Up until about a month ago, my primary use for Skype was for facilitating video chat between my parents and my 3-year-old son. While that’s a great use, it wasn’t until very recently that I’ve begun using Skype for more educational purposes. Students in my Honors British Lit class just completed one very successful Skype interaction, and are about to embark on another.
While the course is called “Honors British Literature”, in all honesty we skew very English in the literature we read. In addition to wanting to give my students some exposure to non-English British culture for balance’s sake, I also wanted to satisfy their curiosity at seeing some street signs in Welsh. I turned to fellow teacher, Twitterer, and ex-pat Englishman in Wales Dave Stacey for help.
Over the course of a few weeks, Dave and I corresponded via email and arranged for him to Skype into our class on 13 March, when he spent about 45 minutes speaking with my students. In preparation for the chat, they brainstormed questions for Dave, using a page on our class wiki as their “scratchpad”. Dave obligingly researched (and posted answers to!) every question my kids could throw at him prior to our chat. Dave and I had a test run to make sure both of our school networks could handle the Skype-y awesomeness, then linked up for the real deal at 11:15am EDT / 3:15pm GMT. Dave fielded questions from my students on the Welsh language and pronunciations, culture (popular and otherwise), and even his personal experiences moving from the south of England to Wales for university and eventually settling down and starting a family there.
I was impressed on a few levels: first, at Dave’s willingness to make himself available to a bunch of American high school kids long after his work day ended (not always easy for a new dad). Second, my students could very easily have sat there and been passive learners. They chose to engage themselves in the process, more or less interviewing Dave the entire time. They shaped the discussion, the lesson, and, ultimately, their own learning.
In our session debrief, I asked my students what the value of an experience like this was for them – not why it was cool, or new, but what value it held for them. Responses centered around these major concepts:
- first-hand access to a living primary source
- interactivity & having the ability to probe and ask for explanations & clarifications
- hearing a non-American perspective; combating ethnocentrism
- greater investment in preparation
- greater overall engagement due to all of the above
It was such a positive experience that when Christian Long contacted me to brainstorm some ways to link up our British Lit classes, Skype was my first thought. For this experience, my students will be leading his sophomores through discussion of issues pertaining to Hamlet and Shakespeare’s tragedies. They’ll be meeting each other in a few weeks; I’ll be sure to post reflections on that shortly thereafter.
How do you use Skype in your classes?