About Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and why we need more

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, November 25, 2013

About Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and why we need more

About Mystery Skype/Hangout and why we need more

Video chats can break down a classroom’s walls and open students up to the world. They’re easy to set up and can be transformational.

One of the most transformative effects the Internet can have on classrooms is opening them up to the world.

Before the Internet, global communication was expensive and slow. Think long-distance phone calls and letters, even world travel.

Now, the world is at our classrooms’ beck and call: 

  • Social media can connect us to anyone.
  • Video chat takes us to new places in the world immediately.
  • Blogs, wikis and websites help us create content that anyone in the world can see.

Using Skype and Google Hangout can connect classrooms to other classrooms, to other cultures, to experts in our fields.

Oh, and it’s free (as long as your computer has a webcam or you purchase one inexpensively). And it’s instant.

This kind of activity has great, great benefits — but it doesn’t appear to be used in the classroom enough, largely due to teacher anxiety and perceived lack of technical skills to do it. We’ll talk about that more in a moment.


I’m getting ready for my first classroom and have learned a lot about the process. Here’s basically how it works:

Teachers determine what kind of experience they’d like to create for their classes. There are many options: Mystery Skype, where classes guess where they other class is located, is a very popular choice — especially for elementary classes — but teachers can craft any interaction they’d like to see.

They connect with each other online to set up the time and format for the video chat. There are lots of ways to find other classes for video chats — Twitter (use the #MysterySkype hashtag or add @Skype to get extra exposure, or just tweet to #edchat and #edtech), Skype’s Education site, or the Google Plus Mystery Hangout community, among others.

On the day of the chat, the classrooms connect to each other via video chat (be it Skype or Google Hangout). They greet each other and start interacting. In Mystery Skype or Mystery Hangout, according to this page on Skype’s education site, the questions can range from basic yes/no questions to more complicated ones. (Skype also suggests removing your location from your Skype profile so you don’t give the answer away before the game gets started!)


Both sides keep asking questions until one side guesses the correct location. Many classes share their experiences by tweeting the questions and answers live or blogging about the experience afterward.


As I consider using video chats in class, there are a ton of ideas that come to mind that could enhance my world language classroom or almost any other classroom. Here are some of them:

  • My world language students could have a simple question-and-answer session — in Spanish — with students from Spanish-speaking countries or even the United States. This could really open world views and expose students to other cultures.
  • Classes could Skype with experts in the content area — writers, professors, scientists, etc. — and ask questions or seek opinions about what they’re studying in class.
  • Video chats could be used for virtual field trips. The possibilities are far-reaching. For example, London’s Science Museum, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and the Vasa Museum in Sweden all have a presence on Skype Education.
  • Classes could connect to share work with each other via Skype or Google Hangout in any content area. Imagine math classes collaborating to find answers to difficult problems!
  • Celebrities (and I use this term loosely) sometimes will connect with classes to share their experiences with the content being studied or just to encourage them. Actors, musicians, athletes, politicians — especially from your home state — are a good starting point. You never know who you can get until you ask! Sometimes, you hit it big, like this school that Skyped with Shaquille O’Neal.


After attending a number of technology-related conferences and conference sessions over the past year, I’ve heard Skype and Google Hangout mentioned as a valuable resource in many.

The thing that surprises me, though, is how few educators I’m finding that are actually using video chats. In the last few weeks, I’ve reached out to educators via the #edchat, #edtech and #langchat hashtags on Twitter in attempt to find classes to partner with for Mystery Skypes or just chats in Spanish. The sparse results have surprised me a little.

I’m betting the lack of participation stems from three very common stumbling blocks in educational technology: anxiety, perceived lack of technical ability and lack of time.

ANXIETY: I’ll lay the anxiety stumbling block to rest. Although I haven’t participated in a Skype/Hangout like the ones mentioned here, I’ll bet that it will generally be a positive experience for everyone involved:

  • For the students, who love to be involved in something new and exciting (especially if it involves technology)
  • For the other class, who gets a glimpse into life at your school
  • For you, the teacher, who sparks excitement and engagement in a new way in the classroom

I’ve found that even if my new ideas flop, my students often are grateful for the effort to try something different. And with a little planning, they probably won’t totally flop, and you may have something that could transform your teaching — or your students’ lives.

