Collaboration in My Classroom – Using Skype
This is the third in a series of articles about collaboration and collaborative practices in the classroom. In this article, I give an example from my classroom and how I used a tool to incorporate collaborative learning. I also document my thoughts on the effectiveness of this tool in my class.
Image by cod_gabriel on flickr. Creative Commons Attribution License
Technology is a wonderful thing in the classroom. It can give students the opportunity to learn and work together in many different ways. They have opportunities to express themselves, to conduct research, to communicate with others, and to enhance their educational experience. One collaborative technology tool I have used with my students is Skype, the free video conferencing service.
There are two things that I am a big fan of in my classroom: free and easy. Skype fits both of these items beautifully. After visiting the website and creating an account, you can download the application, find some contacts, and start video chats. There is no cost to connect with another user on a computer. Skype incorporates instant messaging as well as screen sharing and VoIP (voice over Internet protocol). You also have the option of paying a fee to be able to call or receive calls from any phone in the world.
Our first experience with Skype this year came with a visit from Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1 on Twitter). Jerry is a former teacher who maintains an excellent educational resource site at http://www.cybraryman.com. He also has been writing educational books for utility companies for many years.
I made contact with Jerry through Twitter, and he offered to talk to my students about how he writes books and the process behind commercial publishing. The time and date was set, and Jerry gave me resources to prepare my students for his talk with them. When the time for the session arrived, Jerry told my students how books change over the course of time while they are being written and how many different people have input at various stages of the writing process. We had been discussing the writing process in our English classes, and to have Jerry talk to them directly from his experience as an author helped to validate what my students had been learning in class. After Jerry finished his presentation, the students were allowed to come up the the camera and ask questions. I have a very inquisitive class, and Jerry was more than generous in answering their questions.
It was wonderful to have this opportunity to work with an expert who could give my students a fresh perspective on material they had learned in school. It also showed them what it is like to be an author. Through Skype, my students were able to make connections with the outside world and see the relevance of things they learned in school.
Another way I intend to use Skype is to allow my students to see what students are like in other countries. Ever since I started using Skype, it has been my goal to have my students talk with children in another country, and early this December we should finally have that opportunity.
I am quite active in Twitter’s educational community. Because of this, I have been able to make connections with teachers throughout the world. Recently, I have gotten to know Greta Sandler (@gret on Twitter, blogging at http://gret.wordpress.com/), a teacher in Argentina. We have decided to collaborate and make global connections between our classrooms using Skype. This project is still in the developing stages, but when details become available, I will add them.
This is an exciting opportunity for my students. An important outcome from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is that children develop a global awareness and sensitivity to other cultures. By having this conversation and by working with Greta’s class, my students will have a chance to develop these important skills.