Friday, June 27, 2014

The next best thing to being there-SKYPE in the classroom

Since 2011, SKYPE in the classroom has been making it possible for teachers and their classes to connect to experts from around the world to learn first hand about their work.  There are opportunities for cross-cultural exchanges as well.  The service is completely free, but to participate in class you do need to have access to the Internet, a laptop with a webcam, and a data projector.  It is a great way to provide real 'live' and 'authentic' interaction with native speakers in a meaningful context.

How it works

Once you find a SKYPE lesson that is suitable for your students, you make a connection to the expert in the SKYPE in the classroom website.  
  • The expert then gets in touch with you to find out a bit more about your students and what you want to get out of the lesson.  You then make a connection in SKYPE and set up a date and a time to connect.  
  • SKYPE lessons generally run for about 30 minutes, but it can depend on the expert and the topic.  You can also set up your own SKYPE lessons if you would like to connect with people and share your area of expertise.


Before the SKYPE lesson, students need to get prepared.  
  • Generally, there are links provided in the SKYPE in the classroom website.  In terms of our context, where students are learning English as a foreign language, these materials may need to be modified or selected to suit their language abilities.  
  • As our students are studying towards an English proficiency test, we try to find a link to the syllabus as well as creating tasks that closely resemble exam preparation.  This seems to make the students more motivated to join in the lesson.

Here is an example from a recent SKYPE lesson we had with our students.


We followed ACUTE (principles guiding the selection of appropriate technology for maximum effectiveness) and OFTEN (principles related to the sustainable use of the selected technology in the classroom) in this process (Karanfil, T., & Neufeld, S. (2014). Sustainable Use of Technology in Teaching: A Principled Approach. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 5(5), 64-74. Retrieved from http://www.journals.aiac.org.au/index.php/alls/article/view/488).

Choosing a SKYPE lesson

We chose the SKYPE LESSON: Let's talk about mental health for our students.  
  • At this time of year, many of our students are quite anxious about the end-of-year English proficiency test.
  • Also, at the end of a long year of intensive English courses, combined with the fact that most students are away from home for the first time, there are some signs of depression evident in student behaviour.
  • In addition, we have a number of students registered in the Psychology and Guidance Counselling programmes, so the topic was of direct relevance to their discipline.

Preparing students

In our experience, students need some time to become familiar with the topic and think of questions to ask the expert.  We try to get them interested in the speaker and the topic by watching some relevant video clips or having a discussion based on some reading texts.  Our notes and materials are available as a GOOGLE DOC if you are interested in the details.
  • For this lesson, we noticed that our expert had been cited in a newspaper article about gender stereotyping. So, we found several images about this topic to introduce the idea to students.  They made some notes from the video, and then compared their notes to the details in the newspaper article which cited the psychologist that would be running the SKYPE session.  
  • We then broadened the topic to mental health issues and after brainstorming ideas in class, we give students time to formulate their questions which they can send to us electronically. 

Student generated questions shared with SKYPE expert before the lesson.

Making a link to the syllabus

In order to provide a link to our syllabus, we decided to focus on listening, and created a note-taking task for students to do during the live SKYPE lesson, followed by some writing tasks.  These were modeled after the exam type of listening tasks students practice in class.


Note-taking task.
Follow up writing task.

Running the session

Our classroom computers do not have webcams, so we booked a seminar room in our university conference centre for the SKYPE lesson.  Changing the venue from the classroom to the conference centre also made the students more like 'university students' rather than 'language learners'.

Students getting ready for the SKYPE lesson.




Students listening and taking notes during the SKYPE lesson.  A short video clip of the introduction is given below.



Students asking questions 'live' via SKYPE.

Post session

In class, we followed up with a CLOZE based on a summary of the SKYPE session (thanks to Dindy Drury!).  Students submitted their note-taking and writing follow up tasks.

CLOZE based on a summary of the SKYPE lesson

Conclusion

We ran this SKYPE lesson during our summer school, at a time when students are generally tired and not very enthsiastic about anything to do with English other than exam practice.  While we did attempt to link the SKYPE lesson to language skills practice and writing, we were surprised to see over 80% of the students show up.  Even more, several students were so engaged in the lesson that they asked questions to the speaker via SKYPE at the end.  Based on the comments from students the following day, we would highly recommend trying a SKYPE lesson with your students.

Postscript


Talip Karanfil, Erhan Güzel and I gave a short talk on our experiences with SKYPE in the classroom at the EMU SFL Workshop Festival on 4 July.  As Talip and Erhan were teaching at METU NCC in Kalkanli, we arranged to have them join us at EMU in Magosa via SKYPE.  We had technical difficulties with the laptop provided at the workshop, so with one minute to go one of the organizers, Erkan Arkin, suggested we use his iPAD air for the live SKYPE video call.  It was a unique experience for all of us, and it seemed to work quite well.  It also demonstrated very neatly how SKYPE can be integrated into a 'live' face-to-face event or a classroom context. Thanks to Nevin Adaler for the picture.   You can see Talip (on the left) and Erhan (on the right) in the iPAD screen.  They were using Talip's smart phone from Talip's office at METU NCC.

Talip Karanfil and Erhan Güzel co-presenters via SKYPE on an iPAD air.



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