Friday, September 18, 2009

Using Skype to Connect ESOL Students with Foreign Language Students

Last Tuesday I facilitated a Skype conference call between Mrs. Baker's ESOL class and Mrs. Whittier's Spanish class. Unfortunately, I had duty in the morning and had limited time to set up the equipment.

I used a logitech usb webcam for the video feed feed and a Blue Snowball usb microphone for audio. The laptop is a Dell Vostro 1500 with 2 gigabytes of ram. We used the screen on the laptop for the video. We also used the built in speakers on the laptop for sound.We were using our wireless access for the internet. I wanted Mrs. Baker's students to be in their room so Mrs. Whittier's class could see the class environment.

There are several things I plan to change for the next Skype call. The first is making sure I have powered audio. We had a difficult time hearing Mrs. Whittier's students through the excited chatting. The second would be to run the video through a projector. Although the video stream isn't exactly great, it would still make it easier for the students to watch. I would also change from our webcam to my digital camcorder with my macbook. Our video stream would improve greatly that way.

To record the Skype call next time I will use CamStudio (Thanks to the recommendation by Eric Langhorst!). I had planned on using Jing Pro, but realized too late that it would only record 5 minutes of video. Obviously, this meant I did not get any screen capture video of our meeting :<.

If you are planning on doing a conference call, here are some things to think about. Make sure you have an alternate (non internet) means of contacting the people you are skyping. I would suggest a phone number. See this post for how I learned that lesson. Also, do a practice call so the bugs can be worked out. I was having problems with my Snowball microphone on our practice call and had time to find a solution before the actual call.

Here is the view the students had of the call.
Here you can see Mrs. Whittier on the screen.

Notice how the students were focused on the other class.Here is a screen capture of Mrs. Whittier's class waving goodbye at the end of the call. You can see our video feed in the bottom right corner.

Here is some video. Plese forgive the poor quality.

I was very pleased with content of the meeting. Mrs. Whittier's class wanted to learn about schools in Mexico. We have several students that have attended schools in Mexico so they were very valuable resources. Mrs. Whittier also wanted her students to have authentic experiences with the Spanish language. They had the opportunity through the call to talk to native Spanish speakers.

In return, Mrs. Baker's students had the opportunity to learn about school in Virginia. The school Mrs. Whittier teaches at the Fredericksburg Academy is a private school that is very different from our school. Our students learned about some of those differences, but also learned that both groups of students had many similarities.

Overall, I thought the meeting went extremely well and we plan to continue the conversation later in the year. If you would like your class to skype with one of our 3-8 classes, feel free to contact me and we will set it up!

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