Framing a Skype Learning Experience

No lesson, no event and no learning should stand alone. We connect what we learn with our experiences of the past and store newly acquired skills, facts and experience to be retrieved in the future. Previously, I wrote about framing a field trip with Google Earth. I try to make the case of the importance to allowing students to learn to make connections, to not just expose them to a learning experience without pre-knowledge activation and reflection “to put things in perspective” to follow.

In Assessment of Learning via Skype, I shared the following image

A Skype call should never be done in isolation. We should not treat a video conference any different than a field trip. The actual experience should be framed by pre-activities that activate prior knowledge and post-activites that give students the opportunity to reflect, create and connect these new experiences.

Credit for middle image experience by tombodor

I want to share with you a fourth grade learning experience. Last month I mentioned in the post “What do you have to lose?” how our fourth grade teacher took the time to upload her students’ book trailer videos to her classroom blog. One of the authors of these books, Babara O’Connor, received a Google Alert of her name and book title which led her to the classroom blog. We were able to set up a Skype conference with her.

I set up a test call with Mrs. O’Connor ahead of the actual Skype call with students  to make sure that both of our video and audio settings were set up correctly. In the classroom students started brainstorming questions they would ask during the Skype call.  We talked about questions that could only receive a “yes” or “no” answer and formulated questions that would solicit a more in depth answer. The entire class contributed in the brainstorming session. In the end the questions were narrowed down to 10.

1. What do you like to write about?

2. Where do you get your ideas to write your books?

3. When you write your books what inspires you and why?

4. What was your favorite book as a child and why?

5. How long does it take to write a book and why does the process take that long?

6. What is your favorite part of writing and why?

7.Do you believe you have to be a good reader in order to be a good writer?

8. Where did you go to school, and were you inspired in school to become a writer?

9. What is your favorite kind of genre and why?

10. If you had to turn one of your books into a movie which one would it be and why?

Students were assigned different jobs before the Skype call, such as greeter, introductions, videographer, photographer and individual questions. Student then “practiced” speaking their part ahead of time using PhotoBooth. They recorded themselves speaking slowly, clearly and looking into the camera. Their classroom teacher confirmed that this exercise made a big difference in their confidence level. Everyone was very excited when the Skype call actually took place.

Welcome Mrs. O’Connor to our Classroom

Recording our Skype Visit

Mrs. O’Connor shares books that inspired her to becone a writer

Take a look at the video below that shows a few snipets of the call.

In order to frame the Skype call as a learning call, the experience could not end when we hung up with Mrs. O’Connor. For students it would include blogging about it afterward to reflect on their experience and think about what they had learned from it. Students also got inspired to read more by Mrs. O’Connor after the Skype call.

What did we observe as teachers? How can we take this experience to the next level? Although students were confident demonstrating speaking skills during the Skype call, it was a “back and forth”- “question and answer” session. We would like students to go beyond the ping pong method of “conversing”, but truly be part of a conversation. Not only did we need to go beyond asking questions that inspire more than yes/no answers, we will also need to practice responses that will go beyond: “Thank you” or “That is interesting”.

Students were asked to reflect on their “learning experience” during the Skype call by commenting on the classroom blog.

After watching the video of our skype call with Mrs. O’Connor, I want to know your thoughts.  Please answer the following questions in your comment:

1. What did you learn from our skype call?

2. What part of the skype session did you like the best? WHY was that your favorite part?

Remember the components of our preparation: brainstorming questions, practicing with photo booth, talking with Mrs. O’Connor.

See a sample of student comments below:

Student Comments

We had a good lesson on how to write more reflective and reminded them of the commenting etiquette they had drafted for their class previously.

4th Grade Commenting Etiquette

As we were going through the comments in moderation, we noticed that they most students followed the etiquette beautifully for the the most part. We noticed that the week parts in the comments were:

  • Proper spelling
  • Check before you click
  • High level of vocabulary

We also noticed that an important component was missing in our commenting etiquette:

  • Add something…go more into details…explain yourself
  • Remember your worldwide audience (Not everyone who will read your comments, will have been in the classroom with us when the learning event had occurred)

We pulled up a few suggestions for comment starters and highlighted words to integrate in our comments.

Comment Starters

Here are two examples how students re-wrote their original comment. (Click image to enlarge)

If you want to read more about teaching commenting, take a look at a previous post “Blogging Lessons on Commenting” here on Langwitches.