Skype in Classrooms

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.

Add schools on Facebook

One of the most demanding challenges for teachers in the 21st century is to implement new technology in their established teaching strategy. Social media  has become the center of attention for younger generations and an essential part of their life. Thus, the technological innovations became a hot topic in education whether to include or exclude them. Matt Brittland, guardian professional, points out many different uses for social media, however,I will focus how to use Facebook  as a learning platform.

There are many arguments for and against to use Facebook in school. For most teachers Facebook is the social ill of  the technology age distracting students from studying and absorb their attention for hours. If you google “How to use facebook in school” the first result will be explaining how to circumvent security measures of schools to prevent students to check Facebook with school computers. However, in this attention absorbing feature lies the enormous potential for teachers to have the most effective communication with their students. There is no better attention catcher in the 21st century than a little red square on the upper left corner of your Facebook. This is also the difference between other social network sites with the solely purpose of education as Edmodo and Facebook. For students Edmodo will bear the negative connotation of work and due dates, while Facebook will remain its popular status. Therefore, the potential of Facebook is much higher.

“You can join a group for your major to discuss classes, for your sorority to plan upcoming events, or for your dorm to share photos.”  – Facebook engineer Michael Novati

The decision-makers of Facebook realized its educational potential and introduced in April of this year the “Groups for school” feature allowing colleges and high schools to have their own Facebook site with all security standards demanded by institutions of education allowing only students with an respective .edu address to join the groups. Ironically, there is also a Facebook site for education “to serve as an ongoing resource for information about how educators can best use Facebook.”

In the following you can see an example (link to original article) how to use Facebook successfully in class. This example is taken from a comment of the emerginedtech.com article “ 5 Reasons Why Educators Need to Embrace Internet Technology”:

“In my British Literary History course last winter semester, my professor created a class facebook group which we all joined.  We’d finish our reading for class and then get online and write a paragraph about what we’d read, focusing our comments on the specific course aims that my professor had created for the class.  We would then go to class where my professor would note the ways in which we’d covered the material well and he’d teach anything we missed as well as anything else he wanted us to know.

This way of conducting class was effective because:

1. We were socially motivated to complete the reading and  contribute to the online discussion.

2. We didn’t spend class time going over that which we already understood.

3. We were able to benefit from insights from peers who generally don’t participate in class discussion.

4. We all learned to focus the vast amount of reading required for such a course to the specific course aims of our professor.

5. Through contributions from our classmates, we understood how each distinct text related to the others and to the class focus, and so on.

We shouldn’t discount facebook when it has proven to be a worthwhile classroom tool.  I should also note that a class facebook group doesn’t require the professor or students to “friend” each other to participate.”

PS: During the course of writing this blog entry I have checked my facebook nine times prolonging the process of creating this entry by a serious amount of time.