Monday, September 22, 2008

No Longer on the Outside Looking In

The other night I talked to Jo McLeay’s class in Australia from my home in South Carolina. This was the first time I had ever done anything like this and I was so nervous. I’ve talked to many other teachers in my network that has done collaborative work with other classes around the world but I never experienced it myself first hand. The class read the book The Secret Life of Bees and developed a study guide about it. Since the setting takes place in South Carolina, I was invited to share my thoughts and ideas as well as answer any questions that the students might have. I have also gotten some emails from some of her students but I had never talked to any of them “face to face” before.

Jo and I tried a trial run using Skype one day but we were both in our own homes so it seemed to work well. We scheduled a time for me to Skype into her classroom but unfortunately her school had problems with Skype. After talking to people on Plurk and Twitter, they recommended that we try Oovoo so we both downloaded it and tried it. Again we were both at home when we tried it but it seemed like it would be great to use. We set a time for me to join her class and it worked!

I don’t know if the class learned much from me but I learned so much from this experience that I want to run around and tell everyone about it. Maybe they will roll their eyes because it is nothing new to them but I feel energized and excited about what implications this could have for a classroom.

Things I learned:
· I’m not used to different accents and really had to concentrate on what they were saying. Teenagers tend to talk faster than older people so I had to pay close attention to what they were saying.
· We liked a lot of the same things about the book The Secret Life of Bees.
· They seemed to like tennis and were sorry I didn’t have a favorite tennis player. (Now that I think about it, I could have brought up about Arthur Ashe being the first minority tennis player but I didn’t think quickly enough.)
· I had no idea who Ben Harper was but they did and seemed a little disappointed I didn’t know him (so I will be doing my research on this).
· They wore uniforms and there were different types and styles. (When I was a child, my friends went to a private religious school and got to wear the best uniforms with plaid skirts. I always wanted to wear one like they did!)
· They were interested in American politics.
· They had compulsory voting there (which I had never heard of before) which really changes my way of thinking about elections. I can see why some people might have disagreed with one of my blog posts about voting which I didn’t understand before. In fact I was so excited about this discovery that I woke my husband up after the call ended and wanted to talk to him about it (but he failed to be as excited as I was and fell back to sleep).

I really think it says a lot that Jo McLeay was willing to go through all of this to connect her class with me. I can only imagine the time it took to set all this up and the frustration of not getting Skype to work. I have never met her in person and I can only hope that I didn’t say anything stupid and make her sorry that she invited me (those things run through my mind!). As a teacher, whenever you invite a speaker, you wonder if your students will like the speaker or be totally bored. Then Oovoo kept cutting us off and we had to reconnect. Of course I didn’t mind because I was sitting at home doing nothing and there she was in class full of students. Yet, she was so patient and kept up the conversation without even blinking an eye which shows what a good teacher she is.

After about 50 minutes, we said farewell and ended our call. I sat here for a few minutes just amazed at what had taken place. If you have never taken part of something like that, please find another class to collaborate with because it is an experience you and your students will never forget. I know I won’t. Suddenly places far away aren’t so intimidating and scary. Experiences like this can really help make student instruction more successful.

Photo credit: Original image: 'Watching' by: Tim O'Brien


Anonymous said...

Pat, thank you so much for writing this. It was fantastic for my class and for me too. Each time I show the students something different that is possible because of web 2.0 they are amazed and while they wanted to believe you were real, it really helped them that they were able to see and hear you on oovoo. I did a class survey after this (as I normally would after I had taught anything major) and a lot of them nominated speaking to you and seeing and hearing you as one of the highlights of the term. So collaboration - what an awesome concept. Thank you for being willing to be involved and for reading the book as well.

Anne said...

What a powerful experience for you Pat and particularly for the students in Jo's class. There is nothing like listening to the accent of a native speaker to put things in context. I listen to a lot of recorded books (usually as I drive to and from school) and one of the things that really enhances the story is when the narrator has an accent that reflects the context of the story. Don't ask me why but a Southern accent is the most powerful to me in this sense.
I'm sure you underestimate the influence that you had on the students and on their understanding of the book itself. Let's hope that the opportunity to do something like this again comes up sooner rather than later. This is an incredibly powerful way to make use of the communication tools we now have at hand.

Anonymous said...

From your posting it is clear that you enjoyed the experience enormously - and that it enriched you. This makes the effort you put into with worthwhile.

Thanks for sharing it - it gives me ideas about how to approach similar initiatives. In a country where we do not have enough qualified teachers, this may be just the thing to do to reach remote areas where there is lack of capacity.

Anonymous said...

How very cool! In my experience with videoconferencing, I have found that once you get past the initial learning curve and feel the excitement of connecting with others around the world, you can never think of a "classroom"--ie four walls--in the same way again. How wonderful that you were willing to take the risk, try something new, and share with us!

Heather said...

What a great experience, Pat! I'm so glad you were able to share your experiences with students in another country. I'm sure they learned tons from you! We have a fantastic opportunity today with so many free, high-quality communication methods to connect with people all around the world. What used to be reserved for only adventurers or business people can now be brought directly into our classrooms and homes.
Heather (heza)

loonyhiker said...

Jo: The pleasure was all mine. I appreciate your patience with me since this was the first time I'd ever done this!

loonyhiker said...

anne: The funny thing is that when I visit my family up north, people who do not know me, see that I'm Chinese and expect me to speak Chinese. Then they are shocked when I speak English with a southern accent. :)

loonyhiker said...

kobus:It really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there. I love having a plurk conversation with you because I am learning more and more about the world I never knew. Thanks for reading my blog.

loonyhiker said...

shirley: It is scary for me to try something new but sometimes I have to force myself to try it. I figure that someone has to be brave and take a first step. :)

loonyhiker said...

Heather: I'm hoping when others see that I tried this, maybe they will be brave enough to venture out and try something new. I'm always complaining about teachers not doing things and felt I had to show them instead of just saying it.

Julie Carney said...

What a great story. It's also a testament to how successful (and easy) cross-cultural experiences can be when new technology is applied.

You've given me some great ideas for a new blog I'm starting with the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation. If you have time, I'd love some feedback.



Bill Gaskins said...

What a great story...The is great example of how Skype can and should be used in the classroom. I wish we could use Skpye in our schools.


loonyhiker said...

Julie: Glad it helped. Good luck on your venture. It was a neat site!

loonyhiker said...

Bill: We weren't able to get Skype to work in the classroom so we used Oovoo. Maybe that would work for you.