The last week or so, I’ve been working on a project that involves Skyping with students and classrooms from all across the United States. Our 4th graders are studying the U.S. and I thought it would be neat to get authentic research from someone who lived there, rather than just using books and online resources. This is the second year of the project and you would have thought I would have learned something. For a variety of reasons, mostly my fault, the project seemed to be more successful last year. Now, we’re not done yet, and we could make a strong push this last week and a half, but I wanted to let you know about a few things that you might want to keep in mind when attempting a big project like this.
1. Be aware of Time Zones. This wasn’t as much of an issue for me as last year, but it’s still something you can’t forget about. There was one interview we had scheduled this year, but I sent out the wrong time. Luckily, the teacher was able to work us back into their schedule and everything worked out. I can’t imagine what it must be like dealing with time zone differences more than a couple of hours.
2. Organizination is key. I tried to keep in constant contact with the teachers we would be communicating with so the potential for something to go wrong was minimal. I made a few mistakes when I originally set up my contact list from last year, but eventually got things worked out. However, don’t do what I did, and have 3 different lists of contacts. It’s not a good idea.
3. Plan on everything taking longer than you’d expect. Barring any technical difficulties (see #4) the interviews will take longer than expected. In some cases, the students are more talkative. In others, you get started a little later than expected. Regardless of the reason, I figured out I had to schedule the chats at least 20 minutes apart instead of the 15 I did in the past.
4. Technology is great – when it works. We used Skype for all of the video chats and for the most part, things worked okay. Some connections were better than others and the quality of the video and audio was good. In others, it was pretty choppy. In some cases we had Skype issues on one end and had to cancel the chats all together. In all but one case so far, we were able to reschedule. Regardless, I reasonably happy with how things are going.
5. Flexibility is key! Luckily, I’m in a position where I have large chunks of time during the day when I don’t have students. I know that’s not the case with a lot of people, but I can honestly say that the willingness of the teachers involved to work with our schedule has been pretty good. In several cases, teachers we were working with simply told us they’d work around our schedule. Some went as far as to say, “Tell us when to meet and we’ll stop what we’re doing to chat.” That’s awesome and very much appreciated. I do have to say the willingness of the two classroom teachers in my school to be flexible has been great as well. There have been times when I’ve called up to their rooms minutes before a scheduled chat and asked for a student. They’ve sent the child down with no issues. (Or at least no issues that I know of!)
6. Use your PLN and their PLN’s. Getting the word out about the project is probably the hardest thing to do. I started much later this year than last getting the information out. Last year, I posted information about the project all over the place. I wrote a blog post about it, used the Classroom 2.0 Ning, the Projects by Jen Ning, Global Schoolhouse Network and probably others I forgot about. This was both good and bad. It was great because a wide variety of educators heard about the project. It was bad because I had to make sure I remembered to visit the sites to check for comments. This was hard for me. While I did receive emails from the Nings when comments were made, I struggled (and did again) touching base with all interested educators. I also didn’t realize that you could close a discussion on a Ning, which I should have done because there were comments about particpating after the project was over last year. That’s part of learning, right? In addition to posting the information all over the place, several members of my PLN on Twitter retweeted the information to their PLN’s. This was very nice of them because in most cases, I didn’t ask – they just took a few seconds to help out.
The project is progressing. It’s not where I want it to be, but I highly doubt it will ever get there. The goal is obviously a class from every state, but I’m not sure it’ll ever happen. I do know that I have to do a better job communicating the project, much earlier in the school year, for it to be the success I want it to be.