Using Skype for outreach

As part of International Polar Week, Digital Explorer have been running an event called ‘Arctic Live 2016’ that is based around Skype lessons between schools around the world and polar scientists. I heard about this event through the UK Polar Network (a branch of APECS) and decided to get involved and have my first attempt at outreach via Skype.

I was paired up with two classes – some 11 year olds in Argentina and some 14 year olds in Croatia. Both wanted me to talk about the practicalities of polar research and the potential paths into jobs in the Polar Regions.

The preparation for these sessions caused me a little trouble – how do you prepare to teach a lesson over Skype? I consulted Google and did a bit of tech testing to find out what media would work well over Skype. Before too long I had worked out a couple of lesson plans and felt fairly confident that my equipment would work properly.

The lessons themselves went very well and I really enjoyed the opportunity to do a bit of outreach to non-British students. It was also interesting to use the new format of Skype to carry out the lessons. I learnt a lot from this experience and have a few tips for getting the most out of digital outreach, particularly via Skype.

Top tips for science outreach via Skype:

  1. Make sure you equipment works. Test your video and audio using the Skype test call service and ensure your internet connection is as good as possible.
  2. Set up your webcam. Mine is built in to my laptop and getting a good angle (i.e. not looking up my nose) required me to sit the computer on top of a pile of books. I also had a little rearrange of my office to get a clearer background and make me easier to see.
  3. Test your media by Skyping a friend. This allowed me to practice using Skype’s ‘share screen’ function. I also discovered that sharing YouTube videos via ‘share screen’ only shares the video, not the sound. This could have been a right pain if I’d only found it out during a lesson!
  4. Talk slowly. This is always true when presenting but particularly true when there might be a bit of a lag time and some feedback. It’s really worth investing in a headset with a microphone to make your speech clearer. Also be aware that you may need to talk even slower when addressing non-native English speakers.
  5. Send copies of PowerPoints and other files to the teacher ahead of time. Then if there are connection problems or other technical issues, you can revert to a basic audio call and get them to put the media up on screen locally.

Hope these tips are helpful. Let me know if you’ve had any experiences with Skype outreach. Do you have any tricks of your own to get the most out of this technology?

Thanks to María Laura Bargas (teacher of the class in Argentina) and Gordana Novak (teacher of the class in Croatia) for the use of their photos.