Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Furthering Education With Skype #WeAct

George Couros, principal extraordinaire, sent out a tweet today challenging us to write about something we DID to further education. I think it's a great way to word it...too often we talk but don't act. One comment that struck me in his blog post was that "it's not about technology." Being the instructional technology facilitator in my's kind of hard for it not to be about the technology, but he shared a great example of what he meant. What I like about this challenge is it allows me to reflect more so than normal...I'm all too often thinking about the next project, the next week, the next year.
One phrase that I've been repeating often is don't do the newest thing, do the best thing. Too often we don't evaluate the newest tool, we just buy it and shove the round object into the square hole. Then we scream, "LOOK HOW COOL THIS IS!!!!" I'm rarely first to jump on the bandwagon for anything: cell phones, iPod Touches, "educational software" (OK, some things I may never come around to). But I get tired of being burned when something doesn't live up to the hype. Technology has been ridiculed in the past for jumping ship too early to the next shiny object.
One tool that I really like and started to help our district leverage earlier than some others is Skype. The power of Skype is knocking down the four walls of the classroom and giving students rich experiences they might not have gotten on their own. But we don't use it as an "extra" (see my Twitter bio for why not): We've used Skype to perform the same tasks we've always done. Who's got time to add something new into the classroom? Some examples of how we've used Skype in our district include:
  • Reviewing building tech surveys;
  • Bringing in outside guests, including high school academy students and experts from the Henry Doorly Zoo;
  • Connecting "singleton" teachers and specialists with colleagues in the district so that they can participate in team planning;
  • Connecting our classrooms with "real life experts" around the state and students from around the world: 4th grade students Skype with other 4th grade classrooms for study of Nebraska; celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday with a variety of grade levels all across the US and Canada;
  • Saving trips out to buildings for short, face-to-face conversations between administrative staff and principals or teachers;
  • Interview potential staff candidates who are out of state;
  • Conduct parent-teacher conferences with parents stationed oversees in the military.
We continue to stress: Skype doesn't make your lesson better, the conversations you have during the Skype do. Technology allows you the opportunity to engage more students with lessons that are relevant to them while still instructing students on what your school board and administration deem necessary. Technology for the sake of technology, in my opinion, is a large part of why it's sometimes scoffed at by those who aren't "tech savvy." Technology should be a tool to improve your instruction and working environment. Don't use the newest technology to leverage it's power to further education. Use the best for your district.


Alan Stange said...

I certainly experienced a taste of this this year with my 4-5 class. We chatted with five different schools on Skype, participated in a virtual tour, and had small group conversations. I networked with a variety of teachers planning projects. So many more could use it but then we are going to have band-width issues.

jgriffith2 said...

Well said! Skype calls are about the conversation not the tech tool! I couldn't agree more. Through the utilization of Skype my students and myself have been able to participate in deeper conversations with others. So, because of the value of our learning experiences it is also one of my favorite tools!