April 26, 2010

Using Skype in the Classroom

by Heather Falconer

One of the benefits of incorporating new technology into the classroom is that it allows the teacher and students access to things they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. In today’s post, we’d like to highlight the benefits and uses of Skype — the free software that allows for video conferencing.

What you need:
Skype is installed onto a computer (PC or Mac), so it goes without saying that your classroom will need a computer with internet access. Because it is a video conferencing tool, you will also require a camera and microphone. These last two do not need to be particularly hi-tech. In fact, combination units can easily be picked up at many stores for around $10. If your computer system happens to accommodate an overhead projector, that will be of use as well because it will allow all the students in the class to see the person/people they are speaking with.

How you can use Skype:
In the ‘old days’ — meaning, pre-1990s — it was quite common to be set up with a pen pal through school. Writing to a pal on the other side of the country or ocean helped young people practice their penmanship, learn about other cultures, and build communication skills. In today’s day and age, pen pal programs are less common. However, new technology (like Skype) can be used to interact with folks outside of the classroom in other ways. For example, you can use video conferencing to:

  • talk with students in classrooms in other states or countries.
  • have discussions with scientists working in different fields (it’s far easier than trying to bring that scientist into your classroom proper).
  • create research projects with students or classes in another place.
  • have specialists provide tours of places students would never have access to.
  • provide students access to lectures or presentations they can’t physically travel to (with permission).

The initial set-up of the computer takes a matter of minutes, and making the connections for such video conferences can be built into classroom activities. Make students responsible to contacting potential scientists or specialists for conferences (with instructor direction). Ensure that students do their research prior to any conference so that they have thoughtful questions to pose. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can have your students building important connections in no time at all!

Do you use multimedia or new technology in your classroom? We’d love to hear how you incorporate them. How does it affect your teaching and students’ learning?

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.