“Skype Interviews and Twitter Assignments Give Students and Unique Learning Experience” by Kristen Hicks first appeared on Edcetera.

It all started when a student approached Professor John Boyer after class one day and, inspired by a documentary they viewed about Southeast Asia, suggested the class talk to Aung San Suu Kyi. Boyer’s knee-jerk response was skepticism; why on earth would a prominent world figure talk to a class of college students across the world? But with the help of other students in the class, they put together a video pitch, and it gained enough traction on social media to make the seemingly impossible happen: Boyer’s students got their interview.

Boyer and his students didn’t stop there. They’ve put together a number of video pitches aimed at getting interviews with notable world figures and have had additional successes, including former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

These interviews provide students with a number of notable learning opportunities. The most obvious is the very memorable experience of communicating directly with prominent world figures about their life and experiences. You can bet that comes with lessons students remember long past graduation.

Additionally, the process of working to get the attention of the people the students target offers a valuable experience with social media. With the pitch video for Aung San Suu Kyi, the students achieved something a number of marketing agencies and businesses value immensely: experience in making something go viral. Says John Boyer, “That’s social networking at its best.”

The combination of Skype, YouTube and social media gave these Virginia Tech students a thoroughly unique and valuable learning experience, and one that was completely free for all involved. Any professor can incorporate Skype into the classroom in this way. It might be challenging to land such notable interviews, but the world is full of experts and people with valuable experiences to share.

Boyer is quick to recommend that all teachers consider the possibilities of bringing valuable interviews into the classroom with Skype. “It’s not just superstars,” he points out, “there are experts all around the planet that all have something to bring to your classroom with unique perspectives; and Skype is awesome for doing that.”

His experience shows that often students will be quick to run with the idea and embrace active involvement at every step of the process. They help decide who to target for interviews, help during the creation of the pitch videos, help spread the videos to get them to the intended target, and ask all the questions during the interviews.

To further encourage students to develop their social media skills, Boyer gives them the option to run fake Twitter accounts for important world leaders. Students representing the Plaid Barack Obama, Plaid Angela MerkelPlaid Mamoud Ahmenijad (Boyer’s online alter ego is the Plaid Avenger, hence the fake Twitter names) and many more must follow the activities of their chosen world leader closely to post regular updates on their accounts. As a result, they finish off the year extremely knowledgeable about all the politics and culture relevant to the figure.

Boyer’s methods manage to take completely free and easily available technologies and turn them into rich tools for student engagement and memorable learning experiences.

Boyer is passionate about the many new opportunities technology can bring to education.  “I just want to challenge people non-stop, all the time, to look at what’s out there…and instead of dismissing it, learn how to use the tools more creatively and better so that we can make better students who are better prepared for the real world out there.”

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