Classroom Technology: Skype

Over the past decade, high speed internet connectivity and local area networks (LANs) have become available at the institutions our members work in.  This internet capability has allowed a number of technologies to flourish and support the educational process and the students we serve.  Older technologies that were expensive and complicated have been replaced by newer internet based tools that can be used cheaply and easily.

One such technology is video conferencing – also known as video chat. In the past, expensive systems were installed in specialized rooms to allow students to communicate via sight and sound with other students and resources in distant locations.  Many schools utilized this form of “distance learning” to allow students to take courses with low enrollments in a cooperative fashion.  For example, if only a handful of students wanted to take a foreign language class a school could not offer, they could attend a virtual class with other students from other schools to create a full class with a remote teacher.  This was especially prevalent in smaller schools – especially rural ones.  NYSUT currently uses this technology to connect with new members across the state to help them navigate the teacher certification process.

By now you’ve probably seen Cisco commercial featuring actress Ellen Page.  In this ad she visits a classroom that is going on a virtual field trip to visit students in China – courtesy expensive video conferencing equipment from Cisco.  This type of equipment is amazing, but not necessary.  You may already have the tools you need to allow the same type of video conferencing from your workplace, or can obtain them for very low cost.

If you have access to a computer and an inexpensive webcam ($30 – $100 for the HD version) you can connect with other computers around the world.  Many newer laptops have this camera built in.  The Apple MacBook Pro models come with these cameras, as do many Dell PC’s and computers from other vendors.  Software is available for free, and many educators are using Skype on their Windows and Macintosh computers to provide this learning tool.  Educators are using Skype many ways, including allowing students to video chat with book authors, go on virtual field trips, practice language skills with native language speakers, learn from guest lecturers, and demonstrate science experiments.  Check out this article to get some ideas on the many ways teachers are using Skype in the classroom.

Many of the educators using Skype are creating online communities so they can connect with each other to work together in their classrooms.  Various websites and services exist to make the task of finding other teachers and classrooms easy.  One such company, called ePals (http://www.epals.com/) has listings from all over the world and includes a profile on each classroom that wants to connect so you can find a match.

Using Skype is not difficult, and it does not require a special room, only a computer connected to high speed internet, a webcam, and speakers and a microphone.  There are many training videos and other online resources available to show you how to get started with Skype and use it in your educational setting.

If you are using Skype, please comment on this article online so we can learn more about how you use it!

About Dave Adkins

I was born and raised in upstate New York and still live there. I went to Syracuse University for a BS in Telecommunications, but did not quite stick to the standard four year plan. I took a year off and went on the road as a drummer in a top-forty band. After college, I continued to play and also did a tour as the Technical Director for an Ice Show (yes – skaters!). Our biggest show was for President Carter at the White House the Christmas before he left office. After getting married, I worked in a number of technology companies designing, consulting, and implementing computer systems and networks. In 1991 I finished an MBA with a concentration in Information Technology. My wife was in law school, so it was the perfect time to go back to school. After this round of graduate school, we had two kids (now 16 and 18 – boy and girl), and I went to work for New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) in 1993. In the new millennium, my wife got elected as a local judge, I finished a PhD in Information Science and moved up the ladder to become the Director of Information Technology for NYSUT. I am an adjunct professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the undergraduate program and have also taught in an evening MBA program. I also have been active lately giving "Cyber Safety" workshops for parents of teens. I enjoy volunteering as a Board member for several local organizations and recently dusted off my drums and started playing again.
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3 Responses to Classroom Technology: Skype

  1. Todd Bryant says:

    Our major use of Skype has been to connect our foreign language students with native speakers. We find them with a the Mixxer (www.language-exchanges.org), then they connect via Skype. They’re then able to practice their target language for half of the class in exchange for English conversational practice during the other half. Feel free to contact me if anyone is interested.

  2. Stephanie Paul says:

    I am a middle school Library Media Specialist and I used Skype for orientation purposes between schools in our district. One of the elementary Library Media Specialists asked if I would Skype with her 5th grade classes at the end of the school year so they could meet me and learn about going to the library in middle school. I ended up doing this many times with all three of my feeder schools. I talked about how the middle school library is different from the elementary library, showed them some items, and let them ask questions about the library or middle school in general. The sessions were only 15-20 minutes. I know I have become the “familiar face” in a new place because I happened to have the opportunity to run into some of the classes in person and they recognized me right away. I would say our pre-orientation Skyping was a huge success and will make the transition to middle school in September a bit easier.

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