Do you want to have a videoconferencing session with a student or parent at home? Maybe you want to connect to another classroom on the other side of the world to learn about a different culture or language. Perhaps you would like to invite an expert into your classroom, but that expert lives far away.
For teachers who wish to communicate with students and others synchronously (live), there are a variety of free tools available online. These tools — which include Skype, Google+ Hangouts and Talky — allow the teacher to connect with students, experts and other classrooms for distance learning. This post is an excerpt from my textbook, Educational Technology for Teachers.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous free synchronous communication tool is Skype, a communication tool that allows you to chat, call and videoconference with anyone who has an Internet connection and Skype account. Skype wasn’t necessarily created for educational purposes, but it has been used by teachers and students worldwide to share lessons, connect to other classrooms and invite experts to the class.
All participants in a Skype call must first sign up for a free Skype account, but it has been estimated that as many as 33% of voice calls worldwide are made through Skype, so a lot of people already have Skype accounts. Videoconferencing is limited to five separate locations at a time and is dependent on the quality of the Internet connections of each participant. For voice-only calls, the number of possible separate locations that can connect is 25. To start a session in skype, simply click on the person in your contact list that you wish to call and then click “call” or “video call.” When the call has been established, there is a “+” button that lets you add more people for a group call.
Google+ Hangouts is another free synchronous communication tool that features group chat and videoconferencing. As is the case with Skype, Google+ Hangouts was not created for educational purposes, but can be used to present a lesson, connect to classrooms, answer questions, and do other learning activities. Google+ Hangouts videoconference sessions are limited to only 10 people, and all participants must have a Google+ account before participating in a chat or live session.
To chat or videoconference with people using Google+ hangouts, login to Google+ and then type their name in the “New Hangout” field. For a group chat or videoconference session, you can check the checkboxes to add as many people as you want. A new chat window comes up in which you can chat with the group. To videoconference with a person or group, you can click the “video call” button in the chat window.
Talky is relatively new in the synchronous communication world, but it provides a high-quality interface for videoconferencing which requires no login or previous software installation. Screen and video sharing is possible by all participants in a Talky session, and through screen sharing, the teacher can show presentations, software applications and documents. Students can also share presentations and concepts using screen sharing in Talky. Starting a synchronous session is simple, you just go to the Talky website and then enter a name for the session you want to start. Once you have a session started, participants can go to the correct web address and join the session.
My book, Educational Technology for Teachers, also includes videos showing how to use these distance learning tools. Don't forget about these useful videoconferencing tools the next time you want to communicate from a distance!