Skype in the classroom: Building global citizens

It is an undeniable truth that our citizenship can no longer be defined by geographical terms only, or let alone be confined by border lines.  One doesn’t even have to travel physically to break these barriers.  The advancement of technology has enabled us to engage with one another on a global scale.  We are a generation of global and digital citizens. This change and development in our humanity comes with its own implications and challenges. The biggest challenge is the education and nurturing of a generation that will experience this trend on a bigger scale.  The question that needs to be answered then is, how do we educate a generation of young people to be prepared for a future that is uncertain and to help them make an impact on a global scale?

Research shows that jobs which are filled by young people who were in school 15 years ago, were non-existent when these young people were at school. Prior to the year 2007, there was no need for App developers because the iPhone arrived only in 2007, with the android phone following shortly after. Fast forward ten years, and the need for Apps has grown exponentially, opening a huge market for App developers. The second biggest shift in the job industry was in the field of social media.  Facebook is estimated to have at least 1,5 billion users currently. That means a need for a social media manager to manage this process because these social media platforms have become an indispensable marketing tool. The job title, Social Media Manager was unheard of when Facebook was founded, but is needed now owing to the growth in social media trends. We can mention other jobs such as drone operators, driverless car engineers and data scientists to mention a few.  With that being said, fast forward fifteen years from now, and we don’t know what type of jobs will be occupied by the students we have now. We can, however, start educating them in a way that prepares them to occupy those jobs when that time comes.

At Future Nation Schools we have begun this journey by adopting the Project based Learning approach, and we apply it by using the enquiry based model.  For the purpose of this article, I will not labour much on these two topics, documents have already been written by some of my colleagues on this subject. I however, want to show how to leverage the use of technology in the quest to developing our young people to participate meaningfully in the global community. What informed our decision in adopting the Project Based approach, was the realisation that there are four major critical skills which are in demand in the 21st century if our youth is to participate in the global community.  It is a well-documented fact that every human resource manager looks for the following skills when scouting for candidates to fill their posts; collaboration and teamwork skills, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, problem solving and communication. These skills are not addressed by the traditional approach to education. The Project Based learning model offers us multiple opportunities to sufficiently address these skills. Our emphasis at Future Nation Schools is technology integration in the classroom across all learning areas.   Technology integration in the classroom is a very broad subject with a wide range of applications, especially in the context of the Project Based model.  I will scale down my focus to Skype and its amazing benefits to students and how best to use it as a tool to enhance learning in the classroom.

When Skype was developed and released to the public in 2003, it had no direct application to education until it partnered with Microsoft. It was used mainly for business and social purposes. In the year 2017, Future Nation Schools became a Microsoft school – this meant exposure for both teachers and students to the various teaching tools accessible on the Microsoft educator community platform. It is required that every teacher in our schools signs-up for an account and is active on the platform. Some of the tools I have been using from this platform besides Skype include; TouchDevelop (a programming language used by our Grade 6 students in their computing lessons), Minecraft in education, Sway for making presentations, Teams and OneNote. After going through all the Skype learning material on the Microsoft educator community platform, I realised that there are five ways in which Skype can used in the classroom across all phases, age groups and learning areas.

The first way we can visit the world without ever leaving the classroom is to use the Skype option known as Skype lessons. What happens here is that the teacher can connect with experts or other educators from other countries or continents to offer the students live lessons around a specific topic or theme. One example could be interviewing an author of a book you are reading with your students in your language classes – this enhances literacy skills and offers students real life connections, and helps them to conceptualise their learning. Secondly, besides connecting with experts from across the globe, teachers can connect with other teachers to work on similar projects with their students and other students across the continents.  This is achievable through Skype collaborations, where for example, if you are working on a project to purify water, you can collaborate with a school based in a place that experiences water crises. Together, you can develop a solution for that community. This ensures that our students learn problem solving through collaboration, they also learn how to solve global issues while they are still at school.

The Project Based learning approach often requires our students to receive guidance from experts in a particular field – this is known as real life connections. The challenge with this is time constraints and cost implications. Microsoft addressed this by introducing Skype guest speakers. Guest speakers have accounts on the Microsoft educator community. They can be accessed at any time by teachers within reasonable time frames. A Computing teacher can interview a professional App developer to help his students in the App developing process, for example. This ensures that our students get to interact with experts without ever having to leave the classroom. Often in learning areas such as Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Geography or History, teachers will be addressing a topic that needs students to visit a particular area so as to enhance their learning. One particular example I can give is learning about the history of Egypt with the students – it will obviously make sense to visit those monumental areas in order to make this learning more meaningful, a task which is made impossible by time and cost implications. Luckily, there is way of visiting Egypt without ever having to leave the classroom. This is made possible by using the Skype Virtual trips option.  Teachers can use this option to visit the marine world, space stations and laboratories of any nation under the sun with their students. This is applicable across all learning areas, not limited to the ones I mentioned above. Students will enjoy their learning and have a better conceptualisation of their learning material.

The fifth most powerful learning tool in developing global citizens and instilling the value of diversity in our students is what is known as Mystery Skype. Mystery Skype is a global game that helps students learn about among other things, Geography, culture, and the similarities and differences of how other children live around the world. In English the teacher could use this platform to explore digital citizenship with students from another country or continent. This can also be a powerful Geography and History lesson where students use their knowledge of time frames, weather patterns and historical background to try and locate a place on the map from their Atlas textbook. The students will enjoy the thrill of being the first ones to discover where in the world the other students are based.

In 2017 our Grade 7 students had three Mystery Skype sessions with students from Indonesia. Our students learned a great deal about the cultural background, ethnicity, geographical facts and educational background of their friends from Indonesia: an experience they will never forget. The other benefit is that they got to formulate friendships on a global scale.

At the time of writing this article (17 February 2018), we are currently in talks with other teachers from our schools on how best to help them bring Skype in their classrooms. The idea is to see all educators of all phases using either of the five Skype options to bring real life meaning into their classrooms. Our Grade 5 and Grade 6 students are going to engage in Skype Virtual trip with their History teacher. This will be one of our ground-breaking adventures in technology integration as a new school, bedside the fact that the same students will be using Minecraft to model the ancient history of Egypt. This is how Future Nation Schools uses, and will continue to use Skype in the classroom to build global citizens and expose our students to the trends that are global. We believe by so doing our students will leave the school better equipped to function and participate in global issues and become entrepreneurs who will develop solutions to global problems.

Finally, it is not a difficult task setting up a personal Skype account. Most teachers use their personal Skype accounts, and it is free of charge. To access the benefits of Skype in education, the teacher must sign up on the Microsoft educator platform, edit their profile and set up their Skype preferences, especially their availability. The second thing is to go through the Skype courses that are offered at various levels in order to familiarise yourself with the material. Upon successful completion of the short courses and the quiz, the teacher will earn a Skype badge and certificate. The only thing left is to start connecting with the world and exposing your students to the rest of the world: “the journey of many miles begins with a single step.”

Here is to building global citizens right in the comfort of our classrooms!

Author is: Peter Sithole, Teacher: Mathematics & Technology.

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