Dos and Don'ts for Skype in the Classroom

Dos and Don'ts for Skype in the Classroom

The ability to cross seven oceans was usually associated with a lover when he pledged his love or to rescue his damsel in distress. With Skype however, crossing oceans, landscapes or mountains has become as quick and easy as the wink of an eye. In the

 education sector, this ability provides some interesting innovations.

Like always EdTech shakes our hitherto believed in notions of the possible and the impossible. Using Skype for education makes the four walls of the classroom translucent by nullifying physical distance. Here we discuss some interesting ways on how to use Skype in classroom.

To begin with, video conferencing for teachers broadens the protocol for classroom teaching by opening up the teaching podium to include experts, authors and guest instructors.

Likewise, students who constitute the other end of education can take visual field trips through Skype, or best of all connect to students across the world, crossing seven oceans, if they please. Sessions such as learning of foreign languages, exploring different cultures, associating with students working on the same projects but with different protocol or equipment are greatly enhanced when using Skype in the classroom.

A Skype Directory for Educators

In response to the popularity Skype has gained among educators across the world, the company has launched the beta version of Skype in the Classroom. 

The first step, Skype says, is building a directory of educators who use the VOIP service and want to connect their classrooms with others. Currently, many teachers turn to Facebook, Twitter, and their own personal and professional social networks in order to find other teachers to connect with, and it looks like Skype wants to make sure it's providing its own matching services and helping provide the resources and skill-building so that teachers feel comfortable with video conferencing.

Teachers can sign up for the Skype in the Classroom beta by connecting their existing Skype accounts. Then, they can build out their profile with their interests, specialties, grade level, and location. Teachers can look through the directory and find others who can help with questions, resources, tips, and classroom visits.

Skype plans to improve several aspects of the directory very soon, including building out its search functionality. Currently it isn’t equipped with a time zone filter, which comes handy in video chatting with classrooms not in your time zone. Also, Skype intends to enhance its functionality through other development plans in order to support connecting classes with speakers and experts -- authors, astronauts, politicians, and others who are willing to Skype in to a class.

With the multitude of that Skype is introducing for educators, it is eager to hear teachers' feedback in order to build out the initiative to best support their classroom needs. "We'll work on what teachers need to better use the technology in the classroom," says Team Skype.

Classroom Skype: Do's & Don'ts

DO plan & approve questions ahead of time. To make it easy for your students, not just planning but approving their questions before they use them in the video chat session can help avoid lots of confusion, esp. if it is in a language not native to them.

DON'T stop at question planning: anticipate.  It’s always better if students brainstorm the answers they can expect from their audiences and THEN think of appropriate ways to respond. Although not one of the best ways, one way is to create a "cheat sheet" of things they can say for different kind of responses.

DO rehearse beforehand. The anticipation tip can be better carried out if students try asking their questions to a classmate or a teacher. This can be even more productive, if the responding person plays dumb, so that students are forced to rephrase to be understood. This makes them better prepared for all kinds of responses in the actual video chat session.

DON'T go in without arranging a plan with the other side of the conversation.

Experience warns that it is always better to plan out the session among both sides beforehand to avoid unnecessary confusion. A teacher recounts her experience at planning vs. not planning.  “Fulbright friend had an idea of topics that would come up (culture, mainly), and I GAVE Suegra the questions ahead of time--so I could anticipate the vocabulary she'd use, in part. The first chat with the 2nd graders was confusing because we didn't delineate who was asking what or what was fair game. It went GREAT when we had definite roles (asker vs. answerer) laid out and had a feel for what kind of questions were in each other's scope/likely to come up.”

DO brainstorm relevant vocabulary ahead of time. Another great faculty that makes students better equipped and makes the learning experience productive is vocabulary. It helps students form questions and anticipate answers--then form their own answers, if need be.

DON'T let the rest of the class sit idly by until it's their turn. Although most students are riveted during Skype chats, it is always better to engage everyone in productive activity. Thus teachers can have other students engaged in activities such as note taking or answering survey questions about the students they interview when it’s not their turn.

DO set a specific purpose for the conversation other than "practice." A teacher remarks, “I could feel my kids slipping away with just the topic of "interviewing" the South Dakota kids. It's one thing to do the basics with ninitos, but with kids your age? I wish I'd thought of the survey thing sooner.” Thus having a specific purpose for the conversation comes handy to avoid such issues.

DON'T let kids just stick to a script. Being a social activity, Skype chats are aimed at developing interpersonal communication skills among students. Thus a well written script beforehand only serves as a handicap for students. Giving students a script for the initial bit of the conversation is useful to make them establish their comfort level, but they should be made to independently come up with points of discussion thereafter.

DO require follow-up. A good conversation is not just constituted of questions and responses but also responses to the other side’s responses. Thus giving students some everyday common words or ‘gambits’ (such as ‘cool, me too, etc.’ in English) to throw around, between the conversation, increases the quality of the conversation.
Experience dictates that choosing the right response is one step toward accountability for grasping the answer given, too.

An example of Skype in the Classroom:

I hope these do’s and don’ts help in your experience of using skype in classroom.
Do you have any ideas for tweaking or suggestions to add to the Do’s/Don't list? Drop in your views/questions/suggestions in the comments below.

About the Author
Author: Keerti Arora

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