Skype in the Classroom

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Students talking with author Bill Harley
Students talking with author Bill Harley

Last year I received a 2016 MACUL Grant, and I launched my funded project of building two carts to create a Skype in the Classroom learning opportunity for students in my district. The Skype in the Classroom idea came to me after attending various conference presentations. At one MACUL conference session I’d attended, Matt Miller, the author of  “Ditch That Textbook”, described how he used Skype in his Spanish foreign language classroom as a way to provide students authentic opportunities to communicate in Spanish. A few months later, I attended another conference session at an EdCamp at Wayne State University in Detroit where Microsoft representatives demonstrated how to set up an account to connect with others and/or take virtual tours using Skype. I was hooked on the idea of bringing Skype in the Classroom into my district in a way that would be user-friendly to our teachers and would extend the boundaries of student learning in an authentic fashion. And so I developed the goal for my project: to provide authentic virtual field trip experiences for students to locations traditionally physically and fiscally prohibitive that would deepen understanding and the learning experience.

I also created some guidelines I felt would make this project more appealing:

  1. The Skype cart would be easy to set up and use, and it would be quickly re-moveable from the classroom.
  2. A Skype learning experience would be free from distractions created by sub-par audio and video.
  3. The project would be sustainable and reproducible in other buildings of our district.

Equipment

The assembled Skype Cart. ready for use
The assembled Skype Cart ready for use.

Conducting equipment research for this project turned out to be the simplest part of the grant process. I found the best deals online, and stayed within the $1,500 budget. Harper Woods District Schools provided two MacBook Pros, with their particularly strong processors, which became the main computers used for Skype calls. I realized I needed an extension cord and security cables, both of which had been overlooked in my original budget. Fortunately, the cost of other equipment had dropped in price, and I could amend my budget. The assembly was simple, and only took a few hours. When I was finished, I had a cart that simply needed to be rolled into the classroom, powered up, and the users were ready to Skype. Here is my complete equipment list:

  1. Logitech C930e Webcam
  2. North Bayou Universal Mobile TV Cart
  3. LG 50 Inch TV
  4. HDMI Cables
  5. Mini Display Port to HDMI Adapter
  6. Security lock for laptop
  7. Security cable for TV remote
  8. Ethernet Cable
  9. Laptop
  10. Skype Software

Staff In-service

The Skype Cart was debuted at a staff in-service. I reviewed the set up, take down, and log in process for Skype. So I could demonstrate a virtual field trip, I had prearranged a call with “Buffalo Bill Center of the West” and staff took a tour of the Culture of the Plains Indians at the Center. The cart was well received by staff, and grade levels began planning how they could use this new tool in their curriculum – AND I think everyone learned a few things about the culture of the Plains Indians.

Staff getting a Skype tour during a staff PD
Staff getting a Skype tour during a staff PD

Skype in the Classroom

To generate Skype calls, facilitators must have a “Skype in the Classroom” account. Setting up an account is straightforward, but it should be noted that the user profile section must be fully completed to include information about the teacher’s district and class and the time zone the school is in. I also found that posting a schedule of when I was available for Skype calls helped when people were trying to contact me. Teachers should also take time to explore the Skype in the Classroom site to learn about what resources, tutorials and class challenges are available for educators.

Students touring Hearst Castle in California
Students touring Hearst Castle in California

Data Collection

To collect data to show if students were engaged and learning from their experiences, I used Google forms. I designed assessments based on the type of Skype event the students participated in. If a class Skyped with an author, I designed questions relating to the characters from the story and along with questions about the overall meaning or implications of the story. If the Skype call was a virtual tour of some sort, I would give students a before-and-after survey to check for understanding. I also would include a space for open ended questions such as “Tell me 3 new things you learned from your visit”, or a rating of how they felt about the experience. This data was shared with teachers after each call.

Reflection

During the 2016-17 school year Tyrone Elementary Students traveled over 11,450 miles, visited 2 countries, communicated with students across the United States, and visited with authors from books they enjoyed. Our students became more aware of the global community that was beyond the walls of their school and actively participated in this community. All of this was experienced during a normal school day and in the comfort of their classroom.

Resources:

  1. http://ditchthattextbook.com
  2. https://education.microsoft.com/skype-in-the-classroom/overview
  3. https://www.amazon.com/Toward-21st-Century-School-Library-Program-ebook/dp/B009GIPHF0
  4. http://www.bestbuy.com
  5. https://www.amazon.com
  6. http://www.bhphotovideo.com
  7. http://www.apple.com/shop/buy-mac/macbook-pro?product=MF839LL/A&step=config#
  8. https://centerofthewest.org
  9. https://www.skype.com/en/download-skype/skype-for-computer/

Author

Andy Hopkins (@thebighop): Andy is an Instructional Technology Specialist with Harper Woods District Schools. He is an Apple Distinguish Educator (Class of 2017) and the 2016 Michigan Lead PBS Digital Innovator for the state of Michigan. When he’s not working, Andy enjoys cooking, and spending time outdoors hiking and biking with his wife. You can find out more about him at http://hwtechnology.weebly.com/.

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