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Skype: A Journey Towards Change Tannis M.

Emann 2011 by Tannis Emann Graduate Student Educational Technology and Design University of Saskatchewan August 12, 2011

Abstract Skype opens doors for learning by connecting students to a world beyond the classroom. In this paper, Skypes power to foster digital and global citizenship is illustrated through the story of a schools Skype journey to Peru. Incorporating Skype into classrooms is not without challenges as educators are faced with obstacles erupting from fear, outdated policies, and bandwidth misconceptions. In order to benefit from Skypes extraordinary capabilities, educators must be empowered to implement both sensible safety and security measures and progressive educational experiences. Changes in policies and perspectives are both crucial and achievable.

Skype: A Journey Towards Change Skype offers us as teachers the opportunity to dissolve the walls of our classrooms and expose our students to remarkable experiences. However, currently many educators, myself included, are constrained by outdated policies that are grounded in fear. My goal is to arm you, K-12 teacher, with an understanding of the concerns and benefits of Skype in the classroom so you may be moved to advocate for change. My position is the learning advantages of Skype far outweigh the anxiety, and in response there must be a change in educational perspectives and polices. Through the combination of my lived experience and evidence from others, I hope to share a passion, contribute to a dialogue and demonstrate hope for moving forward. It starts with us (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). My Journey: The Wrong Ship but The Right Waters My journey using Skype in elementary classrooms began more than two years ago originating from challenges with far more complex videoconferencing (VC) tools. In the 2009-2010 school year my school district selected some schools to pilot H.323 VC equipment systems. The goal was to explore the benefits of VC in enriching the learning opportunities for students (K. Kiefer, personal communication, April 30, 2009). For one year we were loaned the necessary and extensive VC equipment (Polycom Portable VSX7000s). During this pilot, and without leaving their classrooms, our students took part in a variety of unique experiences. They visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. When Dr. Robert Thirsk returned to Canada he shared his International Space Station adventures with our students, and thousands of others. By partnering with schools for collaborative projects, our Grade 1 students took part in a 100 Days of School project with classes in New York and New Jersey while our Grade 6 students explored Carnaval de Qubec with classes in Northern Alberta ( Education Society, n.d.). VC System-What Floated The benefits of VC became very evident throughout the course of our trial. The power and possibilities of these experiences captivated both students and teachers. With very minimal paperwork and no need for busses and volunteers, we took our students on fieldtrips that would otherwise not be possible. Accessing the content providers extensive and highly specialized expertise enriched our students understanding of curriculum. The collaborative projects linked our students with peers beyond the walls of our school and gave them perspective on a global level. VC System-Why It Sank 3

There are a number of shortcomings to using VC systems in the classroom and the most profound implication is cost. H.323 VC equipment costs thousands of dollars, making it very challenging for a school to own even a single system. The price tag breeds access inequities preventing all learners the opportunity to participate in valuable experiences. The price similarly restricts the number of outside parties that can afford compatible equipment and this limits the reach of VC systems beyond the classroom. A lack of spontaneity is another issue surrounding the use of VC systems. Setting up the many components of the equipment is a tedious and time-consuming process. Coupled with the amount of space the equipment takes up, it is unreasonable to expect a VC system to have long-term residence in a classroom. Without immediate and consistent access to VC tools the prospect for spontaneity is significantly hindered. An additional barrier is technical troubleshooting. The complexity of the system and the possibility for technical issues created fear and anxiety for some teachers, and consequently prevented several VC opportunities from coming to fruition. At the conclusion of the pilot it was a combination of the overall cost, lack of spontaneity and daunting technical components that contributed to our decision not to purchase a VC system for our school. My Journey-Setting Sail In Fall 2010, a colleague that I had worked with in the VC pilot, Tim Kitchen, was on a leave travelling the world with his family. He was in Peru at the time and preparing to conduct a VC with Grade 3 Alberta students tying his experiences to their social studies curriculum (T. Kitchen, personal communication, October 29, 2010). The Peru event required a VC system so we borrowed one from our school board and connected our five Grade 3 classes with Tim in Peru. With passion he shared stories about the land, the people and the culture. Our students were deeply affected by the many poignant tales he told that day, but it was the anecdote of a lone soccer ball that propelled our journey forward. While visiting the school in Qenqo, Peru (a small traditional weaving village) Tims two elementary-aged children gave the students a soccer ball. His children described watching more than forty students gathered around one ball attempting to play soccer and full of joy. It was the only piece of sports equipment the school owned. The story shocked our students and created a lasting and far-reaching impression. Several weeks later, one of our Grade 3 students returned from recess after finding a school soccer ball that was torn and no longer usable. He showed it to one of our teachers and, shaking his head, lamented, In Peru, this is a treasure (C. Adamson, personal communication, April 15, 2011). Our students curiosity was sparked and over the next several days, and 4

