When we think about ways to connect students globally and to think outside of traditional boundaries, I often think about the power of video conferencing. Microsoft has included a lot of opportunities for teachers to do just that with the education programs they have created for Skype in the Classroom.
At its core, the program allows teachers to register on a website that lets them connect with each other and arrange calls between their classes. However, there are often special events like the recent World Read Aloud day where classrooms can invite authors into the classroom via the Skype in the Classroom program. There was also the Just Say Hello program that partnered with O, The Oprah Magazine. Teachers can also take part in the Skype a Guest Speaker program where experts can brought to your classroom as part of a PBL unit or another program of study.
The following video on Skype in the Classroom is typical of the kind of benefits you get from programs like this. At one point the teachers says that for her, school has never been about happens in the four walls of the classroom, it is about how you can knock those walls down and connect outside of them. The reactions of the students that were involved in the call was priceless. There are numerous other examples in this video of the power of using a tool like this to connect students from around the world so take a look below.
An extension of this is the Skype Virtual Field Trip program. Teachers can browse and schedule a virtual field trip for their class in any number of different locations. This is an amazing opportunity for broadening the horizons of your students and can include different habitats, careers and countries so it has a lot of curricular ties. In the video below, students talked to a marine biologist who was in an underwater lab. These are experiences that you just can’t recreate by yourself so the power of doing that with technology is something that all teachers should give their students the opportunity to be a part of.
Of course, Mystery Skype is as popular as ever. It takes the power of a simple video conferencing call and gamifies it. Teachers can connect via the Skype education portal and play their classes against each other in a bid to try and guess the location of the other class. The video below explains what it is in more detail, but I especially like that the education team at Microsoft have even put together a free Mystery Skype curriculum for teachers. It is designed to help maximize the educational benefits and curricular connections of this fun, interactive way to connect classrooms.
Yet another Skype program that is potentially very powerful for schools to take advantage of is Skype Translator. It gives teachers the ability to connect with far more people than just English speaking classrooms, and that can be really valuable for building those cultural connections in the minds of our students. I have yet to try it, but one of these days I am going to befriend a foreign language teacher to help me test it out and see how well it works. Either that, or I have to brush the dust off my high school French and German textbooks and recruit one of my co-workers, but that won’t be as much fun! 🙂
So, when teachers approach me with ideas about connecting classrooms on a global scale, Skype in the Classroom is inevitably one of the first places I send them. If nothing else, because it has such a low barrier of entry, especially now that you can join a Skype call with just a web browser, no account or additional software is required.