Skype in Schools - Adjust Your Sails!

A short two weeks ago, if that, Christian Long, Brian Lamb and I were trying to get a better understanding of Skype use in schools. One of the primary issues that was difficult to explain was, "If Skype is free for use, what school district would choose to NOT allow teachers to use it in their classrooms with students?" Why would districts pay for service they can get for free?

The only real objection would be if such usage would place the District or its users in a position of liability. You know, with so many wonderful tools, it's easy to focus on the 2-3 that are banned. But are the reasons for banning those technologies actually valid? And, how often do school districts "change their mind?" Wouldn't it be heartening to actually witness that kind of change, the kind of change where school districts change their policy in response to reality?

An objection that districts offer is that Skype allows un-logged chat. That is, if students use Skype on a computer and an inappropriate chat occurs, then there will be no log of that the District can refer to later during an investigation. Simply, the classroom teacher could delete his/her account, and maybe that log would be gone. Or, a student could have an account, login to Skype and have unauthorized chats with other people outside the supervision of a teacher.

Assuming you can overcome objections to the use of Skype--choosing to trust the teacher to monitor Skype use and model appropriate use of Skype to students, holding students accountable for inappropriate use without trying to block the "tool" that was used wrongly--some districts may bring up another objection.
If schools are considered a business, shouldn't they pay for Skype use? Shouldn't there be some kind of contract between schools and Skype to allow that use? Here's how one Texas technology director put it:

How are your accounting for Skype's Fair Use Policy which says "Subscriptions are for individual use only. Each subscription is to be used by one person only and is not to be shared with any other user(whether via a PBX, call centre, computer or any other means)."
Or are you a business partner that pays for SKype in the schools to provide instruction?
This is a wonderful challenge to the use of Skype in schools, isn't it? One of the additional points made includes the following:
The main thing that strikes a chord with me in terms of fair use is that Skype does have Small and Large Business accounts.  These are purchased accounts.  So in relation to that, if the conversation is running through a business network, even if it is an individual teacher account and this action is condoned by the organization is that not making a loop hole in their marketing strategy to get businesses to pay for service.  
I have had teachers ask to use it, in classrooms.  I have denied this ability because of fair use and the points made, before every tech director says "Ohhhh" We do have Adobe Connect in the district and a web-conference (same setup as skype) can be setup with anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.  So, I am not limiting the ability to have guests etc through electronic means in the classroom, I have just discouraged and not approved skype due to concerns related to copyright.  
This situation reminds me of when AVG first came out.  Everyone started using it because it was "Free" (the district I was in at the time was using it)  only to find out that we had to later remove it from all machines and pay for the service because we fell into the business category.  In my current district, we use AVG, but at a cost.  If skype is free and does not pose this same issue....then I am all for eliminating the costs of other products and going the "free" route. 
And, then, another point was made:
Skype is not the issue...But with the emphasis that I have placed on Copyright and Fair USe within the district, I want to be sure that we are in line legally.  Inferences and Asking for Forgiveness rather than Permission is not something our legal system appreciates and can get individuals in some sticky situations.
As we consider the arguments made in these multiple quotes above, they can be summarized in this way:
  1. Skype use in schools should be disallowed because Skype itself does not address school use, although ample examples of Skype use in schools are featured in their blog. . .but such examples are not sufficient to justify schools who are trying to err on the side of caution.
  2. Legal use of Skype by a school district is prohibited and if Technology Departments are going to model copyright and fair use, then it shouldn't be allowed in schools.
  3. For pay companies--like Adobe Connect--are equivalent to Skype in function but eliminate the uncertainty districts experience when using Skype.
Yet, are these arguments really on target? Are they "correct" or accurate to the reality of Skype? In truth, we can only know the answer to that question by contacting Skype and getting a ruling.