as they processed the experience, they generated many questions. I contacted Tim wondering if he could answer their abundance of queries and he boldly suggested a Skype video callin a few hours time. Fortunately, our school was just in the beginning stages of a Skype trial, supervised by our school board, exploring Skypes role in making collaboration easier (N. Veldhoen, personal communication, October 25, 2010). Set free from the confines of complexity and with the ease that makes a teacher sigh with relief we connected 50 students to Peru using already established classroom tools: a projector (in the form of the classroom SmartBoard), laptop, webcam and freestanding microphone. The Skype conversation with Tim and his children was largely driven by our students questions. Tims children responded from their perspectives and quickly created a relatable context for our students. The boundaries of our students textbook knowledge of Peru dissolved as they gained information from an authentic sourcea source they could relate to, believe in and appreciate. Qenqo, Peru and its people came alive for our students that day. After the call our students were vibrating with wonder, curiosity and a thirst for more. As teachers observing this spontaneous event, we were awestruck. The richness and depth of our students learning along with their level of engagement was palpable. We were witnessing something truly unique: in the moment and cross-continent learning motivated by student curiosity using a simple yet powerful tool. The world shrank that day while in the same instant it opened up wider than ever. Panettieri (2006) could well have been describing this experience when he stated, The world is flat in fact, flatter now than its ever been. In this case, the term flat means connected, and describes the state of the world and its inhabitants, rather than the shape (p. 20). The experience was magical and we recognized we had found a tool with enormous potential. Why Skype Was the Right Ship for Us The VC system problems that hindered us were solved with Skype. Affordability is one of the primary benefits of Skype (Fredrick, 2010). The tool is free to download ( and, as supported by Panettieri (2006), Many schools are embracing open-source applications to minimize software costs on collaboration projects (p. 23). The hardware required for Skype video calls is also cost effective as both webcams and microphones are very inexpensive. These minimal costs could significantly reduce access inequity, as every classroom in a school could be equipped with Skype. Reducing the inequity issues drastically expands the prospects for any time, anywhere and anyone connections (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). The amount of equipment required for Skype is also minimal enabling straightforward set up and a strong likelihood it could remain a permanent fixture in a classroom. 5

Davis (2010) states, Skype is so simple to use that just about any teacher can typically handle it with a few minutes of training and minimal equipment (para. 15). Reducing the need for copious technical support fosters teacher independence allowing for spontaneity as necessitated by the natural flow of learning in a classroom. Choosing Skype as a VC tool also exponentially expands the number of people we can access as collaboration partners, experts, and resources for learning. It is a far more prevalent tool for video calls than costly VC equipment. According to Skype (2011a) during the fourth quarter of 2010 they had an average of 145 million connected users per month (para. 3). Likewise, there is an impressive range of features that Skype provides its users including the ability to send files, share screens, place video calls and group video calls, and send instant messages (Skype, 2011b). Based on the low cost, ease of use and ability to be spontaneous we were fully committed to continuing the journey incorporating Skype into our classrooms.

