I respect Gary Stager's opinion. He pushes my thinking. That's what he did for me here:
Why would you Skype someone involved “in the process?” What process? Who? State legislators? What are they likely to tell a student that can’t be found out in a book or article?
The connections you speak of, now matter how much you yearn for them may be as inauthentic as the task itself. Perhaps they just make a task nobody cares about even more arduous. The “you can use Google ____ or Skype with someone” suggestions have become as automatic and meaningless as when a politician says, “We need to pay teachers more, but hold them accountable.”
To be fair, Gary's comments here were about a broader issue and he goes on to discuss it in more detail. For me the striking comment that “skyping someone in” is often a automatic response to trying to demonstrate you have a classroom that “gets it” gave me pause to think. While I applaud teachers who consider this strategy, without thought and purpose it has no more value or impact that asking a parent or principal to randomly come talk to your class.
But today was a day where I saw Skype used in a truly authentic, powerful and yet quite unassuming way. Much like a pop-in. On the surface it was a class in the small town of Mortlach, Saskatchewan talking with students in Philadelphia, PA. Depending on who you ask that may or not be all that remarkable. The technology was pretty straightforward. A laptop, webcam, and a projector. Call someone up and start talking. Today we can longer attempt to think that that requires any degree of skill. it doesn't. Unless you have some type of fear mongering administrator or IT person weary of Skype, or an unwilling teacher, every classroom can and should have the capability. no training required.
Allow me to deconstruct this for you.
A week ago, Zac Chase of SLA posted a wonderful recording on his blog of some students in a task he calls Story Slam. I listened to it and immediately shared it with my own kids and then thought of a teacher in my district that I knew would love this idea. I shared it with her and without asking permission, I suggested that Zac might be able to have his kids and him Skype in and share this. Which brings us to today.
What I witnessed was a group of students sharing a couple of stories and learning about an idea. The students from SLA talked about what story slam involves, students in Mortlach asked a few questions and in turn shared a story too. A brief pop-in that later led to more conversations about storytelling, inspiration, encouragement and learning in a very natural way.
The untold story here is how a conversation like this can even happen. There's a story of networks and connections, a willingness for one teacher to publicly share practice and student work and another teaching actively seeking a better learning experience for her students. I'll take partial credit for the networking and connections. Part of my job is to connect learners.
The willingness of a teacher to share allows me to even know that this good work and good idea exists. Can I once again implore everyone to please share your work? It matters.
Finally, a teacher who sees herself as a learner, wants great things for her students and is open to ideas that will help them finished the story.
All these pieces were necessary for this to take place. This is no flat classroom type project, no massive project based learning example, just some teachers and students interested in storytelling and a desire to get better.
So Skype, for Skype's sake is just superfluous. This is about way more than technology. It isn't just about technology, but in some ways, it is.