Elena Degtyareva is a Skype Master Teacher from Verkhoturye, Russia, a small town with many young students eager to learn about the world. Elena has pioneered the use of Skype in her education community, taking students on virtual trips to distant, exciting places.
A teacher of English, Elena saw that her students wanted more opportunities to use their language skills in real-world settings. “They said, ‘We want to practice! Where can we use our English?’” Elena recounted. “So I told them that while they might live in a small town, they could have friends across the world to speak with.”
So far, the students have Skyped with classrooms in Vietnam, Morocco, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Egypt, and Africa. They have even exchanged traditional dance lessons with students in India, explored a zoo in Lisbon, Portugal, and learned about fire safety from a Dalmation and his firefighter based in Arkansas, U.S.A.
“Skype travel is a window into the world,” Elena said. “We can learn a foreign language, meet a writer, an artist, read a book, sing a song, or learn a new yoga pose. And we do not have to buy a plane or train tickets, fly across the oceans, or sail on a ship. We can do all these things when we are in our comfortable classroom.”
Elena’s students have taken global peers on tours of their local museum and shared lessons on history, such as the Russian Revolution and Tsar Nicholas II. “We’re very proud of our town and homeland,” Elena said.
What sparked Elena’s passion for using Skype to broaden her students’ horizons? A tech enthusiast, she belongs to the Microsoft Innovative Educator program, which provided her with the training resources to earn her Skype Master Teacher badge. Through the program, she met a mentor and other teachers around the world who were also interested in using technology to enrich student learning.
Elena sees live, virtual exchanges as a great way to build student character. “It is important to be able to listen and hear the other person, to respect other people’s opinions and understand how diverse our world is,” she said. “With Skype tours, students can learn patience and the ability to understand and accept any person despite age, appearance, language, religion, education, and talents.”
Elena herself uses Skype to stay in touch with a community of more than 200 teachers across Russia who chat with one another and share tips for enhancing lessons with technology. “Some teachers are afraid and think using Skype will be too difficult,” she said. “I tell them to just try it — it’s so easy.” Elena has created her own webinars to help teachers who want to get started using Skype and other tech tools in the classroom. Skype’s handy recording function makes it easy to record her webinars and post them online.
Elena’s enthusiasm for tech has transferred to her pupils as well. “We use all the tools — Skype, OneNote, Sway, and Minecraft. The students love Minecraft, and my new course on ComputerCraft,” Elena said.
What’s her favorite Skype feature? “The emojis,” she laughed. “They make people happy, and everyone understands them.”