substitutes of GCS.

During Summer Academy I like to connect up with governmental agencies such as the Library of Congress or the National Archives and Records Administration in an effort to provide professional development through videoconference. Both the Library of Congress and the National Archives are great resources for Americans in general, but they are a treasure trove for educators who sometimes struggle to find reputable resources on the Internet.

This summer I chose to work with the Library of Congress. I contacted Judy Graves at the LOC and we offered four total sessions for participants:

  • Introduction to LOC.govTake a guided tour of the Library of Congress Web site! This tour will help you take advantage of the wonderful primary sources you will discover. Sample the Library’s services and resources, including Ask a Librarian, Today in History, Portals to the World, and more!
  • Laurels and Lyrics: Poetry Resources at the Library of CongressThe Library of Congress Web site is a rich resource for poetry lovers. This program introduces the Library’s many poetry offerings – including web guides on U.S. poets laureate, webcasts of poetry readings, exhibits on famous poets, and of course, poems themselves – to educators and members of the general public wishing to explore American poetry and its presence in everyday life.
  • Sleuthing with MapsMaps are windows to the cultural, political, and physical world around us. They capture a space in time and define it according to parameters set by the mapmaker for an intended audience. Learn to explore historical maps and discover the surprises they yield.

We offered the Introduction to LOC.gov twice and the other two, Laurels and Lyrics and Sleuthing with Maps once. Judy led the Introduction to LOC.gov both days, Peter Armenti led the Poetry workshop and Ed Redmond led the Map workshop. All the workshops were well received and the participants loved the presenters. A complete listing of videconference workshops delivered through video from the LOC can be found here.

If you’ve read any of the previous posts from this blog you know we do a lot with video in our district. While we do a lot of virtual field trips and school-to-school collaborations, we don’t do a lot of PD through video that originates from the district itself. We do the annual connections with the LOC or the Archives, but we are still working to incorporate video into some of our PD offerings. We have Cisco WebEx in the district and my goal is to take some of the more broad and informational meetings and to deliver them through WebEx this year.

Cathy Hale, our Elementary Math Academic Specialist, delivered 1st Grade PD on Common Core Math Standards through video. We had endpoints out at four sites throughout the district to reduce the travel time and distance for our teachers and connected the four sites with our central studio through our Cisco 4501 MCU. We are looking to continue this Common Core Math PD with 2nd Grade during the 2012-2013 school year.

If you’re doing any PD through video and you have comments to share or you have a question about how PD can be delivered through video, leave a comment below.


Posted in Videoconference | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reflecting on UTC

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on June 25, 2012

Two weeks ago we were able to provide six concurrent sessions about the use of videoconference in the classroom at the Upstate Technology Conference. I asked Monica Brackett, a fifth grade teacher from Blythe Academy of Languages to help facilitate the sessions. We had four sessions focusing on virtual field trips, and two on school-to-school collaborations. My goal during UTC is to expose the participants to the use of videoconference in education and to demo virtual field trip experiences with various content providers. The four content providers we chose this year were:

Aquarium of the Pacific

Minnesota Historical Society

NASA Digital Learning Network

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

All four of the content providers have a multitude of virtual field trips that can be scheduled through the CILC (Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration). Students from Greenville County Schools actually participated in at least one virtual field trip from all of these content providers during the 2011-2012 school year. The Aquarium of the Pacific, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the NASA Digital Learning Network all have amazing green screen technology that they utilize throughout their programs. Many content providers are adding this technology to immerse the students in the content they are learning about. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is unique because they are one of the few content providers that will actually broadcast the virtual field trip from a location other than a studio. The Baseball Hall of Fame will actually broadcast from the section of the museum that contains artifacts relating to the content of the virtual field trip. One of the most interesting things that participants learned during the virtual field trip demos was that NASA is going to start providing connections to participants with webcams, either through Conference Me or Skype. I believe the Conference Me is tied to the Cisco/Tandberg Codian MCU that NASA utilizes in many of their special events.

The two sessions about collaborations focused on the KC3 (Kids Creating Community Content) Contest sponsored by the CILC and Cisco (see post, A Great Year! on the GCSDL Blog). We also shared with participants the collaborations available by looking at collaboration requests on the CILC and TWICE. Lastly, we discussed how participating in Read Around the Planet (RAP), sponsored by is a great way to start participating in collaborations with other schools. Monica and shared our experiences with each of these collaborative projects and discussed how beneficial these experiences are to student learning.

The summer months continue to be busy with planning and preparation for the 2012-2013 school year. We are also participating in Professional Development Videoconferences with the Library of Congress July 17 and 18  to learn more about the collections that are available for teacher and student use in the classroom. Registered teachers will be participating in a videoconference in the morning to learn more about the services and resources the Library of Congress provides in, Introduction to the Library of Congress and then each afternoon session will either participate in Laurels and Lyrics: Poetry Resources at the Library of Congress or Sleuthing with Maps. Both afternoon sessions are very informative and engaging. If you have never scheduled PD from the LOC, you’re missing out!

