Friday, February 16, 2018

A New Way To Connect and Learn Across Schools: The Collab Lab's Virtual Learning Cohort

By Linda Ashida

Imagine starting your day collaborating with a group of nearly 30 educators and students, from 10 different schools, from the comfort of your own learning space. Imagine the new connections, learning––and fun!––the conversation could lead to!

That is just what happened in the first meeting of the Collab Lab's Virtual Learning Cohort. Taking advantage of District 214 schools' daily common professional learning time
 from 7:15-8:10 (before 1st hour classes begin at 8:15), we used Zoom to connect virtually across schools. 

Our group included twenty-two staff and two students from D214, four educators from neighboring districts, and a middle school teacher from Texas! In a mix of whole-group and small-group break-out conversations, we enjoyed exploring and sharing ways to involve students and encourage them to take the lead in their own learning. And, since we were talking about student voice, it only seemed fitting to include students. We were so happy our two Collab Lab Team students, Freshman Natalia Habas and Senior Nathan Beltran, were willing to start their school day an hour early to join us!

A tweet from Kim Miklusak captured what the experience looked liked, showing the synchronous video chat and how we used the "Share Screen" function to share resources and models of work. 

During both the whole-group and break-out video chats, we also interacted via text chat. One of our participants, Bob Schuetz, volunteered to monitor the chat. Much like a Twitter chat host, Bob welcomed participants, shared highlights, and responded to participant comments and questions. Just the small sampling from the chat below reveals the great way it added another layer of conversation and sharing with the group.

The comments in the chat also reveal how impactful it was to have students in the group––how inspired we were by their insights––reminding us how important it is to foster student voice in our classrooms, too.

Before ending our session, we took a few minutes to reflect and consider a "Call to Action" before we meet again next week: Connect with another participant in the group; share a resource in our Curated Resources Doc; try something new, capture and share "Pictures of Practice" from our classrooms . . .  

It was great to make new connections, renew some "old" ones, and learn together without leaving our own "home base." We were inspired by new ideas and resources, and we're looking looking forward to the conversation in the weekly meetings to come! 

Natalia and Nathan were happy to be included and they stopped by the Collab Lab in person to to debrief with Bob and me and let us know that they would be inviting more students to join us next week! They are pretty great!

We are grateful for a District 214 Innovation in Teaching and Learning Grant to support The Collab Lab's vision to expand collaborative learning experiences across our schools with a  Zoom Pro account and our new Collab Lab Zoom Room.  Look for future blog posts to learn how we will use our Zoom Room to invite colleagues from other schools to join us virtually in the Collab Lab for Teaming on Tuesday workshops, cross-district learning exchanges, and more!

If you are wondering about Zoom and how you might use it too, we'd love to talk to you! It is incredibly easy to use. In just a few minutes you can create a free account and, with little or no training use it in much the same way we did to connect across learning spaces, schools, the country––and even the world! There are so many possibilities. And maybe you have ideas for us, too. Stop by the Collab Lab or drop us a line; we'd love to brainstorm with you!

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