Traditionally a classroom has always been recognised as a portal to knowledge. It is a venue where ideas and content are shared, experienced and digested. But who says you have to physically be in a classroom to achieve the same objective? I teach a few thousand students a week in about 30 schools. The programme I’m a part of provides maths enrichment, extension and remedial classes to students from grade R-12.
Over the last 10 years, we have always had some of our past grade 12 students making the top 20 individuals in the province. We currently have a student that came first as one of our teachers. It is gratifying to see that she has come full circle from student to teacher. I often used to wonder how our content compared with international standards. I decided to embark on a journey that has and still is awe-inspiring!
In late 2011 I came across a teacher that started a school in rural India. He was teaching classes over Skype. I made contact with him and within a few weeks I was teaching his students. I was excited to test out this approach to teaching.
Could I effectively run a successful class without a physical presence? It turns out that I could! To cut a long story short, by mid October I will have taught at least 300 classes around the world — from Nepal, to Indonesia, to New Zealand, Canada, the UK and Japan. I have been collaborating with like-minded teachers that feel technology is a critical component in every class. We connect via Skype and Google hangout. We chat, we share, we teach… essentially we love what we do and do what we love.
I have built up relationships with many teachers that are online frequently. I could just call them and the chances are that I can connect with their class or I can invite their students to connect with mine. I also meet with these teachers online to share software, content, curriculum materials, ideas, etc. We do our own professional development. I cannot begin to describe the skills and ideas that I have gained in a matter of months. I have met many students from different cultures that speak different languages. I am pleased to report that our content works very well everywhere around the world.
Here are a few reasons that Google Hangouts/Skype should be used in a classroom.
- I can teach my classes and others without travelling
- I can combine 3 or 4 classes into one session with a regular Google Hangout
- I can invite guest speakers into my classroom without them having to travel. This month I will have an engineer from the Curiosity team hanging out with students at the local Science centre as well as classes around the world.
- You can play mystery Skype — where students need to guess where in the world you are — they are only allowed to ask yes or no questions.
- I recently ran a session with parents, teachers and students in Canada — This is something that was well received by the parents.
- During national maths week I ran a two-hour workshop with a local school. They were overwhelmed with the idea to begin with but afterwards they indicated that the potential for future events was unlimited.
- You can do joint projects — two classes can discuss and share ideas — collaborate on Google documents that are open for sharing, Presentations can be made to each other
- If you want to learn French — is it not better to practise with French students while they practise their English with you?
- I recently ran an activity with students and teachers from different countries. They were all part of a hangout and I presented a topic on my menu for them to sample. This was like food for thought. Topics like euthanasia were introduced and four strong points for as well as four strong points against were presented. The students had to pick either for or against. Due to different cultures, a Dutch teacher would have said that in his country it is legal, but some of the religious teachers from the Deep South in the USA and one from Honduras were opposed to it.
This allowed for robust debate and interesting discussion, allowing us to learn about other viewpoints that we don’t often get to hear.
- The time-saving, the cost savings and the ability to accomplish more in a day is yet another strong reason for making use of this technology.
There will always be a debate on the benefits and practicalities of online classes and global collaboration. Let me assure you now that bandwidth is getting fast and cheaper. Equipment is better. Wake up or you will be left behind!