So far, I haven’t been able to connect with any of the other three in this class. Summer is a busy time and the likelihood of being at our computers at the same time across multiple time zones seems to be tough. However, I have used it before with my colleagues on several occasions.
One of the most fun involved our statewide network of service learning folks. The day our meeting was scheduled was one of the days I needed to travel home from a training north of the Arctic Circle in Canada. This was the first meeting with a brandnew state leader, so I didn’t want to miss it. I was able to free my whole morning, so I asked if it would be possible to join the first part of the meeting via Skype. They not only connected me through Skype, but also set up a projector so everyone could see and hear clearly. My training involved service learning as part of the program up there, so I took about half an hour of our meeting to explain some of what the students were doing in service learning and some of the unique situations they faced in such a climate. I was able to take my computer to the hotel window (which was downtown with a good view of some of the major aspects to show) and not only explain, but show them some of the key characteristics of the Arctic community. The hotel had both wifi and some historical/cultural exhibits, so I was able to walk down the hall with my netbook camera and show those as well. I was able to attend my meeting and my colleagues learned about how another culture implements service learning, illustrated in real time!
The training that I did in Canada was for a drug/alcohol prevention program called the Leadership and Resiliency Program, targeting at-risk kids. It isn’t a curriculum, per se, but a framework that can be adapted to best fit both the resources within any given community and the needs and interests of the students there. Not having any set curriculum is a real asset in that it makes the program flexible enough to be relevant in many different circumstances and isn’t prescriptive. It also is one of the most difficult characteristics because it places so much responsibility on the local people who conduct the program to assure fidelity. There are so many times that it would be beneficial to have a more indepth opportunity to do continuing education and assurances with the various communities, but travel costs are such an expensive burden. Skype could be a great tool to offer assistance from a distance. It could also be useful in some peer to peer examples, either with the facilitators of the Leadership and Resiliency Program or with the students enrolled in it.
As a trainer, part of my responsibility is to assure that the participants really understand the framework well enough to be able to implement it effectively and with fidelity. The training incorporates a great deal of small group work which in many ways are also performance assessments for met to determine whether or not they are on track to be able to do that. Skype is a tool to be able to see those performance assessments without being in the same room.
There are a number of the reasons that service learning is a key part of the Leadership and Resiliency Program. It helps students discover talents and passions in a very real and appreciated way. It helps them see how others cope with adversity – both good and bad examples of that. It helps them learn to set goals to solve problems, including what additional knowledge or skills they need, how to find the resources to make their project happen, why achieving that goal matters to someone else. Often, we get locked into the view that the way things are for us are the way things are all over or alternatively, that the grass is greener on the other side. With Skype, students can begin to build relationships with other students and get a view into a world that is different than their own. That can open their eyes to broader horizons and new opportunities. It can also help them to gain a new appreciation and be grateful for some of their own circumstances. Most importantly, I think, they learn that they matter – they can offer ideas and resources that can contribute to making the world a better place.
Service learning has a growing body of research showing why schools should use this powerful instruction strategy. Students are more likely to succeed academically, are more engaged in their own education, better understand the relevance of their education and become more involved citizens. One barrier to service learning is happening in many schools in response to current economics – less field trips and off campus activities. There are some excellent examples of how Skype has been used to expand the community in which service learning can occur:
I would love to hear your examples or ideas on how to use Skype to help with Service Learining.