I spend a good amount of time each week in my online Professional Learning Community. Lately I have been seeing ads for an educational Skype-a-Thon that is happening on the 3rd and 4th of December. Even Ellen DeGeneres is in on it.
This morning I decided to see what all the hype was about. I logged on and created an account but I have to say I was a bit underwhelmed. Really? You just want students to Skype with your experts, Mystery Skype with your chosen classrooms, and see how many miles they can rack up?
Oh, I know there is more to it than that, but it seems like the focus is more on the distance traveled by the class rather than the quality of close connections that can be made.
Maybe if I still taught in public school in the states I would be blown away by this concept, but skyping is a way of life when you are an expat teaching at an international school. Did you see what I just did there? I used a little “s” not a big “S”. That is because skyping is a verb in my world. It is something we International educators do daily.
Do Skype or other video conferencing applications have a place in the brick-and-mortar classroom?
Skype is a great tool to help students connect with the outside world; it is a great way to bring the experts to our students. In just a few weeks my 6th graders will be skyping in with the author of the book they are currently reading. We are lucky to get Linda Sue Park to be a part of our Single Shard celebration. My friend Russell Tarr at the International School of Toulouse uses Google Hangouts bring in published scholars from around the world to guest lecture in his IB Diploma history classes. In contrast, another teaching colleague of mine uses Skype to have multi-classroom discussions right in their own school building. This is because there are no meeting areas within their school that they are able to use.
Skype in the classroom? But what if Skype IS my classroom?
All this talk about connecting students to experts around the world is great. All this talk about mystery Skyping with classrooms around the world is excellent. But when I have discussions with my Global Online Academy students, our classroom IS Skype. All of our synchronous conversations take place on group Skype calls.
My students skype with me in Germany from the US, Mexico, Canada, India, and Indonesia. We meet in small groups of 3-4 every other week for an hour to discuss what we are learning. So that means that every other week, I am skyping over 133,227 kilometers (82783.4 miles) with my students. By the end of the semester my total kilometers skyped with my students will be around 1,065,816 kilometers (639489.6 miles).
But the connections don’t stop there. The students connect even more through Skype when they are working on group projects. And I love the instant message feature on Skype. This allows me to grab my students’ attention when I need to or they use it to ask me questions when they see I’m online. Students also participate in written online discussions in Canvas, our Learning Management System, or they WhatsApp each other when they want to chat.
Do I have the stamina for a Skype-a-thon?
I don’t know if I will participate in this week’s Skype-a-thon. I’m pretty tired after all the kilometers traveled this last week. If we skype this week it is because we need to connect and interact with each other and the content of our course. We won’t be connecting just to add more miles to our frequent Skyper plan.
It is a great notion though, this idea of taking a day out to connect our kids with others around the world. It is what our world needs right now: A giant group hug.
What our students need right now are real connections to others in our world that are not just like them. Our students need to see that we are all one in our humanity, but at the same time they need to learn to celebrate the differences in our cultures and values.
Rather than skyping to gain some more miles for your classroom chart this week, why not create a project where students can participate in solving real world problems. Create a Skype-a-thon that will affect real change in our communities and build our students empathy towards each other.
Lets focus on the close connection, not on the distance.
Will you be joining the Skype-a-thon this week? How are you using Skype in your brick-and-mortar classroom?