This article was first published in the Spring 2014 issue of Touch
Why should teachers use Skype to motivate and engage students?
Recently, the UK government has advocated the need for a world-class education system and I believe that Skype is the way to achieve this. The Skype education website allows a community of teachers to collaborate with an extensive network of contacts, expand the way they deliver content and create that elusive ‘X factor’ in their lessons. Through Skype, students have been able to speak to world-renowned explorers, scientists and other experts in lessons; enjoy virtual field trips from the bottom of the ocean to the top of Mount Everest; and connect with classes across the globe. Skype gives pupils and teachers a window to the real world, enabling us to do things previous educators would not have thought possible. Today the only real limit is the limit of our imaginations!
How does Woodham Academy use Skype as part of its Global Classrooms project?
As the assistant head teacher, my main role is to inspire people to try new and innovative teaching methods and initially, I was the school’s only teacher to use Skype. I used it in physical education lessons to carry out a live international dance contest between our girls and a class in Wisconsin, US, as well as to enable the boys from Wisconsin to teach my class how to jump rope. I’ve also used Skype to enable my students to speak with coaches and sports scientists, as well as an ex-professional footballer who spoke about technology and pressure in elite sports.
As others have seen how easy and beneficial it is, they are also starting to use it. Now the English department is exploring how it can bring authors into the classroom and the geography department uses it to teach about different cultures. In addition, our modern foreign languages department has also used Skype to provide authentic language-speaking opportunities with European students, especially in France. Previously, the only way many schools could offer students the chance to share cultural knowledge or chat to students in other countries was through residential trips. Such trips are becoming increasingly difficult to organise with budget restrictions and stricter risk assessment procedures, but Skype provides a great way to create similar opportunities for the students without the hassle or the cost.
What advantages does a global classroom offer students?
As teachers, our expertise is limited in some subjects so we can only take students’ knowledge so far, but through Skype, we can leverage the knowledge of external experts. Students hear the same messages from the same mouths every day, so bringing someone new into the classroom via Skype – especially if they’re well-known – has a major impact and inspires them to explore topics further. Sometimes students imagine teachers exist only in school, so when the message is delivered by someone they see as a real person in the real world, it authenticates their learning. We could easily show students videos, but the important thing with Skype is that they can really interact with the speaker – making students more curious about subjects is the best way to improve engagement levels and enhance academic achievements.
How do you choose who to speak to?
In general, world experts are very happy to get involved, but the most important factor is not who you bring in, but how this engages students. I could bring in a superstar, but equally if I was a biology teacher, I could ask a friend in the medical profession to speak about different diseases. Every time I’ve used Skype the students have found it inspiring. It’s not something I would advocate using every lesson, but Skype is a great way to freshen up content and reengage students near the end of a topic.
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