SkypeFounded in 2003 with the purpose of breaking down barriers to communication, Skype began as a free software program that could be used to connect people over the Internet, through text, voice, and/or video. Skype, realizing that educators were using the software to connect their classrooms with others around the world, created Skype in the Classroom. According to Educators Move Beyond the Hype Over Skype from Education Week, “…targeted use of Skype can bring pedagogical benefits, whether it makes students conduct research necessary for a video presentation more seriously, encourages instructors to focus on broader concepts instead of individual problems because tracing and fixing student work directly is more difficult, or exposes students and teachers to real-time technology problem-solving.”

Why use Skype?

In Rationale for Using Skype in the Classroom, Keith Ferrel of Ed Tech Ideas says, “Skype is an awesome world-opener for education,” but suggests that teachers inform parents before using Skype. His article is a research-based response to fears and/or misinformation over the security of using technology in the classroom, or what the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use calls technopanic, “a heightened concern about the use of the Internet by young people that is not grounded in the actual research evidence.

As Ferrel explains, we are preparing students for the 21st century and technology is one of the tools they will use most often. Let’s teach them to use these tools in a safe environment. That includes showing students to use built-in security features and instructing them not to put personal details in their profiles that will be publicly available. Students must learn how to spot scams and fraudulent sites (see the May 2010 Toolbox, “Beyond Wikipedia”), how to block unwanted requests, password security, and online etiquette.

Writing on Reasons for Skyping in the Classroom, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano says there are different ways why you are/could/would/should be using Skype with your class:

  • raise global awareness
  • keep in contact
  • report live from a location
  • receive or share information about content students have been studying
  • practice public speaking skills (communication skills)
  • get in contact with an expert on the topic you are studying
  • talk to eye witnesses

And Educa offers these suggestions for using Skype:

  • Career education--visiting a workplace guided by one the parents of one of your students who works there.
  • After-school help – Tutors and teachers can provide after-school help to students who need extra attention.
  • Student Inclusion--helping an ill classmate join the classroom from home.
  • Volunteer to help kids in other countries learn English – connect with schools in developing countries for cultural and educational benefits.

Tips for using Skype

The Complete Educator’s Guide to Using Skype Effectively in the Classroom will show you via screenshots how to set up the Skye software. This teacher-oriented how-to site links to several other educator tips including Skype Jobs for Students, which suggests ways to get several students involved in lessons that feature Skype.

On an e-Journey with Generation Y’s Using Skype in the Classroom lists some skill sets we can teach students:

  • How to speak to a web camera
  • How to use a microphone
  • How to be confident in front of a camera
  • How to display visuals/conduct demonstrations for the camera
  • How to prevent background interference
  • How to use the chat window for feedback and questions

The author also discusses classroom management issues and constraints when using Skype. For example, the inability to have video with more than two participants (or classes) connected, the instability of bandwidth in some countries, and school filters that block access to Skype. You should also know that Skype is resource heavy, so be sure to close other programs before using Skype. You can get more information at Tips for Effective Videoconferencing from East Carolina University, which runs BITE 675, an exclusively online course.

Improving our Skype Calls from the blog, “Technology in our Classroom,” suggests the best ways to set up the equipment, use the microphone, be an audience member, and plan what to talk about. Also see Document Cameras and Skype for tips on technical issues that you might encounter.

A Few Tips and Tricks for Student  Filming in the Classroom gives hints about how to hold the camera, recording, using the microphone, length of video clips, taking close-ups and panoramic shots, being aware of lighting and background, and paying attention to photo releases. (You can download a free program for recording Skype calls at Scribie – Windows version only. Other resources are PowerGramo, the MP3 Skype Recorder, or see this list of 15 Apps for Recording Skype Conversations.)

Skype Tips from Edublog has some good suggestions including: don’t speak too loudly (increases feedback); use a “talking stick” so students have a way to take turns; and assign someone to close out the call by thanking the other class.

Using Skype in the Classroom (or Just Learning How to Use it!) from one of our favorite sites, Cool Cat Teacher Blog, includes a short “skypecast” - “Cool Cat Tips for Skype in the Classroom” and you can read an outline of How I Taught Skype to My Class.

Lessons with Skype

Skype in the classroom was created as a response to the global use of Skype by classroom teachers. It’s a place where classes can collaborate on projects, teachers can connect with teachers, and you can find videos, links, and tips.

50 Awesome Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom+ discusses ways that educators are using Skype to promote education. Ideas for enhancing the language classroom , conferencing with author/illustrators, presenting performances, and conferencing with parents are included in these links.

10 Ways to Use Skype in the Classroom highlights suggested uses, and features articles on “Five Skype Companion Tools,” and “Three Ways to Connect with Others Using Skype” (online Skype communities, global Skype projects, and Skype in Education directories).

Motivating Adult Learners – Skype an Expert suggests ways you can use Skype with adult learners: to debate with another class, tour a building, conduct role play, practice English, interview experts, or hold elections. Bring experts into your classroom with a list of experts willing to Skype with your classroom. The list is current as of this writing with the date the expert was added to the database, his or her area of expertise, name, e-mail address, time zone, Twitter username, and website. You can add your name to the database using the online form.

For schools looking for your expertise, see the Skype Want-Ads or Skype Other Classes. The ePals Global Community is another source for collaboration and proclaims itself the world’s largest K-12 learning network. Try out The Virtual Scientist Guest Lecture Series, where you can sign up for your own visit from a virtual scientist.

Download a free lesson plan from the Idaho State Department of Education, learn How to Use Skype in the ESL/EFL Classroom, or learn how other teachers are using Skype in these YouTube videos from Jog the Web. You can also find a lesson plan on the history of Skype in this Lesson Plan for Secondary School (click on the table of contents for more lessons).

Module Two Lesson Plan for K12 is a comprehensive, downloadable lesson on making global connections from Discovery Education. The Skype Curriculum Map has beginner lessons on Japan, Australia, and gun control, with objectives, skills and strategies, activities, and comments listed in an easy-to-read grid. Take a look at lesson plans on Reconstruction and Jim Crow Laws with a Skype Interview, Interviewing Peers from Other Countries Using Skype, or see this extensive list of Skype Lesson Plans from Lesson Planet.

Assessing learning with Skype

Assessment of Learning via Skype provides teachers with some pre-activities (learning about the culture, using Google maps to learn about location and distance, developing questions for the call, and handing out job responsibilities). The site includes several handouts that students can fill out prior to a call, including “Preparing for a Skype Call,” “Where in the USA?” and “Where in the World?” The list of tasks during the call includes those listed above under Skype Jobs for Students. The follow-up activities include:

  • Debrief after the Skype call as an informal assessment.
  • Evaluate and categorize the data collected.
  • Put together video clips of the Skype call.
  • Create a photo slideshow of images.
  • Write reflective blog posts.
  • Host a parent (or board, community) presentation session at school.

Seven Tech Integration Lesson Plans: Let the Voting Begin!  from Edutopia includes descriptions of seven lesson plans, along with ideas for assessment.

Are you hooked? Keep up with new ideas and classroom innovations by “liking” the official Skype in the Classroom Facebook page.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.