skypingThis morning Joanie and I have been investigating Skype (real time communication tools) to see how many people can video-conference on a basic (free) account and also whether it could be used to support students.

After some initial problems with being able to view the video – resolved by going into ‘Options’ > ‘Video Settings’ and selecting the right camera (in my case a Logitech QuickCam E3500) – we were ready to go. Just a note about the camera… you can use it to record yourself (good for creating quick podcasts) and it comes with a few different filters so you can broadcast yourself, for example, in a scratched, sepia-ish 50’s style!

Back to Skype… With the free version you can only talk to one other – although you can use the online chat feature to group conference – Mark P joined us for this. I don’t know what  maximum number you can have in a group – an experiment for a future LT meeting perhaps?

We then started to explore what else you can do with it through the ‘Extras’ (Tools > Extras > Get Extras). We both downloaded one called ‘TalkAndWrite Tutoring Tool‘  which is an interactive whiteboard with the usual drawing, typing and highlighting features although you can also select a ruled background which I didn’t expect. What is impressive is the ability to be able to upload files – we tried a Word doc. and, as pictured, a PowerPoint presentation. As you can see you can draw on it! You can flick through the slides and guide others to look at a particular page – and you can also chat. On the down side the PowerPoint won’t resize so, even on a widescreen monitor, you have to scroll a bit to see the whole slide. Also, it changed the background colour and some of the formatting… Unfortunately, as we were using a free version, you can only use it for 10 minute stretches (it has a countdown clock).

There are quite a few ‘extras’ available although not many seem to be obvious tools for supporting education – although I haven’t looked too thoroughly. Another one that might be good for language students is ‘Worldia‘ – “a free social networking service aimed for international users who are interested in other cultures and languages. Members can exchange information about life style, culture, and language and they can even talk directly using Skype communication feature.”

Worth a look…