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Tammy Dunbar: Making Digital Connections in Learning


by Tammy Dunbar
Expert Educator Columnist, USA

teachergeek“Does anyone know where Emily is?” I asked.

The young ladies at Table One quickly informed me they had connected with her online with Lync that morning before school.

Emily was in Merced, 60 miles away, staying with her aunt while her parents were on a long weekend trip.

The big writing assignment had to be done today, and everyone was present and accounted for in Room Nine except Emily. In the past, such absences would mean a a lower grade. But perhaps Emily had taken her new Panasonic 3E – which every student in our district is receiving through our #goingdigital2015 project – with her to Merced?

emily-1“See if you can get her back on Lync,” I asked her table group.

Within five minutes, there was Emily, smiling at me on the screen through Lync. After explaining she hadn’t known until late last night that she was going to be absent, she asked what we were doing in class. I reminded her that it was the day for us to do a big writing assignment, and then asked if she could do her assignment on Microsoft Word, attach it as a document to an email then send it to me.

“Yes, please! I’m so bored!”

I emailed her the assignment and before lunchtime, she had turned it in digitally.

Every student in my class learned that day how easy it is to communicate with someone digitally to get work completed and turned in on time. This is not only how technology can work in education, it’s how technology works in the real world. The only thing necessary for success is time to learn the technology and how to maximise what it offers.

On our day of deployment of the student Panasonic 3Es, I invited my students to test various apps, including Microsoft’s Lync (soon to be rebranded as Skype for Business). Any good teacher knows, the first time you give manipulatives to students, you have to give them time to play with them first before you can get to work. So I asked them to see what they could do with Lync.

my-studentsMy students loved it! Even though they were connecting with friends sitting no more than a few feet away, it was fun to Lync with friends, make faces at each other and then see how we could Lync several class members into one big conversation.

Of course, then we had to start discussing the elements of good digital conversation: let one person speak at a time, listen carefully and don’t make any extraneous noises if possible.

Three of my students went home that night and Lynced with each other to discuss their Genius projects. They are all interested in cooking and used Lync to show off their home kitchens and talk about their favorite foods.

What I love about technology is that it helps me teach my students on many different levels. They’ve learned that they can work together on a group assignment when away from the classroom. They’ve learned that they can turn in assignments and projects digitally much more quickly and on time. They’ve learned that even when we’re not connected in the classroom, we are still linked (Lynced, too)!

My students are learning that distance doesn’t matter. What matters is connectivity.


techinjectionWhen students are on Lync, Skype or any other kind of videoconferencing app, they need to be wary of people they don’t know. They should newhen-studentsver accept an invitation from someone they do not know, and if they accidentally do accept, they need to know how to close it down quickly. Regardless of whether chatting, videoconferencing or just roaming around the internet, students need to be careful. Here is a video I created for my district (Manteca Unified) to kick-start a conversation on being careful about who is behind the screen.


tammy2Tammy Brecht Dunbar, M.Ed., S.T.E.M. teaches 5th grade in Manteca Unified School District and Pre-Service Technology at Teachers College of San Joaquin (Stockton, CA). She will be presenting at ISTE 2015, CUE 2015 and CTA Good Teaching North 2015.  Tammy has presented for CTA Good Teaching North (2014), Cap CUE (2014), all three California Subject Matters Project Conferences, Capitol Area Science Education Leaders, and several San Joaquin County Office of Education events as well as others. She won the 2010 eInstruction $75,000 Classroom Makeover Video Contest, wrote a successful Enhancing Education Through Technology grant for Manteca Unified School District in 2008, and was Teacher of the Year in MUSD in 2006. She is on the MUSD Superintendent’s Technology Committee as the district embarks on their “Going Digital 2015” project.




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