Posted in Videoconference | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Great Year!

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on June 1, 2012

Today, June 1 is the last day for students. We ended up with over 600 requests for Virtual Field Trips; the growth of our Distance Learning Program is really exciting.

We had four classes participate in KC3 (Kids Creating Community Content) this year. KC3 is sponsored by the CILC (Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration) and CISCO. Here are the teachers that participated:

The classes took their presentations very seriously and worked diligently over the course of months to put on a great show. The students chose the topics they were most interested in, completed all the research, and created media rich content to share with the audience. The teachers did an amazing job facilitating the projects. We were very proud to learn that Sara Newell’s class was chosen as a finalist for the Elementary Division for Outstanding Audience Participation, they received an engraved plaque and a $75 Amazon Gift Certificate.

All of the Greenville County Schools’ KC3 submissions can be seen here, along with all of the other submissions from around the world this year; just click on KC3 on the left.

Fork Shoals School Civil War Collaboration

Towards the end of the school year we were contacted by Tommy Beardon at the Region 14 Education Service Center in Texas about participating in an International Collaboration on the Civil War. Region 14 ESC and MAGPI

were both hosting the event; Region 14 was hosting the “Southern” states and MAGPI was hosting the “Northern” states. The official title of the program was, “Civil War: Our State’s Contribution and the Effects of the War on Our State.” Only one school from each state was being asked to participate, and the event was going to be streamed worldwide; this was an amazing honor for Greenville County Schools and our Distance Learning Program.

I asked Allyson McDowell’s 4th Grade Class at Fork Shoals School to be our representative school and her class immediately jumped at the opportunity. Even though they were in the middle of preparing for the South Carolina PASS test, end-of-the-year high stakes test given to students in grades 3 through 8, the students found time to research and create a flawless presentation. South Carolina played a very important role in the Civil War, it was the first state to secede and the first shots of the war were fired in Charleston.  Fork Shoals School had 15 minutes to share their presentation on the Civil War with the audience, 12 minutes to present their material and three minutes for questions. The students chose to focus on secession, the shots fired on Ft. Sumter, the HL Hunley, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. The students did an amazing job and were great representative for the state of South Carolina, Greenville County Schools, and Fork Shoals School.

The entire Civil War Program can be seen by going to the MAGPI video content server; the program that Fork Shoals School presented can be found if you fast forward to 1:45:00.

The 2011-2012 school year was a great year for our schools who participated in various collaborations, from Read Around the Planet to KC3, from the Civil War to the individual class presentations on community. Our students are not just consuming content through Virtual Field Trips, they are also creating content as they participate in collaborations around the world.

Posted in Videoconference | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Managing Virtual Field Trip Requests

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on April 30, 2012

For the most part, this is a fairly boring post because I’m talking about how I manage all the requests I receive for Virtual Field Trips (VFTs). Greenville County Schools is the largest school district in the state of South Carolina and the 49th largest district in the United States with over 70,000 students. We’re not New York City, Los Angeles Unified, or Miami-Dade but we do have our own set of unique circumstances that provide challenges each year. There are over 100 sites in the district but we only have around 25 endpoints or cameras which means I do a LOT of driving between schools each week. And yes, I am the only person working with all facets of Distance Learning for the district, including managing our CMS/LMS.

When I took the Distance Learning Coordinator position we had 25 Tandberg 770MXP endpoints and a Tandberg 8×8 MCU. I was tasked with utilizing the equipment we had in place already and to ensure that educational opportunities were be given to the schools through video. I spent my first year, 2008-2009, “begging” schools to look at trying a Virtual Field Trip. I ended up with 56 total requests from the schools for a Virtual Field Trip that tied in with the content being taught in the classrooms. I developed a professional development session illustrating the benefits of the Virtual Field Trip and presented it to schools during the 2009-2010 school year. The added exposure from the professional development session netted a HUGE increase in the number of requests, 272 total for the 2009-2010 school year. The 2010-2011 school year ended with 523 total requests. We will finish this school year, 2011-2012, with over 600 requests.

The last two school years I have sent out a “best of” or “most recommended” Virtual Field Trip booklet to the schools so they are aware of some of the opportunities available to enhance and enrich the curriculum. The booklet is by no means comprehensive and I only put content providers in the booklet if we had a connection with them and the teacher(s) who participated in the program highly recommended the the Virtual Field Trip. My goal was to start taking requests next Monday, May 7, but South Carolina PASS Testing, our high stakes testing, starts next week, so I postponed taking requests until Monday, May 21.

