Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Skype and virtual teacher/tutor support (including podcast with Steve Cross)

I know some of you have been using Skype for a long time; well I’m a late adopter of Skype (a so-called Voice over the Internet Protocol service. VoiP for short!).

What do I like about it? Well it’s free calls, it’s free video conferencing (1-2-1), free tele-conferencing, free instant messaging and a free whiteboard.

It is also being used by many training providers and companies for virtual training or support both on a 1 to 1 basis and also on a 1 to many basis (……case studies in a future blog perhaps). VoiP could be used as a standalone free service on the web. Alternatively some training providers may wish to integrate VoiP with their Learner Management System (LMS) or with their websites. Bebo has integrated Skype within it‘s social networking site. The thinking goes that it is best to use an existing proven VoiP and that a training company should go to where their customers are (millions are on Skype). It seems that out of the various VoiP providers, Skype is in pole position (though there is that issue that the commercial model is unproven!)

Here’s a short podcast between me and Steve Cross, (it was recorded over Skype) where we consider how easy it is for lower skilled lowers to use Skype and how it could be used for virtual training and support. Thank you Steve! (Steve's an expert on lower skilled learners and works for Ufi)

For the podcast please click on the audio player on the right hand side of this blog or http://www.gcast.com/u/darrensidnick/main (you can also download the podcast to iTunes from this link)

That’s the end of the blog, but if you want to read more details carry on (!!!)………….
4 main uses of VoiP for companies and training:
1) Corporate. Conference calls or video conference with a colleague for free (unfortunately the video conference is only between two people rather than many, but this is still useful for many business meetings)
2) Tutor support. Uses include 24/7 tutor support (1 to many); 1 to 1 teacher/tutor to student support
3) Instant Messaging - Skype is one of the leaders for instant messaging.
4) White Board function (though I haven’t tested this out yet!)

Question and Answers……..
1) What is the webcam/video quality like over Skype?
Well, CNN have used Skype for interviews. High quality video option in Skype is great. However, there is quite a big difference between standard quality (eg. with a cheap webcam) and high quality video in Skype (where you need a decent webcam like a Logitech Quick CamPro £45; decent broadband, and a dual core PC). High quality is up to 4 times better. It offers 640 x 480 resolution (standard is 320 x 240) and is 30 frames per second.

2) What is the audio quality like over Skype?
Overall very good. USB headsets (ie. Headsets that go into a USB port) offer better quality. Depending on your broadband connection and number of applications open, on your laptop, you can occasionally lose audio. Audio quality has increased so much over Skype that some companies now use it to record professional audio broadcasts (though for this level of consistent quality you need a fairly high technical knowledge of Skype functionality!!!).

3) There are free calls to other Skype users, but are there also paid options?
Yes for £1.50 a month you can get a number, voicemail, free local landline calls and international calls at local rates. There are also business options within Skype (with various additional business functionality)

4) Will VoiP’s last the distance?
Despite millions of users, the commercial model is still unproven. Skype are developing their services for business, and also their added value packages for consumers. Skype are now part of Google -- so perhaps VoiP is another added value service to a wider business based on advertising revenue?? Whatever the final business model (commercial or free!), VoiP is extremely popular and millions will continue to use it.

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