Teaching Remotely with Skype

The other day I was unable to attend my senior seminar.  I was prepared to let the class go on without me—we had planned a discussion that the students were well prepared to carry out (four students each gave a short presentation which spurred a somewhat longer discussion prior to moving on to the next short presentation; designated notetakers would summarize for the group).  The class was perfectly capable of doing this without my presence.

Then it occurred to me that we have access to Skype both in the seminar room and on my laptop (as well as that of many of the students).  We had prepared to use Skype during one of the snow days last week, but school ended up being open.  The students opened Skype in the seminar room, opened a conversation with me, and we carried on very well.  One student used Prezi for his presentation.  I was able to follow along by watching a copy of his prezi (which he had linked to from the course wiki) and clicking based on his verbal cues.  It was just like being there.  All four presentations took place very well along with the associated discussion.  I chimed in with questions and comments just as I would have in person.  The class session was very much a success.

What were the negatives?  We didn’t have full video, but that didn’t seem to matter.  I’ll need to compare the class notes with ‘normal’ sessions to see if there was any drop-off in the quality.  I couldn’t read the body language of the speakers which ordinarily helps me guide discussion.  And they couldn’t read mine.  The format for the day lent itself well to Skype participation.  Others wouldn’t.  Today I’m going to ask them to draw conclusions from the two days of presentations, which would be harder to do remotely since students could more easily evade my questions and I wouldn’t have the visual cues to help.  (I typically will just stare quietly at a person until they respond.)

Still, Skype took what could have been a lost day or a weak day and turned it into an all but normal class session.

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