In his essay “I Don’t Like Skype,” Mr. O’Connor notes that “normally, when folks collaborate, they have to be in a room together….” This is, to me, the best part of Skype and services like it. They collapse the distance between collaborators who are not working in the same physical space. Even given the potential awkwardness of whether your partner is looking at the camera or at the screen, that person’s presence makes a significant difference in the social connection and, in my judgment, the quality of the collaboration. Moreover, it makes visceral and real the connections we make in our Senior School classes taught here in Pittsburgh and programs executed in partner cities and programs across the world.
Students in the 21st century make these kinds of global connections easily and sustain them through the ubiquitous presence of social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Snapchat in their lives and through tools like Skype and Google Hangouts. I have seen students who attended summer enrichment programs in Cambridge, England, and other places speaking to their friends via Skype or Google Hangouts, and these relationships will shape our students’ lives for decades to come. These relationships are enhanced by technologies like Skype.
But even though I am a technology enthusiast and I definitely like Skype, it’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. Mr. O’Connor’s article notes that “organizations will always look to see what technology skills a candidate brings to the table.” He’s certainly right about this. But success in the careers of the future will depend just as much on how well individuals build relationships face-to-face as on how well they can collaborate across distances!
There is a social framework for learning embedded in the design of Sewickley Academy's curriculum and expressed by our strategic commitment to a full range of 21st century skills, not just collaboration. Our students work with each other in class every day without technological mediation. Why do they do this? Because technology isn’t the solution to every problem, nor is it universally appropriate in all contexts. It is a tool like any other tool, to be used when called for and set aside when it wouldn’t serve to advance a learning objective.
Note that what is implied here is a critical change in how many schools view technology in the classroom. Technology is not, in and of itself, a learning objective. It is a now ubiquitous tool to serve students and faculty in developing mastery of what we have always said is essential, namely, critical thinking, problem solving, writing, reading, and numeracy. No matter the technological framing, at the end of the day, these are the notions that matter.
By reiterating our commitment to our mission, core values, and 21st century strategic skills and acknowledging the appropriate presence of technology in classrooms, we can surely provide a context where our students’ love of Skype can be put into a broader context.