Skype: Free and Still Fine

Teachers Review Technology in Education | By Shelley Grey-Sortland (BOLT student)

Description of Skype 

Skype is a free VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) application that provides free video calls, phone calls, conference calling, instant messaging, the sharing of files and images, and screen sharing.  It is a popular service as it is user-friendly and does not require much equipment: a computer, high-speed internet connection, a web cam, and a microphone are all that is needed.  Skype can also be accessed through an app on a tablet or cell phone.

Strengths 

  • it is a free service with some upgrades available (such as the ability to call land lines and cell phones, call forwarding, or the ability to record calls); consequently, almost any student can make use of this technology

  • minimal equipment is required (i.e. high-speed internet, a web cam, and a microphone)

  • set up is quick and easy

  • Skype can also be accessed through cell phones or tablets, allowing users a variety of options and great flexibility

  • screen sharing

  • instant messaging with a whole slew of emoticons to enjoy

  • file sharing

  • the Skype website is useful with a list of FAQs and help topics, as well as tutorials for troubleshooting

Improvements Needed 

  • group video calls are possible but the number of people is limited to maintain video quality

  • your Skype name, age, language, and location is public; this means that other Skype users can try to call you.  You can choose not to accept these calls or change your settings so that you only accept calls from existing contacts

  • bad audio or video quality is a common problem, with calls sometimes being dropped

Applications for the Technology in K-12 Blended Learning

Skype is an excellent communication tool in a blended and online learning environment.   A teacher’s Skype name can be included in his or her contact information, along with standard items such as a phone number and email address.  Usually, the student would request to be added as a contact by the teacher.  Once this has been established, students can see when the teacher is online and available.  Typically, a teacher would have Skype open during office hours unless she was unavailable to students.  Instant messaging is a quick and effective way for students to reach out to their teachers for help, and has an immediacy that surpasses email.  One can see when the other person is typing so students know the teacher has received their message and is in the process of responding.  The wide range of emoticons are indeed fun but also serve a purpose: they can help students understand the teacher’s tone and inject some humour into the communication.

Students are often reluctant to talk on the phone with their teachers and are sometimes more comfortable communicating through text.  This allows some time for them to formulate their questions and responses; it can also lessen the anxiety some students might feel when faced with a phone conversation.  Skype is also convenient for students to use.  Students might not have access to a phone during office hours or are unable to call from where they are working on a course; however, with access to wifi, they can instant message the teacher with questions or concerns.

Skype can also be used for audio or video calls.  This is particularly helpful when long distance charges would be incurred by the student in order to contact his or her teacher.  If a student is comfortable with a video call, this is an excellent way for students to put a face to a name and help create a more personal relationship with his or her teacher.  If a teacher was working in a synchronous environment where students were collaborating, group video calls could be used to facilitate this.

Screen sharing is also useful in a blended and online teaching situation as the teacher could share her computer screen with the student to demonstrate a skill or task, or help problem solve.  It would be an excellent way to show a student how to navigate through an LMS  or access parts of his or her course.

Finally, file sharing is handy because a teacher can share documents with a student during the course of a text messaging conversation.  Study guides, explanatory documents, and rough drafts can be shared back and forth as needed.  It is helpful for the teacher to be able to send the document as soon as the student asks for it rather than trying to remember to do so after the conversation.  The teacher can also see whether the student has downloaded the document which can be useful in tracking a student’s activity and involvement.

While there are other options for video conferencing available such as Adobe Connect or Google Hangouts, Skype is still a great option for use with students for its ease of use.  No gmail accounts are needed and students can instant message teachers whenever the teacher is available. Skype is free and still has enough options to make it a good choice for the blended and online environment.

References 

Freeman, S. How to Use Skype. Retrieved from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/tips/how-to-use-skype.htm

 Skype: Introduction to Skype. Retrieved from http://www.gcflearnfree.org/skype/1

Top Ten Reviews. Retrieved from http://voip-service-review.toptenreviews.com/skype-review.html

About the Contributor

 

Shelley has been involved with online distance learning since 2006.  After being in a bricks and mortar school for ten years, she discovered the exciting world of online teaching through Alberta Distance Learning Centre where she has worked as a marker, peer reviewer, and lead teacher.  She is currently working on a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Technology-Based Learning through Athabasca University and is enjoying the challenges of being on the learner’s side of a distance ed course.

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