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Skype in the News

March 4, 2010 Video Conference 1 Comment

I was recently contacted by Shanthi Venkataraman, a student from Columbia University, Graudate School of Journalism.

Columbia News Service is staffed by master’s candidates at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Articles are written by the students, then edited and vetted by professional journalists and professors. All articles are transmitted to New York Times News Service clients, but are also available for republication by any professional media outlet at no charge. Photos may also be downloaded from this site; multimedia links are also provided

Shanti was interested in hearing how Skype was used in Schools. We had a great interview, yes, you guessed it via Skype. She just informed me that her article Skype Gives Students Window on the World was published.

My friend, Chrissy Hellyer,  TeachingSagittarian, and Wes Fryer, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, were also interviewed.

Becoming the Experts

I received a tweet from Michael Kaechele, Technology Teacher at Valleywood Middle School.

What an opportunity!

Michael and I set the Skype calls up for the following week. I had a meeting with our Judaica teachers to get them involved and Brian, the Social Studies teacher from Michigan, shared a Google Doc with the questions his students were interested in asking.

Our students were very excited in being seen as “experts” and talked with their teachers about the questions and how to articulate their answers.


Since there were three sections of Social Studies classes from Michigan, we involved our 6th, 7th and 8th grade classes to take over one section each.

After our Skype calls, I received the following email from Michael:

Just wanted to say thanks for the calls yesterday. It was a great experience for our students to learn from yours. The social studies teacher liked it and wants to try again. Quote from student “They are just like us”

That says it all for me-breaking down walls of stereotypes that they might have just because we do not have a large Jewish community here.

I could not agree more with Michael. Opportunities like these, facilitated by technology tools (such as video conferencing) and Twitter (to make the initial connection), are taking learning off the pages of a book for our students (social studies book in this case). They give young people the opportunity to articulate what they have learned and share it. It brings in a kind of authentic learning that ordinarily the students in Michigan might not have had (meeting and talking to other Jewish kids their age).

Is that what “transforming” learning is about? Not doing the same assignments… the same content…simply with a different tool…?

Is it being able to do something that was simply not possible before…?

Tom Barrett on his blog EdTe.ch wrote:

transformative learning is what I am looking for, because replication offers no benefit to a teacher – all it produces is ostensibly a better presented piece of work and more of a headache to setup. The technology has to offer a whole new level of interaction [...] that cannot be gained from the traditional method explained above.

The learning activity has to be transformed into something that provides a greater depth of learning and interaction. There has to be a pedagogical shift.

I am thinking that the above mentioned learning example could not have been possible “before”.

  • … before Twitter… most likely @concretekax and I would not have connected
  • … before Skype … we would not have been able to bring our students together. Video conferencing is the closest we have to a face to face meeting. A phone call would not have produced the same results of the feeling to be in “one” classroom.
  • … before…  our students would not have been called upon to be teachers to their peers across the country.
  • … before… students from Michigan would have learned about Judaism from their teacher, from the pages of their social studies book and quite likely would not know or meet anyone Jewish in their community.

Globally…Connect…Communicate…21st Century Skills

Science and history fairs have been held across the United States (and maybe other countries?) for years. Having grown up in Germany and Argentina, the first time I encountered these events was with my oldest daughter at her elementary school in the 1990s.  According to Wikipedia, Science fairs have been held across the USA since the 1920s.

The school I work for alternates every year between a Science Fair and a Jewish History Fair exhibition. Students are to research and create a project for the respective subjects. This year the school prepared for the Jewish History Fair.

The sixth graders wanted to explore the theme “Jewish Communities Around the World. After watching Alan November’s video clip, I wrote about my idea of Information Literacy…Authentic Conversation..Globalize Curriculum…. The idea was born to allow students to “get personal” with and connected to their research, to compliment traditional research media, such as  books and the Internet, with 21st century communication tools, such as skype, twitter, facebook, and texting.

Through personal real life connections, my PLN on Twitter and this blog, I was able to get in contact with volunteers representing every continent. They volunteered to be interviewed by our sixth graders about growing up or living in their country of residence as a Jew. Our students wanted to research similarities and differences of being Jewish around the World.

Coordinating Interviews and Media used

I would like to express a special Thank You to Daniel Needlestone (London, England), one of the first people to respond via Twitter and in return use his network to connect me with more volunteers!

Skyping with Daniel Needlestone from London, England

Daniel blogged about our interview from his perspective in this post: Mentoring, Online Lessons, Virutal Tours and Computing-All in a Days Work.

No sooner had the online lesson finished when I got a skype call from Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano also known as @langwitches . Her 6th grade class interviewed me as part of their project on Jewish communities around the world. I’ve tried to help set them up with different friends of mine on different countries. Apparently Silvia has managed to cover every continent even Antartica! The girl who interviewed me asked great questions and I really enjoyed our 10 minute chat and meeting some of Silvia’s students. I’m very jealous of their project and look forward to seeing the results!

Although we intended to use as many different media as possible for the interviews, reality worked out a little different. Timing issues, as are very common in a tightly packed school day, played a major role. A face to face interview, as well as one of the Skype calls were turned into e-mail interviews in the end due to scheduling issues. Our texting with one of the contacts, who actually was stationed in the Antarctica at the time, had weather problems and no satellite connection available.

