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Category Archives: Skype

Learning in the Blender!

I have just posted an article on Blended Learning in the Teacher’s Monthly and I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about some of the options available to us as teachers once we decide to put our classes through the blender!

One way of looking at Blended Learning is to see it as simply bringing another channel into the classroom, hooking the classroom up to the wider world via the Internet. This opens up a wealth of possibilities, and much of the challenge inherent in Blended Learning is wrapped up in teasing out the wheat from the chaff. Every school is different, every class, every student, every teacher is different, and this makes this process a journey of individual discovery. Anyone who talks about not re-inventing the wheel doesn’t really know what they are talking about. In many ways Blended Learning is constantly about re-inventing wheels.

I am currently working with a teacher in Brazil, looking for ways to link up one of my classes to his class. We are considering Blogs, Skype, Twitter and Facebook at the moment. I have no idea which of these channels will prove the best match between the needs of his class and mine, but I do know that the benefits of opening up the two classrooms and establishing an exchange are exciting and is likely to be rewarding for all concerned. Bringing together people from different parts of the world, with different world views and different experiences unlocks huge educational possibilities. Last Wednesday I had my English class go onto the Blog site of the Brazilian class at http://kidblog.org/ and read a selection of blogs and post comments. I then got them to write their own blogs.

Now, one can easily see how creating a class blog could open up the classroom to the outside world. What is less clear is to what extent this adds to the learning experience. If it does not, then there is no sense in doing it. To my mind this is a simple test by which we should be assessing the effectiveness of Blended Learning: what does it add to the classroom experience?

Sometimes what it adds is extra functionality enabled by the affordances of a particular technology. A blog site, for example, allows for instant and professional looking publication of student writing, and for rapid feedback from others in the form of comments. When I started teaching, if I wanted to give students authentic writing opportunities I had to get them to write to a local newspaper or photostat a class, or school magazine. The blog is a huge advance on the tools I had at my disposal previously. To my mind, then, if done properly blogging is a crucial tool in a blended learning environment.

Applying the same criteria, I am sure that for most classrooms, in most situations, Skype, Twitter, Facebook would all be seen to add value in that they clearly enable things which could not be done, or were difficult to do without technology. It is not in the technology itself though, that the value lies, and it is important to remember that what might work in one context, might fail dismally in another. The crucial factor, as always, is the teacher, and the passion and commitment they bring to finding the best solutions to any given problem.

The Blended Classroom, thus, is a bit like a blender. You’ve got to hook it up, and give it a whizz, tasting frequently to find the right mixture.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Blended Learning, Blogs, Facebook, Skype, Twitter

 

Skype In The Classroom

Skype has launched a directory which will help teachers connect with each other to find resources, share ideas, and find collaborative projects to engage in with their classes. The interface allows teachers to view existing collaborative projects, email the creator of the project, make comments, or set up their own projects. Projects are categorized and searchable, making it relatively easy to find other teachers looking for similar projects.

I have a feeling that the Skype directory has an advantage over some other dedicated sites, such as e-Pals, because of the ease of access to other interfaces from Skype itself. Put another way, my Skype is set up on my toolbar so that incoming messages reach me immediately, but I often miss messages from e-Pals because it is at a remove. I am not knocking sites such as e-Pals at all, but the more direct an interface is, the better. A very useful blog on using skype in the classroom has been set up at http://langwitches.org/blog/2010/11/20/assessment-of-learning-via-skype/ which looks at various pre and post skype activities to enhance the learning experience. The various tasks which are necessary to set up a skype call with another classroom make it an excellent activity in fostering collaborative and co-operative skills.

I am going to confine myself to offering just one suggestion. Looking at what people are writing about skype in the classroom I have not seen much comment about how Skype can be used for gaming applications. I am not talking about the extras that come with Skype, such as Chess, Checkers, Go and so on, although that is a very useful tool and the possibility of running extra-mural programmes through Chess, Checkers and so on is a good one. I was thinking, however, of using Skype for more Role Play, simulation type games in which students from different classrooms take on different roles. Although Skype is set up to handle synchronous voice or video calls, it can also handle text-based chat and asynchronous conversations, which gives it a great deal of flexibility as an interface, ideal for games play. Let us say, for example that in a History class you are exploring the French Revolution. You might set up a tribunal on Skype in which historical figures have to defend themselves against a charge of responsibility for the Terror. One group might take on the role of Robespierre, Danton, Marat, the King, etc. Groups could be within the same classroom or cut across different classrooms. Groups would need to use Skype to prepare a defence or a prosecution charge, culminating in a trial staged via Skype.

 

Learning on Skype

My wife teaches Italian. She has regular classes and individual lessons, but some of her students don’t live in Johannesburg. She teaches them using Skype. I know she was amazed at how well it works, and it is certainly an amazingly powerful platform. Skype is a free Internet VOIP service which allows for person to person calls, with or without a video link depending on whether you have a web camera or not.

The way my wife works it is that when the time comes for the lesson, she messages the student to see if they are ready. One will then initiate the call. She has a web camera – not a very high-resolution one. Students need to see her face and gestures: it helps with language learning especially, but is more empathetic in any case. The camera is a cheap one because the higher the resolution, the more data is sent, and the more expensive an hour-long lesson becomes on bandwidth.

Shortly before the lesson a student may have emailed her homework – this can be done within Skype itself. She gives feedback and returns the homework, together with any files that will be needed for the lesson. The student opens these files and follows the lesson as she goes through the material. Skype has limited desktop sharing capacity as well, but my wife prefers not to use it! It is so much easier to email the documents needed, and let the student open them on their screen.

From what I have eavesdropped on, the sessions do not really suffer from comparison with face to face teaching. The use of voice and the optional video link make it altogether equivalent to a live lesson. A huge advantage is convenience. lessons can take place at any time. For busy people, and language learning situations it appears an ideal medium.

The applications for the classroom are equally exciting, whether bringing in an outside expert, or collaborating with another classroom somewhere, anywhere else in the world! I have a web camera mounted on the Interactive White Board which can take in the whole classroom. The IWB can display any video link on the other side. A mike is positioned centrally so it can pick up anyone who speaks.

By the way, if you want Italian lessons, just contact my wife, Lisabetta on Skype at lisabetta.lollis This is not a shameless plug! She is a superb teacher!

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Skype, Web 2.0 Tools

 
 
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