This is the first part of a three part blog series about how we built a new teaching community around an existing user behaviour on Skype in the classroom. Read parts 2 and 3.

Mystery Skype – what’s that?

Since 2010 we’ve been following the habits of the edtech community closely through managing the Skype in the classroom service.

Over the past year our curiosity was piqued by a game called Mystery Skype, a classroom activity devised by a group of edtech pioneers which is now being played across the world.

We discovered that Mystery Skype is very often the first type of Skype activity teachers try before trying out Skype for other lessons, and so we decided to investigate.

What is Mystery Skype? Mystery Skype is a game played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is simple: each classroom has to guess the location of the other by asking questions.

Mystery Skype is played by students of all ages and can be used to teach geography, languages, history, mathematics and science. It’s also a great way of learning how to be a critical, creative and collaborative thinker.

Here are some cute kids explaining why they like playing this game:

We don’t know where it started

Interestingly, neither the concept nor the name of Mystery Skype were created by Skype. The teachers involved in Skype in the classroom completed all the stages of the product design of Mystery Skype entirely independently – from brainstorming and sketching to testing, launch and marketing within the teaching community.

Ours was the easy part – building a central hub for this community to make setting up Mystery Skype lessons easier and in turn, further promote the use of Skype in education.

What is particularly worth highlighting is that Mystery Skype is essentially an Internet meme, and its origins are very difficult to trace back to one teacher or a given time period.

We know that it originated in North America, probably around 2010, probably on Twitter (see #MysterySkype) but no one is claiming sole ownership of Mystery Skype, which is why teachers are so enthusiastic about Skype in the classroom joining in to help improve the experience for this rapidly-growing community.

What do teachers say?

Since Mystery Skype was created by teachers, for teachers, the design of our Mystery Skype hub would also be made in collaboration with the teachers who are advocates of the game. We spoke to a select group of teachers from different parts of the world, with varying levels of experience of the game who were all passionate about Mystery Skype. Here’s what we explored:

An online space dedicated to Mystery Skype

Because Mystery Skype is so easy to play once you know the rules, teachers explained that they lacked a space where they could easily find other classrooms to play with, either by email or on Twitter. Small teacher-created spaces appeared online that tried to answer this need but they were largely inefficient spreadsheets uploaded to teacher blogs. How do we make teacher connections faster and more efficient?

Spreading the word

Mystery Skype is usually taught by word of mouth, at teacher training days, on Twitter or via blog posts. As a teacher new to the game, you have to piece your information together from a few different sources before you get started. We learned that teachers wanted an online space where they could access information on Mystery Skype and then go on to organise their first call. How can we help more teachers join the Mystery Skype community?

A lesson in digital skills and digital citizenship

Mystery Skype is a game which teaches students more than geography or teamwork, it also teaches them how to use other digital tools for research and communication. This aspect in particular was highly valued by teachers. Classes are divided into teams of navigators, researchers, reporters, photographers, bloggers, tweeters and many more. How do we emphasise this to new users?

What next?

Armed with this valuable information, we set out to define the problems that teachers were facing and in consultation with them, we came up with some simple ideas that could help make the Mystery Skype experience better for teachers.

Stay tuned for our next blog post that explains how we did this.

Read more:

Part 2: Mystery Skype - from meme to platform in three weeks
Part 3: Mystery Skype - from meme to platform in three weeks

Zofia Ciechowska

Zofia Ciechowska

Keep away from children and fire.


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