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:
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:
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:
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!
Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:
Interested in having Matt present at your event or school? Contact him by e-mail!
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.