We Didnt Sail Into the Sunset: The Anchors Fear School districts will claim many contributing factors for restricting the use of digital tools such as Skype (Davis, 2010; OBrien & Scharber, 2010;). However, in my opinion, the root cause is fear. Perhaps a fear of losing control, morphing education into something unrecognizable, placing students in harms way, or not understanding the tools well enough to use them. The Centre for Safe and Responsible Internet Use reports, In proceeding forward, schools must understand that the past decade has been characterized by technopanic - a heightened concern about the use of the Internet by young people that is not grounded in the actual research evidence (as cited in Ferrell, 2011, para. 9). What is the source of this fear that breeds such strong resistance and paralyzing inaction? Panic, uncertainty and unrest can stem from educating children in a world flooded with rapidly developing technologies that are constantly pushing the limits of possibility. Educators and school districts may feel overwhelmed as they realize that Web-based technologies are evolving so quickly (and) promising new applications (are emerging) at a pace that far surpasses the capacity of the field to fully study the effectiveness of each application before implementation(Pretti-Frontczak, Jung, & Pfeiffer-Fiala, 2010, p. 197). Understandably this could invoke trepidation in schools as we are deeply committed to our responsibilities and to our students. We strive to acquire the most information and knowledge possible in order to make the best decisions in the name of education. However, I am concerned we remain 6

in the fact gathering and policymaking stage far longer than necessary and as result we do an injustice to our students. Richardson (2011) impresses upon us that it is our responsibility to be responsive to the challenges and opportunities of a changing world. To be responsive I agree we must have enough preliminary facts about new technologies to proceed in a safe and sensible manner, but we must cease the endless search to uncover every possible downside and detriment. After logical precautions have been taken we should be trusted with a new role moving forward as co-learners with our students (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). We do not need to know in advance all that our students must know, nor do we need to fully define all learning outcomes (Siemens & Schwier, 2008). Siemens (2008) challenges us to consider participatory pedagogy wherein we are co-crafting with our students. Shanklin (2010) agrees, There is value in working more as a learner alongside students(p. 44). Tools such as Skype allow us to model online learning and demonstrate to our students how to incorporate these tools in appropriate ways (Richardson & Weinman, 2011; Shanklin, 2010). Todays students require us to actively work alongside them to assist in their use of social media as learning media, and it is up to us to leverage this moment of opportunity (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). What are we modeling to our students when we allow fear to drive our educational decisions? Sugata Mitra implores, Technology should not been seen as a threat to teaching but an asset (as cited in Newcastle University, 2009, p. 7). Richardson (2011) expresses a need to reframe how schools view the two billion users of the Internet and shift the focus from a fear of two billion potential predators to an opportunity for two billion potential teachers. If our students are already exploring this world, making up some of the two billion people online, then it is essential for us to rapidly shift our thinking and actively join them (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). We will have far more success embracing progress than denying its existence. Policies The ideas in this paragraph are inspired by the document Acceptable Use Policies in a Web 2.0 and Mobile Era: A Guide for School Districts (Consortium for School, 2011). Teachers are restricted in their use of digital tools by policies and procedure that are either outdated or overly obstructive. There is a need for school districts to update and adapt their policies in response to the wealth of available web-based technologies. It is imperative we steer away from acceptable use policies developed by a handful of school officials, and move to a format with a committee of stakeholders comprised of teaching staff, school administrators, parents, and students. We must shift our mindset from developing acceptable use polices to responsible use policies (p. 3). If we want to be truly accountable in our role as educators in a digital 7

