Wednesday, January 7, 2009

CMS: Harvard Expert "visits" CMS

Recently Meg Berkowitz, English teacher at CMS, used Skype to connect her students to an expert in Renaissance Literature at Harvard University. Here is her story about the experience...

After a few years of doing the same research project on Elizabethan England where kids were put into groups and asked to research one aspect of Elizabethan culture and present it back to the class (via PowerPoint, no less!), I decided that the project needed to be "spiced up" a bit. Last year I made a few changes to it by turning it into a webquest, however I still felt that the kids needed more of an opportunity to make their own inquiries based on the questions that they had about this topic.

As a result, I enlisted the help of Christine Barrett, a doctoral candidate at Harvard University who specializes in Renaissance Literature. Ms. Barrett agreed to be "interviewed" by students over Skype which allowed them to ask the questions that they most wanted answered. Prior to the interview, I asked each of my classes to compile a list of the questions that they thought were most imperative to ask. They were also allowed to ask additional follow up questions on the day of Ms. Barrett's presentation.

After the presentation, students completed a newspaper project where they created stories based on the information they learned during the presentation, combined with any supplemental research they did on the era. The students really seemed to enjoy the presentation and liked having the opportunity to talk to an expert in the field.


I found that Skype was really easy to use and very user friendly. I loved that I didn't have to shuffle all 100 students down to the auditorium for a guest speaker; by using Skype I was able to seamlessly transition in between my lesson and Christine's presentation. Also, it was much more of a casual conversation than that of a formal presentation which seemed to be more engaging to the students, considering that they were driving the "conversation" with the questions that they had compiled.

What I found the most interesting, though was the comfort level that the students had using this technology. Even something as minute as proving wait time in between when they said hello and when they asked their question proved that this form of communication is not nearly as foreign as it is to us. Put it this way... I had every technological mishap possibility running through my head for days prior to this. On the actual day, we got cut off for a brief moment and I had to call Christine back. I was sweating bullets; not one of them batted an eye. Why? Because it happens to them all the time.

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