The students were hurrying to collect their data so that they could compare them with other groups in the class -- and, it turned out, with the results 'from Toronto'. 'Toronto?' I asked, a little confused. 'What do you mean?'
I was told that the class was linked via Skype to a chemistry class in a high school outside Canada's largest city, which was doing the exact same experiment. 'Go have a look', one of the Russian kids said, nodding his head toward a computer monitor on a nearby table that showed a row of beakers much like those on the tables near me. The Russian student turned on the nearby microphone, called out a name ... and two heads popped up on the screen, attached to bodies halfway around the world. The students greeted each other, made a quick joke about the Maple Leafs and Ak Bars (the respective local hockey teams), and then started discussing the experiment.
The teacher later told me that she had been communicating with teachers in other countries whom she had found on the Internet and had been using Skype for about a year to connect to some of their classrooms, in order to demonstrate to her kids how science is really a global language, and how important it is to share your findings with the whole world. The local education officials who were with me on the school tour got very excited about all of this -- they had never seen such a thing. Yes, when I think about it, it is pretty neat, the teacher responded. Despite the occasional communication problem or technical glitch, however, her students really didn't really think this was a very big deal. Many of them were used to playing videogames with kids in other countries over the Internet already, she said, and to them this was in some ways just more of the same.
A post on the EduTech blog last week offered ten comments, questions and perspectives on connecting students and teachers around the world to each other to facilitate such 'virtual exchanges'. Here are ten more:
[As I noted when presenting the earlier list: I don't pretend to be an 'expert' on this stuff -- although I have learned from many folks whom I think probably deserve such a label) -- and no doubt there is at least one potential exception to every rule of thumb or guideline or piece of advice I present below. As with the earlier list, I make no claims to comprehensiveness; some important things are no doubt discussed incompletely, and others perhaps not at all. That said, hopefully there is something here that some of you might find useful -- or which provokes you in useful ways.]