Teaching students empathy and understanding with Skype in the Classroom

In today’s post, Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts and Skype Master Teachers Koen Timmers (Belgium) and Tammy Dunbar (USA) share how they’ve developed a global collaborative project to teach students empathy and understanding. The Human Differences project, covered 3 UN Sustainable Development Goals, all 21st Century Skills and more. Students researched, explored and collaborated via Skype to learn about human differences.

How did the Human Differences project come about?

Koen Timmers: I’ve been running global educational projects since 2015 as global connections is a passion of mine and I strongly believe that as educators, we have to bring empathy into our classrooms rather than focusing solely on knowledge acquisition. I decided that teaching my students about gender equality would be a great lesson for them and organising a global project seemed the best way to do it.

One day, as I was discussing and brainstorming via Skype with my colleague Tammy Dunbar, we realized that we were both determined to give our students the opportunity to explore and learn about all those things than connect us and keep us apart and help them realize that we are all equal; the Human Differences project started.

Human Differences projectCan you describe a memorable moment of the project?

Tammy Dunbar: When we started talking about gender inequality in my classroom, my students had no idea what that was, or why it would even be an issue. But as they began reading and researching, it was heartening and amazing to watch them become aware of the plight of others.
One of my students wrote: “If a man and a woman are both doing the same job, they need to get paid the same. I think it’s not right and unfair to get paid diffently. Everyone should be treated equally no matter their gender, color, race, religion, or what they choose to do in their life. Gender inequality is something that needs to be changed immediately.” For my class to start in a place of “This isn’t a problem” and end up in a place of “This is a huge problem we need to fix” means this project is having positive effects.

Human Differences project

How can Skype in the Classroom connections motivate students?

Koen Timmers: Misinformation can easily lead to polarization. By connecting students with peers from very different cultures, they learn to respect each other. During the calls, the students sang, danced, showed posters they created, were exposed to each other’s language and… they had fun! Although their peers may live in another part of the world, to their surprise, they were able to understand what they were saying, and share the same feelings. The Skype connections during the project created feelings of empathy in the students who participated and created memories never to be forgotten.

Tammy Dunbar: When we first started organizing Skype calls with classrooms, my students were shy and scared. “We don’t know these kids!” “What on earth can we talk about with them?” But with Skype, when we first saw the other students’ smiling faces, our fears seem to suddenly melt away.

My students loved finding out that students in Romania know how to “dab” and that students in Vietnam love baseball, too. When you make connections with others around the world, that bond creates not only friendship but empathy and compassion. With Skype in the Classroom, we break down both invisible and visible walls and build bridges of friendship, understanding and compassion.

Human Differences project

What’s the secret behind a successful project?

Koen Timmers: Collaboration! We couldn’t have organized such a successful global project without amazing and inspiring teachers who guided their students and got the best out of them. A big thank you to all those teachers who joined us: Keshma (South Africa), Ayodele and Olalekan (Nigeria), Imen (Tunisia), Soheir (Egypt), Miriam and John (Sierra Leone), Nam (Vietnam), Mio (Japan), Jen (Philippines), Khurshed (Bangladesh), Aqsa and Bushra (Pakistan), Rashmi, Neeru, Santhi (India), Shiromi (Sri Lanka), Susanna (Austria), Hannah (Ukraine), Lukasz (Poland), Juan and Angeles (Spain), Manuela (Portugal), Emma (Sweden), Edita (Lithuania), Barry (Northern Ireland), Kate (Ireland), Sean (UK), Jasper (Netherlands), Aggeliki (Greece), Olivier (Belgium), Violeta (Macedonia), Alexander (Russia), Karina (Israel), Shafaq (UAE), Aylin (Turkey), Mike (USA), Jim and Armand (Canada), Jodi and Rachel (New Zealand), Christian (Australia), Jennifer (Argentina).


Teachers: You can participate in the Human Differences project with your classroom! Join today and get ready to break the walls of your classroom with Skype in the Classroom!

If you are new to Skype in the Classroom, get started with an introductory call with one of our Skype Guide live connections or take the Introduction to Skype in the Classroom course!
You can also create your own Skype collaboration. Check out the Skype collaboration course and get ready to connect your students with classrooms around the world!

Parents: Why not ask your school to get involved with Skype in the Classroom so your kids can experience the world live from their classrooms?