Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Skype, and so here I’ll share some of my recent thoughts. I hope that you’ll join the thinking and discussion by commenting below!
My Own Use of Skype
I have used Skype for three or four years now. I use it at home to videoconference with family for holidays and special events. At work, I use Skype mainly as a chat tool to keep in touch with my videoconference colleagues – especially those at educational service agencies who have bridges. It’s so handy for troubleshooting when I’m on the phone with my school who is having trouble with a VC, and I can Skype the person hosting the VC on their bridge to brainstorm solutions. Once in a while I use Skype at work for a VC or phone conference, but very rarely.
My Schools and Skype
I have 70 schools with H323 videoconferencing, and we’ve invested a lot of time in creating a support structure and a menu of content to offer our schools. Up until last year, most of my districts were still using T1s as their connection to the Internet, so bandwidth has been (and still is in some cases) very tight and carefully monitored. Several of my districts block Skype due to concerns about the health of the school network. These challenges have mostly kept Skype off the radar in our districts.
One notable exception is a district using Skype to VC with a home-bound student for some daily instruction. There may be additional uses of Skype that I am unaware of.
Difference Between H323 and Skype
Just in case you’re not familiar with the difference between H323 videoconferencing and Skype videoconferencing, here’s a quick rundown:
- Skype is free; H323 requires special videoconference equipment
- H323 generally has good echo cancellation for classroom videoconferencing; Skype is designed for a person with a headset at a computer so echos can be a problem
- H323 is standards based, so you can connect to any other H323 device; Skype requires Skype on the computer you connect to
Is H323 Dead?
Last week, TelBitConsulting did a review of Skype and asked if H323 videoconferencing is dead:
Well H.323 is not really dead, but, you get the idea, maybe….ah….read on.
Except in the corporate world where high definition is the thing, I believe, now, that the standards-based H.323 videoconferencing market may not reach the masses as I, many years ago, had hoped would happen.
Don’t get me wrong, videoconferencing will still be a mass market (not counting corporate, education, telemedicine where it is doing very well thank you) success, but, the new king of videoconferencing for the masses may be (already is?) the Internet-based free (or very low cost) applications using a computer (laptop, network, cell phone, or desktop) and a web cam (built in or added).
I keep wondering about the future of videoconferencing in schools. I see the value of all the content we’ve built up around H323, but I also see the barriers to schools using VC on a mass level (beyond 30%). Will a tool come along that helps more schools access VC content? Would Skype be that tool?
So next, here’s some of my thoughts on pros & cons:
- Skype is free and fairly easy to install
- Can be used with a web camera under $100
- Content available includes growing directories of authors and schools
- Easy to have available in every classroom
- Web cameras don’t usually allow camera presets and various views of the classroom
- Does sharing the computer – a PPT presentation for example – work well enough for events like MysteryQuest?
- Can’t do multipoint calls for events like MysteryQuest, ASK, etc?
- Lots of H323 content providers not available via Skype
- Hard to restrict how many calls occur at once in low bandwidth schools (easier with a VC cart)
- Some school technology directors have valid concerns about Skype on their networks
I certainly plan to keep an eye on what is happening with Skype in schools. An interesting development is the OSU Internet2 team working on a Skype to H323 gateway. If regional service agencies could install a box like this to provide access to H323 content to schools with Skype, more schools could take advantage of the H323 content. I am anxious for this tool to become available to try out.
It’s hard to tell what is next for the videoconferencing world, but it seems that those of us in H323 videoconferencing should keep up on what is happening with Skype in schools as well. To that end, I’ve added a new tab to my blog to keep resources that I find about Skype. I will still spend the majority of my time on H323 videoconferencing, but I want to know what the “Skypers” are up to as well!
What do you think of Skype? Have you used it in your classroom? How would you compare it to H323 videoconferencing? What do you see as the future of VC in schools? Please comment!