world we must be supported with policies that generate investment and ownership from the people the policies impact. Effective policies do not live on paper; they live in the consciousness of those whose lives the policies affect (p. 5). I understand altering the manner in which policies are created would be a momentous change in thinking throughout the many levels of school districts. It would also create logistical challenges due to the numerous stakeholders representing many differing opinions. How do we address and account for all of these viewpoints? I know, too, that policies are vast and interconnected, and altering some elements of one policy will affect countless others. Clearly this is not an instantaneous transformation. I believe we begin by asking the tough questions and engaging in a dialogue stressing the necessity for change. Despite the likelihood the conversation will become difficult and uncomfortable we must not fall silent. We need to relentlessly advocate for the kind of change where school districts change their policy in response to reality (Guhlin, 2010, para. 2). Bandwidth Concerns Over the past few years many educational institutions have restricted and even banned Skype due to bandwidth concerns, largely based on the notion that Skype requires an excessive amount of data (Information Security Office, 2008). As Skype is a peer-to-peer communications tool it depends on computers sending information to each other over the Internet (Skype, 2011d). If a Skype call cannot be made directly between one peer and another due to firewalls it will be routed or relayed through a third-party computer running Skype software (Skype Prohibited, 2006). This intermediary computer is referred to as a supernode. The supernode feature of Skype has come into direct conflict with some institutions policies denying the use of their bandwidth to individuals outside of the institution (Skype Prohibited, 2006). This has sparked an ethical question of allowing Skype, a private company, to be granted access to a schools network, and opening it up to users outside the schoolThis makes Skype inexpensive, but allows a commercial entity to share a schools bandwidth (Skype in the Classroom, 2008, para. 6). Fortunately both Skype and several educational institutions have found solutions to overcome the concerns surrounding bandwidth usage and supernodes (Daily Editorial Board, 2006). Some options for schools include: disabling the supernode feature, channeling Skype through an institutions proxy servers thereby allowing computers to remain anonymous (Wikipedia, 2011), and the assurance from Skype that a computer behind a firewall will never be used as a supernode (Christianson & Solon, 2010; Durham University, 2011; UCSB Office of Information Technology, 2009). The pressure and demands by educators for the use of Skype can be influential as 8

demonstrated by the progress in addressing bandwidth concerns. There is a slow shift in education towards supporting Skype as a viable option instead of placing barricades and excuses in its way. Change can happen. When the classroom blackboard was invented back in the 1860s, it took decades for this innovation, which involved the whole class in learning, to spread. It will take time for these innovations to spread too (Abram, 2005, p. 18). The Life Raft Safety and Security Recommendations There are measures we can take to ensure Skype is a safer and more secure platform to use within our classrooms. The precautionary steps are neither burdensome nor complicated. Skype (2011c) recommends downloading their software updates regularly, selecting a strong password for accounts, and ensuring the use of antivirus programs and firewalls on the computers running Skype. Information on the Skype website also suggests developing an understanding of the privacy options to guarantee we select the appropriate levels for our needs (Skype, 2011c). I found it very straightforward to change all of my Skype privacy settings so that I only allow calls, video, messages and screen sharing from my established contacts (access Privacy settings in the Preferences tab). It is crucial to only accept contact requests from people we know. As all information in user profiles can be seen by everyone on Skype (except email addresses), it is important to avoid including any personal details in your user profile (Skype, 2011c). These recommendations present excellent teaching opportunities and should be incorporated into digital citizenship work with students. It troubles me to consider students may not be aware of these safety features as they attempt to navigate these seas without our guidance. Once again, this demonstrates how important it is to teach our students the skills and responsibilities accompanying digital tools (Ribble, n.d., Rosenthal Tolisano, 2010a). In the more restrictive environment of a K-12 school, teachers should be able to monitor the use of Skype to control security issues and inappropriate usage. As with any technology educators must develop good practices and teach ethical behaviour (Skype in the Classroom, 2008, para. 7). During our Skype trial we offset many security and safety issues by creating a school Skype account not student accounts. Only teachers had direct access to the school Skype account and password, and, at all times, Skype was only utilized under teacher supervision. I strongly appreciate the need for safety and security, and strive to make informed, responsible decisions. I do not feel the parameter of school-only accounts impedes the Skype work I intend to pursue with my students. The vast educational benefits of Skype can be attained via teacher accounts allowing for rich connections to continue while I model responsible practice and digital citizenship.

