Cultural connections using Skype at Sheldon College


Which of these scenarios would engage, entice and enthral your students?  Reading about fossils found in the Australia, or taking part in a live video call with an archaeologist on site in the Western Australian outback as they unearth a 3.5-billion-year-old fossil?  

Even ancient protozoa can tell you the answer to that question.

Skype in the Classroom is a global phenomenon.  Only last year, Microsoft Vice President - Worldwide Education, Anthony Salcito hosted a Microsoft Skype-a-Thon for 48 hours straight, traversing the globe in a way that only Skype in the Classroom can manage.  

Skype in the Classroom allows for connections to be made with students, teachers, schools and experts from around the world.  

These virtual excursions are invaluable and should be a regular method of learning in every teachers’ arsenal.

Sheldon College has always approached education in ways that other schools seldom even consider.  This innovative school in the Redlands Shire of Brisbane already boasts an amazing facility, called the LINQ Precinct, which allows teachers to deliver Problem Based Learning and a STEM approach through the lens of business and entrepreneurship.  Engaging key people from outside the College has been a mainstay of the way that students learn, and Skype in the Classroom has allowed an even broader approach to this 21st century learning activity.

It is worthwhile to mention Sheldon’s emphasis on teacher professional development and learning.  Through the Microsoft Australia Teacher Ambassador and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert programmes, Sheldon were able to provide staff with exposure to Skype in the Classroom experts like Trent Ray (@ray_trent) and Anne Mirtschin (@murcha), who shared advice and experience on how to implement a Skype in the Classroom approach.  If your school uses Office 365, you have Skype for Business, the platform upon which you can deliver this type of experience.

With the recent changes to the Australian Curriculum in Health and Physical Education, Personal Health and Development topics have become more important, which in turn has given educators more opportunities to take risks in education and take on new and exciting tasks.  The Year 7 students of Sheldon College made contact with the Sunrise of Africa School in Nairobi, Kenya,  in order to compare and contrast the vastly different lifestyles of the two groups.  This experience removed the walls of the classroom and gave them the opportunity to understand what life is like for students in Africa.

The objective for building this friendship with the Sunrise of Africa school was for both groups of students to develop an intercultural understanding as they learnt to value their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. Through the use of Skype, the Sheldon College students have come to understand how personal, group and national identities are shaped, and the variable and changing nature of culture.

Over the course of the Skype unit the Sheldon College students sent videos clips back and forth about their daily routines, food, traditional events, subjects at school, what they do in their spare time and sporting life. These videos have helped to further developed the students Intercultural understanding, allowing them to learn about and engage with the diverse African culture in ways that recognise commonalities and differences and highlight the importance of creating connections with others that cultivates mutual respect.

Planning is the key to success when it comes to creating cross world links. It was essential to make sure that both Sheldon College and Sunrise of Africa understood the overall goal of the experience. This was done through prior planning; adding the Skype address, testing Skype connections and sending through the questions being asked throughout the discussion. This planning allowed all parties involved to engaged in a flowing conversation about what life is like for students at Sunrise of Africa and also Sheldon College.

The difference in time zones is a major challenge.  If a class cannot connect in a live instance, Skype for Business has a recording function and a file attachment feature to allow for asynchronous communication that can be viewed more than once.  

If you are interested in taking part in an innovative Skype experience like Sheldon College, you can follow these steps:

Set up a Virtual Field Trip and start your Skyping revolution today.

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Written by Matt Jorgensen who is a Microsoft Australia Teacher Ambassador and part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert programme.

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