February 12, 2011

Skype with Water.org

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

Friday, February 11, 2011 – the day I brought Skype into my classroom!  I’m teaching an honors course this semester, EARTH 111U – Water: Science and Society.  It is a general education course designed for non-science majors.  One of my goals in the course is to introduce students to individuals and organizations that are working to address domestic and global water issues.  A quick internet search brought me to Water.org, a nonprofit organization committed to providing safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries.  I sent an email message through their website, proposing that someone from the organization Skype with my students about the work of Water.org, as they are located in Missouri and we are in Pennsylvania.  I quickly received a reply from Erin.  Erin and I did a quick Skype test between our computers, and a few days later, Erin was “virtually” in front of my students.

As a geologist, it is difficult for me not to share with you the amazing approach and success of Water.org – I’ll hold back on that for now.  What was just as amazing that day Erin appeared projected on a screen in front of the classroom was the impact on the students.  These are college-aged (with one adult) honors students – is there any technology left that could possibly impress them?  My students’ eyes were glued to the screen the entire time, except when they looked down to furiously take notes.  Erin did little “presenting” – we arranged the session to be more Q&A, and the students did not disappoint with quality questions that kept Erin enthusiastic and excited (we even went over the time we scheduled to connect).

Sure, not everything was perfect for that 40 minutes we were online.  Erin froze on the screen for a few seconds a couple of times, so we missed a few words.  I couldn’t get the lighting in the room to the exact level where she could see us the best.  And some of the students had to get out of their seats to go over to the computer (my MacBook Air) in the front of the room to ask their questions, so the microphone built into the computer could pick up their voice.  But are these tragedies?  Did this at all take away from the content or energy level of the connection?  Certainly not.

Erin’s last message to the group was to think of creative ways to become involved with Water.org and to share their work and message.  As soon as I disconnected the Skype session with Erin, the students immediately began suggesting ideas.  Why not create an educational lesson plan about the work of Water.org?  Why not create a Google Earth file that marks all the locations Water.org is doing their work?  I can’t wait to see what direction we go as a class in the future – thanks to Erin and Skype!