Why force students to yawn over a textbook when a real-life native speaker is only a Skype call away? At Marquette University, Spanish students hone their foreign language skills with frequent webcam chats with their English-learning counterparts in South America.
"I absolutely fell in love with this program," wrote one student. Professor Janet Banhidi, the brains behind the virtual language exchange, said Skype conversation gives students a surprisingly authentic experience. As a teacher (and fluent speaker), she can only give her students limited 1-on-1 attention. With Skype, every student has weekly access to a free personal tutor.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of using Skype is the radical increase in motivation. A whopping 85.3% of Janet's students kept in touch with their digital pen-pals outside of the classroom through Facebook. "In the end, the best part of this exchange was gaining a friend who I still today talk with on Facebook" said one student. Additionally, though some of her students enroll to simply fulfill a language requirement, many participants have gone on to major in Spanish from the experience. Students who go above and beyond mandatory assignments will be more likely to remember class material and apply it when they get out into the working world.
Matt Hardy, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher in Minnesota, describes the "giddy" response he gets from students when he introduces blogs. He started using blogs in his classroom in 2007 as a way to motivate students to write.
“Students aren’t just writing on a piece of paper that gets handed to the teacher and maybe a smiley face or some comments get put on it," he says. “Blogging was a way to get students into that mode where, 'Hey, I’m writing this not just for an assignment, not just for a teacher, but my friend will see it and maybe even other people [will] stumble across it.' So there’s power in that.”
Delmatoff says that at first her students were worried they would get in trouble for playing because they actually enjoyed doing activities like writing a blog.
“But writing a blog, that’s not playing, that’s hard work,” she says. “Karl and I started thinking we were really on to something if kids were thinking that their hard academic work was too much fun.”
Her students started getting into school early to use the computer for the social media program, and the overall quality of their work increased. Although Delmatoff is adamant that there’s no way to pin her class’s increased academic success specifically to the pilot program, it’s hard to say that it didn’t play a part in the more than 50% grade increase.
Orono Middle School has a great tech wiki that can be used by students and teachers alike. The tech wiki is a great place to ask questions, and find answers. It includes interactive tutorials on a number of subjects, as well as provides information for students.
Caitlin Cahill (@CCahillMN), one of the technology folks at Orono Middle School, suggested that it is possible to use Twitter in the classroom to help students learn about a certain subject. Students compete to find resources, and be the first to post to Twitter. It’s like a kind of scavenger hunt, and it teaches students research skills.