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Skype in the classroom, now 20,000 members strong

SITC at 20K.JPG

Today, we’ve reached a key milestone: Skype in the Classroom has grown to a community of over 20,000 educators who are collaborating on a wide variety of projects across the globe. To celebrate this milestone, I thought it would be a great idea to sit down with Tony Bates, President of the Skype Division of Microsoft, to have him elaborate more about this transformational program.

What does Skype in the classroom mean to you?

Tony: I think of Skype in the classroom as a magnifying glass into what’s happening in the world. It embraces the use of technology and overall transforms the way we learn. Classrooms are now bringing in all kinds of experts, educators and other students to talk over Skype. Olympians, NASA scientists, earthquake experts, celebrities, book authors, political activists and lots of other experts and students are making their way into classrooms across long distances due to Skype.

It helps students globally understand and examine the very things that shape their views of society, cultures, economies, business and education. It fulfills something that many of us have never had, or at least haven’t had easy access to in the past – and because of that, it has the potential to change the world.

How has Skype in the classroom been received by the teaching community?

Tony: It’s been better than we ever could have hoped. It’s been a great initiative led by one of our passionate managers, Jacqueline Botterill, who launched it about a year ago. Today, we’ve just reached a milestone – 20,000 teachers are now signed up and we are seeing dozens of new projects added every day. What’s been really interesting is that activity doesn’t slow down, even during school breaks. Teachers have realized the role that Skype in the classroom can play; they enjoy not only doing the actual video calls, but they also like getting together to discuss lesson plans, share advice and best practices in this community too.

What is your ultimate goal of this program?

Tony: Our ultimate goal here is to help connect a million classrooms. More specifically however, we’d like to ensure that every teacher posting a project within Skype in the classroom finds an expert or partnering classroom, and has a great experience.

We also want to continue to improve this platform and grow the community so it continues to be a vibrant destination for educators. We notice that the requests for partner classrooms are really interesting. Just the other day, I noticed a request for a partner classroom looking for a lesson on Cubism, and saw another classroom which was looking at Astronomy and how the night sky differs in different parts of the world. There’s a really big intellectual curiosity out there among this network of educators and it’s fantastic to realize the possibility of what kind of knowledge can now be brought into classrooms.

The community is attracting other valuable participants besides just teachers too. So we need to be able to support and cater to the scientists, experts, and authors out there who want to contribute their time and expertise to educating our children.

Where is Skype in the classroom most popular?

Tony: At present, secondary schools seem to be making most use of Skype in the classroom, but teachers with students of all ages are participating. Whilst we see a concentration of teachers in the U.S, we have teachers in over 170 different countries.

Where do you see this going in the future?

Tony: There’s a lot to be excited about here, but I think we are just at the very beginning. Distance learning has been around for a long time, and technology has helped it come a long way, but the power of this really unlocks as we get to a billion people, and access to the Internet and technologies like Skype stretches further into developing nations. That, in itself, is an inspiring vision because much of the world’s differences, violence and prejudice comes from the lack of education and deep-seated cultural views. A simple face-to-face conversation between opposing sides can potentially be the beginning of inter-cultural cooperation and understanding, and starting that in the classroom is the best place. That said, I am concerned about the continued headlines around the declining support of education. Lack of funding, lack of internet access, lack of equipment, lack of support for teachers – are big barriers. It’s important that we work together to help support education, and innovate further on the things that will invest in educating and improve the lives of young people across the globe.

In closing, we’re glad others are taking notice of this wonderful program. This past September, Skype participated in The New York Times event on education, and we’re pleased to see they have just released a whitepaper called “Schools for Tomorrow” showcasing how teachers can bring technology, such as Skype, into the classroom.

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