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Iowa Governor pioneers statewide "Skype Your School!" program

Iowa is better known for being the core of the traditional “American Heartland” than it is for pushing the frontiers of digital technology. But Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds do not believe that those designations are mutually exclusive.

As Iowa students headed back to school, the Governor’s office took an innovative approach to their weekly news conference. Classrooms across the state watched the event live over Skype and were encouraged to get involved with Iowa’s “Skype Your School!” program.

“These ‘Skype Your School!’ meetings are twenty-minute conversations between our office and a single classroom of students,” explains Governor Branstad. “We get to hear questions straight from the students and create a real dialogue about education and the future of education in our state.”

Lt. Governor Reynolds, who co-chairs the Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative, says, “It’s important for state officials to take the lead in advancing and promoting technology. We want students to be excited about technology and learning about civics and government, and we hope our participation helps raise their interest level.”

This year, the administration wants to ensure that all Iowa schools are aware that they have the opportunity to participate in the program. Teachers, administrators and students can request a “Skype Your School!” meeting through the Governor’s web site, Facebook or even use the #SkypeYourSchool hashtag on Twitter.

Tim Albrecht, the Governor’s Director of Communications, says, “With Skype, the Governor and Lt. Governor can see right into classrooms and meet with students whether they’re in Des Moines or rural Northwestern Iowa. And, in turn, students get to see right into the Governor’s office. Traditionally, very few students had that kind of access.”

Governor Branstad continues, “This is also about transparency and running an efficient state government. We have 99 counties in Iowa and some 350 schools. This way, we can stay in touch, impact a lot of schools and cut down on ‘windshield time’ and the cost of driving all over the state. You can’t beat the price of Skype.”

As for the kind of questions the administration gets from the students, the Governor says, “The students are surprisingly uninhibited. We get questions about all kinds of issues from ‘What is the most difficult decision you have had to make as governor?’ to ‘What resources are available for us to put in a wind turbine to power our school?’ to ‘What did you learn in school that helped you to become a governor?'”

Albrecht, who was a big proponent of the use of new technologies and social media in the state government says, “We are proud to lead this effort and would be pleased if other states decided to engage in a similar way.” He laughs, “We’d even be happy for them to ‘steal’ our #SkypeYourSchool hashtag.”

While Iowa is the first state to pioneer a way for students to Skype with their governor, schools anywhere in the world already have access to Skype in the Classroom. No matter where you live, Skype in the Classroom is a free and easy way for teachers to invite experts in all sorts of subject matters to inspire and educate their classes via Skype. There are also tools to create Skype lessons and collaborate with other classrooms.

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