I’m used to interacting with children. I’ve been a teacher for so long and a mother, aunt, great-aunt, friend… I know how to talk to kids of all ages and find it easy to relate to them.
So I went into my first Skype interaction with the school children at the SOLE (self organised learning environment) in Hyderabad, quite confidently. Suneeta had assured me that I didn’t need to prepare anything, just chatting would be fine this first time.
There were approximately 10 boys and girls, all delightful, polite and enthusiastic. Some came and went over the course of the hour, as the SOLE is a room with computers for the kids to work and play on in any way they choose. As a mediator, my role is to talk with them in English, provide an opportunity for a different sort of interaction than they would normally have, expose them to new things, encourage questions, get them to engage further with the internet. This might be through songs, pictures, stories, searches or just talking.
It wasn’t as easy as I had expected! There were issues of language, accent, delay, everyone talking at once and background noise. They happily introduced themselves but it was difficult for me to pronounce some of their names, even when they typed them too. Because of the unfamiliarity of their names, I couldn’t retain who was who, so personal interaction was reduced. When I shared the screen with them to show pictures of Australian animals, I could no longer see their faces, so it was difficult to gauge their responses properly. When asked about themselves, they answered only briefly and I wasn’t sure if this was due to language or lack of interest. After 40 minutes, I was beginning to sweat! This wasn’t going the way I had imagined. I resolved to be better prepared next week, to bring more materials, to experiment with different screen sharing options.
But then I spoke to Suneeta and she told me the kids had very excitedly called her afterwards to share the experience! It seems that they had limited exposure to the internet, hadn’t had it all for some time, and that they had enjoyed our interaction. When I explored the SOMES wiki, I read how frequently there is disappointment on both sides when the internet connection fails or Skype doesn’t work properly and there’s no video or poor sound quality. I found that others share the difficulties that I had and make adjustments accordingly.
It dawned on me then, that my expectations had not been appropriate. This isn’t a face to face conversation with children of my own culture and language. I won’t be able to do the same sorts of hands on things I normally do with kids nor have that instinctive sense of what they are thinking that comes with working with kids for so long. The first interaction was successful, but I have a lot to learn.