Well, this is my entry into Teach Paperless 's Cinco de Mayo contest for using Web 2.0 tools, a great blogger by the way. (It never hurts to butter up the judge:) WebPals is taking the traditional pen-pals idea, but using Skype to make it a real conversation between students of different cultures. If you are unfamiliar with Skype, it is a free download that allows you to make free video calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world. I know there are many classes with pen pals through email, but I believe using a program like Skype for a face-to-face conversation takes it to a much higher level.
Students would be signed up with another student from a different culture around the world. They would have 5-10 minute conversations once a week. It would start out structured with certain topics to talk about but allowing free conversation. The goal would be to develop cross-cultural friendship that would decrease students prejudices and stereotypes and increase their tolerance. I used to teach in an alternative school in a rural district that had very little diversity. I had students in class with neo-nazi tattoos and who had gotten in trouble for burning crosses in people's yards. WebPals would give those students a chance to get to know personally someone who is diiferent from themselves and discover the similarities that they have.
Of course, other tools like edmodo (twitter is blocked for students at our school) could be used too, but I think Skype would be the most fun and interactive for the students. The long term goal would be to develop cross-cultural friendships and then develop a social action project to work collaboratively on. The main pitfall holding up my plans is finding the right international school that is interested, speaks English, is in a timezone that is compatible, and has the technology to do it. I would really like to connect to a school in South or Central America because the time zones are similar and they have the largest cultural differences to my students, sorry Canada:(
In my class we have made a few successful Skype calls, but next year I hope to take to the next level with WebPals. How about you? Anyone interested in giving it a shot with us? Leave a comment or tweet me @concretekax