Why the Journey Matters Digital Citizenship Support for teaching and learning with a digital tool such as Skype is imbedded in the elements of digital citizenship. The following paragraphs are largely inspired by the work Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship (Ribble, n.d.). Digital communication addresses the need for students to know how to choose appropriately from the vast, and often overwhelming, selection of digital communication options. Students must fully experience the power of a digital tool in order to understand when it is the right tool for the task. With our guidance, students can experience the full scope of Skype and come to realize it is a tool for accessing experts, understanding the world, obtaining and sharing information, staying in touch, and working together (Rosenthal Tolisano, 2009). Another area of digital citizenship requiring attention is digital literacy skills. It is becoming increasingly evident students are not exposed in school to tools used in the workplace. We are neglecting to equip students with the skills to access information immediately, to learn anything, anytime, anywhere, and to use technology quickly and appropriately (Ribble, n.d., para. 5). Skype quite clearly facilitates in the moment learning, and when confident in its capabilities students will have a useful tool for the workplace. There can also be reluctance in schools to directly tackle digital etiquette. Using Skype with students provides many opportunities for modeling and realtime learning of digital etiquette (Davis, 2010; Ferrell, 2011; Ribble, n.d.). Often rules and regulations are created or the technology is simply banned to stop inappropriate use. It is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens in this new society (Ribble, n.d., para. 6). Finally, it is essential to nurture in our students a strong competence to self-protect from outside forces that might cause disruption or harm (Ribble, n.d., para.10). Addressing digital security with children without a hands-on approach could easily cause elevated fear, confusion or a sense of irrelevance. If together with our students we overtly implement and demonstrate the safety essentials for Skype we will foster empowerment (Ferrell, 2011). The value is unparalleled if we teach students how to use these tools in a safe environment where we can monitor mistakes and turn them into teachable moments (Ferrell, 2011, para. 4). When learning is real, relevant and connected to a lived experience there is greater likelihood the knowledge will be remembered and applied beyond our classroom walls (Driscoll, 2005). As Freedman (2009) reinforces, Knowledge discovered and created together is more likely to be retained (p. 56). Teaching the elements of digital citizenship must be intentional and ongoing. Keith Ferrell (2011) summarizes it well: 10

Being able to teach them the skills of safety within online/social environments is part of all of our jobs as educators and parents. If we turn a blind eye to this, we will only be exacerbating the problem by allowing them to try to stumble their way through on their own. (para. 6) Global Citizenship Skype can explode classroom walls, often conceptualized as barriers enclosing students, by allowing students to meet with guest speakers or hone their new languages with students from all over the world. Skype is a tool which enables students to explore and collaborate with diverse cultures and, perhaps, play a significant role instilling a global perspective on students in an increasingly interconnected world. (Skype in the Classroom, 2008, para. 7) Using Skype to connect and collaborate with individuals around the world provides an authentic understanding of what it means to be a global citizen (Fredrick, 2010). Homa Tavanger (2011) speaks passionately about the far-reaching value of fostering global citizens. She explains that we live in transformative times with the power of information in our grasp (Tavanger, 2011). However, the fact we are more plugged in than ever before does not automatically equate with being more connected to one another (Tavanger, 2011). Yet again the importance of our roles and responsibilities as educators in a digital world is rising to the surface. Tavanger (2011) links many of the hirable traits in the work force to the traits synonymous with global citizens. These include being adaptable, flexible and responsible, and effectively communicating and collaborating with others (Tavanger, 2011). The current emphasis in education on competition is restricting, not inciting, the development of these skills in students (Tavanger, 2011). The worlds largest problems will not be solved by one competitive individual (Tavanger, 2011). Global interactions provide students with the awareness they can be influential on a global scale and they can make a difference (Shanklin, 2010). Kathy Frederick (2010) states through these experiences we become citizens of the world, participating with others in learning activities. We are creating what Henry Jenkins describes as participatory culture (p. 39). Jenkins defines a participatory culture as one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection to one another (as cited in Frederick, 2010, p. 39). Naysayers may challenge the value of adding global citizenship to an already overflowing plate of teaching assignments. We may be implored to attend to preparing children for standardized tests and achieving high academic standards (Fredrick, 2010). Key players in this battle may also isolate the dichotomy of tests on one hand, and standards that highlight the 11

