Guest post by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education: Learning without borders — Global Skype-a-thon builds cultural understanding and connection

Guest post by Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft

Technology and new pedagogy models are changing learning in and out of the classroom. What hasn't changed, however, is the power of connection, the impact of discovery and the importance of curiosity to spark achievement.

In a world that is increasingly connected economically but more fractured culturally, the ability to unite students across the globe to celebrate and embrace learning from each other has never been more critical.

Today's educators must not only impart skills and knowledge, they must also play a key role in developing students into global citizens – prepared for a shifting workplace and an increasingly complex society.

With this in mind, we launched a 48-hour Global Skype-a-thon (December 3rd-4th) to help thousands of teachers and students take a major step on that journey. And WOW, what a journey it was.

Our goal was for students to travel 1 million virtual miles, connecting with peers, experts and experiences on all five continents. But thanks to the dedicated and heroic educators who contributed to this global movement, we far exceeded that goal, reaching an astounding 3 million virtual miles by the end of the event. They did it by playing Mystery Skype, going on virtual field trips and meeting expert guest speakers — activities all designed to celebrate learning without borders.

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Sharing the enthusiasm of many of the classrooms I visited, I decided to spend an "all-nighter" on Skype. For 24 hours, I virtually visited 33 participating classrooms, from Australia to Argentina, Korea to Kenya and the UK to the US. Here's what a few educators have shared about the experience:

Skype-a-thon gave us an opportunity to discover and understand that we are part of the global community and that our challenges are so interconnected.

– David Kenya, Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

The excitement surrounding the Global Skype-a-thon was tremendous. My students benefitted not only from the incredible learning experiences they had with students around the world, but also through the new perspective they developed as global citizens. With each connection to classrooms in India, Malaysia, Kenya, Serbia, and around the United States, my students began to see how interconnected we were and how important it is for our future to work together to overcome cultural differences. Global collaboration is what is going to solve our problems in the future, and I'm thrilled that this experience allowed my students the opportunity to see
how powerful they are in helping to find solutions.

Michael Soskil, USA

I had great discussions with the students and educators: we laughed, shared insights from our cultures, and I even got a chance to meet a few blue-tongued lizards, do an Irish jig and have a virtual high-five. Sleep was never needed as the excitement I felt each time I connected with a new classroom more than kept me energized.

At Redfields School, in a remote part of Kivali, India, one educator made it his mission to complete the full 2 days with his students, logging more than a million miles. An educator in Australia traveled to 23 classrooms in one day – reaching both distant countries and a classroom in the school next door. One class event went on a penguin adventure in Antarctica, 9,000 miles away. Here are more examples from classrooms across the globe:

Skype-a-thon brought the WW2 Museum in New Orleans into our rural Irish classroom in Galway, bridging the 4,261 miles between us and bringing learning to life.

– Kate Murray, Ireland

My students were amazed by the experience. As they viewed the instruments, music, dance, and traditional dress of another culture; their eyes were filled with enjoyment. By the end of the Skype session, they were able to list the names of each item viewed and compare and contrast with our local culture. Their number one question was, 'When will be able to host our very own Skype session — can we start now?' The walls came down and learning went up!

– Sharell Edwards, Bahamas

Skype-a-thon gave my students an opportunity to see the real world. Sharing insights, ideas and experiences made them realize that we can be as one though we have different colors and races. Joining a Skype-a-Thon this year was an unforgettable experience for my students which they can be proud of.

– Erliza Matacot, Philippines

Verne did it in 80 days, we did it in 2 days. Skype-a-thon made every traveler equal – no passports, no boundaries, no limitations.

– Koen Timmers, Belgium

Skype-a-thon was 45 minutes of excitement and life learning! We talked about the will to live safely… One of my students summed up the meeting with these words: 'So different and so similar…When will we meet again?'

– Karina Batat, Israel

I am in awe of the amazing teachers who provided an opportunity to connect their students with classrooms and leaders from around the world…and humbled by my own personal involvement — the friends met, stories shared, and learning received.

What I learned from this experience – and what we all can learn – is that these connections forge lasting impressions for students. Through the power of Skype, students instantly made friends in far-away classrooms. They visited places they would likely never have the opportunity to see in person. And they interacted with experts who sparked imaginations and brought curriculum to life.

When countries and cultures go from being points on a map or paragraphs in a textbook, something magical happens. Learning becomes personal. Using tools like Skype to expose our students to the world's diversity helps them connect with ideas and people with open minds and hearts.

After our 3-million-mile virtual journey, I can't help but feel confident that real learning transformation is taking place, and that today's students are gaining the perspective, insights and empathy needed to create a better world.

Long live learning.

— Anthony


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