The opportunity to participate in FREE skypecasts with educators around the globe is really amazing. I’m about to post an invitation for another one next week (Tuesday night) on the topic of blogging tools for teachers– but before I do I thought I’d offer a few guidelines or suggestions for people who are interested in Skypecasting. If you want to get started immediately, link over to the Skypecasts homepage and see what is happening RIGHT NOW that you can join.
BEFORE THE SKYPECAST:
- Software: Download and install Skype.
- User Account: Register and sign up for a free Skype account on the Skype website. Minors should definitely use an alias and not their real name as their skype userid.
- Limit Disclosure: When filling out your profile, from an Internet safety standpoint, minors should not use their real names. Adults may want to consider using an alias as well. Don’t post your birthdate to your profile, since other people will be able to see it and your birthdate is sometimes used by companies to confirm your identity. Be cautious sharing your personal info on any website. If you have a personal blog or website, sharing that address can be the best way to let others know about you. They can link to your site and learn more about you there. I personally would discourage people from posting their home phone number or email address. Remember the web is used by all kinds of people, including commercial marketers who probably will use info you share online in the future in some way you don’t expect.
- Microphone: If your computer does not have a built-in microphone, you’ll need to connect one and make sure it is working. Buy one for $7 if you don’t have one already, mics are cheap. You can buy a fancier one later if you really get into this and/or podcasting and digital storytelling. If you run into trouble getting your microphone to work on your computer, find a tech-savvy young person to help you out! If you are using a Macintosh computer, your built-in microphone should work fine, just make sure you’re in a quiet place for the actual skypecast.
- Headphones: Skype conversations and skypecasts work best when users are in quiet locations and use headphones. The reason is that sometimes a feedback loop can be created between your computer speakers and your microphone, which makes an echo for other users in the skypecall. The best way to avoid this is for everyone to use headphones. It makes it easier for everyone in the conversation to hear each other.
- Test: Link to the Skypecasts homepage and join an active Skypecast of interest to you to see how this works and make sure your system is configured properly. Make sure you test a Skype connection from the location where you actually plan to be during the skypecast. Network connections are different, and something that works in one place may not work or may be blocked in another, especially at school.
- Requesting Skype be unblocked: If Skype is blocked on your local school network and you want to use it instructionally, request that it be unblocked by following local district procedures. I have details about the instructional case you can make for this request, as well as the technical details of what IT folks need to do to unblock Skype on the network in my TechEdge article from last year “Skype in the Classroom.” (See the section TECHNICAL ISSUES WITH SKYPE at the bottom of the article for links.
- Circumventing Firewalls: If Skype is blocked on the network at your location, try downloading, installing and running TOR, a free, cross-platform program that permits users to access content and web services that are blocked on a local network. If you are going to do this at school, read the fine print of your district AUP to make sure you won’t violate any local policies by doing this.
DURING THE SKYPECAST:
- Mute when not talking: When only a few people are in a skypecast or a videoconference, it is often not necessary for participants to mute their microphones. As the number of participants grows, however, muting microphones can become important. Consider muting your microphone when you are not actually speaking during the skypecast, especially if a lot of people are involved. Use menu buttons at the top of your screen in Skype to mute and unmute your mic. The moderator of the skypecast may mute your mic for you if there are a large number of participants, so in this case you may have to request the microphone by using Skype IM.
- Lurk First: If there are a lot of people already in a skypecast, consider lurking awhile first before you join into the conversation.
- Look for an Agenda: Check to see if an agenda for the skypecast is available online. This may be linked from the skypecast invitation page. Try and follow the agenda in terms of talking about different topics, especially if there are a lot of people in the conversation.
- Request the floor / unmuted mic: If a large number of people are in a skypecast, all participant mics may be muted by the moderator. In this case, to speak you may need to request the floor (that your mic be unmuted) from the moderator using IM (instant messaging.) Click the IM icon to the right of the host’s Skype ID on the skypecast webpage that shows participants to open a new IM window and send him/her a message requesting the floor and sharing what you want to talk about.
- Be aware of recording: Many skypecasts are recorded for different purposes, including later podcasting, so be aware that anything you say in a Skype conversation may be recorded. Anyone in a Skype conversation can record what is being said, using tools like Call Recorder (Mac) or Hotrecorder (Windows.)
- Be courteous and respectful: This should probably go without saying, but at all times be courteous and respectful. You may disagree with something being said, but let the speaker finish instead of interrupting him/her if possible. If you think someone is being inappropriate or dominating the conversation, you can always IM the skypecast moderator to discreetly share your ideas with him/her. The moderator of a skypecast has control to mute and eject individual participants.
- Have fun and share skypecasts with others! Skypecasting is fun, and the main objective of educational skypecasts should be learning. We all have different perspectives and different voices, and diverse audiences generally create interesting, varied discussion. Don’t hesitate to share your views and ideas when the time is right– don’t just lurk! Invite other people you know to join in a skypecast. The best way to learn about a new technology is to experience it, so share the knowledge by inviting others to join in!
This is not a complete list, but hopefully these guidelines will help you and others get started having fun, SAFELY, with Skype and in Skypecasts! If you have other suggestions or ideas to add to this list, please let me know by commenting here.
Skype on! The global conversations are just beginning, and you’re invited to join as an educational technology pioneer! 🙂
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