Skype in the classroom – Authentic video conference call practice

 

Last week, a group of SGI students here in London participated in a video conference call activity with a group of Russian students in Yekaterinburg.

It was the first time that we have tried this kind of skype in the classroom activity, as far as I am aware, but I have seen sessions at a couple of conferences on it, and I was inspired by the Food Issues Month project to see what new kinds of teacher collaboration could be explored (see my Launching a project post here ).

So to see what I could set up, I posted this request on the GISIG Food Issues Month Facebook page:

 

And I had replies from two different educators, one in Russia, and another in Peru. That was immediately fascinating for me, to have people reach out and connect from afar; it demonstrates the simplicity of social media, online networking and gives a perfect example of the ‘global staffroom’! It was particularly interesting as one offered the opportunity for a synchronous interaction, and the other asynchronous; and both the potential for something new and experimental.

Ludmila Malakhova, a Business English teacher in Yekaterinburg, proposed the idea for a class-to-class skype activity, between a group of 3 Marketing managers that she teaches in a Russian beer distribution company and one of our groups. Her students were working on a survey about people’s knowledge and attitudes towards beer, so this was to be the topic of the interaction with our students – not exactly a Food Issue, but loosely related, and in any case the main thing was the to be the experience of the skype meeting. Ludmila and her students prepared and sent us their profiles as well as the survey questions.

The group of SGI students came from an Upper Intermediate conversation class; we took a group photo (including the teacher, Danielle) and sent the counterparts in Russia brief profiles as well:

 

Ludmila proposed an agenda for the meeting; we set the time, and crossed our fingers for a good internet connection.

What we were hoping for…

Ludmila:

An important collaboration which gives our students valuable experience of enjoying using English as an international language, develops their confidence in making Skype calls in English and using ICT, improves their communication skills with new vocabulary  and their functional skills of conducting surveys, reporting findings, making  comments in business communication and enriches their cross-cultural awareness.

Josh:

Here , our students have daily opportunities to interact with people from other nationalities, so the primary objective for this activity would be to provide them with an experience of an authentic conference call where students would be able to practice turn-taking, dealing with interruptions, checking & clarifying, summarizing, re-phrasing, and wrapping up.

Additionally, the experience for one of our teachers of connecting & collaborating with a teacher from another country, sharing ideas, and trying out something new.

 

What happened…

There were some (inevitable?) tech problems to begin with; we found that we couldn’t both run video and hear each other clearly, so the SGI group turned off their video function which probably diminished slightly the interaction for the Russian group – they couldn’t see us, but we could see them. Also, I thought the laptop speakers would be loud enough but they weren’t, so I had to get some external speakers to increase the volume level so the SGI group could all hear. These technical issues made the beginning of the conference call a little frustrating. Tip for next time: be ready with speakers!

But after that, the session got going and there was some genuinely spontaneous interaction between the two groups. This meant: hesitations, some talking over each other, slight misunderstandings, but also clear questions and answers on both sides, follow-up comments and clarifications, and a progression through the meeting agenda.

What we got out of it…

Ludmila:

My students and I were very happy to be a part of SGI Friday class.
It worked on different levels to us: my students could feel what it’s like to study English in the international school, enjoyed several different accents, finished their survey. It was even more than they expected. Now they agree that with the right preparation and help, communication can be easier than they think. SGI students created an impression of friendly, intelligent, polite, efficient and fluent speakers. You can be proud that they said so many pleasant words about your school, teachers and YOUR work.

…this has been my personal favorite hour in Skype activities I’ve had so far. Thank you.

Danielle:

Last Friday we had the exciting experience of having a skype conference with a Business English Class in Russia. As all the students in Russia worked for Baltika they wanted to ask my class (mainly business students) about Beer. They had created a survey for my class, which we looked at a few days before and prepared for the conference.

The actual conference went down really well, I think this was due to the fact that we had exchanged pictures and names of each other, which enabled us to feel comfortable from the beginning of the call. Despite the initial connection issues, we were able to communicate with each other successfully and all my students had positive feedback about the experience.

It helped to improve my students listening and spontaneous speaking skills. I thought it was a great experience and would definitely consider doing this type of activity again in the future.

 

Josh:

My view is that it was a really positive experience, great to connect with and collaborate with Ludmila – many thanks to her! Thanks as well to Danielle for agreeing to participate with her class, and for letting me sit in on the experiment. I think we all learned something from it, on all sides – the students especially, but also from the teaching perspective too. I am hopeful that I can facilitate more collaboration like this in the future, and I encourage teachers not to overlook the potential benefits, for you and your students, of setting up activities like this with teachers and classes from other parts of the world.

 

Josh Round

About Josh Round

Josh has over 15 years of professional experience in education and has been at SGI since 2002, first as a teacher and teacher trainer, before becoming Director of Studies in 2005. Josh started teaching in 1992, initially as a Drama teacher and also enjoyed a successful career as a theatre and TV actor. He speaks Spanish, French, German and Catalan. Interesting fact: You can see Josh in the Oscar winning film ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
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3 Responses to Skype in the classroom – Authentic video conference call practice

  1. hamza awad says:

    I am hamza from Jordan and I want to make a conference call to improve my knowledge of English .

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Josh! Sounds like a great idea. I’m a British English teacher and spent 10 years out in Russia working in ESL. I’ve now moved back to the UK, but still work with Russians using Skype. We have teamed up with several schools in Siberia to teach groups classes, but we mostly work one-to-one. Skype has a lot of useful features that can be helpful during conference calls. Some of these may be new to you. I penned a post for my blog a while ago to help other colleagues make the most of Skype – http://onlineteachersuk.com/en/teaching-english-using-skype/ – some of the options like screenshare, idroo and message editing/removal may be of interest in what you’re doing here. Best of luck with the project!

  3. Dane says:

    Hi Josh,
    I have just arrived in Japan where I am currently teaching English in a high school.
    I also teach English online at Mainichieikaiwa.
    If you would like to team up with Japanese online English schools, you can check out this list to find possible partners: http://www.ii-eikaiwa.com
    Good luck with your project!

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