Skype in the classroom can take students on virtual field trips, opening the world _ and universe_ to them.
Or it can connect two high schools across hundreds of miles in an effort to solve a mystery using critical thinking skills.
“The possibilities are limitless,” said Tim O’Connor, Barrington High School’s digital age coach.
O’Connor is helping BHS teachers use Skype in the classroom while looking at how the platform can be integrated into the curriculum.
Skype in the classroom launched in 2011. It is a platform to help teachers find other teachers and experts. It has been used to connect students with astronauts in space. One of the platform’s upcoming sessions is with Fabien Cousteau, grandson of explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who will spend 31 days in an undersea marine habitat. He will live 63 feet below sea level and use Skype to video call a classroom each day, according to Skype’s website.
So far, Skype in the classroom has 69,000 subscribers worldwide, according to its website. It is available in 234 countries and territories and in 66 languages, according to its website. There are over 3,000 lessons so far on the site.
Its partners include teachers, Penguin Books, NASA, Peace One Day and Microsoft.
BHS integrates Skype in some classes
The position of digital age coach is new for Barrington 220, said O’Connor, who recently completed a Master degree in educational technology at Concordia University. His job is to be a resource for teachers to use technology in the class. He helps plan out lessons, coach and implement curriculum within the class.
O’Connor put a couple of lessons on the Skype classroom website and connected with various resources. Currently, he’s working with a Spanish class from a Birmingham, Ala., so BHS students can practice their Spanish.
Students “are super excited about it,” O’Connor said. “They are definitely enjoying it and express a lot of excitement. It’s like a new adventure for them.”
He’s hoping BHS can connect with other high schools across the world. Connecting with other countries is tricky due to the time difference, O’Connor said. He’d like to find schools in South America.
“We have a couple of other ideas we are working on with some our special education classes. We are hoping to set up a Skype session with a studies skills class,” he said.
Barrington Community Unit School District 220 is dedicated to integrating technology in the classroom with a 1:1 Initiative where all middle school children receive laptops. Middle school teachers have been able to use Skype in the classroom, including one lesson called Mystery Skype where students connect on Skype then ask question trying to guess where the other school is located, he said.
Skype in the classroom is easy to sign up for and use, plus there’s no cost involved for schools, O’Connor said.
His first experience with Skype in the classroom was on his previous job where his class was able to Skype with a colleague’s grandfather, a World War II veteran.
“He talked about his experience as a soldier during World War II. It was really cool. (Skype) was a great tool in terms of free access,” O’Connor said.
It’s a great resource, especially with limited education funding many district are dealing with, according to Skype in the classroom spokesperson. Teachers can break out of the four walls of the classroom and give kids an experience they may not have been able to have otherwise, the spokesperson said.
The platform is “definitely being used more and more, especially as we see students with more access to technology,” O’Connor said.