Scott Powers (Navasota ISD in Texas) made contact with Skype to clarify these issues. Scott wrote to Skype the following:
 "I have read on the Skype blog about the many examples of teachers using Skype in the classroom; connecting to authors, professionals, etc. Are there any issues related to fair use that would prevent teachers from using Skype in this way?"
The response from Skype's C Songor was as follows:
Hello Scott, Thank you for contacting Skype Support. We are happy to hear that you are using Skype. We suggest you to check our Terms and Policies, and if you won't violating these rules, you can use our services in this way. You can find it at Should you need more assistance, feel free to contact us again; we will be glad to help. 
Best regards, Csongor - Skype Support Skype Customer Support
End User License Agreement
    • 2.1 License
      • You are allowed to use the Skype Software at university or any other educational institution, subject to paragraph 4.4 below and in accordance with this Agreement and any applicable Additional Terms
        • 4.4 Utilization of Your Computer: If Your use of the Skype Software is dependent upon the use of a processor and bandwidth owned or controlled by a third party, You acknowledge and agree that Your licence to use the Skype Software is subject to You obtaining consent from the relevant third party for such use. You represent and warrant that by accepting this Agreement and using the Skype Software, You have obtained such consent.
        Simply, does this response mean educational institutions--including K-12--can use Skype in classrooms? The answer appears to be YES.

        Some links to reflect on before ruling Skype use out:

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        Carolyn Foote said…

        I posted a response to this on the listserv as well. To clarify:

        That fair use policy applies to paid subscriptions--subscriptions which you pay for to make LANDLINE calls via Skype. If you've bought a subscription to make those calls, then that's what you aren't supposed to share. (It'd be like buying a database for your school and then sharing the password with the entire district)

        So that obviously wouldn't apply at all to school uses--because we use it for computer to computer conferencing.

        Another thing I'm a little puzzled by is the objection about student's possibly having unobserved chats on Skype. The way I see it being used in most schools is by teachers--by installing it on a teacher workstation in a classroom or lab. With that sort of installation, the whole "chat" issue is basically moot, unless students are sitting at the teacher desk, using the teacher's account and there's no teacher in sight.

        As far as the undocumented chat, Skype can record chats and they can also be cut and pasted, and I suppose a teacher could DELETE their account to hide an unlogged chat, but is that something 99% of teachers would even do or know how to do? I don't find that educators are a particularly devious lot ;) Surprisingly, most educators are there to help students learn, and that turns out to be a rather time-consuming proposition.

        You comment: "Assuming you can overcome objections to the use of Skype--choosing to trust the teacher to monitor Skype use and model appropriate use of Skype to students, holding students accountable for inappropriate use without trying to block the "tool" that was used wrongly--some districts may bring up another objection."

        I'm wondering why districts would not trust their professional teachers to model and monitor appropriate use of ANYTHING in their classrooms? To me this is at the crux of the issue--training teachers with a tool and then trusting that they understand the professional uses of this tool, and the school holding the teacher accountable if the tool isn't used the way the school intended.

        It's not about the TOOL. It's about trust and about professional collegiality. It's no different than monitoring your students in the classroom for any other purpose.

        We have to start treating teachers with the respect that they are due, and we have to stop tossing up fear-based (and rather far-fetched) objections to tools. If you have a question, pilot the tool. Use it yourself. Test it out with a few classrooms and find out what the real issues might be. Weigh the benefits versus the possible pitfalls, and figure out how to train your staff in the proper use of the tool.

        It's not the tool. It's the trust.
        mantz's_mission said…
        Thanks for posting the conversation and clarification on the use of Skype in education. I too am a big supporter of this resource. It is great to see the "pros" of Skype being supported so other educators can have that information when they visit with admin.
        We were very fortunate to be able to have HS history students Skype with retired Senator Bob Dole last year. Since then, the use of Skype has increased providing methods for our students to connect with experts and other schools.
        Scott said…
        Hello Miguel, I enjoy reading your blog, and issues related to use of online tools in schools is something we are dealing with on a daily basis having decided to open things up some. Educators looking to use the Web’s wealth of resources for instruction find themselves having to continually address issues of fair, acceptable and appropriate use in schools and sometimes that causes anxiety. But digital literacy and digital citizenship are increasingly important aspects of being successful in school and out.

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