Skype-a-thon brings the world to students in rural India – Arokia Seeli Priya, India
Every educator has moments that define and shape their teaching. For Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Arokia Seeli Priya, that moment took place just weeks ago, when The Titan School – a Microsoft Showcase School where Priya teaches – announced they would be participating in Microsoft’s Skype-a-thon in December.
For Priya, the idea of participating in the event as an MIE was both terrifying and energizing.
“It was a huge challenge for me,” she says. “With Sway, Office Mix and OneNote, I had tips and tricks at my fingertips – I knew them intimately. Skype was completely new to me. The announcement that we would be taking part in the Skype-a-thon brought me jitters, as I had not done a single Skype session in my life. How could I do my part for the Skype-a-thon when I had not used it at all?”
To get herself up to speed, Priya browsed the Microsoft Educator Community. And with the support of her school principal, Priya registered for as many Skype sessions as possible.
“I registered for all the virtual field trips that I could,” says Priya. “My excitement knew no bounds when I saw the topics featured on the virtual field trips. They were interesting topics in amazing places all around the world. As a person who has not stepped outside my country, to just get a glimpse of all these places live was like finding a treasure trove.”
Next, Priya approached Yellowstone National Park to participate in a virtual field trip with her 9th grade students. “I will never forget the day I got the confirmation from Yellowstone,” she says. “It was December 1st and there was only one day left to take part in the Skype-a-thon, and I wanted it to work. I asked to hold the Skype on December 3rd, but their schedule was full for the month. But I didn’t lose hope. I explained how badly we needed a slot for December 3rd, and then the same day the magic happened. We got a slot for the Skype, and Ranger Mike was available for the session.”
At 9:00 p.m. India time, the students were all assembled and waiting with fingers crossed. “There [Ranger Mike] was, on time, and our Skype call began,” shares Priya. “From there, we embarked on an unforgettable journey. We were all transported into the virtual world, experiencing the joys of a traveler exploring new worlds.”
Now, just weeks later, Priya looks back at the miles she and her students travelled with awe. From the virtual field trip with Ranger Mike at Yellowstone National Park, to learning about sharks at the Fort Fisher Aquarium, and talking about ocean acidification and protection with Kristin Holloman of Sharks4kids in Miami Beach, Florida – and they have even more lined up for the new year.
“We crossed more than 40,000 miles virtually in just a few days,” says Priya. “I am proud to have introducing Skype as a new method of teaching in our school. Our students are still thrilled when we share our learning. The lower classes who have not yet experienced Skype approach me every day asking when it will be their turn to have a Skype session.”
Priya’s Skype-a-thon experience brought together her passion for technology and travel, but perhaps most important, provided a real-life example of how moving out of your comfort zone and trying something new is the best way to learn.
“I hope my experience will motivate others to go beyond whatever limitations that come in their way and win every challenge with a can-do attitude,” says Priya.
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Arokia Seeli Priya!
What inspired you to become an educator?
Becoming an educator was not in my career plan. To say that the teaching career chose me would be apt. After completing my post graduate degree in Life Sciences, I wanted to equip myself with the latest trends in education. I registered for an 18-month course at the Computer Institute.
In most communities of India, we follow the system of arranged marriage. I was 22 years old, and remaining unmarried would make it difficult to get a bridegroom. (The concept of dating is still alien in most parts of India). My marriage was fixed when I still had six months left in my course. The Computer Institute offered to transfer the course to the place where I was going to get settled after my marriage. My husband and I settled in a quiet town in Kerala.
Once we moved, I approached the Computer Institute to inquire about the start date of the course. But I got a shock: I went in as a student, but I came back with a job offer as a teacher. I learned that they did not have the particular learning content which I had registered for, so they wondered if I was willing to teach the content which I had already learned, in addition to other courses.
