Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to use SKYPE in the Classroom

By Steve McCrea Skype: SteveEnglishTeacher

Knowing how to use Skype is a skill that will grow in importance. This list of tips will help teachers use the program skillfully in the classroom.

1. Learn to use Skype by using it. Yes, you can take tutorials. Yes, you can get an account name and let your students do the talking to other students. But the way that opened the magic of “skype in the classroom” to me was using it regularly.

2. Leave the Skype bar “Available.” Who knows who will contact us when we leave the account “available for contact”?

3. I set my Skype account to “open” (not private) so that anyone who has a Skype account can find me.

4. Turn the volume UP. I've missed dozens of opportunities to connect with students and teachers because I forgot to turn up the volume. (One of the annoying parts of using Zamzar.com is the audio ads that come with a message that “your file is ready for downloading.” I usually want the computer to be quiet, so I turn down the volume when I use zamzar.com... but then I forget to turn it up again when I'm in the classroom.)

5. Allow Skype users to email your mobile phone with a short reminder: “Hey, are you there? We had an appointment for a skype talk at 9:30 am your time – Jair.” I don't know why I forget to turn up the volume. Jair in Florianopolis went through a a lot of effort to obtain permission to move his class into a classroom with a projection screen and intenret access – and then I forgot to bring my compuer to class. Another time I forgot to turn up the volume, so I didn't hear the “ping” reminder that tells the skype user that someone is trying to connect.

6. I include my email address in the “greeting” that appears on the message. This encourages people who can't reach me by Skype to ask their questions by email.

7. Sometimes it's better to make a call WITHOUT the video on. Leave the video OFF for better sound quality (at least it appears to be better quality when the video is off). In May 2008 the number of skype users at 10 am New york Time was about 54 million. In May 2009 the number of skype users was about 8 million, and a year later, the number was closer to 22 million.

8. Expect some connections to be broken or interrupted or lower quality.

9. Do you have a backup plan? Some people use Instant Messenger with Yahoo or Microsoft (MSN). It helps if you have a variety of ways to connect.

10. Learn how to send a file over Skype. Some countries don't have easy access to youtube videos. Skype users can send video files and help other students see educational parts of youtube.

11. Encourage your students who use SKYPE to type while they talk. It is a way of clarifying pronunciation and ensuring that information is clearly transferred. I was able to monitor a conversation by walking between pairs of students doing independent work in the classroom – and the pair that was on a skype call with my student Gongfu in China had the following interaction:

Example: The call started around 10 am in Florida, twelve hours behind Gongfu in Shandong province. Teachers can read the notes that I've added in italics. Students can learn how to make their communications clearer by typing key words or sentences. When talking to people who live in countries where it is difficult to use Facebook or Youtube, ask if it is okay to send a video over skype.

9:57:55 AM

gongfu: hi .are you there? are you in your class?

Steve: hi we are ready to talk

gongfu: okay

Steve: can i send you a file?

gongfu: ok

Steve posted file SANY0021.MP4 to members of this chat

I introduced Gongfu to my students Rashad and Andreas. They talked a bit and then started to type some of the words.

What time is it? (asked Andreas)

gongfu: 22.05PM

Steve: It is 10 a.m. here

What is your name?

gongfu: QIJIANLI

gongfu: Qi Jian li

gongfu: ch

Steve: How old are you?

Steve: Have you been to Paris before?

The student over in Florida wrote this sentence (which the teacher can follow up with a grammar review)

Steve: I was graduate in 2009

Andreas described himself as a construction worker and Gongfu had a problem with spelling “Builder”

gongfu: marking plan

gongfu: beuther?

Steve: builder

Steve: a man who makes buildings

Rashad asked, “What time is it?”

gongfu: 22.17pm

Then there was a discussion of songs

gongfu: apple

Steve: an apple

gongfu: big apple

gongfu: new york?

gongfu: song

gongfu: rock

gongfu: rock music

gongfu: hip pop?

gongfu: nirvana

gongfu: do you like his songs?

Steve: ac dc

Steve: yes i do

What is your skype address?

Steve: rashood919

The students started talking about pronunciation

gongfu: a e i o u long and short

gongfu: short oo long oo

gongfu: SHORT OO


gongfu: [SHORT OO]

gongfu: I find the sound short oo sound is qutie similar with the schwa sound

The teacher dropped in to add the following words that have the [oo] sound

Steve: foot book good about a in about

We wanted to continue the connection because the large video file was still being transferred (100 kb per minute, 64 MB, so it took 50 minutes)

gongfu: leave the window open

Steve: i will leave the window open

gongfu: thanks

gongfu: i enjoy your video very much.so nice. steve,i will go to bed.tomorrow i will write to you . and can you tell me your free time.

The skype call took about 40 minutes, plus the extra time to complete the transfer of the video. The students (Andreas and Rashad) spent this time creating questions for the student in China.

If you have suggestions and recommendations, please contact Steve at SteveEnglishTeacher on Skype or at FreeEnglishLessons@gmail.com.

