Skype in the Classroom has signed up more than 16,000 teachers to its social network for educators, since launching a beta version in December. Its goal is to connect 1 million of them.
“Skype has been going on for many, many years, and teachers have been finding each other and they’ve been finding ways to use the power of Skype in the educational process for a long time,” said Skype CEO Tony Bates on Wednesday at the Social Good Summit. “We really felt that it was time to take this to the next level…moving from grassroots Skype in the classroom to an initiative driven by Skype.”
What has long been accomplished between teachers using Wikis and individual project websites is now getting some organizational help from Skype.
Using the platform, teachers can create profiles that describe their classes and teaching interests. They can also search a directory of teachers from all over the world by student age range, language and subject.
What is perhaps Skype in the Classroom’s most useful feature is a “project” tab that helps teachers find partner classrooms for projects and ideas. One teacher, for instance, used the platform to coordinate a “weather around the world” unit. A middle school in Massachusetts regularly chats with an Afghan youth peace volunteer group. Another was able to host a virtual visit from Barbara Bush.
“It doesn’t have to be a famous person,” Bates said. “A busy parent could share their skills from their office in the middle of the day.”
About 900 similar projects have been posted on Skype in the Classroom so far.
Bates announced the 1 million classroom goal on stage after using Skype to video call a sixth grade class in New Jersey.
In a recent small effort to reach it, Skype hosted a virtual panel with five teachers in conjunction with Clorox, which it is partnering with for its “Power a Bright Future” school grant program. It asked them about how they use Skype in the classroom and what kind of features they’d like to see.
Some of the suggestions, such as a Skype in the Classroom widget, are features Skype had already started to work on. The company announced a handful of additional improvements to the platform on Wednesday, including email notifications for projects, a Skype in the Classroom “badge” that can be displayed on a blog, an “I’d like to do this” button on projects that adds the teacher’s avatar to the project page, and an “I’ve done this” button for leaving feedback.
The discussion will continue through two more panels that will be open to about 15 teachers each.
“If Skype can have 170 million connected users in eight years,” Bates said, “can’t we have 1 million connected classrooms?”
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