Skype enables students to connect, collaborate, and communicate with students across the globe. It creates an opportunity for students to learn from each other, to have authentic audiences for their work, and to meet musicians, authors, and others who can further their learning. The possibilities are truly endless. Skyping is no longer a novelty — a once-in-awhile special event. It’s becoming a routine part of being an effective 21st century teacher.
Another major a-ha for me as an online teacher is the dynamic and potential for group involvement. When I describe what I do to people who are, shall we say, “not connected to the world of web culture,” they are amazed. “You mean the kids can see you and hear you? Don’t they get bored?” Well, if all they did was listen to me teach, then yes, they would get bored. Wouldn’t you? Which is why I make sure that my classes do not involve lecturing.
During my time as an online educator, I’ve used a variety of video conferencing platforms. I have taught students in public schools, Catholic schools and Jewish Day Schools and complementary schools. The technology is powerful, but there is something that catches my eye each time I run a session: it’s the human reaction to these technology-supported events. I think there is a need, in today’s wired world, to connect to another person far away, living a different, yet somehow similar life.
Students sit in the test-taking room, with full access to computers and wireless connections. As they work on national exams, they can be seen accessing the internet from time to time. Are the results from this testing going to be corrupted because these test-takers are not isolated from global information resources? Cheating — or high-tech cheating, as it is called today — what is that exactly? And is it really a problem? Do our old-school definitions of cheating need rethinking?
It was magical learning about a place my students had never before heard of and will probably never see for themselves. Learning that was totally led by the students and their interest in that classroom in Greece. And that learning will continue. The children in Greece, too, have questions for us to answer. More magic. More serendipity. I love my connected classroom.
My teaching mission is simple yet absolutely necessary to helping my students prepare for their futures. I began this school year with a list of questions that could help me envision, plan, reflect and maintain focus on where my students and I needed to be when the last bell rings in late May. Out of my personal questioning and reflection came what would be the essential question for my 11th grade social studies students during our time together: “What does it mean to be a citizen nationally, globally and digitally?”