Skype is one of the few technological devices of the 21st century, which adds another dimension to teaching. It offers the possibility to communicate directly with native speakers in the whole world. Suzi Bewell uses Skype in order to connect her grade schoolers with another class in France. They staged a play in French for the native speakers with their support. Bewell establishes a language tandem between classes across the world.
Not only the Skype homepage is a stepping stone into the online learning community since this concept of virtual language tandems already arrived at the core of education. Fir example, the University of Minnesota offers different tandems based on virtual Face-to-Face learning. Their registration is limited, which is the downside of this professional approach. However, teachers are not limited to large organizations in order to use skype in their classrooms.
Most of the teachers, who are trying to incorporate this tool into their lessons, are organizing themselves in blogs. The Edublogger offers a large table with all important information as grade, subjects, contact information and time zone. Trying to set up a Skype session for your class can be really complicated. The logistical problems are overwhelming. For a class presentation in the States I set up a Skype session with my sister from Germany. The time difference complicates to schedule a time between an individual and a class. Imagine to schedule a session with another class from another country with the time difference of six hours or more in the rigid systems of schools.
The gains to go through this trouble are enormous for young language learners. The following are only the most important advantages in my view (Source):
- It leads students to speak in the target language more than 90%, to vary wider in their word choice and to notice errors quicker.
- It has a “democratizing effect” in the classroom because it shifts the emphasis on student talking, even shyer ones.
- High engagement factor because students enjoy to be able to communicate with children of other countries.
Authenticity of foreign language communication.
Skype is not the solution to every foreign language lesson as with every technology the context it is embedded in is important. As Mike Levy points out:
“Its [Skype] value in language learning will depend on effective pedagogies to accompany it”
Although it is a powerful tool for teachers in a language learning environment, Skype is not relieving the teacher from the effort of creating a well elaborated lesson plan and preparation. Furthermore, there are also some downsides to Skype such as (Source):
- Privacy and security issues constitute a completely different problem for specific policies of schools can prevent to use such communication tools in classrooms.
- It is important to have a specific and elaborate pedagogy
- Common malfunctions or high requirement of computer literacy of both students and teacher .
- It is an essential concern for teachers to scrutinize with whom students are talking.
In general, it is worth a try for every foreign language teacher. If the effort is not in proportion to the gains, the worst thing, which can happen, is to waste a lesson.