Dan Jones, an 8th grade social studies, reading and language arts teacher from the Richland Academy School of Excellence in Mansfield, OH, reached out to the White House Historical Association to request a distance learning opportunity for his students. Our email exchange led to a one-hour Skype session with his class. I have asked Dan to share his perspective on the value of distance learning which will be published over two posts: 1st an overview of why distance learning is important and how to get started and 2nd a case study of what his students have experienced this year.

Bringing history to life can sometimes be a challenge, but now teachers, museums, and other historical agencies are able to create a whole new dimension to education through distance learning. At a time when schools are cutting back on local field trips as well as destination field trips (Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, etc.), more and more schools are looking to see how they can bring those institutions and experts to them. Distance learning provides schools with cost effective measures to enrich the content they cover with interactions with agencies all over the world. These interactions help students to see how their everyday lives are impacted by historical documents, as well as provide students with unique perspectives on those involved in historical events.

Students, today, are not as transient as they once were. The yearly family vacation has disappeared for many, and the word vacation may mean a day trip for others. If historical organizations/agencies want to reach a larger number of schools and students, distance learning through Skype will provide them with that opportunity. Professionals from museums, government agencies, historical sites, scientists, authors, and more are able to have conversations with groups across the globe to enlighten them about their area of expertise. Students feel empowered when they know that they are engaging knowledgeable professionals whom they would not have the opportunity to interact with outside of the distance learning session. When professionals tell a student, “That was a great question!”, all of a sudden, students begin to develop a deeper interest in the content and a greater passion for learning.

If you’re thinking that this all sounds great, but you are not quite sure where to begin, the fact that you are reading this post is Step one: Becoming aware of the possibility.

Step two: Create a Skype account. Skype is a great tool to use with schools because it is free to download and accepted by most schools as a tool for communication/education.

Step three: Market your Skype name on your website, Linkedin, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr accounts. As teachers and students research content information, they need to be made aware of your interest in communicating with them via Skype.

Step four: Think about the presentation and length of the program you would like to provide to school groups. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If you already have an educational program, think about what materials you can distribute to the school via e-mail that would enhance your presentation. If you can have actual artifacts or experiments ready to demonstrate, the students will be completely engaged.

Distance learning provides students with a chance to learn from some of the most informed professionals in the world. These experiences engage students with 21st century technology and skills. Collaboration, ability to communicate ideas effectively, respect, digital literacy, and more are all elements that are at the core of distance learning. As education evolves into the 21st century, the manner in which students are engaged needs to advance with it.