This week I am looking at the second ISTE Student Standard: Communication and Collaboration through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University and am attempting to answer the following question: “How can students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others?” When examining the first ISTE Student Standard: Creativity and Innovation, I had first toyed with the idea of using Skype with my students to address that standard but found that I was not able to adequately teach and assess the skills I was looking for in the scope of my library curriculum and therefore revised my focus (read more about that process in my last post).
While I did not incorporate the use of Skype into that standard, it was a tool that I was interested in exploring further and found that it conformed nicely with the communication and collaboration standard. In an effort to enhance the library program and provide my students with opportunities to deepen their interest in reading for pleasure (my never-ending quest as a librarian), I attempted to answer the following question:
How can students use technology to communicate and interact with authors to ask clarifying questions about a book they have read? How can they continue that conversation after the initial meeting? How can they creatively share their findings?
What Does the Research Say?
I am quite late on jumping on the Skype-in-the-library-bandwagon and, for this reason, there are an abundance of resources available to those teachers and librarians that are willing to explore this exciting opportunity with their students. Kate Messner, award-winning children’s author and former middle school teacher, is a well-documented advocate for using Skype as a learning tool: “Skype, which is currently free, has gone from being a novelty to an everyday tool, as much a part of the school day as whiteboards and textbooks” (Messner, 2014, pg. 27). Messner goes on to point out that “educators who use Skype once or twice tend to become advocates—big believers in its potential” (Messner, 2014, pg. 27). Those advocates see that “Today’s students live in a brave new literary world–one in which they can connect with their favorite authors” (Messner, 2009, pg. 38). I have had countless discussions with students regarding a book they recently read where they wanted to know more, ask questions, understand characters, anticipate alternative endings. We are now living in a time when those questions can not only be pondered but asked of the very people who created those characters and storylines. What an exciting possibility!
Aside from the intended outcomes of creating excitement around reading, Skyping with authors also provides several other added benefits. The authors of “Facilitating Students’ Global Perspectives: Collaborating with International Partners Using Web 2.0 Technologies” in Internet & Higher Education wrote that “Web 2.0 applications have the potential to increase students’ cultural and technological competencies by engaging them with diverse others using a variety of digital communication tools” (Ertmer, 2011, pg. 251). The authors go on to state that there is a “need for K-12 teachers and students to participate in global learning communities and to demonstrate ‘cultural understanding’ and ‘global awareness’” (Ertmer, 2011, pg. 251-52). Whether connecting with an author or a classroom of fellow students across the globe, these events provide students with the opportunity to be exposed to a world they might not otherwise know and perspectives they might not otherwise understand.
High school English teacher and Edutopia contributor, Michelle Lampinen states that “It’s no secret that students value an authentic audience” (Lampinen, 2013). Communicating with the author of a recently read book allows for the utmost of authentic audiences. In addition, using Skype to connect students to the world has been found to encourage those students that often don’t often willingly share their view: “Sometimes, educators find that the virtual visit technology brings out different students’ voices, too. Those who might not participate in a large classroom discussion may feel more comfortable interacting with an author onscreen, especially when the group is small” (Messner, 2014, pg. 27). Ms. Lampinen echoes this idea: “Introverted students tend to share more online than they do in person […] It’s also great to see reserved students garnering attention from their peers” (Lampinen, 2013).
Making It Happen
While making this event a reality does not take too much in regards to equipment or setup, the elements that are involved are imperative:
- First and foremost, determining which author(s) will be schedule with the library is step one. While there are a number of places to look for available authors, the aforementioned Kate Messner has compiled a list of authors who Skype with classes for free and it is a great resource. It is a lengthly list, start by looking at authors that are popular with your students.
- Once an author has been chosen, authors can be contacted and scheduled directly through their site. It is important to think about time zones, class times and conflicting events before pitching times with a prospective author.
- It is then important to organize the session, Kate Messner advises the following: “Plan your meeting. How long will it last? Will members gather around a computer or will the author be projected on a big screen? Where will kids stand or sit so they can be seen and heard? With adequate preparation, you’ll avoid confusion and make the most of discussion time. Have kids write questions on index cards in advance to keep things moving” (Messner, 2009, pg. 38).
- As these aspects are reviewed, Shannon McClintock Miller, librarian and avid Skyper has found the following to be most effective: “We have a computer with a camera and that is what I use. I have it connected to a projector so the kids can see the author or visitor. You don’t have to have a fancy set up to make this work. It can be simple. And kids can also gather around the laptop on the table, which is what we usually do because they like to be close to the author. Also, it’s very important to have speakers set up. Have the kids be able to come up easily and ask questions, too” (Lazar, 2014).
What Can This Look Like?
Lampinen, M. (2013, April 8). Blogging in the 21st-century classroom. Retrieved January 25, 2015, from Edutopia website: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/blogging-in-21st-century-classroom-michelle-lampinen
Lazar, T. (2014, January 27). Students, authors and Skype: believe the hype. Retrieved January 24, 2015, from Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) website: http://taralazar.com/2014/01/27/students-authors-and-skype-believe-the-hype/
Messner, K. (2009). Met any good authors lately? School Library Journal, 55(8), 36-38. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2009/08/programs/met-any-good-authors-lately/
Messner, K. (2014). The Skyping renaissance. School Library Journal, 60(11), 27. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2014/11/technology/the-skyping-renaissance/#_
Sharp, A. (2014, November 21). Quad City students Skype with children’s book authors. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from WQAD 8 Quad Cities website: http://wqad.com/2014/11/21/quad-city-students-skype-with-childrens-book-authors/
Authors Who Skype with Classes and Book Clubs: http://www.katemessner.com/authors-who-skype-with-classes-book-clubs-for-free/