“Several technological and political forces have converged, and that has produced a global, Web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance – or soon, even language.”
When I was in 4th grade, my teacher thought it would be great to learn about world geography by assigning everyone pen pals from countries like Norway, China, and Mexico. I remember my excitement every time I found a letter from my pen pal Octavio in the mailbox and getting a chance to read about his sister’s quinceañera and holidays like Dia de los Muertos.
Fast forward to the 21st century and correspondence between students in different countries is more conveniently handled through email or better yet through video conferencing programs like Skype or Google Hangout. One of the first uses of Skype I remember seeing at River Hill was when social studies teacher Callie Casper connected with a class in Australia so students could discuss voting laws in the country. As she recalls, “my students were able to have direct contact and dialogue with students in Australia about politics and voting. It was so much more real than me just saying, ‘In Australia voting is a requirement’. They got to ask students about what that meant in their culture and the impact.
Mrs. Casper’s class did this several years ago, so Skype was still relatively new and River Hill didn’t have wireless at the time. Our computers here did have that ability, so Casper’s students had to bring their laptops with cameras and hardwire into the internet. Also, because they were skyping with a class on the other side of the world, they had to work out the timing. As expected, her students loved it. The teacher in Australia arranged with the RSPCA to bring a baby wallaby to school and they brought it around to each camera so the students could see it.
After Callie Casper broke the ice, many teachers have followed in her footsteps to include videoconferencing as a regular part of instruction. I checked with our teachers this year about what they were using Skype and Google Hangout for and here’s what they said:
Business- Teresa Waters and Michael Ahr did a Skype session with the founder and owner of TV Talk for Teresa’s entrepreneurship class last year. It’s on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_6A928gjxI
Career and Research Development-Just last week Angela Johnson and Katie Noecker skyped with a former River Hill student who is now doing contract work with Google. Students had a chance to discuss her education and career path.
Computer Science-Team Rocket, River Hill’s Zero Robotics tean, used Google Hangout to have several long meetings during class with their alliance teams in both Spain and Italy. They also communicated using shared Google docs, Google Chat, a private Facebook group and email. They discussed strategies, and shared code with each other. The last few minutes before the deadline they were in the classroom at 5:00 chatting with Italy and speaking to two kids from home on various platforms.
English-Kristin Mitchell’s students used Google Hangout to discuss their Enterprise in Literature project with personnel at the Ayn Rand institute. This is a cross-curricular project that Teresa Waters’ Marketing class and Kristin’s Leadership class are working on.
English- Rachael Schultz used Skype to give her students an opportunity to talk to a climber who had scaled Mt. Kiliminjaro. As one of her students indicated, “It gave more insight than just reading the book (Into Thin Air)—a personal account was helpful and easier to relate to.”
English- Lin Storey is trying to promote connections between her students and professionals throughout the nation. Because of the expense for travel and lodging, it is often impossible for writers to visit River Hill. Therefore, skyping is the perfect alternative. Students really enjoy this experience. Ms. Storey makes sure they have well-prepared questions and get to practice their speaking and listening skills.
Journalism-During Dave Vitalgliano’s podcast projects, the students connect/discuss via Skype while recording the conversation with other software.
Math- Roger Demaree uses neither Skype nor Google Hangout; however, he does use videoconferencing for daily instruction. As the teacher of the county’s digital learning differential equations course, Mr. Demaree connects online with students from around the county who watch Mr. Demaree’s class online and participate virtually through their computers.
Music-Richard McCready used Skype so he didn’t have to travel to give a lecture. This saved UMiami a lot of money, and him a lot of time. He was able to use the front and rear facing cameras to switch between a view of him talking to the students and views of computers with student examples.
One Book, One River Hill- English instructional team leader Diane Curry set up a Skype session with Gene Yang, the author of American Born Chinese. Student and staff got to hear first-hand about the choices they made while writing the graphic novel.
Spanish-Norda Hodgson-Clopein’s Spanish 5 AST students skyped with the AP students at Archbishop Spalding High School last year.
Theater Arts-Pam Land’s theater arts class was able to hear from an expert in the field who was not able to come to us, nor were we able to come to him. Students asked questions in real time and the guest speaker was able to walk us through the set he was working on. They loved it. It was like going on a field trip, but we never left the classroom.
Countless other teachers indicated they were planning on using Skype or Google Hangout later this year. How fantastic that so many people are incorporating this great technology into their lessons? What once seemed impossible is now just a normal aspect of 21st century teaching and learning!