‘Megaconference’ offers students new perspectives

FORT FRANCES—Students at J. W. Walker School here participated in the fourth-annual “Megaconference Jr.” last Thursday—a world-wide videoconference where students give presentations focusing on academic and cultural issues.
“Megaconference Jr., now in its fourth year, is a project designed to give students in elementary and secondary schools around the world the opportunity to communicate, collaborate, and contribute to each other’s learning in real time, using advanced multi-point video conferencing technology,” according to www.megaconferencejr.org
While most classes at the school had the chance to watch a presentation, four Walker students acted as VJs for the conference—introducing three presentations and helping to moderate the question-and-answer sessions.
“I thought it went well,” said Monica Armour, a French teacher at Walker who helped organize the event.
There were several other VJ sites for the conference, but the Walker students were the only VJs in Canada.
“They were very flexible—we had to change a few of our intros and exits very quickly—and did a great job,” Armour said of the four VJs.
Grade 7 students Joe-dy Morriseau, Caitlin Sande, and Jonathan Denby, along with Grade 8 student Tylyn Silander, prepared for their role by practising speaking in front of the camera.
During the videoconference, the four students sat side-by-side at a table with a J. W. Walker sign behind them, wearing Megaconference Jr. T-shirts provided by the school.
Before introducing their first presentation, the group talked a little about Rainy River District, and played the sound of a moose call while one of the VJs wore a moose hat with antlers.
The VJs had control of the camera that was on them, as well as the microphone that picked up their voices.
Armour held cue cards for the students to read in case they forgot their lines.
“Some of the presentations this year had a few glitches—didn’t run on time, a little hard to hear, some accents were hard to understand—but overall it was a positive experience for them,” she said.
Megaconference Jr. also had a chat room where participants could comment on the proceedings. Armour said there were positive comments about the students’ performance.
“They were something like, ‘Very professional, natural in front of the camera, smooth transitions,’” she noted.
“They also had comments on how they were very polite when they had to break in on a Q-and-A session and ask them to wrap it up so they could move onto the next session,” she added.
The VJs themselves enjoyed the experience, Armour noted, describing it as “fun,” “cool,” and “sweet,” and said they would do it again.
Walker students who watched presentations also had good things to say about the videoconference.
“At first I thought it would be boring but it was really interesting, especially the questions and answers,” said one student.
“It was cool to see so many people from around the world,” said another.
The event requires a great deal of preparation, particularly in setting up the television, camera, and computers, and linking them to the Megaconference.
“I would like to thank Jason Rousseau, our tech guy, for helping us with the technical side of the Megaconference Jr.,” Armour said. “He attended our rehearsals and looked after all the tech stuff.”
She also thanked Grade 3 teacher Jodi Easton for helping with the background preparation, and Walker principal Bill Daley for encouraging them to be a VJ site again this year.
This was the second year Walker acted as a VJ site. “We probably will do this again next year as VJs,” Armour said.
“More classes said they would like to be interactive participants next year now that they know what to expect,” she added. “A few have even said they may consider presenting something with their class.”
More than 170 schools from Portugal, Spain, Australia, Norway, Costa Rica, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Indonesia, and Greece—as well as the U.S. and Canada—participated in the 12-hour videoconference.

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