A ubiquitous tool–pros and cons

phonebookflickrbazzadarambler.jpg Skype seems to be the tool of choice for creating more global connections for educators.   It’s excellent for quickly contacting experts in other school districts, for joining in workshops as a guest speaker, for coordinating plans between presenters who live in different cities, and for coordinating global education projects, etc.

But some school districts have concerns about the software on the network.  (including mine). 

fallphotos07workshopsandconferences-467.jpg  We know many of the educational benefits of Skype–we have used Skype to skype in an author for a virtual author visit with our sophomore English classes, used it to Skype in several great speakers to our District Leadership team meeting, and used it within the district to communicate across the street with our learning center in answering a reference question.   

I know that some reservations can be handled with careful policies–such as having teachers initiate any use of it, using generic “skype names” when having students participate (like our author visit), using polite protocol, like asking permission ahead of time before Skyping someone, etc.   I share some ideas for that in an article I wrote a few months ago for School Library Journal on how we used Skype for our author visit.

But since it’s free and the main tool used by many schools involved in global projects and communication, it’s hard to easily replace with another one(which might involve cost for the other end user or involve them downloading and installing other software.)

I also think that it’s important to balance the needs of student learning in this 21st century environment with the issues of any network, risk vs. safety as Tim Stahmer has mentioned before.  Sometimes those things come into conflict, but I’m hopeful that there are “third ways” to solve some of those conflicts, by using best practices.

So I’d like to take a general survey out there and ask for comments about the use of Skype in schools.

There are concerns in our district and elsewhere about how Skype runs on a network, so it’d be helpful if any of you “techie types” or network administrators respond to that concern.  But I’d also be interested in knowing more about educational uses you’ve had for the tool.

Thanks ahead of time for the feedback!

8 thoughts on “A ubiquitous tool–pros and cons

  1. Not sure I offer up much information but I love Skype and think it is a valuable tool. Our district just shut it down because they shut down all peer-to-peer programs. We currently have certain machines we can do it on but the use of Skype is under discussion at the district level. They are at least open to conversation which is promising. We will see how it turns out.

  2. We have been using it away from the facility and are trying a couple of things out. I would think some directors have a problem with opening the ports you would need to open in order to have things flowing properly. We are working on those things now but our first priority is to increase our bandwidth to cover the basics. We only have a single T-1 and that is very sluggish for all we do. Will stay in touch about our progress.

  3. We use SKYPE occasionally on our campus — and as one of the IT staff, I can tell you that we have no real issues with bandwidth issues. We do have possible security issues that we stay aware of — and you might wish to check out these articles:



    We have NOT yet tried SKYPE with Video — but we did host a conference call with 8 other classrooms and had no connectivity issues at all.

    The classes which have used SKYPE so far are K6 classrooms. The teacher initiates the phone call and all students participate. We did not use headsets, had an external microphone, and a good set of speakers.

    The kids enjoyed (very much) the ability to converse with classrooms ALL over the world.

    Hope this helps a bit.

  4. Our IT department doesn’t like us using Skype but so far has not blocked it. Our firewall doesn’t allow incoming calls so we must initiate the conversation when we use it and IT will block an individual computer if Skype turns it into a “supernode”.

    I’m not totally sure what that is but I understand it will not happen if you don’t leave Skype connected for long periods of time. I also found a little script posted by a university IT department that edits the registry on a Windows machine and turns off the ability to become a supernode. You can find it here: https://www.cs.uwaterloo.ca/twiki/view/CF/SkypeConfiguration

    As far as actual use, we were able to get our curriculum specialists to approve Skype for use by teachers only. But that’s not really a handicap since teachers should be supervising any classroom use of a program like this anyway. For that reason, we expect that the teacher will know who they and the students are talking to and will restrict the information given by the kids appropriately.

    However, we really don’t have many teachers who have tried using Skype for instructional purposes. And most of those have been between two schools in our district, not into the outside world. But that’s a start!

  5. I use skype as a tool for connecting with people around the world as well as with other educators for professional collaboration and professional development. In addition, there was this great moment that happened in class earlier this year that Wes Fryer blogged about
    “The reality of our flat world was also confirmed this evening as I was blogging and received a Skype IM and then Skype audio call from Diana Laufenberg, a teacher at Mount Elden Middle School in Flagstaff, Arizona. She had read about the poor air quality in Shanghai on Will Richardson’s blog, and thought she’d skype me (since I was online and available) to get a firsthand report for her students. How cool is THAT?! Alan November would be proud… Diana is certainly making her “classroom a global communications center” as Alan encourages!” http://tinyurl.com/2lw8gg

    The students were absolutely captivated that we were able to connect with someone halfway around the world. Although we were not able to get video, the students still quietly stared at the screen with only a voice projecting, amazed.

    Skype is a tool that allows for the world to be a part of a classroom that desperately needs to be a part of the world in order to be educationally meaningful and relevant.

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