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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Use Skype with Students

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I am traveling through India right now and doing workshops in private schools on technology-rich project learning. India has proven to be simply an amazing experience, and I will be sending along some other posts about what I am seeing here, but I thought I would start on the communication front.

During my time in China last September, my cell phone, an LG 8300 from a major American cell service, behaved like a champ. (Read my post about that trip.) But on this trip, I am finding it less than helpful. It worked fine in the Delhi airport, and here, on the outskirts of Bangalore, I am told I have a good signal, but . . . nothing. And technology is what I do for work!

Credit: Jim Moulton

So I have been using Skype to stay connected with the folks back home as well as to connect with the people I'm working with in India. Though my cell phone's functionality has been terrible, Skype has been nearly flawless. I have called Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Chandigarh, India. True, when the wireless connection gets a little funky, I drop a call or two. But overall, Skype has been great.

If you are a Skype user already, none of this will surprise you. But if you aren't, I think you'll be glad to learn about it. Skype is free software that enables users to make telephone calls via the Internet. It is free when making calls to other users of the service, and calls to toll-free numbers are also free. You can make calls to other land lines and mobile phones, but for a fee. Skype also offers instant messaging, the ability to transfer files, and videoconferencing.

Yup, that's right -- voice calls to any Internet-connected computer are free. Videoconferencing to other Internet-connected computers is also free. And, as I have become oh so aware of on this trip, you can make calls to any land line in the world for a very small fee.

My cell phone carrier had told me it would charge me $2.99 per minute for calls made while in India. "OK," I thought, "I'm going to be gone for more than three weeks, so it will be worth it to stay in touch with home." But I have been talking a lot with friends and family for the last few days -- once I gave up on the cell phone -- and I've used up about $6 of Skype credit in my account. And that is for the calls to land lines. I've also had several other video chats that have been free.

So, what might you and your students do with Skype? I have heard of cases in which an ill student was able to stay connected to her teacher and classmates via Skype, returning to school caught up, not behind. In January 2009, the School Library Journal published this article, which suggested using Skype to allow authors to virtually visit your classroom. And, being a librarian, the writer also included a nice task list to help you get started with Skype. I have to believe this is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Because of its profoundly simple power to connect people to people in a variety of ways at an extremely low cost, I know many other great things have to be happening with Skype as well.

To find other innovative uses for Skype in schools, do a search for the terms Skype and education. I must admit, I am surprised that there has yet to arise a one-stop shop for Skype in education, but perhaps I've missed it. I did find this great idea, though -- a Skype phonebook for educators interested in connecting with other educators to possibly collaborate.

So don't think technology -- think people. Who would you like your kids to connect to? And, as always, please share your energy and your ideas!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (50)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Lee Winik's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would love to be able to use SKYPE in the classroom but my district won't allow the use of this application because of its bandwidth hogging ways. From reading the other comments posted here Iam convinced of the many application for use of Skype in the classroom, but I know others who are in the same situation as myself who would love to use great web 2.0 tools like this but are unable to do so.

Lee Winik
Cold Lake, AB

Carolyn Foote's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Skype does offer information on their website as to how districts can configure Skype so it is safer and less of a bandwidth hog. We just installed it on limited computers in labs, rather than school wide.

John's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

See if they will let you use it on a "sign up ahead of time" . We use to do this with VCRs, Videodisk players and other AV stuff. I suspect that you tech dept doesn't want you to open it up and let it set unused. Good Luck

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My 12th grade Language Arts class communicates with a class in Brazil. We have been doing this using one webcam and rotating the students who are talking. We use my personal webcam which has both video and sound, so we do not have to use headsets. I have been fortunate to obtain a grant and plan to purchase more webcams so a larger number of students can be involved at the same time. Meanwhile, the other students respond to the students in the class blogs. We also use threaded discussion and chat using Tapped In. The students like the threaded discussion because they have more time to respond. The students do have their own accounts. We use translation sites because most of the Brazilian students speak Portuguese and are new to the English language. We are experiencing bandwidth problems, but the district hopes to correct that problem in the next school year.

I am always looking for international connections. I will contact you soon.
Cathy McDonald

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jim, You don't need to publish this, but would you be interested in pictures of students using SKYPE? Cathy

Maria Holland's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a teacher at Shaker High School in Albany Ny and am interested in a Skype communication with classes in Latin America.
My Skype name is maria.holland2 and I would like to set up something in June or next September when our school years begins.

Brenton Fish's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My school has recently gotten new computers for the teachers with web cams built in. Our tech person, said something briefly about video conferencing with other schools. I am a middle school math teacher and wondering if anyone had examples of how they have used skype in a middle schools mathematics classroom.

Alec Brindell's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I used to teach Spanish at the high school level and found a class in Argentina with which to communicate. At that time we did only writing hard copy letters. However, there was some interest in actually using the internet. If you are interested, I could get back in touch with teacher and ask her about starting up a Skype pen-pal communication.
Feel free to contact me at abrindell AT peachschools DOT org.

Peter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

For our whiteboards, we use Promethean. We also use a second-generation document camera (better than the original Elmo). The document camera hooks through the computer on a USB, the computer hooks to the whiteboard, so it's easy to get the document camera to display on the whiteboard. The document camera has an elbow so it can be pointed at the class, zoom in and out, and acts like web cam (only very high quality, digital in fact). One of our kinder teachers Skyped his dad in Florida who was on his boat and gave the class a talk on transportation. We also Skype from classroom to classroom in the building so one teacher can talk to and provide lessons to multiple classes. We are just in infancy (we only got our whiteboards the second semester of this year) but the potential seems very exciting!

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