development of global thinkers on the other (Fredrick, 2010, p. 39). The focus should not be on one or the other as a priority, but instead as educators we must be trusted to blend and align rich, new technologies with curriculum expectations. (Richardson & Weinman, 2011). Increasingly, educational standards are starting to support and reflect the importance that in our global community, we need to produce students who have a sense of the larger world and its citizens (Fredrick, 2010, p. 39; e.g. Calgary Board of Education, 2009). My Journey-Destination Unforeseen The powerful Skype call with Tim Kitchen in Peru sparked a call to action in our students. They became driven to make a difference in the lives of the Qenqo students. Kids helping kids! Now that is what personalized learning is all about (L. Renton, personal communication, June 1, 2011). We realized to support our students fundraising plans we needed to work with Mosqoy, a Canadian charitable organization working to bridge cross-cultural gaps between North American and Peru (Mosqoy, n.d., para. 2). Tim connected us with the founders of a division of Mosqoy who work closely with the school in Qenqo. Gratefully, we were able to have a Skype video call with Ashli Akins, president and founder of Qente Textile Revitalization Society. In this conversation our students gained an even deeper understanding of life in Qenqo. Originally our students intended to raise money for sports equipment for the Qenqo school, but they soon discovered there were far greater areas of need. The villagers have a difficult time meeting their basic needs, something our students rarely give pause to consider. Our students decided that the people of Qenqo and the organizations that support them should decide where to direct the funds. It was a moment of great learning when they understood they shouldnt impose their perceptions of need onto a community. Together with their teachers, the Grade 3 students developed, planned and implemented two Qenqo fundraising events at our school. One event took place during a grade-wide celebration of learning and the other was a schoolwide spirit day entitled Caps for Qenqo. Our Grade 3 learners encouraged their schoolmates to donate one dollar to wear a hat for the day in support of Qenqo students. Leading up to the event, children donated additional money for Qenqo by arranging weekend lemonade stands, emptying their piggybanks and donating portions of their allowances. Parents informed us Qenqo was a regular topic in their homes, around the dinner tables, and with extended family members. Our students were passionate about their cause and spoke about it outside of their classrooms with anyone who would listen. The power of our journey and the power of students changing the world was fully understood when we learned the money raised would be enough to entirely fund the creation of a school library in Qenqo (S. Confer, personal 12

communication, May 5, 2011). The project had be abandoned years prior, but now due to our students efforts a building could be renovated, shelves built, materials transported, and books purchased (A. Akins, personal communication, June 23, 2011). The importance of books and reading is not lost on our students who treasure their own school library and its wealth of resources. The magic of a book and learning to read opens the doors to a whole new world. What greater gift could there be than the gift of knowledgesomething most of us take for granted (L. Renton, personal communication, June 1, 2011). During the initial videoconference to Peru so many months earlier we never imagined nor envisioned such a journey would take place. A journey that inspired, connected, and created change. Our students became mavericks and agents of change through a process that was driven by their curiosity of the world and compassion for others (J. Lambrinoudis, personal communication, June 1, 2011). As this story illustrates, the best journeys happen when you set sail with an open mind, prepared as best as possible and allow the winds to take you on an adventure unforeseen. The Journey Continues: Staying the Course Days prior to the completion of this paper I received permission to continue my work with Skype for the 2011-2012 school year. The change our students made in Qenqo influenced change in Calgary. The value of Skype was discovered through doing. Doing means connecting learning in our classrooms to peers, experts, people and cultures, ideas, knowledge, resources and perspectives from around the world. Doing includes opening the classroom walls to a world that previously only existed on pages of a book. (Rosenthal Tolisano, 2010b, para. 5) Action breeds change. Our journey created the evidence, the momentum and the power to further open the door towards change. When faced with a window of opportunity we must leap through it to demonstrate the depth of possibility. My hopes for next year include expanding our use of Skype through collaborative projects and global connections (with Peru and beyond) and by accessing experts. I want to continue the doing because I know the strength of relevant, deep learning propels us forward. I intend to be brave, relentless and passionate, and I hope I have inspired you to join me. In the words of Mark Twain, Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. 13

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