My first job started as a computer lab teaching assistant, which gave me a wealth of experience. It was love at first sight with Windows and MSOffice. I learned MS Office on the job, by staying an extra hour each day and exploring all the options on the menu bar, while the next day I helped the students learn what I had learned. I went on to become a certified computer faculty and with changing career tracks of my husband, I travelled around India working in different schools equipping myself with a teaching degree and teaching experience.
My students were my inspiration wherever I went. To see the spark in their eyes, to create an interest in what I teach was always my passion. But I was frustrated with the teaching methodology that was being followed in most of the schools – rote learning and lecturing. I found students burdened with education wherever I went. I felt the low grades I had scored in my examinations during my school days were due to the dull, boring monotonous method of lecture which failed to create any interest in the subjects that were taught. I wanted to change this system of education and was looking out for a break from the monotony.
It was at this time I started a new job in The Titan School. More surprising for me was that I found a friend in Principal Ms. Sajeetha Barathi, who shared the same passion for using varied tools to create joyful learning. With great rigor I experimented with every new method of teaching I could come across and shared it with my peers if it was interesting for the students.
The major breakthrough came in the form of technology. It was with lot of trepidation that I registered for the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert nomination, and it was a dream come true when I was chosen as an MIE. Like a starry-eyed kid introduced into the world of goodies being free, I am still exploring and experimenting with the Microsoft tools.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
I am passionate about innovation and technology as I think it makes me a favorite teacher among students. My students look forward eagerly to my classes as they know that I will have something new and interesting for them to learn. Instead of a typical classroom where the teacher arrives and the students rise from their chairs and wish her a dowdy good morning, I want my students to come running to me asking, ‘’Teacher what activity are we going to do today??!!’’
I teach science and when I returned from the first MIE meeting, I created a Sway for teaching the lesson on ‘Microorganisms’ for my grade 8 students.
While I presented this lesson I also taught them how to create a Sway. They were enraptured with its easy features and wanted to do their project presentation on Sway (investigative research on harmful microorganisms). This project is currently underway. One particular student who does not bother much about deadlines has already submitted his work. That’s the proof to me of how Sway has inspired my students.
Whether it’s a day-to-day challenge or larger problem, what’s the biggest obstacle you or your country or region has had to overcome, or will have to overcome, to ensure a quality education for students?
In every region of India, people from better economic backgrounds are able to provide their children with the best in the education field, while on the other hand there are parents who find it difficult to provide basic education for their kids.
We know that in developed countries every child has a tablet, laptop, or at least the family has one computer system. But in India, owning a basic computer or having Internet connectivity is a miracle in many households. To introduce technology and bring innovation in the classroom is a big deal for many schools. They just cannot afford that luxury even if they desire to.
Technology giants like Microsoft will have to introduce cheaper tablets for students with basic apps, which will make it seem better in comparison to buying all the school textbooks. Internet connection should become free or given at a reduced rate, at least for students.
What are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?
I am excited about using Skype, which could lead to a united, one-world curriculum. My biggest hope for students is that each and every child will have a quality education, whichever corner of the world they are in.
About Arokia Seeli Priya
Educator/Microsoft Innovative Educator
The Titan School
- Blog URL: https://medium.com/@PriyaAlphonse/my-virtual-journey-around-the-world-b80904280630
- Birthplace: Chennai, India
- Educational background: M.Sc. Life Sciences (Loyola College, Chennai University), B.Ed.
- Website I check every day: Daily Edventures, Yammer, Microsoft educator network, Twitter, Facebook
- Favorite childhood memory: Every summer holiday brings up favorite memories. My father was a motor man with the railways and we were entitled to free travel, three times in a year. We were not financially well off as ours was a joint family with the sole earner being my dad. But my dad never scrimped when we traveled. We used to visit a new place every summer, and got to visit the famous spots in each city or town. I just loved to spend hours in the historical places, museums or zoos listening to my dad explain each and every details for us kids. My desire to visit new places just grew with each passing year and still is my passion.
- Favorite book: The Covenant by James Michener
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Sway and Skype
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Ask and you shall receive.