The Internet has revolutionized communication.
Letters used to take days. Long-distance calls were costly and only audio-based.
Today, things are different. With e-mail, social networks, video chat, voice over IP phone service and more, people can be more connected than ever before — and at a fraction of the cost.
So can classrooms.
Using a high-speed Internet connection and a computer, students can connect to the world in ways that were previously unimaginable — or highly cost-prohibitive. The tools are out there. As teachers, we just have to know what they are and how they work. (And if we don’t know how they work, we can probably just ask our students!)
Here are five ways your students can reach the world in ways previously unfathomable:
1. Class blogs
Blogs have quickly become a favorite of mine. They connect students to each other — and to the world. They use those social media skills that students have honed for years. It’s a more comfortable medium for writing for students than many of the traditional ones.
People from the world over — other cities, other states, other countries — can bring diverse perspectives to the classroom and take student learning and experiences to the next level.
I’m a fan of KidBlog. It’s free and has many options that teachers want. Setting classes up with blogs can be done in minutes. Blogs — and the comments left on them — can be as private or as public as teachers want. I have heard good things about using Blogger with Google Apps for Education as well.
(Note: I presented on student blogging during several educational technology conferences over the summer, and all the resources are available here.)
If your students blog publicly, Comments4Kids is a great resource to connect students to a real, authentic audience. Interaction is what has made social media so popular. When students can connect with their readers, they can get that same thrill in academic writing as they do when their Facebook posts get lots of comments and likes.
To utilize Comments4Kids, Twitter is the best and easiest option. (Not signed up for Twitter yet? No problem. Click here.) Post a new tweet with the URL of the student blog post encouraging others to check it out, and make sure to include the #comments4kids hashtag in your tweet. This tweet connects students with potential commenters that follow the #comments4kids hashtag as well as others who follow the Twitter account that posted the message.
Use e-mail, school newsletters and more to spread the message about your students’ blogging to encourage more comments.
Twitter can be used for more than connecting to Comments4Kids. So many great authorities of school content are on Twitter: authors, scientists, historians, college professors, astronauts, poets and more. Using a class Twitter account or students’ own personal ones, they can ask questions and connect with the real movers and shakers of what they’re studying.
It can also connect a classroom to a different culture. Twitter is used worldwide. If you can find someone from a culture you’re studying, the insight into that person’s living conditions, daily life and perspectives could be very powerful.
These three video chat options are free and can turn classroom discussions global. Any of the aforementioned authorities of classroom content could connect with your classroom via video chat and give students a real interaction with someone they might not ever meet otherwise.
Skype offers its Skype in the Classroom site where teachers can create requests to connect with other classrooms and with guest speakers. Personal requests for video chats to individuals work without the Skype in the Classroom channel. I’ve heard of athletes — even Shaquille O’Neal in one example — video chatting with classrooms. You never know until you ask!
5. Creating a website
In the past, student projects often have had limited audiences. A student works hard and completes a great project only to have it seen by the teacher during grading. Maybe a few classes if it’s a poster hung on the wall. Sites like Weebly gives students a larger reach in their work. Students can create their own websites and post their work, benefiting anyone who searches and finds the site instead of just the few sets of eyes who see their work at school.
Weebly’s education site allows students to create websites with multiple pages and different kinds of content. It’s free and immediately gives students a more global audience than the “turn it in and you’re done” type of project.
What are other ways that classrooms can connect to the world online? Post your ideas in a comment below!