Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What I learned about Skype today

The 6th grade class from Zion participated in a Skype session with 6th graders from Immanuel Lutheran School in Giddings, TX. For the past couple of months, the classes have been exchanging letters as pen pals. We are talking about hand-written, place in the envelope, and slap a stamp on pen pals. Today, they met face to face through Skype. This was a chance to see each other, talk with each other, and ask each other questions. This is the first time that I have observed a Skype session between two groups of students. There were a few things that I noticed. A Skype session appears to be a great way to improve communication skills, make connections, and improve presentation skills.

A Skype session for students will help improve speaking and listening skills. The entire conversation, both speaking and listening, requires a more intentional effort by the participant than a face-to-face conversation. There are some slight nuances to a Skype session that take some time to get used to. First, there is a slightly longer pause during transitions between speakers, a small difference from a normal conversation. Second, speaking at the same time can be a little more awkward than a normal conversation. Overall, the longer pause and avoiding simultaneous speaking, cause the pace of a conversation to be slightly slower.

One of the things I noticed was the similarities between the two classes and the students. As the students asked each other questions, I think they found out that they have a lot in common with the class in Texas. Even thought they live a few states apart from each other, these students are their peers in many ways. Their interests and attitudes were very similar. At the same time, there were some differences. Between the size of the towns, schools, climate, and industries, the students learned about how what parts of their lives are different. There was a connection that took place today between Missouri and Texas. Our students heard about some different aspects of these students' lives, yet at the same time learned that 6th graders in a different part of the country have similar interests. Deep down, they are not that different.

Finally, both classes learned how to work together to give an effective presentation. Each class took a different approach during the Skype session. The 6th graders from Texas had the entire class in front of the camera for Zion to see. The 6th graders from Zion brought one student to the camera at a time for the the students from Texas to see. As a group of students in front of the camera, it takes great discipline to give a clear and unified presentation. It seems like one of three things can happen. The entire group can all begin talking at once, which can be a confusing and jumbled message. Second, the entire group can sit there silently waiting and not speaking because everyone thinks someone else is going to talk. Finally, one person can speak up and answer questions or talk, which most often is the preferable method. Overall, the class from Texas did a great job communicating with the Zion students, taking turns and making sure that the student who was speaking was in front of the camera. On the other hand, when the students from Zion came up to the camera one by one, they had their own set of pressures. When you are the only person on camera, there is pressure for you to speak clearly, loudly, and slowly enough for them to understand you. I think the 6th graders from Zion felt this pressure, and it took some practice for them to speak loud enough to be heard. Again, overall they did a great job speaking in front of the camera and communicating their questions and thoughts.

I think this Skype session was a great learning experience for the students, teachers, and myself. The main thing that happened today is a connection took place between students from different states. I like that it started months ago with pencil and paper, and culminated today with technology.

In what ways have your students benefitted from using Skype in the classroom?

2 comments:

  1. This is something I totally want to try with my students! Thank you for the reflection!

    (I'll be book marking this)

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  2. My gr. 7/8 students have learn to use Skype this year in a variety of ways. Recently, we skyped with an author (http://hdurnin.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/real-life-literacy-with-an-author-visit-via-skype-gr-78-students%E2%80%99-reflections/) and used it to communicate with students in Virginia for an extensive collaborative project. http://hdurnin.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/learning-in-a-global-collaborative-classroom-project-with-scmorgan/ As you wrote, students need some guidelines before skyping as they're pretty excited when the big moment comes. Great post!

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