Clearly I’m enamored with YackPack. As I was walking to work the other day I was thinking about all the different ways I can either use it myself, or encourage our faculty to take advantage of this cool new tool (my walk is about 5 minutes door-to-door, so it was a quick think). Here’s what I came up with:
Idea 1: Student to Student Chatting
The original reason I started using YackPack was to allow our students to collaborate on a joint project between KL and New Zealand. The time difference is five hours so there are only a few school days a week when I have my class at just the right time to be able to Skype conference with Chrissy’s class in NZ. With YackPack they can carry on an actual voice conversation through recorded messages at any time of the day. Plus, if they both happen to be online at home or on the weekend, they can live chat – without having to download any software. This way they can actually talk about their project without having to worry about waiting for full class (or just in-class) Skype conferences. Text chatting and e-mail are great, but they’re not conversation.
You could even use this for cross grade-level projects or cross subject-projects – any time that the students aren’t going to be able to be in the same room at the same time. Earlier this year our entire class of 70 sixth grade science students (in 4 different class blocks) produced one wiki in collaboration – it would have been great for them to have a way of leaving private notes for each other or to chat as specialist groups to more effectively produce their wiki.
This might also be fun for the younger students – kind of a mini-podcasting project. They can collaborate and chat with students all around the world, just by clicking one button. You can even put students from multiple schools together in different packs to start communicating.
Idea 2: Sub Plans or Student Notes
My fantastic colleague, Mr. R., recently posted his sub plans as a podcast. He recorded everything he wanted to say to his class, edited it, and posted it on his blog. I’m thinking YackPack is a great way to do that – but without having to worry about anyone, anywhere hearing what you have to say to your class. You could even leave private voice comments for certain students by selecting them out of the pack and leaving them a message directly.
Idea 3: Opening up another line of communication with parents
In order to communicate more effectively with parents, I would love to have all the parents in each of my classes join a pack – different packs for different classes. I could then send out group announcements about exciting class happenings or carry on virtual parent teacher conferences (or just quick chats) with those parents that aren’t able to come into school – especially those that are frequently away on business. Considering that very few people seem to have answering machines here in KL (or in Munich, for that matter) just being able to leave a parent a message would be a huge advantage. And, of course, all the parents would be in the pack together so they can leave messages for each other too – a great way to foster a community environment for the whole class.
Idea 4: Chatting with students after hours
Being able to actually talk to my students outside of school hours – either via the pack or just the widget on my blog – would be a quick and easy way to resolve small questions or issues from home. Plus, the parents could participate in the conversation if they wanted to. Students could also easily chat with each other about school projects using the space. We’ve identified YackPack as our virtual classroom – only ideas, language, and topics that can be discussed within our classroom can be discussed within our YackPack.
Idea 5: Supporting tech integration
We’ve just started really working towards full technology integration at our school and we will start with a core group of “catalyst” teachers – teachers who are excited about tech and interested in taking a leadership role within their department in terms of tech integration. A pack just for that group of teachers could be a great way to get questions answered, ideas percolating, and generally stimulate conversation – we don’t have to be at school to get our ideas out to each other and we wouldn’t be cluttering up an in-box. The same type of idea could be set up for teachers who feel they need a lot of support with tech integration – kind of like a support group.
Idea 6: Networking
Over this past year I’ve been building up contacts with teachers all over the world to do collaborative projects. Some I’ve been able to work with right away, others may have to wait until next year – but we all have the same age-range students and similar ideas of what we want to accomplish. Making a pack to bring everyone together would be a great way to get new and different ideas flowing between all the people in the group and would allow more interactions between people that might never have met.
Idea 7: Keeping in Touch
As we are winding down to the end of the year I’m already starting to miss some of my favorite colleagues. People I work with on a regular basis will soon be in Taipei, Doha, Brussels, Saudi, and still here in KL while I’m off to Bangkok. A great way to keep our teaching community together would be to set up a pack just for us.
I guess the key ideas that I really like about YackPack are that it’s so easy to set up, anyone can be invited to participate as long as they have an internet connection and an e-mail address, the group is private, individual conversations can be one-on-one or to the whole group and they don’t have to happen in real time. It seems like a really nice way to foster a community environment without having to actually be in the same place at the same time.
Keep in mind, though, that YackPack is not the only tool that can do these types of things. Julie just posted a great overview of four different options for online collaboration – all with distinct advantages and disadvantages. No matter what tool you use, the key is getting people communicating and collaborating whether it’s across town, across the country, across the continent or across the globe. Let’s get yakking!