Skype-a-Thon participation surges as educators use virtual connections to teach empathy, compassion and opportunity

When just one child is excited and curious to learn about the world, it’s an achievement.  When a whole classroom is engaged, it’s something worth celebrating. And when nearly half a million students from over 90 countries are captivated to share and learn together over 48 hours, it could be called an inspiration!

On November 28th and 29th thousands of educators traveled 14,512,448 virtual miles over Skype to connect their students around the world. They shared projects and school activities with other classrooms, took virtual field trips to museums, zoos and businesses, and sang and danced to share cultural traditions. It was all part of Microsoft’s Third Annual Skype-a-Thon, a global event to encourage educators to expand the walls of their classroom and open the hearts and minds of students by exposing them to different people and places around the world.

Over the 48 hours it was amazing to see the warmth and excitement of thousands of new friends being made through these live human connections. These experiences instilled hope for greater empathy and compassion for people all over the world, and they can shift perceptions about important global issues and unforeseen career opportunities.

Some of the most inspiring moments emerge during cultural exchanges. While classrooms share what makes their home unique, students quickly take to heart what so many educators are trying to teach them through these global connections: “We are more alike than we are different.”

The free virtual field trips hosted by our 200 Skype in the Classroom partners, who doubled down with extra staff and volunteers and worked extended hours to provide enough sessions and share their amazing artifacts, animals and sites, were just as inspiring. “I’m so excited to visit the zoo, as I’ve never been to one before!” said Jack, age 5. Students embarked on virtual field trips around the world, to many places they’d never visited before. In their virtual travels, students are learning appreciation for history, innovation, conservation, sustainability, and many other important facets of life.

Many classrooms connected with professionals in technology, with guest experts shedding light on the digital transformation we are witnessing today.  Artificial Intelligence, Augmented and Virtual Reality and careers in tech were hot topics.

The global guessing game of Mystery Skype, Mystery Animal and/or Mystery Number played a big role again this year, as the way for classrooms to open their connections with others.  As this game continues to grow popular around the world, students are becoming more and more clever with their choices, and more precise with their “yes or no” questions.

Students had many conversations about what they could do to help expose more schools and friends to these kinds of global connections, revealing evidence of this event inspiring greater compassion and empathy.  They discussed ideas about how to expand the Skype-a-Thon to achieve a truly global classroom, all in one day.  And they were interested in how to bring the Internet and devices to remote places, so every student could have access to learning.

Several educators took the 48-hour, 10-million-mile challenge to heart.  Some schools visited over 50 countries and a few traveled nearly 500,000 miles themselves. Students came to school early, stayed late, and some schools even had classroom sleepovers to reach a country on almost every continent.

I was lucky enough to meet many of the students and teachers participating in my own marathon journey around the world.

Visiting 32 countries from Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, I was honored and humbled by the hundreds of amazing stories that were shared and presentations that were made to teach me about their schools and their cultures. I was also inspired by many great questions and conversations we had about the future and the opportunities we can all create for each other.

I hope all of those participating this year leave the walls of their classrooms open to continue sharing and learning together. I hope the Skype-a-Thon will inspire others to join this global learning community. And finally I hope, with every connection, we increase the chance that we are opening the hearts and minds of children to have greater empathy and compassion for one another and our planet.