Sunday, March 10, 2013

Skype's New Imprint on Education

Recently, Skype announced a free upgrade for teachers who use Skype in the Classroom to their  free group video calling - a fantastic gesture on the part of Skype for educators.  The bonus feature, only recently available to paid subscribers, now opens the virtual door to many more possibilities as Skype tries to level the playing field with the new rage in online video conferencing, Google Hangouts, which allows for similar features and with up to nine participants at one time.  

If you have an internet connection, a laptop or computer, and a webcam, you're ready to knock down the walls of your classroom and extend your teaching world-wide...and if you have a SMART Board installed in your classroom, you've basically opened up your own mini television studio!

Here's a few ideas as to how Skype in the Classroom and the new availability to utilize the group chat feature can help you expand the walls of your classroom and/or school:

1.  Parent Meetings.
Use the new group chat feature to virtually meet with several parents at the same time.  This is a great way for teachers and parents to all meet for a few minutes from anywhere to discuss an upcoming trip, a joint-classroom venture, to focus on issues that pertain to a small group, or to discuss a special event.  Bonus thought:  use Skype for upcoming Parent/Teacher Conferences for parents who just can't make the one and only appointment you've arranged.  For this suggestion though, I'd stick to the traditional one-on-one conference but make it not-so-traditional by meeting on Skype.

2.  A New Spin on Career Day.  I've been dying to try this one out on a school-wide level for quite sometime and now with the Skype group chat, it can really happen.  Career Day in every school has it's unique moments - for example, students and teachers can interact with a real fireman and try on his fireman's helmet or even jacket....but how about if you could not only discuss what it's like to be a fireman, but to also take a virtual tour of a firehouse and firetruck?  Not every classroom is within walking distance of a firehouse, so why not utilize the power of the internet and Skype to take that virtual trip?  Take it a step further and research a firehouse in another country (or two) and set a time that works for everyone to have a Skype group chat for added exposure.  Students can take notes during the chat and create a compare and contrast poster after the chat.  The possibilities are truly endless and are guaranteed to leave a life-long impression with all who participated, not to mention that it screams Common Core all over it.

3. Hold Professional Development.  
District administrators can now hold specific and featured PD for select principals, assistant principals, or even teachers (by grade, by discipline, or by specialties) all with the Skype group chat.  Districts (or networks within districts) can now reach out to multiple schools all at the same time - cutting down on expensive and time-gobbling travel time for everyone involved, and other costs as well (like supplies, lost time spent in the home school, and overall lost productivity).

4. Virtual Instructional Rounds.
Take Instructional Rounds in Education by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel with foreword by Andrew Lachman a virtual step further.  Administrators can have multiple teachers (and not all necessarily from one particular school) visit and observe a standout master teachers do his or her thing to see what high quality instruction looks like in a classroom setting.  Multiple teachers can virtually walk into a classroom without the pressure of someone (or a group of people) actually being there; taking a huge load off of the teacher who is being observed...after all, not everyone is comfortable performing in front of colleagues.  So, as a result, this now opens up a new non-intrusive way for master teachers to strut their stuff for student teachers, for struggling teachers, or just to show a new way to deliver a lesson that most haven't thought of before.

5.  Collaborative Learning Experiences.  
Take Skype group chat where it's never gone before and facilitate a collaborative learning experience for you and your students that will melt your face off by arranging a collaborative learning session from more than one expert in any given field.  For example, lets say that your class is learning about Earth Science and plate tectonics.  Utilize the power of Skype group chat to truly have one amazing teaching experience by having a virtual round-table discussion with multiple experts in the field of plate tectonics and volcanism.  You can't get any better than this!  And because you have the world -- literally, the whole world -- at your fingertips, the learning experience would be second to none!

No matter what service you choose to use, what makes the difference here is that you're using a technological tool that wasn't around not too long ago; opening up endless educational possibilities.

Are you a Skype in the Classroom user?  What has worked for you?  Let us know by commenting below.

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