Parents and teachers alike may sometimes become frustrated by school children’s seeming addiction to modern technology: kids glued to their mobile phones, even in class; sons and daughters locked in their bedrooms during the evenings and weekends, endlessly chatting online to friends who only live around the corner.
Perhaps we should embrace kids’ fixations with modern screens and use them to good advantage. While they were not originally designed as educational tools, there are many creative ways to use video chatting software to help teach and stimulate our young.
First, a little about the technology
Skype is, perhaps, the best-known video chatting technology globally and certainly one of the originals. Skype is best used from computer to computer (or tablet) across a WiFi network but has applications (‘apps’) on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and pretty much everything else and is useable across mobile networks. Anyone can have a free Skype account, which allows them unlimited one-on-one video chat. For a small fee you can have ‘group’ chats.
There are also mobile-to-mobile ‘apps’ such as FaceTime (all Apple products such as Mac and iPhone) and Google Hangouts (Android devices and PCs), all of which are free.
So, hook up a device to a screen in front of the whole class, or use the technology on a one-to-one basis between children or in child-to-adult scenarios. The person on the other end doesn’t even necessarily have to get out of their chair, offering endless opportunities to communicate with, and learn from, just about anyone, anywhere.
Some ideas for using video chat
1. Guest speakers for a class
No matter how good a teacher is, a term’s lessons can always be enhanced and enlivened by guest speakers.
For example, you could ask a teacher of the same subject but a specialist in a particular aspect, or a leading authority on something, or a published author. Or maybe enlist someone from business or industry to talk about how the subject applies ‘in the real world’. Unlike traditional videos and DVDs this is inexpensive and, most importantly, interactive: children can ask questions or make comments directly to the guest speaker.
The speaker can be from anywhere in the world as long as they have internet connection and an internet-enabled device.
2. Where in the world am I?
This idea is sure to create excitement and intrigue. Hook up with a class of a similar age in another English-speaking country or city and challenge students to guess where the other class is by asking questions: “What is your native language?” “How hot it is today?”, “What is your local football team?”, etc.
You could even allow them only to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ like the popular ‘Who am I?’ game, perhaps limiting them to a certain number of ‘no’ answers: “Are you in England?” “Are you in the north of England?” “Are you in a big city?”
Once the location is guessed, encourage children to ask and answer questions about their perception of where they live.
3. Learning a foreign language
Hearing a language spoken by a native speaker is a fantastic way to learn a new language. If you are a foreign language teacher, or your child is learning a foreign language, consider partnering with someone in a foreign country to have a chat with. It does not necessarily have to be an adult: children-to-children conversations can also be very productive and fun, particularly for older children who can also enjoy listening to different dialects.
Because the information is streaming on video, not purely voice, children can also learn a lot by observing what the other person is wearing, how they gesture when they speak, perhaps even set against an interesting background.
You can even experiment with whole classes, each class speaking the language they are learning. When I was at school studying French and Spanish we swapped exchange trips with students from foreign cities. Why not consider your class speaking, say, French, while students in a French city reply in English? Or the other way around.
4. Exploring the world and its cultures: virtual field-trips
You could take this a step further, with the person on the other end taking a mobile device and showing the children sights and sounds they may never have the chance to see in person. Imagine being immersed in the bustle of Mumbai with its bright colours and tuk-tuks. Or how about talking to someone on Dorset’s Jurassic coast, showing and explaining rock formations and fossils? Or maybe someone in Barcelona showing the class Gaudi’s unique style of architecture. Even the Manchester Ship Canal is interesting if you haven’t been there! The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.
5. Help with reading
Many schools are desperate for volunteers to help children with their reading. Today, more and more children come from homes with two working parents, not only with less time to help them with their reading but also with no time to be able to help in the classroom.
With video chatting technology, however, anyone can help from a distance, either reading to groups who are following the story in books, or one-on-one with the child and the volunteer reading from two copies of the same book.
Retired grandparents are usually a very willing resource!
Have you used Skype or FaceTime in the classroom, yet? If so, do you have any other ideas to share with others in the Tutorhub community?