Using Skype to expand minds and classrooms

MIE Expert Steve Auslander posing with a student.

Steve Auslander is an Indianapolis-based 5th grade teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, and a Skype Master Teacher who says tools like social media and Skype have revolutionized his teaching, and inspired his students to stand up for causes they believe in.

“We can completely break down the four walls of our classroom and connect our students with experts and with other students around the world,” Steve says. Steve points to his class’ involvement with the Beagle Freedom Project – an organization dedicated to rescuing beagles and other animals used in animal testing and giving them a chance at loving forever homes.

After Steve saw a video on Facebook about the organization, he set up a Skype session between his students and Beagle Freedom Project founder Lorna Campbell. Moved by the session, his class created a presentation for Indiana State Senator John Ruckelshaus, with the goal of asking him to sponsor the Beagle Freedom Bill. The bill has already been passed in five US states and requires that all healthy dogs be adopted out after testing. Steve says that his students’ presentation was so powerful, it convinced Senator Ruckelshaus to go forward with the bill.

“He just reached out to me that the draft is ready to go with the chance of it becoming a state law in Indiana in 2018,” Steve says. “It’s an amazing first step, and it happened because of a powerful Skype lesson and some inspired fifth graders who took action.”

Since that initial and successful Skype session, Steve has also introduced Lorna Campbell to Skype in the Classroom, meaning educators across the world can register for a lesson with her and her beagle, Belle, to get behind the Beagle Freedom Project.

Educators across the world can embrace all kinds of causes with the help of online communication. Steve and his class will also participate in Microsoft’s annual Skype-a-Thon, running November 28 through 29. They’ll be joining thousands of other participants around the world and contributing to the goal of travelling over 10 million virtual miles, expanding student hearts and minds along the way.

Steve has plenty in the works for the 48-hour event, but says he’s most excited about the “Global Pop Culture Kahoot Game,” a game his class will play over Skype screen sharing. They’ll be “competing in a spirited test of global pop culture” by creating and completing digital quizzes alongside students from the USA, Canada, Argentina, Nigeria, South Africa, Norway, Puerto Rico and Wales.

“The major point of this experience is to show the kids that despite our varied backgrounds, continents, religions, etcetera, most of us know about Star Wars and Taylor Swift,” Steve says. “We’re more alike than we are different! This point is important in making our world a better place and it illustrates the theme of Skype-a-Thon 2017: ‘Open Hearts. Open Minds.’”

To join Steve in incorporating Skype into your classroom, follow @MSFTEduChat to get involved in the Skype-a-Thon focused TweetMeet, happening on November 21st at 10:00 a.m. PST. And remember: Skype-a-Thon is on November 28 and 29.

You can also follow Microsoft Education on Twitter to join in our online community or join in on the conversation on Twitter with the following hashtags: #skypeathon and #MicrosoftEDU.