Skype is an online communications service that has both free and paid services available to Skype users, using an internet connection. For one-on-one communications, you can sign up for a free account, though any calls or connections to people who are not using a Skype account will cost a fee. For group video conferencing, at least one member of the call must have Skype Premium or a subscription to a business group video call plan through Skype Manager, which will cost a fee.
For online classes, Skype can provide a way for students and instructors to stay connected. For example, students can use audio or video conferencing to meet and discuss group projects. Instructors could also use Skype to provide a virtual “office hours,” using document sharing and screen sharing to illustrate ideas a student may be having trouble with. Many useful features are available for free. The most current services that are available through Skype can be found on their website.
This is an overview of some of the services Skype can provide that are useful for distance learning.
1. Free Services:
- Skype-to-Skype audio calls: calls can be made from your computer to other Skype users. Conference calling can include up to 25 people. This costs extra if someone is not using Skype, or if you are using a mobile phone rather than a computer.
- One-to-one video calls: this allows you to use webcams to add video to your conversations. HD video is available assuming you have the hardware and Windows operating system; otherwise, you can use a regular video with other cameras and operating systems. If you wish to include more people (up to 10) with a video conference call, at least one member of the chat will need to purchase a Skype Premium account .
- Instant messaging: text-chat with other Skype users via computer. Mobile SMS texts will cost a fee.
- Screen sharing: this allows you to show what you are doing on your desktop, which can be useful when teaching how to use a software program. You can choose to share a specific window or your whole screen.
- Document Share: send documents, photos or presentations of any size between users.
2. Premium Services:
This is the only option that will provide group video conferencing. Premium service plan cost about $4.99/month for a 12-month subscription
- Group video calling: share a video conference with up to ten people. For the best quality, Skype recommends that you limit calls to five people or fewer. Users with phones or mobile devices could join a video conference with voice only.o Use limitations: 100 hours per month, 10 hours per day, and 4 hours per individual call session. Exceeding the limit will convert the conference to an audio call.
- Support: Skype will provide Premium users with live technical support chat.
- Free calls: to US and Canada phone numbers. Limits apply.
- Pay to use: day passes or monthly subscriptions are available.
On July 14, 2011 Skype partnered with Comcast to bring its video chat service to Comcast subscribers via their HDTV sets. On June 17, 2013 Skype released a free video messaging service which can be operated on Windows and Mac OS, iOS, Android, BlackBerry and any other Apple or Google device.