Bringing Your Content Context … with Skype

Just a few weeks ago, congress came to 8th grade.   Pat Williams, reading teacher at West Middle, reached out to a relative, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, and asked him if he would be willing to talk about his present experiences as a member of congress as well as his past as a young man actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. The congressman not only agreed, but invited his colleague, Congressman Bobby Rush, along for the conversation. The result? An interactive lesson in history, leadership, and personal responsibility — all through Skype.

Skype is a well-known, quick and easy way to invite others to chat, whether by text, audio, or video. Using only a computer, webcam, and internet connection, individuals and groups can contact one another from across the building or across the world. Increasingly, a good deal of collaborative work is done over some form of video-conferencing, and using Skype is bringing those types of opportunities into our classrooms.

What types of activities can be accomplished through Skype?

  • Guest teachers – Bring the expertise of your colleagues into your classroom, from across the district or across the state
  • Outside experts- Whether it be with an author, congressman, or practicing professional, guest speakers who relate to your content can bring additional validation to the work of your classroom.
  • Partner classroom – The most meaningful conferences are connected to long-term relationships. Establishing partnerships with schools across the states (or the world) give students a sense of connection to people they may never meet face-to-face.

What steps should I move through if I want to make this happen?

1. Find someone.

Who do you know? Who do your friends know? Who uses your subject outside of an “educational” context? Answering these questions can connect you with any number of individuals. Ask your colleagues. Ask your professors. Ask everyone on Facebook. The worst that can happen is nothing. The best (and more likely result) would be that someone knows someone who’d be happy to chat with your students. If you’d like to try other avenues, check out listings of teachers interested in connecting. Skype in SchoolsSkype in the Classroom (sponsored by Skype), and ePals are all websites where teachers look for partner classrooms.   Skype-an-Author connects authors to classrooms.   HEC-TV and Cooperating School Districts have active networks as well.

2. Find a time.

This is especially important for any conference outside your time zone. There a number of online resources to help with this. Keep in mind that international times may mean that your conference occurs before or after school.

3. Prep for the day

Meaningful interactions generally involve some prep work – whether it be a Skype conversation or a typical classroom discussion. You might co-create questions with students or ask them to do some background research on the person or issue.

4. Double-check your connection

Be sure to do a practice run using the same computers you’ll use the day of the conference. Check to see that your computer is connected to your data port (and not operating Skype over the wireless connection). Take the time to make sure everyone is on the same page (and has the same version of Skype).

5. Enjoy the interview

Pleasant introductory and concluding remarks make the conference feel more like an event.

6. Debrief with students and send a thank-you

Chatting with students about the experience gives you a valuable chance to hear their perspective on the conversation. Sending a thank-you, especially a tangible one, is a nice way to send your appreciation to your “virtual” guest.

The biggest barrier to coordinating a Skype conference isn’t the technology. It’s asking someone to participate in the pattern of your classroom and, do a degree, adapting that pattern to make this a worthy use of your students’ time and effort.   But making that happen can give your content an even larger context and connect the work of your students to the world outside your classroom.

Skype icon courtesy of YellowIcon

This is cross-posted over at Tech4Practice.

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