Skype Opens up the Learning Experience

I was introduced to Skype some 6 years ago. At the time, I was involved in a long distance relationship with a charming Californian girl studying ballet in Rome, Italy. Thanks to Skype, the the Atlantic ocean and the 4000 miles in between our home weren’t preventing us to have a little talk before going to bed. Only the language barrier was left to overcome. However, as I recently offered myself to teach French to a few American College students in the Area of Seattle, I quickly had to consider the means I could use to teach with such a great distance between me and and my students. My first reflex was to look if Skype could suit my needs, and I was glad to discover this free software had gotten even more to offer.  

Indeed, Skype has significantly evolved.

Originally, you could use Skype to call another user and use your the camera of your computer to film simultaneously your discussion. Pretty much like a computer version of what people of the 60’s thought telephones would be like by the year two-thousand. You could also, and still can, email, send text messages and call from your computer to a telephone for the ridiculously low price of about 1 cent a minute. But now, it’s even more. With its new branch, Skype Education enables the teacher to open up his classroom to the world, to share, connect and communicate with other professionals in the field.

Their Website in wonderfully conceived. With Webpages for pretty much every school subject, Skype Education offers a wide variety of readily available lessons. If you’re an ESL teacher just like me, you can record your lessons on Skype and make them available from anywhere for your students. Moreover, because oral interaction is always better, you can obviously have a one on one conversation with your student to explain certain notions, help her practice or simply answer her questions. You can also video-conference with as many as 25 people, basically a whole class where each students are in the comfort of their own living room. I can also be used as a forum for students to practice with native speakers. In certain areas, rare are the opportunities to have an authentic engaging discussion with a native speaker of the language you’re learning, with Skype it’s readily accessible for free. Opportunities to use Skype in the classroom are as diverse as they are enriching for the students.

With the great improvements made by Skype in the last few years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see its popularity growing considerably in the near future. Beside the potential it holds in terms of its diversity of classroom activities, one of Skype’s greatest strengths is that it takes the learning experience outside of the classroom and it globalizes it. For students of a generation that are used to use technology on a daily basis, enabling them to connect with others for free is a wonderful opportunity for them to widen their horizons while developing their proficiency in L2.

VoiceThread’s Great Promises

It’s now common knowledge that technological tools, software and programs have taken the classroom learning experience to another level. The students of today’s generation have never lived in a world without the Internet, unlike most of us teachers, and it significantly forged their interests and learning strategies. With respects to one’s teaching style and preferences , it’s undoubtable that progress from teacher-centred, archaic grammar teaching methods need to be done. Fortunately, ICTs await for us.

Among the mist of new technologies available to a teacher, one can be a little overwhelmed. The lack of experience, support or inspiration might soon cause conflict with the best intentions. A good place to start for someone who wishes to integrate ITCs in the classroom is to start with VoiceThread. VoiceThread is a platform on the Web 2.0 designed to help user collaborate, communicate, create and share content online. One of its main advantage over the other similar platforms, is that it provides an easy to use collaborative environment for learners.  VoiceThread allows its users to post images, documents (word, excel, power point) and even videos and arrange them into a slide show. Moreover, the students will record their voice over their presentation, thus covering the speech production part of an evaluation. On her side, the teacher can add comments to each slide and leave vocal or even video recorded feedback. They can make the VoiceThread public, if for instance they want to emphasize a sense of community and exchange among the students, or simply private for individual evaluations. 

One of VoiceThread’s best assets is its flexibility. Having used it in my field, ESL teaching, I quickly realized it can ben applied to any subject and to practically any group size. Here are a few instances.

Language art: When covering different theme, era or genres in literature, an experienced teacher could ask her students to go online and select a series of images that are representative of the Victorian era for instance. To take this a step further, you could ask them to comment verbally their pictures, or videos, and create links between the content seen in class the their references. 

Culture and ESL teaching: If an ESL teacher wants to raise his students awareness of the various cultures composing the world English-speaking community, he could ask them to visually represent the customs, pop culture and habits of the Scottish or the Kiwis per say. With a relatively exhaustive research online, students can learn more about sub-categories  composing the foreign culture while increasing their proficiency in English. 

Before concluding, it’s important to remind ourself that using ICTs, and in this case VoiceThread, is known to promote student engagement, increase motivation and eventually enhance the benefits of the learning experience for all students. That is not to say that ICTs should be use in all contexts, but it is time to start thinking of active ways in which we could bring these useful tools into the classroom to diversify the learning experience, make it more interactive and finally adapt our teaching to the students’ interests. 

If you enjoyed learning more about VoiceThread, I suggest you read or watch some of the following links. 

 

VoiceThread Website: http://voicethread.com

VoiceThread for education: http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com

7 things to know about VoiceThread: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7050.pdf

Comment a Voicethread: http://anglais.spip.ac-rouen.fr/spip.php?article191

Using VoiceThread: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U1wlRrKyyk

 

 

Pinterest in the Classroom

In the mist of all the social networks offered on the Web, a teacher can wrongly underestimate the educational potential held by these endless resources. While different schools of thoughts have argued on both sides concerning the use of Facebook and Twitter in the classroom, it seems relevant to consider a new up and coming social media called “Pinterest“.

While the essence of “Pinterest” is similar to Facebook, connecting with people and sharing ideas, the platform through which it’s done offers a totally different experience for the user. On “Pinterest”, the focus isn’t solely on the users, their thoughts or their comments, it’s purpose is more in relation to their hobbies, interests and their willingness to connect with people with similar backgrounds. Accordingly, “Pinterest” users can deepens their interests, get inspiration and broaden their perspective on a wide variety of subjects.

Before getting any further with the possibilities “Pinterest” holds in the classroom, it seems worth it to explain briefly the way it works. As a social network platform, “Pinterest” allow it users to upload pictures, videos and other media content, therefore known as “Pins”, and arrange them in theme-related collections on a “board”. Once their boards are created, users can “repin” other users’ post, “like” and comments them and also share them via their Facebook or Twitter profile. It’s user friendly and it’s known to be very inspiring for anyone who wants to connect with people with similar interests.

Intrigued by this new trend, I went online, tried it, and decided to find out how this new platform could be used in the classroom. To start with, the first use that comes to my mind is educator using it to share their lesson plan. It’s an easy-to-use and highly interactive way to post links for further references. Arranging them by subjects and content, a teachers can give access to an incredible amounts of new information with just a few clicks. Moreover, an experienced educator could also create a “Pinterest” board for the group where all new assignments and announcements are made. Amongst themselves, teachers can use it to share new content, such as articles, videos and new resources, but also brainstorm about a new project. Concerning the students, the possibilities are almost endless. Students working on a group project can sometimes work independently and pin ideas on the board of their group to create a collage and leaves each others’ feedbacks and comments. Later on, this same page could also be used as a visual support during the oral presentation of their project. In a context where students are being exposed to new content and developing their opinion, they can use this platform to share their views and preferences in a given field, may it be art, cuisine or cinema. Here’s a link with suggestions concerning activities to do in the classroom.

One of “Pinterest’s” greatest advantages lie in its user-friendliness and its wide accessibility. It’s easy to share, manage and is highly interactive, thus creating a stimulating learning environment for the students. The sense of being an individual in a sharing community not only reinforces the cohesion and the dynamic of the group, but also increases the students’ intrinsic motivations and allows learning to take place amongst high order cognitive skills and outside the classroom.