Skype seeing increasing use as classroom teaching tool

SACRAMENTO — It used to be considered a shiny new toy for teachers, used more for entertaining students than educating them. But Skype has evolved into an instructional tool that teachers are increasingly using for new purposes.

"It's great for oral language practice for my English language students," said Alice Mercer, a computer lab teacher at Oak Ridge Elementary in Oak Park.

Skype, a free video calling site, also is being used to take students on virtual field trips and as a resource for teachers to share ideas.

"It takes down the walls of the classroom," said Fay Crooks, a second-grade teacher in New Jersey, as her video and voice streamed into Mercer's Oak Park classroom.

Mercer and Crooks have paired their second grade-students as pen pals since October.

Both teachers have used the students' relationship to teach geography, writing, reading and other skills. They also talk about time zones and how the Oak Ridge students are beginning their day, while Northfield Community School has already had lunch.

"It was awesome to see their faces when I put the camera out the window when we had snow," Crooks said.

Skype has made it easier for teachers to link to classrooms across the world through its new Skype in the Classroom network, with more than 9,600 teachers. It has helped educators bring the technology into classrooms, said Steve Hargadon, who runs a social networking site for educators called Classroom 2.0.

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