Students who learn to collaborate effectively with others not only have richer educational experiences; they also have a distinct advantage in the 21 st century workplace. Today's educators use project-based learning activities to foster those collaborative skills, forming teams to address real-life challenges – from complex issues like global warming and bullying to starting their own businesses. Increasingly, those educators are taking collaboration to a new level using Skype in the Classroom to erase geographic borders and build cultural understanding.
We've heard countless stories about how teachers are using Skype in the Classroom, which not only facilitates collaboration, but serves as a resource for innovative lesson ideas. Teachers are using Skype to bring their lessons to life — taking classes on virtual field trips and hosting expert guest speakers.
As for the students participating in these activities, they're gaining a global perspective and are more engaged and invested in the learning process. It all adds up to a significant movement. Since the ad-free program was launched in 2011, it's added nearly 100,000 users. The program currently features over 10,000 lessons, and has hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes and Twitter followers.
Take the Washington, D.C. Public Schools' Embassy Adoption Program, for example. From traditional songs and dances to food and languages, the lessons embedded in this program enable students to meaningfully explore the diversity of the global community. Their work brings them together with peers throughout the D.C. area, and culminates in a global, mini-United Nations exercise.
Not surprisingly, diplomacy is a common theme among Skype in the Classroom projects. Students in Bangalore and Islamabad recently addressed the thorny issue of India-Pakistan relations by using Skype for a Virtual Dinner Guest project. Over a 60- to 90-minute meal – via Skype – students focused on what they had in common rather than what separated them – a meaningful first step in changing hearts and minds.
For special needs students, Skype in the Classroom can provide a much-needed connection to students with similar challenges. One recent project connected students from Kansas to virtual pen pals in Scotland. Participants not only explored other cultures, but gained helpful interviewing experience – a real boost for their communications skills.
Sometimes, Skype in the Classroom gives students access to professionals and government leaders, experts they would never have had contact with, even a decade ago. One group of Idaho college students recently met the Mayor of Herten, Germany, who shared his perspective on the German health care system and on the current unrest in the Ukraine. At the university level, this kind of interaction is a game-changer.
These are just a few of the thousands of ways teachers are using Skype to expand their students' perspectives and world. Whether the goal is building collaborative skills, exposing students to new cultures and ideas or simply creating a more engaging classroom, Skype in the Classroom can be every teacher's secret weapon. And for us at Microsoft, its proof-positive that – applied thoughtfully – technology can transform education.