Exploring how other people live their lives can be challenging when you and your pupils are mainly confined to the four walls of the classroom – however using the simple video conferencing SKYPE service easily can allow you to connect with other classrooms around the globe (time differences allowing). In this article – first published in the July 2014 Edition of UKEdMagazine – Rebecca Stacey shares how simple the process can be and how she has opened up learning bringing real-life stories, experiences and people safely into her classroom.
Using Skype in the classroom always creates a buzz! It always, without exception, receives an incredibly enthusiastic response from both staff and children. It gives an authenticity to learning as it brings the ‘real life’ into the classroom – and allows schools from all areas of the planet to stay in touch and share experiences.
Since we began using Skype we’ve managed to have expert session from real life Amazon explorers, chatted to children across the other side of the world about their school and favourite books, created simultaneous lessons ideas for children continents apart and held partner talk with schools in the next county! We have been able to create world maps which show people we have spoken to, brining meaning to those maps and atlases and exploring countries we would never otherwise be able to visit.
For this article I thought it would be useful to consider what benefits using Skype could bring to school, discuss starting points and point you in the direction of useful resources.
Why would you?
Well… in a short answer why wouldn’t you? Skype allows you to link with people all over the world – connecting with experts, other schools and teachers in countries that could be anywhere. It is incredibly easy to use (once over the initial hurdle) – and requires very little set up. The money is spent on a decent camera / microphone – and many schools have those lying around anyway.
What will you need?
A decent webcam and microphone and a computer that has a good broadband signal.
We also use the school iPads – and in the ICT suite have a combined webcam with microphone which works well. In classrooms though you might need to have a microphone which can be held by the person speaking.
Getting Started—Create a Skype Account:
Use a different one to your own account / email – link it to work email and make it either a school or a class email. Download the software to the school computer from http://skype.com.
Test your school settings
The easiest way to check that Skype will work in your school setting is to arrange a quick Skype chat with a local school – whether that is just teacher to teacher, or a quick test with a class to chat about a book or activity. Technical hitches can quickly deflate even the most enthusiastic, so test out the connections and get your school tech support on side. Usually it’s a case of unblocking the website and then making sure that the computer you use isn’t situated in the only area of the school to not get a decent broadband signal. Skype has very easy ways to test the signal in the options as well – so do make use of that!
Sign up to Skype in the Classroom
Once the initial testing and technical hitches have been sorted you can begin to look for connections that can build into a real learning opportunity.
Begin with the excellent Skype in the Classroom web page (http://education.skype.com) – create an account either for your class or your school and begin browsing. It is worth spending time with this site, as the information it contains is vast. Think of a topic that is coming up in your school and start with that, or alternatively, think of a theme or a country that you wish to learn about.
Rebecca Stacey has been teaching for ten years. Currently Deputy at Queensbridge Primary in Hackney, London; previously a consultant for all things ICT at Hackney. She has a particular interest in using technology, particularly for connecting and strengthening language and communication. She is about to make the move into headship, leaving inner-city London for rural Cumbria! Read her blog at http://digitalclassrooms.co.uk and on Twitter at @bekblayton.