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…Want To Hear a Scary Story?

Last year, in preparing my students to embark on a virtual exchange, I had my seventh graders present to their classmates their family’s culture through food. I asked them to prepare slide shows so that they could describe their family’s eating habits, favorite culinary choices, and customs that surround the dinner table. I, of course, asked them to include photos of their families preparing or sharing in the gastronomical rituals, and to my abject horror, about a third of the class (we’re talking about a dozen out of eighteen preteen boys) swore to me on everything they found holy that they…could…not…find…any…pictures…

No birthday cakes. No holiday meals. No pizza-making night. No nights out at a restaurant. Nothing. A few of them at least had the decency to half-heartedly depict the food they were describing through a series of hastily downloaded, watermarked, and pixelated stock images.

Forget what this says about young people—or specifically young boys—today, because this was not only puzzling but abjectly frightening when it dawned on me…

How bad were their videos going to be??

And so I thought it might be good for me to discuss with them (and now you):

Outsourcing and Automating: Three Easy and Safe Ways to use AI and Web-Based Apps In Order to Improve Your Asynchronous Virtual Exchange

Image Generation

I’m always surprised as I walk the halls of my school how basic and unoriginal the student club posters and student-made invitations to upcoming events are; I can’t help but wonder, if you don’t care enough to make this affair look interesting, what guarantee does anyone have that it will be? And, although I don’t want to put any additional pressure on my virtual exchange participants, I remind my students that the same goes for their videos. And it’s not that hard these days to create visually appealing media for their work.

…And that’s where AI-generated images come into play. Imagine, for a moment, you’re discussing the cultural significance of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, with a classroom halfway across the globe. Instead of relying on those sad stock photo images that fail to capture the vibrancy and personal touch, your students can now generate custom images that truly encapsulate the essence of the festival. These images, vibrant with colors and rich in cultural elements, can make their presentations not just informative, but visually captivating.

Now, hopefully, a student would have pictures of them and their family celebrating, but if you’re still shivering from my frightening opening tale of horror, they might not. Or, as is sometimes the case, they may not, for reasons having to do with their perceptions of class, wealth, cyber security, or who knows what other societal pressures, feel comfortable sharing it. AI image generation can be an excellent tool for this workaround: it allows students to showcase their thoughts and interests without having to share too personally. Chat GPT3 and Bing now use Dall-E; Midjourney now has a web app that people can use, and I have a personal affinity to Leonardo.ai. But even within Canva and Google Slides, anyone can generate images quite easily with a text prompt!

And, speaking of the power of text, consider also….

Text-to-Speech Conversion

The next marvel of AI in enhancing asynchronous virtual exchanges is text-to-speech technology. Picture a student who’s brilliant with ideas but struggles with language barriers.

–And settle down, foreign language teachers, I’m not talking about your class, where the struggle is part of the educational experience!–

Traditional video exchanges could be daunting for them, leaving their brilliant ideas unshared. But with text-to-speech, they can write their thoughts in their native language, and the AI can translate and vocalize these in the language of their exchange partners. This not only bridges the communication gap but also ensures that every student, regardless of their linguistic prowess, has a voice. Plus, there’s a level of fun and customization, as your students can now either train models to copy their voice or use a fun character to sound out their text.

Websites like NaturalReader and applications such as Google Translate offer robust text-to-speech functionalities, enabling students to convert their written text into natural-sounding spoken language. I also recommend Speechify and Narakeet, the latter being designed specifically with children in mind. If you, the educator, find text-to-speech tools to be useful in your virtual exchange, it could allow for a more inclusive exchange, as students can confidently share their thoughts without the barrier of language proficiency. The AI’s ability to handle different accents and dialects ensures that every student’s voice is heard clearly and accurately, fostering a more equitable exchange environment.

Moreover, these tools also provide an educational opportunity for students to experience and learn from the phonetics of different languages. By listening to their own written words in a foreign language, students can improve their pronunciation and language skills. This not only aids in their personal language development but also promotes a deeper understanding and appreciation of the linguistic diversity within their global classroom.

And, you know what else really gets my students going? Games! That’s why I’d ask you to consider….

Interactive Quizzes and Learning Games

Integrating interactive quizzes and learning games into virtual exchanges adds an element of fun and enhances the learning experience. Of course, you probably make and utilize tools like these all the time for your classes, but have you ever considered how your pupils might utilize them? Platforms like Kahoot! and Quizlet can also allow your students to create engaging, interactive quizzes that can be shared with their peers overseas. These tools have easy-to-use interfaces, making it possible for students of all ages and technical abilities to create personalized quizzes. By designing questions related to their video presentations, students encourage their international peers to engage more deeply with the material, turning passive watching into an active learning process.

Additionally, these interactive elements foster a sense of community and collaboration among students. For instance, using a platform like EdPuzzle, students can insert questions and quizzes directly into their video presentations, making the learning experience more dynamic. Such activities not only test the comprehension of viewers but also provide immediate feedback, which is crucial for effective learning. This interactive approach motivates students to pay closer attention to their peers’ presentations and fosters a more connected and engaging educational environment. Remember, however, that if your students are uploading their video material anywhere else outside of Level Up Village’s secure server, you’ll want to make sure that it’s only accessible to your partners overseas. So, go easy on the Edpuzzle idea, and maybe use that trick for a video that’s strictly presentational and not based around sharing personal information.

The Big Picture

I still don’t know how so many of my kids couldn’t produce a single picture of their family dinners, but you know what? I have to let it go because, in the process, it allowed me (and them) quite a number of fun workarounds. These AI and web tools aren’t just about making videos flashier or presentations slicker; they’re about empowering students with the means to express themselves more effectively and engage more deeply with their global peers. They democratize the learning process, ensuring that each student, irrespective of their technical skills or background, can contribute meaningfully to these enriching virtual exchanges.

So, to all the educators out there gearing up for their next virtual exchange: embrace these tools. They could be the key to unlocking a more inclusive, interactive, and impactful educational experience for your students. And who knows, they might even help unearth some hidden family photos for your next cultural showcase!