Skype: the best way to connect students to the real world

Last week I used Skype* to bring some Shakespearean actors into my 9th grade classes to connect with our Romeo and Juliet unit. It was fantastic. The students loved it. The actors loved it. I loved it.

So why don’t I do this more often? Really?

I think that despite being a daily user of technology in my classes, directly with iPads, labs, or other devices, or indirectly with Schoology and KidBlog, I just don’t always think of it.

I think what Skyping people in to the classroom offers is invaluable, but I also think that the fact that it actually opens a portal from the safety and comfort of my classroom into the real world it seems like a really big deal.  And it is. But not in the way we might imagine.

Using Skype in my class more frequently gets to the core teaching transition I write and speak so often about: transforming the learning experience itself. Overall, I am very good at this, and yet, in some ways, my old habits still steer me more than I would like. Setting up a Skype session is really fairly easy.

In light of these recent ruminations, I offer a few points about Skype experiences in the classroom that I have written down to try to remember. I hope they help others remember that this kind of experience is why technology in the classroom is such a crucial component.

  • People like to talk to students and play the expert. Their ordinary job may not offer that experience often. The investment on their end is pretty modest.
  • Skype is very user-friendly, and at this point, most people have the skills to make a Skype connection.
  • Video chatting with an expert makes both a cognitive and emotional connection to the material, solidifying retention.
  • Part of being the guide on the side is to lead them out of the classroom.
  • It is easier than it seems to set up the appointment and facilitate the call.
  • Everything doesn’t need to be perfect. The guest Skyper will understand if there is a fire drill, or if the internet tweaks. It’s no different than what anyone deals with on a typical day.
  • Guest Skypers love getting the feedback from students. A simple online form can collect comments easily.
  • There is a potential guest Skyper in just about any lesson.
  • A little goes a long way; no student expects to Skype with someone every day.
  • It’s cheaper than a field trip, takes a fraction of the time and planning, and in some cases, can be just as valuable.
  • It models connection-making behavior that students may use in a professional setting someday.

There are certainly other points to consider, but that’s what I wrote up most recently. I want to make a priority to do this more often, and in more significant ways in the future.

*While Skype is the most universal of the video-chat tools, Google Hangouts serves the same purpose in much the same way. There are actually some functional advantages to Hangouts, but fewer average adults have used it.



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