Some Free February Appy-ness with a new piece of free software for teachers from Microsoft every day in February. Many of these items are unknown heroes, but they all share two things in common: 1) They are useful for teachers or students and 2) they are free.
Windows Live Messenger
Okay, so this definitely is not a new thing - let’s face it, students have been using it for ages at home - and so have many teachers. And it could be easy to take a ‘been there, seen it, done it’ attitude. But hold on, just before you go writing this idea off, consider some uses for it in teaching and learning:
- Provide homework support outside of school hours
One school I know of actually ran a ‘homework support’ rota for staff, when they had assigned times online in the evening, in return for time off during the day - giving staff a more flexible working day
- Language learning
Have students chat to each other, or with twinned schools, in other languages. Often, this will give the student more time to consider their language, and they’ll find it more engaging that translating phrases with pen and paper. And you can also move on from instant messenger (IM) conversations to video calls.
- Peer-to-peer professional development and coaching with other teachers
Because you can have an IM conversation at any time, and often while you’re doing other things too, it makes a good way to have an informal chat with a coach, mentor or trainer
- Bring an outside expert into the classroom
If you can’t always persuade people to come and spend time in your classroom - like an author/lawyer/doctor/astronaut/scientist - it may be much easier to persuade them to agree to a half-hour where they’ll answer questions on Messenger
- Create conversations with historical characters
Okay, so you can’t bring Ned Kelly into the classroom. But you could create a Live Messenger account for ‘Ned Kelly’, and get somebody outside the classroom to answer questions for him. How about setting up a swap with another teacher, and each agreeing to be a historical figure for each other’s classes?
And on the same idea, how about giving a junior class a chance to have an Live Messenger conversation with ‘Father Christmas’? (I used to do this with video conferencing systems about 10 years ago, and it was always a fantastic hit)
Where can I find out how to use it?
On the learning.live.com you’ll find a Teachers Guide for Using Messenger for Learning, which was created a few years ago, but still contains good specific advice about saving conversations, and setting up separate IM accounts for teachers. There’s also some videos showing how one school used Windows Live Messenger to support learning outside of school hours.