By Susan Riddell
Steve Goggin was working with his Boyle County High School calculus students on evaluating integrals by trigonometric substitution using radicals when a student asked a question about the lesson.
That student was sitting in a classroom – at Mercer County High School – some 15 miles away. Goggin answered the question and moved on with the lesson.
Goggin teaches AP Calculus BC to several students at Boyle County High, but six students at Mercer County High are participating in the class, too, thanks to Skype, an Internet software application that allows users to make voice and video calls.
“We’ve had a few kinks to work out here and there, but overall working with the students from both schools has really worked well,” Goggin said.
Goggin taught at Mercer County High for 16 years before coming to Boyle County at the start of this school year. Students at Mercer County High learned Goggin was leaving for Boyle County High near the end of the 2010-11 school year. They wanted him to teach them this year for AP Calculus BC, especially after 11 of the 12 students who took that class in 2009-10 went on to pass the AP exam.
Stacia Bryant, one of the students who wanted Goggin to remain at Mercer County High, asked him to videotape his lessons and e-mail them to her every day when he started at Boyle County High.
“That would be a lot to keep up with,” Goggin said. “In discussing options, Stacia mentioned Skype. I didn’t know it existed, but it sounded promising.”
Goggin received support from both Boyle and Mercer county school administrators to Skype his class for Mercer County students starting this past August.
“The costs were fairly minimal,” said Mercer County teacher Ron Denson, who serves as class proctor for the Calculus BC class. “The only expense was an upfront cost of equipment. The actual account on Skype is free.
“Because of the level of difficulty of the content and the fact that the Calculus BC students had Mr. Goggin for Calculus AB, this was thought to be a more viable option.”
Each day, Goggin puts a wireless microphone around his neck and logs onto Skype with the Mercer students. He checks in with them frequently, and they can ask him questions any time, also with the help of a microphone. He has to know where to stop writing on the whiteboard to make sure he doesn’t go outside the area picked up by the camera, and sometimes he has to write with different colors, but aside from little things like that, it’s business as usual.
Alex Combs, a senior at Boyle County High, said the arrangement hasn’t taken anything away from her and her classmates’ learning experience.
“It’s just a different dynamic,” she said. “It’s a good learning environment, and we get to interact with (the Mercer students) more than I thought we would.
“They are doing a really good job on the other end,” Combs added. “If I was on the other end, I can’t imagine having to do this class like they are, but I might have to one day, and seeing them be able to do it will help me later on. If I ever have to take a class like this, at least I know someone who’s had that experience.”
“It’s just like having Mr. Goggin in the room,” he said. “There is interaction both ways, and both sets of students get the benefits of sharing a strong teacher.”
When it’s time to collect homework assignments, Denson (or another proctor) collects the homework and e-mails it to Goggin via photocopied pdf. On test days, Goggin will still Skype the class for the Mercer students in case they have questions for him.
“If a student has a specific question, we can type back and forth in those instances, so other students aren’t distracted,” Goggin said.
While he’s not sure if he’ll continue Skyping with Mercer County High students next school year, Goggin sees the current setup as part of a growing trend.
“I have had another district contact me about training their calculus teachers and maybe letting me Skype a lesson to them one day,” he said. “I can see it being a good professional development model, too.
“It seems like the distance learning classes are the new thing,” he added. “Universities have been doing them before, but it’s becoming more prevalent. You hear all kinds of places offering online degrees with the whole curriculum online. Students of this generation are more used to doing things online more than we ever were, so they are very comfortable with that.”
Skype also allows Goggin to maintain interaction with his students.
“With this scenario, a student has the option of chiming in and saying, ‘Wait. Can you go back to that for a minute?’ or ‘How did you know to do that on the step over there?’” Goggin said.
“When you can see just where a student’s thought process is off, you can identify that, and you can specifically address that and fix it; that’s huge, as opposed to them trudging along for a few days with all the misconception going on,” Goggin added. “You need that teacher who knows the students, their abilities and their tendencies.”
Steve Goggin, firstname.lastname@example.org, (859) 236-5047 ext. 3011