Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Inclusion via Skype

We are living in a remarkably dynamic and interesting era of learning. Our present age bridges the "read-only" educational paradigm of the 19th and 20th centuries and the "new read-only and read-write" paradigms of the 21st. The entire concept of user created content published for a global audience was completely outside the lexicon of educators in the previous two centuries. Today, however, learners of all ages are discovering the amazing power of publishing formats like blogs, podcasts, wikis, and digital social networking environments.


The ability to "publish at will" your thoughts, reflections, ideas and opinions for a global audience is an amazingly powerful but also highly disruptive skill. The potential effect of these technologies in empowering citizen journalists is tremendous. Those who create content for others also bear some responsibility for the ideas and the effects of those ideas when they are shared with others, however. Websites like (especially in its introductory Flash video) are replete with examples of POOR CHOICES when it comes to the use of digital technologies to communicate and share ideas. Issues of digital ethics and digital citizenship are vital to not only discuss but also PRACTICE with learners of all ages. That is why conversations about "safe digital social networking" and the ways educators as well as parents are helping young people (and each other) learn about the safe, appropriate and fun uses of digital technologies is and will be an enduring need now and in the years ahead.

Desktop videoconferencing technologies like Skype, which permit ad-hoc videoconferences between people using internet-connected computers, webcams and microphones, are aptly characterized by some as "disruptive technologies" which many organizational IT departments fear and resist. The value and power of connecting people both synchronously and asynchronously through voice as well as videoconferencing technologies can be amazing, however. Why do we have all these Internet connections and technology devices in our schools after all, if not to use them to connect learners to valuable content and also TO EACH OTHER?

This latter ideal is exemplified well through the work of Brian Crosby and his 4th grade students in at Agnes Risley Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada. The Washoe School District is the second largest in Nevada. After learning of a new, homebound 4th grade student in his class who has leukemia, Mr. Crosby found the resources to connect the student to her classroom from home using Internet connected computers, webcams, and Skype. The five minute video his 4th grade students created about this innovative "Inclusion" strategy is precious. Take some time to watch the video and then leave a comment on the blog page for the students!

In his February 7th update about this project, Mr. Crosby writes:
Videoconferencing works really well for certain types of lessons – brainstorming for writing (which was our first activity on the first day) works well for example – and Celest seems to be able to follow along pretty well in math - I use several web sites to have students practice multiplication facts and she is able to be just one of the students in class when we do that also. Other types of lessons we will have to work out how best to include her. I really want to try involving her in group discussions for example – and I think we can get her in music class too – the music room might be close enough to one of our wireless hubs that I can carry the laptop and web cam in so she can sing along – the music teacher is game, so we will give it a try.

What a great example of a teacher using creativity and available resources to open doors of learning not only for the homebound student, but also for every other learner in the classroom, that wouldn't have been open otherwise! Kudos to the 4th grade learners and producers of the film (including the homebound student) and Mr. Crosby for fantastic work. "Inclusion via Skype." It wouldn't have been possible even a few years ago. But today it is.

I wonder if we'll see any parents requesting "Skype connections to the classroom" on their child's IEP?! Carol Anne McGuire, who teaches children with visual impariments, already has some parents requesting podcasting on their child's IEP. Used effectively, Skype might join the list of assistive and enabling technologies that can open doors of learning possibilities for every child with special needs (because every child IS special and unique) in the years ahead.