PERCEIVED LACK OF TECHNICAL ABILITY: Skypes are really easy to set up, too. They mostly consist of connecting your webcam (if it isn’t already embedded in your computer), adding the participating class’s Skype/Google Hangout account and testing the connection. If the other teacher has done video chats before, he/she may be able to give you some guidance.

Plus, much like almost any app or site, there’s very little you can do wrong to break it or mess it up. Jump in and give it a shot, and if you can’t figure something out, there’s always Google!

LACK OF TIME: This can be an excuse not to try anything. The truth is that we make time for what we want to make time for. I took a few minutes here and there over the course of a weekend to gather the information I needed about video chatting. If we want to make a difference in our students’ lives and provide them opportunities to grow and experience new things, we make it happen.


Mystery Skype site on Skype:  https://education.skype.com/mysteryskype

How it works and ways to play: https://education.skype.com/mysteryskype/how-it-works#nav

Skype etiquette: http://mrsmorgansstars.edublogs.org/skype-etiquette/

Mystery Skype jobs: http://pernillesripp.com/2013/08/08/mystery-skype-jobs-created-by-my-students/

Skype with foreign language: https://education.skype.com/collections/learning-languages

Paul Solarz Mystery Skype article: http://psolarz.weebly.com/how-to-set-up-and-run-a-mystery-skype-session.html

Mystery Location Calls: https://sites.google.com/site/mysterylocationcalls/home

Google Plus Mystery Hangout Community: https://plus.google.com/communities/110369120141935358658/stream/4fb879f7-d977-4f4f-ad92-d9b29aae1175

Live Binder on Mystery Skypes/Hangouts: http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/966411

The Mixxer: Language exchange for everyone: http://language-exchanges.org/

Are you interested in using video chats in class? Leave us a comment to say how you’d like to use it! Or if you’ve used Skype or Google Hangout in class, please tell us how it went!

(For notifications of new Ditch That Textbook content and helpful links, “like” Ditch That Textbook on Facebook and follow @jmattmiller on Twitter!)

Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:

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  • Thanks for including information about the Mystery Skype activity. I’m hoping to put this idea in action. Great article.

  • Gina Felton says:

    Hello Matt,

    Sending this piece to my administration. They could use the information themselves!

    I have a class of 5th graders in Iowa. If you are looking for a Mystery Skype, let us know!
    We are always up for the adventure!

    Thanks for the article!


  • […] About Mystery Skype/Hangout and why we need them […]

  • […] Mystery Hangout “is a social game played with two groups of students. It’s a mix of Battleship and 20 questions.”  When you join the Google+ Community, you can propose a Mystery Hangout or connect with a teacher who has proposed a Mystery Hangout.  More information on Mystery Hangouts is listed here. […]

  • […] Mystery Hangout “is a social game played with two groups of students. It’s a mix of Battleship and 20 questions.”  When you join the Google+ Community, you can propose a Mystery Hangout or connect with a teacher who has proposed a Mystery Hangout.  More information on Mystery Hangouts is listed here. […]

  • […] About Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and why we need more – https://ditchthattextbook.com/2013/11/25/about-mystery-skypeshangouts-and-why-we-need-more/ […]

  • Sofia says:

    A mi me interesaría un #MysterySkype donde mis alumnos (segundo grado, 7-8 años de edad) hablen en inglés y los tuyos contesten en español, así ambos pueden practicar su segunda lengua, ¿te interesa? mi correo es sofia.velazquez@cap.edu.mx

  • […] http://www.hippasus.com 2. “About Mystery Skypes/Hangouts and why we need more” Ditch That Textbook. Nov. 25, 2013. 3. “Bloom’s Taxonomy” Vanderbilt University’s Center […]

  • […] Mystery Hangouts are particularly great for elementary grade levels. In a Mystery Hangout, your classroom will video chat with another classroom located in another region, state, or country. Using questioning skills and context clues, students must figure out where the other class is located. These are super fun! […]

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