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Skype Simplifies Online Chats

What is it? A free videoconferencing program, Skype allows any two people with an Internet connection and computers with Web cameras to participate in a two-way online chat. During a Skype video chat, both parties can use their cameras to either have a face-to-face discussion or to show the other person anything that you can get into the field of view of your Web camera.

How does it work? Both participants in a Skype video chat must register with Skype and obtain a Skype user ID. Because Skype has become enormously popular, it can often be a challenge to get a simple ID that is easy to remember. Because you may not be able to get “JoeSmith” or even “Joe_Smith” as your user ID, Skype also allows its users to look people up by their real name. In general, though, Skype works best when you know the ID of the person you intend to chat with. If you have the other party's Skype ID, making a “call” is as simple as typing in his/her ID and pressing the call button.

How hard is it to use? Skype offers a very intuitive set of controls with a limited number of buttons which all use simple terms like “call” and “hang up.” For most people, the hardest part of using Skype would be configuring a Web camera if your computer does not have one built in (nearly all laptops built in the last few years would have one). Skype has a quick learning curve, but before using it in the classroom, it makes sense to have a test video chat – perhaps even with someone else in your school building – to make sure your technology works and that you have a stable Internet connection.

How well does it work? Skype relies entirely on your Internet connection. If you have a weak connection or one that goes in and out, the video picture can freeze or move in a less than fluid fashion. In general, Skype works better over a wired Internet connection as those tend to be more stable, but a strong Wi-Fi connection will work just fine.

How do I use it in the classroom? Skype allows you to have guests in your classroom that otherwise would not be available to you. It's relatively easy to connect a computer to a television screen (a simple cable, though the type varies depending upon the TV being used), and once your video guest is on a television screen, he or she can easily address your whole class. Skype would also be a way to hold parent/teacher discussions “face to face” when the parent could not physically come into the school.

Tech in the Classroom is a recurring feature that examines widely available technology, software and gadgets and how they might be used in a school setting.

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Article by Daniel Kline, EducationWorld Contributing Editor
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