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 below…now, 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 http://www.skype.com/intl/en/legal/ 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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        Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure