Web Conferencing | Feature

Bringing the (Virtual) World to AP Lit

A Georgia high school teacher is giving her AP Lit students a taste of the "real world" virtually. She's using Skype to create modern-day field trips to help them make connections between classroom learning and the outside world while also meeting curriculum requirements.

There was a time when public school teachers were encouraged to take their students on field trips to experience the outside world during school hours. Museums, historical sites, and concert halls were just a few of the venues that helped teachers make connections between instruction and "real world" activities.

Budget cuts, time constraints, and liability issues have taken a toll on traditional field trips, but that hasn't stopped Shekema Silveri from using technology to expose her junior and senior AP Literature students to the world that lies beyond their textbooks.

Web Conferencing Technology
For the last year Silveri, chair of the English department at Mt. Zion High School in Jonesboro, GA, has been using Skype to connect outside speakers and instructors with her students in the classroom. For example, she recently used the Web-based videoconferencing software to help pupils meet her course's service learning requirement. Silveri connected with representatives from the Homeless World Cup Foundation, which supports a network of 73 international partner organizations that use soccer as a catalyst for improving the lives of homeless people, via the Web.

Silveri arranged a 55-minute video call with Deborah Ball, the organization's international partnerships manager, and Zakia Moulaoui, its schools and fundraising manager. Using a classroom computer, projection screen, webcam, and speakers, Silveri and her class got an inside view on how teaching soccer and management skills motivates homeless individuals to make changes in their lives.

Silveri initially used Skype as an affordable, in-house professional development option for Mt. Zion High School's English department and other teachers. "I saw it as a way to open up new opportunities and provide professional development – through either live or recorded conferences," said Silveri, "to teachers that didn't have the time, money, or resources to manage it individually."

Then Silveri realized that Skype could serve as a conduit between classroom instruction and real-life examples, speakers, and applications. Students are blocked from using Skype on school computers, but Silveri is not. She downloaded the software to a flash drive and then uploaded it to her own computer. "My school doesn't mind that I use Skype," she said, "but it also doesn't provide any support for the technology."

Exposing Students to the Real World Virtually
Silveri actively seeks out speakers who can discuss topics that are related to her class curriculum. She invites them to address her AP literature students in either 55-minute or 120-minute sessions. Students take notes during the conferences and then submit related classwork and/or homework assignments.

Being able to bring speakers into the classroom has helped Silveri reach beyond her Title I school's budgetary limits and access individuals whom her students wouldn't otherwise have contact with. In addition to the Homeless World Cup representatives, for example, college professors, research experts, and published authors have also connected with her students through the Web conferencing tool.

"It's critical that my students have exposure to people and topics that will help them be successful in college," said Silveri. "I want my pupils to have access to the best speakers and not just the ones that our district can afford."

Silveri's 3 Classroom Skype Tips

  1. Find speakers whose fields of expertise coincide with the class curriculum, current events, or service learning projects.
  2. Keep classroom time constraints and the guest's schedule in mind when setting up the calls.
  3. Test the computer, monitor, projection screen, speakers, and webcam before every call.

Silveri has parlayed that commitment into a number of online engagements. While working on National History Day projects, for example, Silveri's AP literature students were asked to examine the rhetoric behind historical stories. To help bring the assignment to life Silveri worked with Fort Scott, KS-based Lowell Milken Center, a student and teacher think-tank for celebrating unsung heroes in history. She organized an online conference with a project coordinator who discussed the value of conducting thorough research.

Silveri said such activities help students better grasp the classroom material. Plus, she said, "they simply love the fact that the speakers take the time out of their busy days to come and talk to them online." Most importantly, she said, the sessions are free to set up, easy to orchestrate, and require no bus trips, special permissions or financial commitments.

"As teachers, our hands really are tied because schools pretty much have an aversion to letting students leave the building," said Silveri. "Getting out is exactly what students need to get ready for college and for the real world."

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