Tuesday’s Tool: Skype

skype logo - blue on white

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Many have discovered the wonders of Skype, the free video calling service, accessible anywhere there’s wifi. However, few have taken full advantage of Skype as an educational tool. Skype’s interactive features and synchronous communication abilities make it an ideal educational tool.

For example, Skype could be used for the following activities:

  • Video conference with an author, scientist, historian, or some other expert in a particular field
  • Hold a classroom discussion between classrooms in other cities, states, or countries
  • Practice a second language with native speakers
  • Make a presentation using the screen sharing feature without stepping into the room
  • Instant message with faculty, administration, and parents for immediate responses to queries

These are just a few basic ideas, but there is plenty more out there to explore. The following is a list of resources to get you started:

For more information on what Skype can do, check their features page. Once you see what Skype can do for you, you’ll immediately move to download this app onto your computer!

How have you used Skype with your classroom? What Skype features have you found to be the most useful? What are some other synchronous like Skype that you’ve tried?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. His Skype name is zac.early, in case you were wondering.

Thursday’s Tip(s): Top Five Tips

Typically, we give you one great tip on our Thursday post, but today is your lucky day. We have five top tips from around the Web to get your 2011 off to a great start.

  1. Larry Ferlazzo has updated his list of great temporary email services with Webemail.me. Why do you need temporary email addresses? If your school doesn’t provide email to students and you want to use an online tool which requires an email address, you’ll need some temporary email addresses. Webemail.me is just the latest in a long line of such services. Larry’s complete list is here.
  2. Looking for a large data set for teaching students statistics, graphing, and various other math concepts? Or are you looking for geographic and demographic-centric lessons for you students’ social studies education? Check out the US census data for all your data needs. In the New York Times’ Learning Network Blog, there’s an easily adaptable lesson on utilizing this data in a social studies setting. At the very least, the lesson gives some great ideas for using census data with your students.
  3. Also from the New York Times’ Learning Network Blog, a reader of the blog submitted a fantastic lesson idea using a Nicholas Kristof piece on Guinea worms. There are plenty of resources and activities in this rather engaging unit.
  4. Looking for ways to use Skype in the classroom? How about assessment of learning? Silvia Tolisano at Langwitches Blog does a great job of sharing many ideas and resources for using Skype in formative assessment. Don’t take my word for it, check out her post here and begin downloading Skype for free ASAP! (H/T Carmen Marty, eIS)
  5. Finally, from the tech/online tools side of things, Mashable offers up a list of tools that can be used to help you and your students make sense of the enormous amount of data available on the web. The hot new practice of Web 2.0 is the curation of information. The tools identified in this post are perfect for organizing and collecting all the data under a given subject. Check the post out and choose the one that best suits your needs.

We hope these tips provide some inspiration for a new year and new semester. What tips do you have that might help your fellow teachers out in 2011? If you have a tip that requires an in depth look, submit your idea to our blog submission form and join the conversation at Networked Teaching & Learning.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Videoconferencing: Let the adventure begin!

When thinking about enhancing the learning experiences of students, traveling outside the classroom has been an interesting possibility.  With the financial situation of our schools in mind, field trips that were so important in the past might not be a reality due to the limited funding available.  One alternative might be to take advantage of technology in the form of videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing is a simultaneous, two-way, interactive communication with video and audio.  It requires anything from basic equipment of a webcam, microphone, and speakers to more advanced systems such as a Polycom.  Imagine the excitement of the students as they visit with the author of their current book study.  Think of the questions students would generate as they prepare for an interview with someone from England to gain the countries perspective on the American Revolution, or discuss cultural traditions with students from China.

Videoconferencing is a way to make these possibilities come true.  It can introduce students to professionals and other classrooms in a way they hadn’t imagined before.  It opens up unlimited opportunities to go beyond the classroom walls to connect with experts and develop global awareness.   When students formulate questions or interact globally, their minds and imagination are stretched in new and exciting ways.  Their interest and motivation often increases and a renewed curiosity of learning can be sparked.

With the variety of free online tools available for communication, videoconferencing may be easier than ever before.  One of the many sites that offer free videoconferencing capabilities that take advantage of the webcam, microphone, and speakers is Skype.

So, how do you go about finding these experts and classrooms?  There are many resources available to find and assist in the setup of a video conference.  If you are interested in partnering with another classroom you might first try posting to the eMINTS discussion list to find other eMINTS classrooms.  There are also many sites that provide directories and projects such as the ones listed below:

Even though many video conferences are free, be sure to read all the details carefully to make sure what procedures and possible expenses may be involved with the conference.

If a more sophisticated system is something you are interested in, one system that is worth looking at is a Polycom system.  Although many of the directories and conferences associated with a polycom system often has a fee, the Polycom site does offer a list of 391 free video conferences.

For more thoughts and ideas on the use of videoconferencing in the classroom, take a look at Videoconferencing with Elementary School Students and Making Video-Conferencing More Than Just Cool.

Videoconferencing can be an incredible experience for both teachers and students as they travel beyond the classroom walls without leaving the building.    Maybe it’s time to give video conferencing a try and let the adventure begin

Terri Brines is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.