International Opinion

Videoconferencing: Take Your Students Back to the Future

By Anthony Jackson — November 16, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Remember in Back to the Future II when Marty McFly goes forward in time? He travels to the year 2015. While kids may not have hoverboards or flying cars in the next two years, they already have handheld computers and the ability to videoconference as Marty did.

Children today see and interact with far-away relatives before they can even talk. It’s a wonderful thing. So why does it stop in so many classrooms?

One of the ways we encourage schools and extended learning organizations to connect with the world is by partnerships with other schools and classes around the world.

Skype has created a low-cost, easy way to do this through Skype in the Classroom. For those with Apple hardware Facetime is a great option. While those with Androids have a host of apps to choose from. Whichever service, students will be engaged in learning through technology and teachers can become facilitators.

Here are some ways teachers are using videoconferencing to link their classrooms to the world. The idea with any project is to go beyond an initial “meet and greet” conversation and engage in deeper project work.

Project ideas:

  • For younger students, ask them to bring in objects for show and tell that can allow them to open up and get over their initial shyness. But ask them to bring in something that relates to where they live or something they can use as part of a demonstration—models, food for a cooking demonstration, etc.

  • Writing a book together is another way to collaborate across borders. Clyde Erwin Elementary Magnet School in Jacksonville, North Carolina, connects with its sister school in Puebla, Mexico, through Elluminate, a Web conferencing program that also uses an interactive white board. Staff members won a grant to help Clyde Erwin learners and their counterparts in Puebla collaborate on a book-authoring and -publishing project. They collaboratively published a book about “Canela” and “Erwin,” two teddy bears (one from each school) who visited each other’s country and had interesting adventures. The book was published in both English and Spanish.

  • Speaking to an expert is a great way to make learning real. Math scholars at Walter Payton high school in Chicago, connected with a mathematician in Switzerland. Students in Roosevelt High School in Portland, OR spoke with Gandhi’s grandson as part of their unit on genocide. Skype in the classroom can help you make connections to various authors and experts.

  • If you can’t find an expert, what about a college student studying abroad? The Cultural Correspondents program in North Carolina, connects K-8 classrooms with a local student studying abroad and provides curricular materials for the classroom teacher.

  • Online debate is one way to explore culture. Students at Washington Latin PCS did just that with students in Qatar through an exercise facilitated through the Qatar Foundation. Younger pupils can do presentations on the same subject to compare perspectives. For instance, Sugar Creek Elementary School students in Verona, Wisconsin researched Martin Luther King, Jr., as did their peers in Moreland Primary School in England. After sharing their presentations, students on each side of the ocean gained a fresh perception.

  • Students could play music with others around the world. If that is not possible, students can also listen together to a live concert online and analyze it. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra just announced that it will begin broadcasting virtual concerts.

  • You often hear of students making movies and sharing them online, but what if students created their own online radio station? They can research music from around the world and create shows around musical themes, mixing genres and years. They can share it widely with students around the world and have online live listening parties.

  • This is a great example from Ariel Schwartz, who witnessed a classroom playing “mystery Skype.” Students were connected to a classroom somewhere else in the world and they used maps and logic to locate the other classroom. They also live-blogged their findings, allowing them to practice technology, teamwork, and communications skills simultaneously.

  • Google Hangouts allows you to save your sessions and presentations. Students could have their own channel and create their own online portfolio of work from kindergarten through graduation.

Whichever option you chose, know that you are helping to give students a bright future. Now, about those flying cars....

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Global Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

International Global Test Finds Digital Divide Reflected in Math, Science Scores
New data from the 2019 Trends in International Math and Science Study show teachers and students lack digital access and support.
3 min read
Image of data.
International Pre-COVID Learning Inequities Were Already Large Around the World
A new international benchmarking highlights gaps in training for digital learning and other supports that could deepen the challenge for low-income schools during the pandemic.
4 min read
International Part of Global Trend, 1 in 3 U.S. High Schoolers Felt Disconnected From School Before Pandemic
UNESCO's annual report on global education progress finds countries need to make more effort to include marginalized students, particularly in the United States.
4 min read
International How Schools in Other Countries Have Reopened
Ideas from Australia, Denmark, and Taiwan can help American district and school leaders as they shape their reopening plans.
11 min read
Students at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan, perform The Little Mermaid in full costume and masks.
Students at the Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan, perform The Little Mermaid in full costume and masks.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Rhoades/Taipei American School