Professor Disrupting Lecture Hall with Best Use of Skype Ever

GUEST COLUMN | by Jessy Irwin

Through a YouTube request, professor John Boyer lands skype interview with Aung Sun Suu Kyi

For the third time in a row, Virginia Tech professor John Boyer has managed to turn a YouTube video from his World Regions class of 3,000 into a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity for his students. As an exceptionally passionate and somewhat irreverent educator who thrives on social media, Boyer has most recently used his viral YouTube tactics to lure actors Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez to Virginia Tech to present their film, “The Way.” During the Spring 2010 semester, he also convinced wine aficionado, social media guru and businessman Gary Vaynerchuk to stop through Blacksburg, Virginia, to speak to his Geography of Wine students during Vaynerchuck’s book tour.

In his latest viral attempt request, Boyer realized a World Regions professor’s dream– his class’s YouTube video has resulted in a Skype interview with Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of the resistance movement in Burma. The interview will take place during his regular World Regions time slot on Monday, December 5th at 7pm EST.

Having been recently liberated from 30 years of house arrest imposed on her by dictator Than Shwe, Suu Kyi recently met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is regularly courted by foreign media for interviews. That she could be convinced by the sheer enthusiasm of 3,000 students half a world away from her, to take the time for an interview—is a poignant example of how social media and technology can enhance and enrich student experience in ways never before possible.

Professor Boyer is working to open a live-feed of the Skype interview for educators and interested parties, though the event may also be live-streamed by various Asian media outlets.

In addition to his YouTube videos, Professor Boyer also maintains a course website and holds weekly office hours with his students using AIM and UStream. He frequently communicates course news and events through his Facebook page and Twitter account, and he and assistant Katie Pritchard actively uses the #wrvt hashtag for backchannel communication with his super-sized class.

Boyer has also included an army of parody Twitter accounts as part of his students’ coursework; students are graded on how well they respond to world news and regional issues as pertaining to their world leader, and they’re encouraged to be creative with the accounts.

At one point in Boyer’s career, students barely showed up for his class even though it fulfilled a core graduation requirement at Virginia Tech. Now, each semester begins with a huge wait list of students who want to take his course as an elective, but for whom there aren’t enough seats.

In a time when many question whether costly technology adoption is making a difference in education, the success of Professor Boyer and his class of 3,000 provides concrete examples of technology’s ability to positively impact—and disrupt—the traditional classroom (or lecture hall) for the better.


Jessy Irwin is social media maven for an educational software company in San Francisco, Calif.  She is an alumna of Professor Boyer’s World Regions course and has maintained multiple parody World Leader accounts for him on Twitter. She credits Professor Boyer’s educational use of technology as her inspiration for pursuing a career in social media in that field. Write to:


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