A view of "what's needed in schools" in the UK (and around the world)

My partner Will Sutherland (www.QualifiedByExperience.com) heads a sailing school in England that is really a character training site (for teachers as well as students).

Here are some of his comments about school reform in England....

We all agree that every child is different and their needs are different, so why do we think they are all going to fit into the same educational box?

I see a very big need for children to be taught the basics (a general Liberal Arts) and then taught how to learn and what to learn.

They need to understand there is no such thing as a free lunch. They also need to understand they have to be of use to society in order to fit into society, and to earn a living.

They can do anything they want to do provided it is going to lead to an income stream for themselves and their families.

They need mentoring from someone who cares about them and who can help them deal with family or their personal environment problems.

Talk to today’s students and they will tell you they do not understand the logic of their education or where they are going, but they know what interests them.


My ongoing research into the effects of Aiglon college (and the philosophies of Kurt Hahn and John Corlette www.JohnCorlette.com) on the lives of the Alumni is revealing the basic student needs and ways of meeting them.


In summary the reformers cannot get out of their minds the traditional image the word “School” conjures up every time they use it or hear it.

What the 21st Century students need is a new concept education media centre: A resource for the whole community and everyone in it.

Within this there needs to be a core framework which provides a balance between academic learning and life skills, discipline, appreciation, respect and tolerance for others, sports and physical exercise etc.

We only know and are influenced by what we know. Therefore the programme should encourage enquiring minds, to develop innovation and experimentation.

Expeditions and cultural excursions have become extinct due to health and safety restraints. This problem needs to be overcome in one measure or another.

Above all, a path for future development, a light at the end of the tunnel, has to be presented to students and parents which satisfies their needs and aspirations.

A lot of what Tony Blair say is not actually happening in the UK and he introduced the most teacher-controlling regulations -- he has knocked the stuffing out of our good teachers and the new system leaves them totally disenfranchised. Central control and bureaucracy takes up more than half a teacher's working time and preparation hours have increased beyond any sensible measure. The results are lower standards and a weaker society.

Will Sutherland


Learn more by going to www.QualifiedbyExperience.com


It's CONforming, not REforming schools. When will we truly change in a positive direction?

When we hear about school reform, we hear about these elements.

a) Standardized tests

b) Standards that all schools should meet

c) Standard curriculums for all students

d) Every student needs four years of math

e) Every 8th grader needs to be exposed to algebra in 8th grade, starting at age 13.

f) Send everyone to university.

g) Every teacher should have an advanced degree.

It doesn’t sound like REFORM, it sounds like “CON”form.


Instead, we need to look at TRUE reshaping and retooling and reformatting our schools.

For example

a) Time is a variable. We don’t have to group kids by age. We don’t have to require students to advance at a set time together to the next level of the curriculum.

b) Let’s us computers to allow independent rates of learning. See Dr. Fischler’s TheStudentIsTheClass.com blog.

c) Arne Duncan calls for expanded schooling to support the community, 12 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week, 12 months a year: 12/7/12.

d) Relationships: Dennis Littky’s “three Rs” says Rigor, Relevance and Relationships. We need teachers who visit each kid's home,..."Teachers who know the kids, look out for them and push them to succeed"
(from a speech by Bill Gates).

e) Relevance: Why does every child need to study biology? Robert Reich has a cogent observation about the

f) Move away from Compulsory Failure: very few of us are renaissance people – we can’t master every subject, so there will be some subjects that are difficult for us and not relevant to our lives. Why do we impose failure on children? Reform means “making school relevant to the child, fit the curriculum to the child, not the child to the curriculum.”

g) Teachers teach all subjects: Why does a teacher need to have an advanced degree in mathematics in order to teach math? Some of the best teachers are those who struggle with a subject. “I hated math when I was your age. Let’s work together to get through this…”

Those are elements of true reform.


Dennis Yuzenas (www.WhatDoYaKnow.com) and I (VisualandActive.com) are talking about making a presentation about “It’s not school Reform, it’s school CONform.”

Tony Blair spoke in the right direction…


Long speech but worth a listen.
Notes from Blair’s speech.
What works in a reformed school?

1. Independence -- Schools need to be independent, free to innovate and find the strategy that works for their community.

2. Community learning -- teaching adults, too. -- Continued adult learning is important becuas children who have parents with low levels of education tend to not go very far .

3. Community service: Our schools need to be more than academics and more than just for the child.

Breakfast clubs (to fill empty stomachs)

Afterschool clubs

Homework clubs

Let’s make education about the whole person and the whole community.

4. We need to remove bad teachers.

5. We need to think differently. We know what to do, we need to implement. It’s not hard to think up things to do differently – it’s difficult to IMPLEMENT. We need to focus on community interest, not about VESTED interests.

We know what works.

Well, that's what Blair said. Let's get to work. Contact me with your comments (954) 646 8246 or write to visualandactive@gmail.com