Inspired by encouraging words from the PYP digital citizenship workshop, I set a personal goal to conduct my first ever Skype or Google Hangouts with another class. It had always been something I had wanted to do and try- connect with another class but was never quite sure how to make it happen.
Well- it has happened now and I wanted to share what I learned and some tips.
#1 Connect with a teacher who you know. This meant that we were able to casually chat about the session without having to get to know each other. It was also the first time for his class so we were learning together. We are both at similar points with out digital technologies use as well so keen to experiment and try out new things. We also knew each others schedules really well and worked in neighbouring suburbs which just took away some of those initial potential blockers.
#2 Test the technology first. I think this is important! We both decided on Google hangouts and tested out the connection a few days prior after school. I had used my iPad in the staffroom and made the call. Everything connection wise went really smoothly, but the day before I realised I had been using headphones and hadn’t tested things out on my interactive whiteboard. So really, for this point I’m saying test the technology out in the exact conditions in which it will be used. I had to do a quick test at the recess before our session and had trouble with airserver and sound and ended up just running the session through the iPad with it’s own sound. Not ideal, but adequate for our first learning session!
#3 Build excitement with your class. Don’t just spring the session on them that day. I told my class on the Friday about our session to be run on the Monday. I gave them a little background as to why it was happening and then asked what they were expecting. Some of the first questions I received on the Monday morning were ‘Are we connecting with the other school?!’ and ‘We’re so excited for our Google Hangouts today!’
#4 Give some structure to the session. Do by considering different roles. I used the excellent Skpe Jobs Post here. We also took the time to explore these roles and the students were the ones who decided which were going to be relevant for the session. Allow time to do this as they had a lot of clarifying questions. This structure definitely helped the session have some structure and run smoothly.
#5 Allow plenty of time- more than you think you’ll need. We had decided on 25 minutes for our first session. I couldn’t believe how quickly that went! By the time we had established connection and done our introductions it was nearly time up! We only managed to get through 2 questions per class which was great but there were a lot more to share and the session could have been longer.
#6 Keep it Simple. Try and plan something easy for the first few times. Ours were simple introductions of schools and classes and then general questions related to our summative assessments and inquiry units. My class were asking about what environmental issues the students felt passionate about and what they thought some potential actions were to make a difference. The other class wanted to know about marine life and ocean protection.
#7 Use a back channel. This is one of the Skype jobs listed in #4. We set up a today’s meet and used that as our note taking tool for the session so that we might be able to refer back to it. As we were unable to project the other class onto the IWB we had the back channel up there and that added a ‘live’ element to the session.
#8 Reflect on the session with your class and the other teacher. Both the other teacher and I used email to take the time to reflect on how the first learning session had gone, focussing on the positives, challenges and unexpecteds. This debrief was really useful to know what to repeat and what to do differently. For example, we decided it might be a better use of time to pre send some of the questions through to allow more think time for the other class.
So there you have my 8 tips. Ultimately like anything new, I think it’s just a matter of getting in there and having a go. As we tell our students, be risk takers, and learn from your mistakes. We are very much looking forward to connecting with this class again and others around the world.