Sunday, March 6, 2011

To the Cloud - Skype

Last week I started a series of posts entitled "To the Cloud." There are so many resources in "the cloud" that there was no possible way to cover it all in one post. And there are not enough blog posts in the world to allow me to cover every one of them. My intention isn't to cover them all, rather it's to highlight the few I use in my classroom. Too often teachers are introduced to new tools, but are never told how they can use them to enhance what they already teach. That is the purpose for these few posts.

Skype's website explains their product this way: "Skype is doing things together, whenever you're apart." This is the perfect description. Skype is the perfect program to use when you want to be with someone without really being there. Through the marriage of the Internet and a webcam, Skype makes it possible for people to communicate with one another from long distances.

Ok, now that we've determined what Skype is, let me discuss ways that Skype can be used in the classroom, more specifically in my classroom. Collaboration is one of the best ways for students to learn how to get along with others while working toward a common goal. Skype makes it possible for students to work together without actually being together. A few months back I launched a collaboration project with a group of students in northwestern Arkansas. Students were paired up and then worked together to research and report on a national park. Skype made it possible for students to discuss issues face-to-face. In our situation, students were unable to have their own Skype accounts, so we worked around that minor distraction by keeping Skype active on one computer. When students needed to confer with their partners, they simply went to the Skype computer, announced the need for a conference, then went back to the task at hand. If you're interested in learning more about this project, you can read my earlier post entitled Skype in the Classroom, or visit my website that explains the project in greater detail.

The thing I liked most was that my students were much more engaged because they knew someone else was depending on them. They wanted to make a good impression on their partners, so they seemed to work harder. On the other hand, the thing the students most enjoyed was the opportunity for students to make friends with others who lived 500 miles away. Through this, they discovered that students in Arkansas are no different than students in Iowa.

Skype opens the world to students in ways never though possible. While my experience with Skype is limited to working with students in the same time zone, I've gained enough confidence that one day I'll be able to expand to other parts of the world.