March 19, 2011

Once, twice, three times Skype in one day!

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

Friday, March 18, was a record day for me – with Skype, that is.

My morning began Skyping (is this even a word?) with Callan Bentley (@callanbentley) at North Virginia Community College (and allow me to put in a plug for his geoblog, Mountain Beltway).  Callan and I are putting together a session proposal for the Fall 2011 AGU conference in San Francisco in December.  We were originally thinking of doing something focusing on teaching and research issues for two-year colleges.  But we immediately got “distracted” with a discussion about uses of social media in geoscience education.  Twitter, Facebook, blogs… everyone is doing something, somewhere, with social media!  So be on the lookout for an AGU session on Uses of Social Media for Geoscience Education and Outreach.  This should be really exciting!

Next, I shifted to bringing Skype into my classroom (@SkypeClassroom) for the founder of Three Avocados (@nonprofitcoffee) to have a virtual chat with my EARTH 111U course, an honors course addressing Water: Science and Society.  Joe was kind enough to share how and why he founded a company that sells coffee to help support water sanitation efforts in Uganda.  Just like our last Skype session with @water, I was impressed with the impact a Skype session with an outside speaker can have on students.  And I want to emphasize the word “chat” – there were no prepared PowerPoints or speeches.  Both Joe and my students exchanged questions, responses, and comments.  We had a short time after the session for classroom discussion, and I look forward to reading the reflections my students write about the chat.

In the evening, I used Skype to talk to a former student from my campus.  Crystal graduated from Penn State Brandywine a couple of years ago and is now teaching English as a First Language in Japan.  After the massive 7.2 and 9.0 earthquakes hit, I saw Crystal in gmail and chatted with her to see if she was OK.  Fortunately, she is!  Then I asked if there was anything that I could do from my end to help her, and she said she could use some dinosaur facts to share with the kids she teaches (elementary school).  Well, it just so happens that I’m teaching EARTH 150 – Dinosaur Extinctions and Other Controversies, this semester!  I offered to have each of my students write letters to her students about dinosaurs, and we decided to Skype to work out the details of the project.  Skyping (again, a word?) made our project planning advance so much quicker than if we had tried to arrange this all via email.  I can’t wait to get my students started on writing letters to these Japanese children, not only to share their knowledge of dinosaurs, but to help the students focus on something else besides earthquakes/tsunami/nuclear reactors, if even only for a moment.

Using Skype to connect to Virginia, Missouri, and Japan, to collaborate with a geoscience colleague, non-profit organization, and a campus alum – what a day!