Professional Learning

Use Skype with Students

April 22, 2009

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!

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