We had an amazing conversation with Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese, at the end of the day with our 8th grade students and teaching team. Gene was an incredibly engaging personality and had some wonderful anecdotes to share regarding the process of constructing his book. It was so cool at the beginning of the conference watching him sketch one of his comic characters...that was just so neat to see live.
We used a variety of technologies to make the magic happen today. We used Skype for the voice portion, Gene broadcast a video feed via ustream.tv, and a peer of mine, Alex Ragone, from the Collegiate School in NYC streamed the audio feed out to the Internet via the edtechtalk website. The ustream feed was a great component of our talk-being able to see Gene as he spoke really personalized the experience for the students.
The students were super prepared thanks to the work of their 8th grade English Teacher, Laurie Barth. The questions that they asked Gene showed a great deal of care and they seemed to be engaged in listening to his wonderful responses. It was kind of cool how we physically arranged our meeting. We divided the students up into 5 smaller groups and they participated from 5 different classrooms (vs. having everybody in one large room). I think this made the experience a little more engaging and intimate for everyone involved. It also served the double purpose of hooking up our entire 8th grade teaching team with a Skype account.
What could we do to improve the experience for the next time we do something like this?? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Allow more student users to be engaged in the conversation by simultaneously chatting during the conversations. I believe this will activate the brains of more students in the audience and allow them to become more fully immersed in the conversation.
2. Be sure students are introduced to this forum prior to it happening. We were actually able to do a skype test call with most of the 8th graders in the classrooms the day before the conference. This gave us confidence that the technology would work and it also allowed the students to get their feet wet with this type of experience.
Direct Link to audio file
Recording of our conversation with Gene Luen Yang:
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