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A Peek at Periscope’s Potential—and Privacy Concerns—in the Classroom

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In my line of work, I seldom come across a tool that inspires a sort of shock and awe that comes with, say, bungee-jumping off a mountain or seeing Ryan Gosling at the bar stool next you. But this app did it for me.

Just over a year ago, two co-founders created Periscope, a free app that connects to Twitter and allows users to live-stream from a mobile device whatever is in front of them and to interact with an audience.

Here’s how it works: You download the Periscope app onto an iOS or Android device. That makes you the “host.” When you start a Periscope feed, you click to send out a Tweet announcing that the session is live. Anyone on your Twitter stream can watch what you’re broadcasting. (They can also down a Periscope app.) Watchers can send comments to you, the host, or toss (virtual) “hearts” during your video stream. Simultaneously, the live stream is recorded and stays up on the host’s Periscope page for 24 hours.

You don’t even need to follow someone on Twitter to tune into their live session (you can use the app). But you will get a Tweet alert when people you do follow go live.

A bit voyeuristic, you say? Well, yes.

At first, I was a bit turned off by that, as well. But when I began to contemplate the potential uses of Periscope in the classroom, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons --and teachers appear to be getting hungrier for it, based on what I noticed on Twitter (see above). Here are a few potential use cases.

Connecting students to other people and places across the world

For geography and history teachers, the ability to connect students across borders is hugely important, whether your class is discussing differences in culture or seeking out pen pals. Periscope knows no boundaries (and involves no cost), very possibly making it a nifty alternative to #MysterySkype, a game where two classes Skype and ask questions to figure out where in the world the other class is located.

Or, what about virtually tagging along when someone visits a landmark? Harper College professor Gary Anderson says Periscope can truly knock down your classroom walls: “What are you learning about? Who is an expert on that topic? Contact the experts and ask if they will join you via Periscope to talk with your class and show where and how they work,” he recommends.

Live tutoring or office hours

For after-school, Periscope could help you hold virtual office hours for students who have questions or need help. Google Hangouts can be intimidating for some, especially when many participants try to chat at the same time. Using Periscope, teachers can invite students to keep their questions in textable form, something that helps teachers control how questions get addressed. Periscope is also more guided than Google Hangout because there’s a clear leader in the session, and that person controls the chat.

Anderson agrees, noting that even if a teacher isn’t available, a “designated homework helper” can be on Periscope, standing by during designated tutoring hours. “This has great potential for review sessions,” he writes.

Schoolwide tours and expanding professional learning networks

Periscope offers educators a way to take “virtual tours” of other schools and classrooms to see best practices in action--without hopping on an expensive flight. District of Columbia educator Sarah Thomas, for instance, is an expert at using Periscope to share her school’s makerspace with her Twitter followers. She’s not alone.

Periscope can be part of any educator’s repertoire of “professional learning network tools,” supporting teachers connecting with other educators in any school or district. In fact, with a tool like Periscope, any smartphone can become an instant support network, whether it’s for a small technical issue on a device or a larger issue.

An important question: Is Periscope appropriate for education?

Periscope states on its site that it operates under the Twitter privacy policy, meaning technically, all users must be 13 and older. But being old enough to use the tool isn’t the only thing that students and teachers should consider when electing to use Periscope. Jeff Bradbury, who hosts the TeacherCast podcast, goes one step further: Is the tool, and livestreaming in general, appropriate for the classroom at all?

“Why would you be inclined to use a system that invites the world to check out what may be a private experience between two educational establishments?” Bradbury asks. He points out there’s no way to turn comments off (in spite of request on several blogs and review sites) and that the tool lacks a way to safeguard against inappropriate comments.

Thomas addresses some of this in a post, “Periscoping with students and matters of privacy.” Like many tools that involve video or commenting systems, there are potential snags one has to consider when using Periscope.

“Periscope is a fantastic tool, with many great implications, but we have to be sure to keep respect for students at the forefront of our minds,” Thomas says. For instance: don’t film students’ faces. “When I started using the app, I would film over my students’ shoulders and not show faces, in order to protect their privacy. This is still a good idea to do when in doubt.”

Periscope can be a powerful tool, especially for teachers and classrooms that already have a following on Twitter, and livestreaming can add a spicey interactive element to the learning experience. But with new technologies always come discussions of student privacy, and hopefully, Periscope will pass the test.


Curious to see Periscope in action for yourself? Log-on on Friday, June 11th, at 9 AM PST/12 PM EST to chat with the EdSurge team while they Periscope live from the Boston Summit!

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