Reflections on Desktop Videoconferencing

Last week I taught 3 sessions of Skype for the first time. I found it fascinating and want to share some of the comments and reactions from my teachers.

What I Covered

  • An intro to how Skype is used in the classroom: heavily dependent on pictures and videos from Silvia Tolisano. She seems to be the “queen” of Skype in the classroom as far as I can tell!
  • We installed Skype, added contacts, practiced chatting, calling, and sending video (by muting our speakers to avoid awful audio in the room). We set the privacy settings to school recommended settings: only receiving calls or chats from my contacts.
  • We connected to one or two people, depending on the length of the workshop.
  • We had a lot of discussion on best practices, classroom management, comparing to H323, etc.

Here are some of the areas we discussed and how the teachers reacted.

H.323 Standards Based Videoconferencing

Since almost everyone in my workshops were already familiar with and using their Polycom cart, they really wanted to compare! I thought I should try to teach Skype for Skype, but they asked too many questions!

  • I ended up adding slides to my workshop PPT to compare H323 based on these two comparisons: from March 2010 and July 2010.
  • We couldn’t talk about Skype without bringing in a conversation about H323 desktop videoconferencing. That is the “in between” solution that has the best of Skype and the best of H323.
  • My teachers don’t want to go to just Skype. They want H323 as well, preferably in their classroom.

Ideas for Using Skype

I found it very interesting to hear what teachers wanted to do with Skype:

  1. First and foremost: they want to connect to family. One participant last week added her college age son to her Skype contact list and before the workshop was over she was talking to him at college!
  2. A journalism teacher wants to use Skype for students to interview sources for their articles. The students would do individual Skype calls. We discussed using use science fair poster boards to reduce sound challenges having more than one skype call in the classroom at the same time. She also wants to be able to record the interview for evaluation/grading. There are a lot of tools for recording – but I don’t yet know which is the best. Do you have an opinion? Please comment!
  3. Using the conference call feature (voice only) to do grade level meetings across the district.
  4. Middle school scientific data collection to increase test validity (better quality data).

Teachers Want Support

While I’ve heard edtech types say “Skype is easy; teachers can do it on their own”; that is not the feedback I received last week.

  • Teachers want a “21st century learning facilitator” like Silvia Tolisano is for her school.
  • Teachers don’t feel comfortable with the challenge of finding a partner class on their own or building their personal learning network (like Silvia has 200 people on her Skype contact list). They want help with this!
  • One teacher, with a fairly high level of ed tech skill, confided that he found it very difficult and discouraging trying to find a partner class for a Skype project. He had tried for a full school year with no success.
  • When they thought about registering for CAPspace or Silvia’s Around the World site,  they didn’t want to get a lot of email. This again shows the need for a “coordinator” to build the network and assist.

It seems that just like support is needed for H323 videoconferencing, it is essential for Skype as well.

Access and Capabilities

  • Teachers are super super excited about VC in their classroom. There are issues with vc in the library and noise if another class is there too; issues with scheduling the space (not the equipment – the space!) for VC; etc. Access in the classroom!!
  • Tech directors are worried about the loss of capability with desktop VC compared to VC systems/carts: loss of zoom, pan, tilt, presets, ability to plug in multiple peripherals. Teachers don’t care about that. The access in their classroom is worth that loss.

Logistics, Webcams and Microphones

  • Before last week’s trainings, I thought I wanted to mount the webcam on the interactive whiteboard or somewhere at the front of the room. But I found all week that it was nice to be able to pick up the webcam and move it around: angle it one way or another depending on the need, etc.
  • One participant had noticed that using the built in camera/mic on a laptop there was no echo (in his own use of VC); but more likely to get echo when using a webcam. This is an interesting observation that I would like to verify and test further.

So, what do you think? Are you hearing these same kinds of reactions from your teachers? Did anything in this list surprise you?

6 replies on “Reflections on Desktop Videoconferencing”

  1. Hi,

    I enjoyed your article about Skype and H.323. It raises a long term concern I have about technology. My concern is how much long-term support needs to be offered before the teacher adopts the technology as a practice.

    We know with school budgets we can’t continue to add people and in many ways it is unfair to ask another teacher to be the coordinator for these connections.

    I think two things need to happen. First, teachers need to take more responsibility for planning and participation. Saying, I don’t want to get a lot of email is an excuse. Posting to a site usually does not generate a lot of email. If it does it gives you more choices. Once you have found a partnership it is easy to reply to emails from other teachers that you have found a partner, but will save their email address for next year.

    Second, the role of the media specialist needs to be redefined. That person needs to become a information resource person. That information can be books. web sites, and people. They should be helping teachers find and identify resources for their teachers.

    Random thoughts,


    • These are good points, Jim! Thanks for sharing!

      A question though, how many different technologies do you think that we can expect teachers to keep up with, reasonably? or is it ok if one teacher specializes in VoiceThread, another in Skype, another in wikis – and they mostly use just that one…

      As educational technology folks, we’re pretty adept at keeping up, but we don’t also have on our plate keeping up with changing curriculum requirements, increasing autistic kids, etc. etc.

      What do you think?

      • I say we provide long-term support as long as they need it. I have found that “long term support” in schools is not always as long term as one might need to develop fluency and confidence with a technology.

        It seems easier for ed tech folks to stay up on more of the funny-named new technologies. I have close friends who are excellent teachers and also pretty good at tech, but when you really listen to all of the “gotta do” list, it is a lot. Add to that the increasing paperwork requirements and meetings.

        Much of how I learn tech stuff is tinkering and doing, which I can do as I go about my day. If I were teaching full time, every day, I would not tinker as much because my family takes a great deal of time in the evenings.

        It is a challenge for all of us to keep up with so much, so I am an advocate of help each other. I also like to create projects where teachers can learn these technologies embedded in a project. My teachers have responded positively to that. I have seen that they are comfortable with knowing I am there for support and more willing to take additional risks.

        Now, back to learning Camtasia!
        Cheers, Roxanne

  2. Ideas for using Skype

    I was out of town for my son’s spring student-led (ie. parent-teacher) conference. So I asked my wife to bring our laptop (with integrated web cam) to the conference. Sitting outside the classroom, before the confernce, she connected to the (school’s) WiFi network and we established the Skype link.

    When it was time for our conference she walked in with my son and (me on) the laptop. She sat down, placed me facing my son on the table and I was able to attend the conference.

    My son’s teacher commented that this was the second Skype assisted student led conference that week (although the first was voice only.)


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