Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Biography Writing via Twitter and Skype with help from @iteachyear4 and @peterflom

Last week two friendly Tweeps, @Iteachyear4 and @peterflom agreed to be interviewed by my children so they could learn to write biographically. A strategy I've never used before.

  1. The children should be motivated to write having communicated with these real people, knowing that their writing would also be read by those people.
  2. I get so bored of the standard page long biographies you get in text books. Like Charles Dickens. Or Steven Speilberg.
  3. I'm always on the look out for ways of educating the children out of the cult of celebrity that we seem to subscribe to in our country. Real people are far more interesting.
I tweeted the request to do some biography writing and the biographees responded willingly. We used a combination of dm (with @Iteachyear4) and e-mail (with @peterflom) to organise exactly when we could hook up. I initially wondered whether Twitter could be a useful medium for asking the interview questions, but I'm still a bit concerned about the random spam that appears after some tweets. Skype seemed the obvious solution, although it's a tool that I haven't used much at all - I only got my Skype account in the summer and haven't experimented with it much. I see know that a Skype Education Beta exists - that's something to investigate in the forthcoming weeks

I first checked (with my Dad) that Skype works through the school's proxy server - a service that had caused problems with video conferencing in the past. No problem. Then, the day before the link, I quickly checked with @iteachyear4 that the link worked OK. He was on wireless and the video signal wasn't brilliant, so he moved to a wired connection and it worked fine. In discussion with @peterflom we agreed to use Skype to use a text-based connection - this would provide an interesting contrast to the the two online interactions.

In the lesson before the session I introduced the concept to the children. They came up with some questions to ask the two participants, interestingly assuming that both would be teachers. The questions were noted on the whiteboard and then as a group the children categorised the questions and came up with an order for them and who might ask each one (I wanted each child to have a chance at the interaction).

Then the day came. I set up the room (as you can see on the video) with the laptop projected onto a screen. The children were facing the screen so they could hear and takes notes, while the questionners would move to the Skype laptop in a (hopefully fluid) procession to ask their questions. It worked pretty well. Only one child froze and I had to answer her question for her. @iteachyear4 gave up his break to help us out - thanks so much, Ben!

The second interview was by text so would take a little longer. The children came to the Skype laptop in small groups with the same basic questions they had asked earlier that day. The interview took place at 2pm so that @peterflom, who lives in New York City had a chance to get into the office (I suspect a 10am GMT interview would have been rather unpleasant for him). The children used my log in and each asked their questions via text. @peterflom responded in kind (thanks again Peter, for giving up your time!)

What next?
The children wrote their initial biographies for @iteachyear4 in GoogleDocs and shared them with me. I'll mark them and suggest some improvements to their writing. The students will then share them with @Iteachyear4. Having learned some new skills through this process I will then set up the same notes from the @peterflom interview on two separate GoogleDocs. The children, in two teams of 6, will work collaboratively on on the same GoogleDocs to see which team can produce the best biography. With permission from the participants I will publish the biographies on this blog when they are finished.

Download now or watch on posterous
skype biography.mp4 (5615 KB)

No comments:

Post a Comment