I taught a graduate class for some teachers from my district last weekend. It’s one of the ways our district offers professional development to our teachers by partnering with a local university. The teachers in my class were coming to learn about tools for connecting, communicating, and collaborating inside and outside of their classrooms. Some of these teachers had taken my classes before, but they had not used many (if any at all) of the tools and ideas we were going to be exploring. I started class very excited about the opportunities that await them as they use these tools in their classrooms.
One moment in particular on Saturday the teachers really saw the potential to connect their classrooms to virtually anywhere in the world, and that was when we talked about Skype. I had my good friend Steven Anderson Skype into our class (on a Saturday morning) from North Carolina. Steve and I did a bit of virtual team teaching for about 15 minutes on the potential that Skype has to take our students pretty much anywhere in the world. None of the conversation focused on how to use the Skype software itself. We solely focused on its instructional use to connect our students to other classrooms, experts, and authors around the world. Talk about authentic learning experiences! If you didn’t know, Skype now has an entire section of their website devoted to helping teachers connect with other teachers and have students work collaboratively work on various projects. I really love it when a big company like Skype recognizes the need to put a big focus on education. Major hat tip to Skype for doing this and I’m excited to see it grow.
My teachers were very excited at the thought of being able to Skype an author into their classroom, become pen pals with a class in another country, or virtually take their students to a science or history museum. All for the small investment of installing a free piece of software and purchasing a webcam. Many of these teachers already had a webcam in their classroom but were only using it as a document camera! I don’t consider that any fault of theirs. It made me wish I had worked with teachers more widespread much sooner (we do have some teachers here and there already using Skype).
My daughter is in kindergarten and already understands the power of Skype. See, one of her classmates has been very sick this year and has had to miss a lot of school due to treatments and hospital stays. My daughter’s teacher has kept the class connected with this student via Skype regularly throughout the school year. This way the student does not feel like they’re missing out (as much) nor do the students have to wonder how their classmate is doing when physically absent from school. One time they even got to Skype while the student was in the hospital and learned about the various tubes and machines they saw next to the hospital bed. My daughter talks about it all the time and gives updates at home about their Skype visits. Pretty heartwarming and pretty powerful huh? I love that her teacher has made this a priority all during the school year.
I was recently talking to another good friend of mine, Shannon Miller, who is a pro at connecting her students to other classrooms, professionals, and generally awesome people all over the globe. She recently even won a Shorty award because she’s so good at this! Shannon and I were talking about how it exciting it is to see kids excited about this. We also talked about how very important it is for schools to be doing this. Why aren’t we doing this at school more? Is it really that difficult to pull off? Free software, a webcam, and an internet connection is all we’re talking about. Of course there’s a time factor upfront for the teacher to make the connection and get it scheduled and everything organized that goes with it, but the payoffs are so well worth it don’t you think? Kids getting to learn about dinosaurs from an archeologist who is actually at the dig site, or students getting to ask questions to an author whose book they just finished reading. That’s powerful stuff folks!
I invite for you to read another post written recently by my friend Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, New Jersey that is titled Learning Like Never Before. Skype is just one of many tools that allows our students to learn like never before. If you’re already doing this, please don’t forget to share with as many as you can. We truly can’t afford to not do this for our kids. I want to share with more teachers about making meaningful connections across our districts, states, and countries.
Some other Skype resources you’ll want to check out: