One week before the end of the semester and the exams that entails, your Statistics teacher gives birth and goes on Maternity leave. You can’t find a sub who is a Stats Guru to help students review for the final. What do you do? We brought Megan Lantz, Statistics teacher at University High School in Milwaukee (WI), in for after-school virtual study sessions with our students using Google+ Hangouts. Megan was able to chat face-to-face with our students as she answered questions and worked through examples with them. We emailed her copies of the previous exams so that she could refer to past questions, and students brought their notes and questions. As a proof-of-concept, this shows how you can bring all kinds of expertise into your classroom virtually in a way that allows personal communication like having your guest physically present, while opening access to expertise that otherwise might not be locally available.
Megan made ample use of the screen sharing capabilities of Hangout. Using a hybrid Windows PC with tablet functionality, she was able to quickly write examples and share them directly through the video chat. On our end, we projected the chat on the board, so everyone could see and hear her descriptions. For our station, we used a MacBook with a Wacom tablet so that students could write back to her as well. Students who had questions came up to the computer and sat directly in front of it– sometimes we see video chats where students stay in their seats and teachers try and project the whole screen. This isn’t a great use of the technology since the cameras built into computers or tablets aren’t particularly good at wide-angle, nor are the microphones good at picking up sound at a distance. When someone wants to talk to or ask a question of your guest, get them up in front of the camera where the technology expects them to be.
Of course, the technology is the easy part with this– the harder part can be finding an expert in the subject that you want to bring in. Twitter can be a great source of information, as classes or teachers who do video chats often tweet about the experience. Don’t forget about area colleges and universities as well– often professors are happy to connect with local students about their subject areas, and doing so virtually can save lots of time on their end.