Some questions on using skype

At times I am asked questions re my  use of various web2.0 tools. These questions were about skype from a teacher in Japan, who was about to link her class with one in Singapore. The questions  revolved mainly around logistics and class size.  Both classes have 35 students and English is the second language. Students are 13 years old. The teacher wrote wrote:-

There will be a practice session where the classes will get to meet and greet each other and introduce themselves. (they will be paired up). After the first practice session, the classes will engage in the actual exchange (which will be exhibited to 100 delegates from all over the prefecture). This is where all my troubles come in to place because i am so afraid that it is going to fail (even before i have started!)
We have  decided to have only one laptop installed with Skype on both ends (to make for easy supervision). However, apart from the concerns of bandwidth, clarity, camera, microphones, (which will be tested out during the practice sessions), there is the problem of the class size.
Will one laptop be sufficient for classes of this size – 35 students?

Response: In my skype sessions, I only use one laptop with the data projector connected to it, but it projects the image onto a white wall. Do you have a data projector and if so can you use a screen or project the videoconference onto a wall?  All  students must be able to see what is going on and if they can, then it will be okay – they will be engaged especially in the initial sessions. However, if only a small group can see the laptop screen, there will be disciplinary problems with the rest of the class – especially with the large class size that you have.

If students take turns one at a time to give their self-introductions, how can the rest of the students be engaged? 

  • It is better to get students to show something -as well as a question to ask. It is more engaging for the both audiences and students are less nervous when they can hold something to the camera eg  show some typical  foods to the camera,  sports equipment or school uniform.
  • Assign specific roles to the other students – one could be in charge of the chat, one in charge of the webcamera, another props etc. Others could be taking notes summarizing the videoconference as part of a report. Some students will need to be in charge of taking photos and video recordings to capture the excitement and the historical nature of the conference etc

If we split the class into groups of 6 and each group take turns to interview the rest, once again, how will the other groups be engaged?

Same responses as above. I would keep the whole class together for the start or it will be a lot of work for you. Are your students well behaved students? As this is quite a daunting online acitivity initially, and as technology can go wrong, it is important that the whole class is engaged. A webcamera will pick up misbehaving class members which will then be quite obvious to the class at the other end. Therefore it is important that codes of conduct are thoroughly discussed and understood by your class. Always, always have a backup plan should the technology fail!

In my school, we have ADSL, but although internet access is not  strong, skpye rarely fails. If possible, connect a usb webamera to the laptop and attach it to a tripod to give height for students and demonstrations. Make sure students speak really slowly and clearly so that they can be understood. Use the chat window, type student names in there.
 Skype has never really failed me and we have done it lots of times.It might freeze but just hang up and call back. Make sure the microphone works and test just before you go live for the linkup – about 15 mins before and just leave skype open.
Relax, enjoy and let the learning begin!!

(However in saying that, I do still get a bit nervous too, especially when it is the first time with someone else)


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