For the past many years, my students have Skyped with classrooms around the world as we have tried to let others into our class. We have shared our love of books through the Global Read Aloud, we have guessed their location through Mystery Skype, and we have asked questions as we did market research for projects we are doing. Skype is a part of our classroom and I would not want it any other way. But every year I have to remind my students how to act while Skyping, to mind their Skype manners as we proceed. Not because they are poorly behaved but because for some, this is the first time they have worked with others in this way and there are things they may not be aware of.
So what follows are our tips for minding your Skype manners.
Make your purpose meaningful and clear. We not only discuss how we will be Skyping but why and what the expected outcome should be. This small discussion allows my students to see the potential of the experience they are about to have, rather than just roll with it and assume it will be great.
Have roles or questions prepared. For Mystery Skype, each of my students has a job that they have picked and are held accountable for, for other Skype calls they have prepared questions in advance. They write them on notecards and hand them to me and I hand them back when it is time to ask it, at the end we always leave time for extra questions to be asked that have popped up as we listened.
Have a way to introduce yourself. I usually give students this job and some time to prepare something about our class. This also serves as a reminder of what the purpose is of the call as they restate that.
Brief the audience on body language. I have a wide lens camera when we Skype which means a lot of the kids can be seen in the background. We therefore discuss what our body language should look like and also what is visible on camera. The students know that if their shoulders are slumped or head is down, even though it is just because they are realizing, it may send a message of disinterest to others.
Mind your tone. My 7th graders are pretty funny but sometimes their sense of humor does not translate well via Skype. We therefore always a have a discussion of tone and the words we choose before we Skype. A gentle reminder is often all that they need to be aware of how they sound and to speak in a way that suits our audience.
Introduce yourself always. The students always start out by saying their name and then maintaining eye contact throughout.
Stay while listening. Often the natural reaction of a student is to ask their questions and then sit down, however, we think it is important to stay and listen to the whole answer then thank the speaker.
Give them a task during besides just listening. I have had students doodle during a class, take notes, or even have a backchannel on Todaysmeet. This is not just to share our learning but to focus students in. Even the most exciting Skype call can wear a kid out, so having them do something while they are listening helps them stay engaged and will make the call more meaningful.
Debrief. After the call we tend to just move on, yet, part of the magic of Skype is discussing what you learned. After our Mystery Skypes the students debrief in an attempt to get better. Other calls can be debriefed via conversation, small group aggregation of information and then crowd sourcing information into a Padlet or Google doc. Do something after the call to acknowledge what just happened rather than just move on.
Finally, don’t be afraid to end a call. I have only had to end a call once in our years of Skyping but I am so glad I did. My students were trying to be funny but were really coming off as rude. I simply told the other teacher that due to their behavior we had to end the call. We then discussed as a class what to do better next time. It was a great lesson for the kids, particularly when the tables were turned a few weeks later and they felt the other class was being rude to them.