What is Skype?

This is part of a regular series of articles exploring some of the terms used in e-learning (view other articles in the series).  We’ll do our best to break down the jargon and explain what things are from a basic perspective.

You may have heard of Skype but not really know what it was.  Skype is an online service that lets you make phone calls to other computers or even regular phone numbers.  It sends the call information over the Internet rather than typical phone lines.  If you call a regular phone number or mobile call, then it uses a local phone line near the call destination to connect to the phone network.

Sample screen of Skype video call, with a woman and man in the picture talking to each other

Skype video call (by niallkennedy)

There are three main components of Skype, and you can use one or all of them.  The first is an instant messaging system where you send text from one computer to another.  As one user types a short piece of text, the other can see it immediately, unlike email where you normally write longer messages which take longer to compose and arrive.

Skype also has the ability to facilitate audio communication through phone calls, as mentioned earlier. Finally it can also use a computer’s webcam to broadcast a video call, where you can see the other person as well as talk to them.  This can be helpful in seeing body language and giving your call a more personal feel.

Skype is free if you call another Skype user via their computer, no matter where they live in the world.  If you call a mobile or landline number, then you have to pay, though the rates are normally cheaper than typical phone rates.

You can get Skype by downloading it to your computer for free, and some mobile phones have a mobile app which lets you access Skype on your mobile phone.  Though it may seem somewhat silly to use Skype on a mobile phone, if you can access a wi-fi network instead of a mobile network, it can be significantly cheaper or even free depending on who you call.

Some potential learning and teaching uses of Skype:

  • Synchronous chat for the whole class using text (e.g. a light virtual classroom)
  • Video calls for student support with students at a distance
  • Communication with parts of the world where traditional phone lines are not available or too expensive
  • Groups collaborating together when it is not practical to meet in person
  • Office hours at a distance
  • Research and business collaboration online without having to be in the same place

Read more in the Educause Learning Initiative’s 7 thing you should know about Skype handout.

2 thoughts on “What is Skype?

  1. Pingback: Case Study: Providing student support by video chat | e-learning at Sheffield Hallam

  2. Pingback: Role-play: An Approach to Teaching and Learning | e-learning at Sheffield Hallam

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