Monday, December 5, 2011

An #edutech Fairy Tale Come True…

Hi there, Jessy here! I’m the one who tweets, blogs and otherwise posts to our Edmodo, Facebook, LinkedIn pages. Over the weekend, I had a part in telling the incredible story of Professor Boyer, instructor in the Department of Geography at Virginia Tech, whose work inspired me to pursue an career in social media. When I was Professor Boyer’s student, his World Regions course wasn’t the 3,000-strong juggernaut that it is today. Nonetheless, I’m incredibly proud to share the success of a professor, my professor, who is shaking up the lecture hall and creating once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunities for his students. For me, his course was life-changing, and I can only hope that this story inspires even more educators to creatively use technology to engage their students. 

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Burmese Pro-Democracy Leader Aung San Suu Kyi To Visit VA Tech (Via Skype)

Earlier this year, Skype launched “Skype in the Classroom,” a program that formally recognized (and moved to better support) something that many teachers and students were already doing: using the VOIP service to bring in virtual visitors and to connect classrooms to others all over the world. Piping in astronauts, authors, politicians, professors, and so on, Skype has helped overcome some of the geographical hurdles that prevent guest speakers from ever coming to a school.

Arguably there’s no better example of someone confined geographically than Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese resistance leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the last 22 years under house arrest by the Myanmar military junta. During her periods of house arrest, Suu Kyi has been banned from meeting with other pro-democracy leaders, with international visitors, or with the media. She was released from the latest house arrest in November of last year.

And tomorrow evening, she’ll join Professor John Boyer (@plaidavenger) and his Virginia Tech World Region’s class — via Skype.

Boyer’s classes are already well-known for their guest speakers. Via a YouTube video pitch, Boyer lured writer, entrepreneur and wine conneisseur Gary Vaynerchuk to talk about the Geography of Wine, and he convinced father and son actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevezto come to campus to talk about their new movie.

But famous guest speakers aren’t the only thing that set Boyer’s classes apart. His World Regions class is enormously popular at Virginia Tech. Enormously. Some 3000 students are currently enrolled, a size that might make you question the professor’s efficacy or the class’s value.

But as former student Jessy Irwin made it clear when she told me about tomorrow night’s guest speaker, it’s a class that effectively uses social media and tech tools — YouTube, a Twitter backchannel, blogging, chat — to help encourage engagement. It’s “a perfect example of how social media and technology integration can enhance the efforts of an effective, engaging educator and enrich student experience,” Irwin says, adding that Boyer’s class “changed my life” (she now works as a social media coordinator for the education company TenMarks).

Below is Professor Boyer’s YouTube request to Aung San Suu Kyi: