Skype from a Teacher's Point of View

Today I got an email from a teacher in local school that doesn’t have VC (H323) equipment in his school. The teacher explained why he plans to use Skype instead:

I received my classroom upgrade and I have a [laptop] and [interactive whiteboard] which does allow me to utilize Skype for videoconferencing.  I will likely go that route this year because there are some opportunities from sites like Skype in Schools and Skype An Author.  [Tech name deleted] is so swamped in our district just trying to do tech support, it makes it hard for teachers to set up special projects that require extra hook-ups and equipment.

Now, how can I pull this teacher into doing all the programs we offer? I thought of Polycom PVX, but he has a Mac. I’ve played with XMeeting for the Mac, but I think it might be too annoying and unreliable. If I could get low cost software on that computer that is connected to the [interactive whiteboard], we could be up & running for all the other content available via H323 as well as the Skype content.

Intriguingly, a superintendent asked me for this a year ago – see my VC in every classroom post.

Videoconferencing as a way to enrich the curriculum will never be mainstream until teachers can innovate and implement easily on their own like they do with Web 2.0 tools. It has to be super easy and not require much, if any, tech support. Teachers ask, “Does it have to be formal and complicated?” It’s a good question and we have to keep working towards making it way easier.

We need something very low cost that has no peripherals and extras, no complicated and unreliable H.239, etc. and can be installed on the computer that is hooked to the interactive whiteboard. Who will make it????

What do you think? Am I off base here? Please comment!

0 replies on “Skype from a Teacher's Point of View”

  1. I never was successful with Xmeeting – very frustrating and I have a clue about what I am doing. Web 2.0 tools are great for people to use because they can use them everyday with friends and family. Bringing them into the classroom is an added bonus.

    What I have seen is that in education and medicine there tends to be more of a proprietary approach to technology. People what you to buy in to their system and that system won’t necessarily play well with others.

    The services you provide via polycom et al, are they not possible via Skype? or is it the multipoint functionality that becomes the issue?

    Certainly from an informational vendor standpoint, if they can present once to many, it becomes a very effective use of time – compared with many different one on one sessions.

    I wish I had a solution…

  2. Janine, you have prompted me to ponder this recently. I have such a passion for video conferencing. I’ve recently described it as a “magic technology” because of the power to engage kids. I think you have to see it to “get it”. BUT the power of these sessions is the pedagogy!!!

    I believe that these kinds of sessions could occur through another technology tool BUT even with Polycom PVX running from my laptop, I am currently limited by the built in camera in my laptop that can’t capture groups.

    I had to admit today, however, that I think H323 will slowly diminish as new technologies are developed. I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea of availability in every classroom and ease of use.

    BUT again, the power of these sessions is the pedagogy. Even if the tools change, we need need to support teachers in understanding best practices and developing projects that are meaningful, aligned with curriculum needs, truly engage students, and include assessment.

    Anyone need a ladder to meet me up here on my soapbox?

    Thanks again Janine for sharing your thinking!

    • The camera! The camera. You’re right on there, Linda! I’ll come up with you on your soapbox! 🙂 If we could just have both worlds, right? easy availability and a robust tool for the pedagogical needs….

      In the meantime though, this conversation really helps clarify for me why I prefer the room/group videoconferences for our projects. Those presets are just GREAT! Can you imagine Monster Match without zoom and showing/not showing the monster?

      Thanks for joining the conversation!


    • Thanks Geoff – do you know if there is a reseller in the US? It looks like you can just buy the one client also – I think we’ll have to try this out. Are you using it? What do you think of it?

  3. The other thing to think of is that there is a LOT of money, time, etc going into creating 21st Century classrooms for the teachers. So with their rooms all tricked out, it would be best to be able to bring videoconferencing into that environment instead of having to move the students into a different room.

    I think of the difference in my work habits when I got the Polycom 3000 sitting on my desk. I also have a Logitech webcam hooked up to my computer. This enables me to connect to both my H323 friends and my Skype buddies at a moment’s notice. Think of the power when it is always available for teachers!

    I also agree with Linda on the pedagogy aspect. As with any of the classrooms tools, someone needs to assist with troubleshooting and excellent pedagogical guidance. One of my teacher friends said it best, “I want someone to listen as I share my lesson ideas. Then tell me all the choices of technology that I have available and then come and HELP ME MAKE IT WORK!” (emphasis mine) She is a very techie person, but the technology she has access to is not always in tip top shape and the reality is that when you are trying to do something with 22 active kids, you need an extra set of hands.

    Thanks for keeping us thinking!

    • It’s those 21st century classrooms that I just can’t stop thinking about. There must be a way to get VC on those interactive whiteboards!!!! I can think of several teachers in my county who have a “tricked out” room and have experience with VC, who would, in a heartbeat, be my guinea pigs to play with a new tool….


  4. One other thing…why is no one talking about the Skype 4.0 weirdness about getting it to accept shared details? Is no one else having trouble with that on the new installs? We had to go back to 3.8 to get it to work correctly.


  5. I love the fact that through these posts….the primary focus is first on kids and second on making technology integration easy for teachers. That ROCKS!

  6. Great discussion!

    I’m in favor of Skype if there is an interested teacher and there is no other option. But in the case of the teacher quoted, I have this question, “Why should the tech have to take time out to do the hook-up?”

    In my district, all of our carts are mobile, so the students never have to leave their classroom to use it. In addition, the “hook up” requires two things to be plugged in. It is simply a matter of training the teachers how to do it. And, yes, LOTS of teachers resist this and want someone else to do it for them. But when you have a teacher that is interested, like the one quoted above, show them how and let them do it.

    Now, about the classrooms that don’t have access to H.323 equipment. Skype, definitely is an option, but not without it’s problems. Audio is always an issue when dealing with a classroom situation. And the more advanced options just aren’t there.

    But I think solutions are coming…as I have shared with some of you, my new bridge has an option that allows you to connect to a H.323 call using only a webcam and a small downloaded client. Then the participant is fully interactive and can even share their desktop. However, you still have the limitations of the camera and audio. So even that is not perfect. But it is a step in the right direction.

    • Thanks for sharing, Lori! In this particular district I need to figure out a way to get the tech to let go of it. 🙂 I’m working on it!

      I agree with you the solutions are coming. I’m just getting impatient!

      • I have those issues, too. The tech, or cart manager in my case, thinks they have to do all the conferences. I try to work with them on relenquishing control, something I struggle with myself. 🙂

    • Lori,

      There are good echo cancelling speaker/microphone combos available that can help with the Skype/room audio issue. Look at the Phoenix Duet, Polycom Communicator and ClearOne CHAT devices.

      Equiping a computer with a firewire cam(corder) and a USB speaker/mic can provide solutions to the input/output issues, but are much harder to setup and run than an integrated applicance with remote control PTZ camera and echo cancelation built in.

      Cost vs. ease of use vs. protocol vs. etc.


      • Maybe this is the way to “hook” in a teacher who just wants to dabble in VC, and then they will realize that they want/need a “real” unit.


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