LSU Education Professor Finding New Ways to Reach Students Long-Distance

08/02/2013 10:06 AM

BATON ROUGE – LSU School of Education Shirley B. Barton Endowed Assistant Professor Kenneth Fasching-Varner implements a creative program in his classrooms to connect students with professional authors despite distance, time or cost constraints. Using Skype video-call technology, guest speakers converse with students for an in-depth, innovative learning experience.

The program began two years ago, when Fasching-Varner thought about articles and works his students read and class discussions.

One day, Fasching-Varner used Skype for a meeting he couldn’t attend. He realized this is a simple, cost-effective way to connect for many purposes, not just meetings.

This realization led to the creation of “Skype-a-Scholar,” a program for students to engage visually and audibly during class time with scholars and educators.

“It seemed to make more sense if the authors could speak one-on-one with the students,” he said.

Fasching-Varner’s major goal for “Skype-a-Scholar” is for the students to understand they are reading someone’s thoughts and personal experiences, and that real people write these articles and textbooks.

“When the author is still alive there is potential to connect, generate critical thinking and engage in mature, respectful debates,” he said.

“These projects are always ongoing,” Fasching-Varner added. “During a summer elementary curriculum class, students took up leadership, connecting with authors through Facebook and e-mail to discuss availability and willingness to talk. Classes were held in the William Pinar and William Doll Curriculum Theory Conference Room to take advantage of multi-media capability. Class started with discussion, followed by connection with the authors.

Skype sessions begin with students asking speakers how they came to do their work. This creates understanding of the intellectual, personal, and professional pathways authors take. Students have the opportunity to ask scholars questions, leading to dialogue on many topics. Skype sessions last from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on scholar willingness and availability.

After the Skype sessions, students debrief and discuss the previous conversation. Some students continue dialogue with authors in free time through e-mail, while others continue reading additional works.

In two years, more than 145 students and 25 scholars participated in the “Skype-a-Scholar” program.

“Skype-a-Scholar” courses include Seminar in Research Teaching I-II from 2011-2013, Elementary School Curriculum of summer 2012 and 2013, and Critical Race Theory Seminar in summer 2013.

Speakers are professors, authors, and well-recognized in their fields of knowledge, which range from law to education to race. Students spoke with Christine Sleeter, an American professor and educational reformer with focus on multicultural education, and William Ayers, an American elementary education theorist and retired professor in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as well as Nel Noddings, a leading American feminist and educationalist.

Other speakers included Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School specializing in race and gender issues, David Stovall, a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in critical race theory and Bryan Brayboy, a Borderlands Professor of Indigenous Education and Justice in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University.

Using Skype in the classroom “made the world come to us,” said Fasching-Varner. Classes Skyped with professionals located is close as New Orleans and as far away as Hawaii. Learning is interactive, and required readings become human rather than citations at the end of a paper.

This unique experience cannot be found in many classrooms, setting LSU professors apart from the rest.

The LSU School of Education offers graduate and undergraduate programs in curriculum and instruction and in educational leadership, research and counseling. The school’s mission is to prepare P-12 educational professionals to be leaders, practitioners and scholars knowledgeable in contemporary educational issues. Visit the School of Education at

The College of Human Sciences & Education is a nationally accredited division of LSU. Formed in 2012, CHSE brings together programs and capitalizes on individual strengths to create a dynamic new college that addresses the socially significant issues we face as a state and nation. The College is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Human Resources Education and Workforce Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work and the University Laboratory School. These combined units offer seven undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,600 undergraduate and 1,000 graduate students. The college is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research and service and is continually working to improve its programs. Visit the College of Human Sciences & Education at

Billy  Gomila 
LSU Media Relations

Posted on Friday, August 2, 2013