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Out of school but in class
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Even when school is closed due to weather, Carlisle students can keep up with their studies. Above, Lori Yeaman works on homework on her laptop. (Bulletin photo)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

If Carlisle students are out of school, they still can be in class.

Teachers at Carlisle School can use technology to conduct classes even when students are out due to winter weather, said headmaster Simon-Owen Williams. He said that by using a computer program called Dimdim, teachers can broadcast a class to students over the Internet.

The process is similar to how video-conferencing is used in meetings today, he said.

Dimdim is a program that can be used as long as students have an Internet connection - there is no software to download, said Owen-Williams. Using Dimdim, students can see a live video of their teacher giving a lesson from the comfort of home, allowing them to stay in class on snow days.

Most of the classes that use Dimdim are at the high school level, said Owen-Williams. The teacher sets a specific time for students to log-in, and then the day's lesson is taught by the teacher, he said.

Because the teacher uses a camera attached to the computer, the students can see the teacher by live video feed. The teacher also can see which students are participating but only through text on the screen.

The students also could use a camera so the teacher could see them, but it most likely would make the teacher's screen too cluttered, said Owen-Williams. Instead, the names and questions from the students appear on the teacher's screen through text.

"While it doesn't replace the classroom, it certainly allows us to continue with instructional practice at a high level of rigor," he said.

He added that by using this online teaching method, students may not have to make up a day when school is closed for weather. Accrediting association Southern Association of College and Schools gave Carlisle permission to count days when the Dimdim forum is used as instructional days, he said.

"Although the kids are not necessarily physically in class, they are still conducting classes online using technology," said Owen-Williams.

In addition to text from students and the video from the teacher's lesson, documents from that day's class also can be provided on the screen, said Owen-Williams. Some teachers do not use the video feature at all, he said.

Instead, they show documents such as worksheets on the screen, which can be downloaded by students. The teachers can communicate with the students through a chat feature, Owen-Williams said.

The teacher can type a message that will appear on every students' screen. If the student has a question or wished to provide an answer, they can type a response which will appear only on the teacher's screen, he said.

Owen-Williams said Dimdim is provided for the school on a "pay for it as you use it" basis, which makes it "very cost effective" for the school system. He added that while there are similar services available for free, the school chose to pay for the service because it allows added security.

Owen-Williams said that to his knowledge, all students at Carlisle in classes that use this service have Internet at home.


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