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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

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

SKYPE (using a webcam) has been one of the technology tools that my classes use to collaborate with classes in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil three days a week. They discuss their cultures, politics, their dreams, and movies that both groups watch such as Freedom Writers. Our next movie will be a Brazilian movie with English subtitles.

I teach high school English in a high poverty urban school. Our look at communications has centered around the use of SKYPE and online translation tools. Our theme for the year is Global Connections: Crossing the Language Barriers.

If you are striving for ways to authenticate learning, it is great. My students talk to people we know who visit far away places such as India, China, and Kenya. When students can connect with other people from across America or from other countries, it broadens their view of the world and their own place in the global community. Using SKYPE is certainly a 21st century skill.

Cathy McDonald
Lovejoy Technology Academy
Brooklyn, IL

Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The Skype educator phonebook is http://skypeinschools.pbwiki.com/

Funny this comes out today...tomorrow I'm giving a presentation at NETA (http://netasite.org) about a project I've started this year. We study Nebraska history in 4th grade and have used Skype (and iChat) to connect 4th grade classrooms. Students learn about the different regions of the state, not from a book, but from kids their age who experience it every day. This is the website we've been using: http://sites.google.com/site/connectnebraska/

During our study of what a "hero" is (2nd grade), we used Skype to have our superintendent talk with the class about his hero, his wife. They also Skyped between classes in the district to share what they had learned.

We have also tapped into the expertise at our local zoo to Skype to a variety of elementary classrooms about different science topics. Those Skype sessions are followed up by hands-on presentations from some of our high school students that attend class at the zoo.

In one of our high school classes, students have Skyped with different countries during a comparative government class. Students are much more engaged learning it from actual people than out of a book. The questions asked during Skype discussions are far above those during a book discussion.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I would love to be able to Skype back during foreign visits. What a great opportunity Skype (and iChat and others) allows.

Jamie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love Skype! I work with 360 third through fifth graders at a magnet school for math, science and technology. We're located in north county San Diego and in the past, our technology focus has been almost nonexistent. This year we've stepped it up. We've used Skype several times. Most notably to video conference with a marine biologist in third grade for our ocean environment unit. Our fifth graders also conferenced with a representative from Surfrider Foundation while studying desalination and preparing a debate on the pros and cons of building such a plant in our community. We found Skype to be the easiest format to allow us to speak directly with experts in the field.

Howard Wolinsky's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am the US blogger for Skype.
I find these applications very interesting and wondered if any educators willing to share their Skype apps with me for coverage in the blog.
I am at howard.wolinsky@gmail.com


Jill SSDS's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

HAs anyone used SKYPE with SMARTBOARDS? I would like to know what model of camera and microphone would work in order to have the entire class be heard. Jill S.

James Petersen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...Except in Hawai'i where Skype and a whole host of other valuable digital resources (e.g. iTunes U) are blocked as a matter of policy by The State of Hawai'i Dept. of Education. Unfortunately, our students and teachers are not yet allowed to participate in the 21st century.

concretekax's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a middle school technology teacher in Michigan. I have skyped with classes in Italy and North Carolina. I also helped a language arts teacher skype a book talk with authors Linda Lowery and Richard Keep in Mexico.

In response to smartboards, I use an LCD projector to project to the class and it works great so I am sure a smartboard would work well.

Cathy Macdonald, I would love to skype with a class in Central or South America. If you know of any classes that would be interested please have them contact me.

twitter: concretekax
email: michael.kaechele@kentwoodps.org

Jennifer Long's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I first became familiar with SKYPE when my husband and I traveled to China to adopt our daughter. We were able to video conference with our sons at school each morning. I teach first grade, my husband HS world civ, and we spoke with different classes about our travel experiences. It was incredible. I've since used it in the classroom to connect with another class about the 100th day of school and to sing our Earth Day song. I'd love to use it more often. Thanks, Jennifer Long, Indiana

sinikka's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a beginning Skype user at school here in Finland, northern Europe. We have a lot of partner schools in Europe and Asia and would now like to expand our text-based chat rooms into voice and video calls. We had our first test run last week with a school in Italy, but only on my own laptop and with my headset and webcam. I have been wondering who the rest of you do it with a class. Does each student have their own computer and connection, and if so how do you set up user accounts for them?? I would really be grateful if somebody pointed me to the right direction, so I can start developing the system in my school. My students are 16-19 years old, and most of them fairly fluent in English, so if anyone is interested in contacting us Arctic Vikings, I am at sinikkalw [at] gmail.com

Josh's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm not sure what concerns you have with using Skype and a SMART Board? Your SMART Board will never connect with your webcam...the Board runs your computer. The worry you have is your webcam working with Skype and/or your computer. We use the Logitech QuickCam 9000 ($80-90). A lot of the webcams have a blue 'Skype Certified' sticker on the box. We've had good like, both personally and professionally, with Logitech. Also, it may be handy to get a webcam with a mic on it, which the Quick Cam does. That way you are always talking to the same place instead of having the camera in one spot and your mic in another. It's a personal preference.
One of our teachers has the QuickCam, which is built for a laptop, and instead of propping it on a laptop, props it on top of his SMART Board. It's got a movable brace that makes it movable up and down, so you could adjust it.

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