Every two years, students of Hawkesdale P12 College and parents are offered the opportunity to visit China. Mandarin Chinese is the second language taught. Approximately 10 days are spent in China, including four nights spent at our sister school, Beijing no. 27 Middle School, several nights in Xian and the final days spent in Shanghai. Students stay with Chinese host families in their homes. in Beijing.
Social media enables the students to stay in touch with their families and friends back in Australia, and to stay in touch with their host families once they leave Beijing. It is essential to be able to contact the tour guides that accompany the group during the daytime.
Wechat is the biggest communication tool used in China and is used for everything including as a mobile payment app. Before the students and parents left, we tried to setup their mobile phones with the app but had all sorts of trouble activating the app. As it was nearly time to leave, it was decided to find another app. However, this is difficult as facebook, snapchat, blogs etc are all blocked when in China. A VPN is required to access them, but these are not technically legal, they can be blocked at any time and it would not be socially responsible for us to use a VPN whilst there.
Skype was suggested but we needed to find out whether it required a VPN. Fortunately, through Skype in the Classroom network, the names of two Skype Master teachers who work in China were provided. These teachers assured me that a VPN was not required. Students downloaded the Skype app and were added to a group that included the teachers attending and family members.
It has worked really well, with daily schedules posted, lots of pictures shared of what everyone has been up to, videos, questions and generally maintaining contact, especially when students were staying with their host families. It meant that the people back home could ‘live’ the experience with them and I could share many of the photos and videos with my students as they were shared. Skype was used to connect classes back at Hawkesdale with the students in Beijing and the calls could be recorded for future use in the Chinese classroom