♪ Video Killed the Telephone Star ♪

It’s a holiday week, so homages to great 80’s songs are allowed, right? Whatever happened to The Buggles, and who knew they would be so right? And… what does this have to do with instructional technology?! Today we’re going to talk about online video chat, how it can be used in higher education to enhance the learning process, and wonder if it will someday kill the “telephone star!”

First, let’s define video chat. Simply put, the term refers to synchronous communication between two parties via the web or another communication network, using audio and video. Think of a telephone with a video screen on it, and you’ve got the idea. Some smart phones already have this capability, though the network infrastructure to support them is still scarce. Large corporations have had this capability for years, using expensive equipment and dedicated networks to “teleconference” with remote sites. But now, this technology is available to anyone with a computer and a high speed Internet connection, using free web tools like Skype and Google!

There are countless applications for this technology in education. For example:

  • Foreign language students can converse with students across the globe, practicing the language skills with native speakers.
  • A chemistry class could schedule a video chat with a known expert in the field to gain new perspective on real-world applications of their studies.
  • Distance education (online) instructors can offer virtual office hours, allowing them to see and talk with students live.
  • Students from the same class (or any similar class in the world!) can communicate with one another, collaborating on projects in new ways.
  • And more!

The main players in the arena of video chat are Skype and Google Video, although there are many other options to choose from. Here is a quick run-down of Skype and Google Video:

Skype has been around for a long time, offers a full-range of features including a white board, file sharing, and even screen sharing. Visit Skype.com to download the application. Once you install it, you’ll need to create an account, and then search for/add contacts. Many Podcasters use Skype because it allows them to record the conversations, also. And they’ve recently added the ability to video-chat with more than one person at a time!

Google Chat is a web client that operates within your browser. It lacks the wealth of features that Skype offers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s very easy to use, and is fully integrated into your Gmail account. You will need a Google account to use this tool, but that’s free to create, of course!

Once you download and install one of these free tools, you only need a high-speed internet connection and a webcam. Many laptops now come with one built-in. External webcams are very inexpensive, can be purchased at any electronics or computer store, and connect to your computer via the standard USB port.

For a blow-by-blow comparison between Skype, Google and iChat, visit this interesting video review. If you would like a detailed explanation of Skype and it’s applications to education, visit this great resource from Educause.

So, IS video killing the radio telephone star? Well, in a word, yes. All of the popular online chat services offer video capabilities, and business that used to purchase expensive teleconference equipment are now using less expensive online tools like WebEx and Adobe Connect to facilitate meetings with offsite clients and colleagues. According to a recent study, one in four households have cancelled their “land lines,” and use their cell phones exclusively. In the mean time, cell phone companies are racing to build the best “4G” networks that are fast enough to support live, mobile video chat.

What ideas do you have for video chat? Can you see any applications for it in your classroom? How long before voice-only communication is a thing of the past? Leave your comments below!

And as always, contact the CTL if you would like help getting started with this exciting technology.


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