Pie in the Skype?

Contrary to what many people might think about Japan, technology is not something that is embraced all too widely in education. So when an opportunity arose to engage in an online exchange with a junior high school in Japan, I jumped at the chance. After teacher visits to our school to strengthen relationships, multiple emails to ponder and plan, and Skype sessions between teachers at home, we were set to go.

But, teachers in Queensland state school do not have access to Skype. It is physically impossible, without going outside the network, to use Skype as a tool in the classroom.

I don’t like to use brand names. Of course there are alternatives to Skype. But the ones to which I am allowed access have been inferior. My criteria: they failed to connect two digitally competent teachers in two highly developed countries.

The main issue I see with “the other” platforms that I have used is their monolingual-ness. Ironic, because one of the aims of connecting students with their peers across borders and oceans, is to develop appreciation and understanding of others, to develop global citizens who will be able to survive and thrive in an increasingly borderless, mobile, multilingual and multicultural world.

But we, the English imperialists, must force upon our non-English speaking peers, a platform with which they are not familiar, in a language which is not their first. They must overcome technical difficulties while dissecting technical language which is difficult for the best of us in our native tongue.

The concern, apparently, is one of safety. I don’t want my students to have Skype. They will not have control of the virtual lesson, just as they do not have control (input, yes, autonomy, yes, but not control) of the class. Just like having a guest speaker in the class, caring and well-qualified teachers take all precautions to ensure the safety of their students.  I will put in the many hours it will take to prepare the interactions, to discuss with the partner teacher the best approaches for ensuring each class is reaping the benefits, and create lesson plans and resources. A virtual exchange, I know, will take many hours above and beyond the duration of the exchange itself. But, despite being a teacher that WANTS to spend many hours on top of my normal workload, to implement a program that aligns with the aims of many school jurisdictions to develop global citizens, (and in particular in my part of the world to develop ‘Asia literate’ citizens) I am still not afforded the simple request to use a piece of software in my classroom.

Wasn’t part of the rationale of the NBN rollout to enable more communication between our students and students in other parts of Asia? Doesn’t our current PM want 40% of students learning a language in the next decade? And yet here we have a free, user-friendly, multilingual tool that could be used, with planning and supervision, to facilitate the development of relationships between students in all corners of the globe.

The lack of trust in my skills as a teacher is demeaning. The frustration in trying for 8 months to get a working solution (using many avenues) is draining. But telling my students that the virtual exchange I’ve been talking about all year won’t happen, is depressing.

I guess we could always do pen pals….

Addendum: One of the alternatives we tried was an asynchronous video exchange. We created a 4-minute video to send to Japan. The file was too big to email, so the best alternative (short of sending it in the mail) was to put it into cloud storage. I had to go home and use my own bandwidth to upload to storage, because guess what else I don’t have access to???


*What is the Skype policy in your school or jurisdiction?
*Not allowed to use Skype? Why not?
*Have you successfully used another platform for online, real time exchange?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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