App #13: FaceTime

I’m guessing the majority of readers of this blog own an iPad, and that most of you have at least tried Facetime (already included on your device). Facetime, for the uninitiated, is real-time video-calling between Apple device owners. Instead of a regular telephone conversation, users can see each other face to face. Setting it up is easy: All you need is your Apple ID (the email address that you provided to Apple). Here is a good video if you need to learn how to set it up for your iPad:

Although FaceTime, which began in 2010, had a lackluster rollout and started out as more of a fad for most users, I believe it can still be quite a good teaching tool in the classroom, especially if you have a projected display already set up.

FaceTime, for most users, will be an excellent way to keep up with friends across the globe who use Apple devices. It can be great for families who live apart as well. Since it has quite recently become available for Mac users as well, the audience that it captures I would argue is quite a large one, seeing that Apple products have become some of the best-selling ones in the world.

During one of my French-as-a-second language classes this year, one of my best friends (who lives in Paris, France) call me through FaceTime. I guess he had not considered the nine hour time-difference, and that I would still be at work and teaching. I decided to answer the call anyways and use it as a teachable moment. I was teaching my first-graders at the time, students who had only begun learning French for a few months. I began the conversatIon describing to my friend what I was teaching, and then turned the screen of my iPad towards the entire class. They were quite excited and curious to see a true native French speaker, and couldn’t believe how fast the two of us were talking! I told him to slow down his speech and word choice to a level a non-native six year old could understand. He did and then asked them questions about what they were learning. Some of my stronger students were able to understand him and answered quite well, and even in complete sentences. Then I had the idea of having my students do a presentation for him. They happily agreed and began presenting their French play that they were learning.

What started off as a bad-timed phone call became an excellent way for my students to see authentic language learning and a way to use their skills to communicate with a “foreigner”. I hope to be able to do more of this in the coming school year.

Here are some ideas for Facetime in the classroom:

  1. Set up a penpal class, either locally or globally, and do regular FaceTime chats as a class together. Prepare questions students can ask, and have certain students already picked to answer the questions from the other class.
  2. If you have a 1:1 iPad class, set up individual FaceTime conversations that students can have with their “penpal”; (I would probably suggest same-gender penpals to prevent potential problems).
  3. Set up a day where you chat with an expert in the subject that your class is studying. Perhaps a local politician, musician, or writer.
  4. Do a virtual fieldtrip where one person is visiting a museum, park or other location, and students can watch in real-time as that person is roaming around and showing them interesting things. *This will soon be made much more possible to achieve since FaceTime will soon be available over Cellular Data, as opposed to just over wifi.
  5. Start perhaps locally, within your school. Do a trial between two classes in the school, or with an administrator that can chat from their office.
  6. Along the same lines as above, if you teach a foreign language, have students in the same class practice in that language on different iPads with eachother from across the classroom.
  7. Arrange FaceTime during a school assembly, where the “other end” can be a camera showing someing outside the school, like a track and field event.

FaceTime has been a hit during our current vacation. With the feature where you can switch to the front-facing camera, we were able to show people visual details of our Maui condo and the views it boasted. My daughter calls all four grandparents almost every night to tell them what she did and saw that day (both sets of grandparents have iPads). The quality of the calls is clear and crisp. It’s almost as if we never left! All of this is free, without any long-distance charges. All it takes is a couple taps on the iPad, and within seconds the two sides are connected. Tonight she had a chance to chat with her dog, who unfortunately couldn’t come on the trip:

If you find yourself wanting to communicate with someone that does not own an Apple device, all of the above ideas are still relevant and can be transferred to using Skype (free from iTunes) instead of FaceTime.

FaceTime is available for the following Apple devices:

  • iPhone 4 and newer
  • iPod touch 4th generation
  • iPad 2 and newer
  • Any Mac computers running Mac OS X already equipped with a FaceTime camera

Any other ideas for FaceTime in the classroom? Please let us know in the comments!

On a side note, for you parents of toddlers who love Elmo, there is a great app called Elmo Calls (99 cents) where Elmo will FaceTime you and laugh and play with you. It has received very positive reviews and is a hit with my two-year old:


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for this ! Seriously useful info.

    I have bookmarked this and I’m also looking forward to reading new articles.

    Keep up the great job!

    1. Thanks! I appreciate that. Let me know if you have any other ideas or questions!

  2. L.Donahue says:

    Can one FaceTime with multiple people at the same time? Also, if I use FaceTime on mynmac then it would not require a wireless network I am thinking.
    I am looking forward to more of your articles:)

    1. Unfortunately, no. FaceTime at the moment can only be done with one person at a time. Check out Google Hangout if you have time. It can handle multiple people.

  3. Kaye says:

    Do you think we should use FaceTime on Mac to “go to school”? Example: A student FaceTimes another student (with permission) during class to catch up on any work when absent at home or sick.

    1. If it is okay with the parent and teacher, why not? Good idea.

  4. Makay cooper says:

    Hello I am a freshman in high school and I tutor children with learning disabilities since some of them don’t want to leave the house or they simply live far away so I use iPads and other apple products this technic thanks so much for this article I have my iPad mounted so it shows the whiteboard and I’m in love with that technic

    1. Thanks for your comment! Keep up the good work!

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