I enter all of the requests into a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet. I’ve used the same one each year, adding a new “tab” for the new school year. This spreadsheet is a “living” document in the sense that I continually tweak and change it each year. Here are the fields that I will be including for the 2012-2013 school year, working from left to right…

Requesting Site – this is always the school that will be taking the VFT
Instructional Contact Name – this is always the general instructional contact at the school
Instructional Contact Email Address
Teacher(s) Name – this is a new field I’m trying this year to help easily keep up with which teachers have classes that are participating in the VFT
Teacher(s) Email Address
Requested Program Title – this is always the title of the VFT program
Program Content Provider – this is always the name of the content provider
Date Request Submitted – this is always the date I receive the request and it’s helpful when scheduling programs that are first-come, first-served
Requested Date – this is always the date I submit as the preferred date to the content provider
Requested Time – this is always the time I submit as the preferred time to the content provider
Scheduled Date – this is always the ACTUAL date that the VFT will occur
Scheduled Time – this is always the ACTUAL time that the VFT will occur
Date Confirmed – this is always the date I receive the final confirmation of the scheduling of the VFT
Date of Test Call – this is always the date we will test the equipment and the connection; this is the MOST IMPORTANT date because there is no VFT without a successful test

Once I receive the final confirmation of the program I add it to my Microsoft Outlook calendar and “invite” all of the pertinent people, usually this list includes the school administration and leadership, the teacher, and district level curriculum people. I usually test the connection and the equipment the week before the VFT. All testing is done from my office because we utilize a Cisco Codian TelePresence MCU 4501 bridge in the district; if the connection works on the bridge, it will work anywhere in the district. During the week of the VFT I make sure there is an endpoint setup and ready to go in the classroom and that the “call” is scheduled on the MCU 4501 which will auto-dial both participants, the content provider and the school. The auto-dial feature is awesome on days when we have 15+ VFTs scheduled!

The one thing I’ve learned is that the more requests there are the more there is to keep up with, but it’s all worth it…

Posted in Videoconference | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The World Really Is Flat

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on April 20, 2012

As educators, we’re always trying to find ways to make the content more real and to extend the learning beyond the classroom. One of the best ways to enhance the curriculum is through the virtual field trip. Each spring we connect up with Pacific Historic Parks in Honolulu, Hawaii through videoconference so that our students can learn about the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor from veterans who were stationed on the island of Oahu on December 7, 1941. This is one of the most powerful virtual field trips our students can participate in because they are actually learning about the event from men who were there; talk about your primary sources! The veterans share powerful and engaging stories with our students and always take time to answer questions at the end. Our students and teachers who participate always consider themselves lucky to have had such an experience.

One of the students whose class participated in the virtual field trip with Pacific Historic Parks this spring visited Hawaii with her family over spring break. As the family visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor she was very excited to actually “meet” the veteran who spoke to her class. She returned home to South Carolina with photographs and autographs to share with her classmates. To me, this is an amazing classroom extension that made the curriculum “real” for this student. It’s very powerful.

As soon as I heard about this example I knew I needed to share it on the blog. Although I wasn’t in the classroom while the student shared her story about visiting the USS Arizona Memorial with her classmates, her teacher said that she captivated her classmates as she shared what it was like to meet the veteran, see the museum, and to take the boat out to the memorial.

Sometimes in education we get so focused on the test scores. I know why we have testing and while the testing is important, helping our students make connections with the content they are learning about is more important.

Posted in Videoconference | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gearing up for the new school year before the current year ends

Posted by tvanheulegcsd on April 10, 2012

Janine Lim was a huge influence and resource in the educational videoconference world. Her blog, Out on a Lim, provided so much information for schools and districts who were just getting started with videoconference.  As she has moved on to a new position that focuses more on all aspects of distance learning, I can’t help but feel there is a certain void left. I read her blog religiously and my goal was always to make videoconference as rewarding for teachers in our district as Janine did for her teachers. I never wanted to blog much about videoconference, even though my boss asked me to, because I always felt that Janine did it best. I’m hoping that this blog will possibly fill that void and be a resource to others who may stumble across my posts.

I started taking requests for the 2011-2012 school year on Monday, May 2, 2011. As of April 2012, we have almost 600 requests for Virtual Field Trips for the 2011-2012 school year. There was a great response from the Greenville County teachers who wanted to incorporate more videoconferences into their lessons. It definitely has been a great year.

The end of the school year is such a tough time for teachers. There is so much stress about the high stakes tests, packing up classrooms, changing grade levels or schools, etc. With all the teachers have going on, it’s hard to think about planning videoconferences for the next school year… but the end of the school year IS the time to start thinking about what videoconferences need to be scheduled for the following school year.

Each year during the month of April I send out an end-of-the-year survey to the teachers who participated in videoconferences throughout the current school year to get much needed feedback. The survey is short and sweet, six questions total and the feedback is used to compile a booklet of “The Best Virtual Field Trips” for that school year. I then send that booklet out to the schools to get the teachers thinking about what programs they would like to schedule for the next school year. Our teachers start sending in their requests for the next school on the first Monday of May. This model works well for us…

Posted in Videoconference | Leave a Comment »