In the end we used the following media to conduct research and interviews:

We would like to express gratitude to all of our interviewees whether via e-mail, skype, telephone, face to face or Twitter. Your time and effort was very appreciated:

  • Daniel Needlestone (England)
  • David Truss (China)
  • Mark Lazar (Israel)
  • M. Finkel (Russia)
  • Ariellah Rosenberg (South Africa)
  • Kabren Levinson (USA)
  • Ralph Glasgal (Previously stationed in the Antarctica)
  • Andrea Uzan (Denmark)
  • Gary Sakol (Scotland)
  • David Cohen (Australia)
  • Elizabeth Davis (USA)
  • Noemi & Marvin Szoychen (Mexico & Venezuela)
  • Steve Katz (Costa Rica)
  • Elena Herz (Argentina)

Students were very excited for the planned interviews. First, we “distributed” the countries among the students. They each received a short bio from the participants and then gathered background research and to generate questions. I sent the questions off to the interviewees who were participating via e-mail and scheduled the skype & twitter conferences with the others. Once the time zone issues were resolved and the day and time was set, students who were not directly interviewing in front of the webcam were taking on the job of note taker or photographer of the sessions.

Taking Notes

Documenting

Costa Rica

USA

South Africa

Canada

Australia

Talking about being Jewish in the Antarctica

Although maybe a bit shy at first, students quickly became more relaxed at interviewing via Skype. All of the students had their questions typed up ahead of time. Their personalities started to shine through though as some added more in depth or follow up questions depending on what turn the conversation took.

David Truss from China

Ariellah Rosenberg from South Africa

One of our participants, Gary Sakol  (originally from Scotland), agreed to conduct the interview via Twitter. We agreed on a Hashtag (#JHFI) and on a day and time to meet on twitter. It was the first time for all the students to see twitter live in action.

Twitter Interview with David Sakol (Scotland)

Once the interviews were concluded, Google Docs was used to gather the information we received. The bio sent from the volunteers, the notes taken during the interviews and the answers received back from the questions sent out via e-mail.  All the skype interviews were recorded and burnt to a DVD
From there students were able to go back to listen to the interviews again to get information.

Screenshot of DVD with Skype Interviews

The social studies teacher, Mrs. Reppert,  who was leading the History Fair project, did an incredible job in summarizing WITH the students how they felt about the research tools, what they learned and the skills they practiced.
When we did our research using 21st Century learning tools such as Skype, Twitter, or e-mail, we all felt that it was much more interesting than only using traditional methods:
  • we could feel like we were talking and/or seeing the person we were interviewing and get their personal opinions and reactions to what we asked
  • we could ask follow up questions to learn more or get clarification
  • We liked feeling we were having a conversations rather than reading from books. It felt REAL ideas rather than book facts.
  • we felt the information was up to date and we were learning about how people felt and who were living right now.
  • we felt these were people we’d like to keep in touch with and have friends around the world
  • we were surprised that Jews had almost the same experiences everywhere because we heard/saw everyone say the same things wherever they were. You can’t get that feeling from a book.
  • We like using the same tools, like e-mail for fun anyway. It made it feel like fun, not “learning”.

When we were doing our research, we learned the following things that Jews have in common on every continent.

  • Jews seem to all celebrate Jewish Holidays similar
  • Most Jewish boys and girls celebrate Bar & Bat Mitzvah by leading services and having some kind of party
  • Many Jews attend services
  • There are different degrees of observance
  • They have rarely experienced direct anti-semitism
  • They all take pride in being Jewish
  • Many have gone to Israel or al least feel connected to it
  • Most don’t wear kipot in their daily lives
  • All eat some types of traditional food
  • They take part in the daily life traditions of their chosen country of residence and usually don’t feel like ‘outsiders”.

This type of learning required many more skills than just the use of technology…

  • we collaborated in our overall planning
  • created questions, took notes from oral interviews
  • asked in oral or written form
  • good initial and follow up questions, which required us to “think on our feet”
  • shared orally and in writing what we learned from each interview
  • synthesized, organized and compiled all our final impressions in writing
  • We also did some “book research” to locate data, flags, and histories for our countries

The final display of the collaborative 6th grade research project was a combination of a typed up country reports, a three dimensional map with flags of locations of interviewees, a DVD running on television of the recorded interviews on Skype and a display of photographs that students took during the the interviews.

Exhibition Display

Map Display

Flags displaying location and media used for connection

Interviewee locations

We heard rave reviews from parents and community about the project who visited the Jewish History Fair. The project is an example how to extend learning by using technology tools to reach further and dig deeper with resources. I believe we attained our goal to

allow our students to “get personal” with and connected to their research, to compliment traditional research media, such as  books and the Internet, with 21st century communication tools, such as skype, twitter, facebook, and texting.

Not only did students write their traditional reports, but they practiced 21st century skills of:

  • creating (a map)
  • collaborating (with their peers to create a snapshot of Jewish communities around the world)
  • connecting (with 15 Jews around the world)
  • communicating (via different media)

In addition to basic literacy of reading and writing, students were exploring and exposed to

  • information literacy
  • media literacy
  • global & intercultural literacy
  • networking literacy

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