No, I am not suggesting that students should get on Skype with their friends instead of listening to their teacher. What I am suggesting is that teachers should get their students on Skype for educational activities. Why? So as to get them even more used to communicating solely through screens and computers? Not quite…
Most people know Skype as a useful tool to make cheap long distance calls or simply to add a video dimension to traditional phones. And that is precisely what Skype is. What most people do not realize is to what extent this can enrich students’ school experiences. Here are a few ways to give Skype an educational twist.
The first aspect of Skype which can be useful is the fact that it gives an inexpensive access to any other Skype user worldwide. This comes in handy especially in language classrooms as it allows conversation between pupils form different countries. Thus, teachers in a francophone environment giving English class simply need to establish contact with an anglophone school giving French classes, and then set up online meetings between their students. This modern version of pen pals offers the huge advantage of practicing conversation skills instead of being limited to writing. This doesn’t mean that it limits the contact to conversation; students can also be made to exchange e-mails, for example. Suzi Bewell, a teacher who experienced this in her French class, gives a good summary of how positive these exchanges can be in her article on TES, a network for teachers (a similar article by Stephen Manning is also available).
Aside from language input, communicating with classes from other countries is a great way to get students to understand more about other cultures and realities. It can be used to make students aware of a lot of the world’s problems, and Skype was even a tool in some campaigns led by the organization Peace One Day.
At more advanced levels, Skype can be a simple and cheap alternative for getting direct contact with experts in any domain. For example, a teacher who would like to get a conference from a foreign scholar but does not have sufficient funds to actually bring him to school may be able to afford a live videoconference from this scholar, and an expert who refuses invitations because he is too busy to visit schools may still find time for a 30 minute online questioning period with students. Skype is a means of communicating with anyone, anywhere, and at anytime, so the possibilities it offers to schools are extremely vast.
Of course, Skype does not have to be used only so as to communicate with people outside of the school’s walls; exchanges between students can easily be set up. An example of this, proposed by Katie Lepi in an article published on edudemic, is to set up fake job interviews for students through Skype as a preparation for real-life ones. Teachers can also record Skype conversations between students and refer to them when evaluating conversation skills. Although Skype does not record conversations, it is easy to download free complementary software so as to achieve this.
As proposed in an article from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, Skype can also be a good substitute for traditional after school homework assistance; students can take their regular bus and log on so as to receive help from their teacher or peers at home.
Skype is a cheap and very wide-ranging tool which can be a huge advantage for teachers willing to implement it into their classrooms. Although it may occasionally interrupt calls or momentarily lose the image, it generally has very good sound and image and rarely lets you down. My suggestion to more wary teachers is that they elaborate a plan B in case Skype is struggling when they want to use it.