Using Skype In The Educational Setting; Skyping Experts Into The Classroom

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Today was a ground breaking day at Mercer High School in Mercer, PA.  Today electronic technology met traditional teaching methods in Travis Weller’s 8th grade General Music Education Class.  Specifically, his class met song producer, writer, and music industry licensing expert Jason Davis, in his class through Skype. 

Travis and I have been working on this cross-discipline/field project for a number of weeks prior to today.  It was a brain storm of mine, brought in part, due to a similar project I witnessed at Kent University at a lecture/demonstration by Dr. Jay Dorfman, a cutting edge technologist. 

This project was/is cutting edge and brought together an expert in the field, Jason Davis, face-to-face with a classroom of bright, interested, 8th graders to talk about topics like copyright, the PAL parental Advisory label, trends in music, and the future of the music industry.

The session lasted about 45 minutes and went off without any problems.  The students we’re engaged and local school administrators, Classrooms for the Future  (CFF) representatives, as well as local newspaper reporters were there to see how this event would transpire.  

Bringing experts into the classroom is not a difficult task using today’s technologies.   For this event we only had to have a few things in place to make this happen… all of which did not cost the Mercer School District any additional money.   The basic needs to do this yourself are as follows:

  • An active Internet connection (with the right ports open, the school was wired for this already)
  • A computer (Travis used his laptop)
  • A Webcam with microphone (the CFF provided this for him at no cost)
  • A Skype account on both ends (Free for everyone using IP based Skype)
  • A LCD projector to project the Skypecast live (the CFF provided this)

He also used an old set of desktop speakers to enhance the audio broadcast of Jason’s voice so the class could hear him better.   In addition, I brought a microphone to use to better pick up the questions from the students.  This micropphone was jacked into his laptop’s “mic in” port.

We contacted Jason about 10 minutes before we went LIVE with the classroom presentation and the rest is now history.  What makes this interesting is that there was virtually no cost involved (minimal if you want to talk electricity, IP connectivity costs, etc.).  Jason gave of his own time to do this for educational reasons.   I gave of my time as well.  I have talked to a number of composers, educators, and experts and most of them are willing to do these types of things “pro bono”.   If we they were to have physically brought Jason into the classroom it would have cost the high school about $700 in air-fare, $300 in hotels, $150 in transportation, and another $75.00 for food…not to mention an honorarium! 

There are many possibilities for bringing experts from the various fields into the classroom using this type of technology.  In addition, collaborative efforts can now take a more “global” direction with these technologies as well.   I hope some of you will try to incorporate these “out of the box” educational ideas into your classrooms as well.  The’re not hard -be bold!  How awesome would it be to have an expert musician Skyped into your classroom for a two-way virtual lesson?  I’m sure you all know one, two, or three that would do it for you…  think about it.

To learn more about the music of Jason Davis, check it out here:

     J. Pisano

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website
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  • Joe,

    Thanks again for your assistance today. A handful of Seniors who were down in the band room as we were setting things up were disappointed they could not stay for the session with Jason. It was a really neat experience.

    Thinking about all that it took to make this happen today, I would strongly encourage any educator to give it a shot. It is a great experience for your students. Take care, and thanks again!

  • Joe/Travis,
    Thanks for the opportunity. It was great to talk with you and the kids and answer any questions they have. It is also great to see that you, Travis, are already bringing these topics to light for the students at a young age. Well done.

    Joe, everything ran without a hitch. With you at the helm, that was obviously expected. 8^)

    rocketh on,


  • Jay Dorfman

    Dr. Joe,
    Thanks for the mention in your blog. Doing the video conference with Brian Balmages was a real thrill, especially because I got to work again with this wonderful composer and great friend.
    I’m glad you were there to see it.
    The impetus for this activity was my own belief that there is an unnecessary disconnect between composers and the performers who play their music. Though I’m not a composer, and wouldn’t dream of speaking for them, I have a feeling there are many composers out there who would be interested in joining classes virtually–especially those performing their music!
    Jay Dorfman

  • Joe,

    The article FINALLY ran in the Record Argus this week. It generated a lot of post-event buzz amongst the teachers – some who had not realized what we had accomplished in those 44 minutes!

    I am eager to explore doing it again with not only this class but with some of the ensembles as well. Thanks for your support and assistance, and I am glad the FMEA presentation went well!

  • Travis,

    Can you send me a scan and/or hardcopy of the article? Thanks! I’m glad it went over well!


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