Skype in the Classroom http://education.skype.com/ is "a free community to help teachers everywhere use Skype to help their students learn. It’s a place for teachers to connect with each other, find partner classes and share inspiration. This is a global initiative that was created in response to the growing number of teachers using Skype in their classrooms".
I recently had the pleasure of watching two science classrooms Skype together. One classroom was from Edmonton, Alberta and the other from Haughton,Louisiana. The topic was a conversation piece with the theme of "heat and temperature". Here was the project advertised on Skype in the classroom:
Here is the teacher who responded to the proposed project:
Each teacher requested each student create a question to be asked to the other class considering the "heat and temperature" theme. This was done a few days in advance and the questions were shared between classes. During the Skype conversation each student would ask their question (standing in front of the webcam) to the other class and the student who was required to answer it would get up and approach the webcam to answer.
So what did I notice?
First of all the students were giddy with excitement before the class started. The teacher did a wonderful job preparing his students including "practice questions" the class before, a conversation on what is is like to be a Canadian ambassador in an effort to make a great impression, rules of engagement etc. The students even took a look at Google Street View to see what the American school looked like.
Second, there was almost no technological issues. The sound was great, the picture very clear and only a slight delay in video because of the volume of internet traffic during that time of the day.
Third, the conversation between classes took about 30 minutes and the amount of learning that took place was significant. Nevermind the great science connections, I was most impressed with the other learning that took place. The school district I work for has a literacy focus and we all struggle as to how to define literacy. I witnessed many forms of developing literacy during the Skype call. For example, some of these literacy components were: communication skills (students had to stand up and communicate clearly) appreciation for cultural differences (Louisiana students didn't know what a toque was or a toboggan), digital literacy (students were comfortable with the technology and knew to source their research).
Fourth, the level of engagement didn't wear off. There was sustained engagement as the students were taking personal responsibility and had choice for the direction of their learning.
This was just the beginning and for a test drive, an amazing success.