Since becoming the CEO of Skype last October, Tony Bates has overseen the launch of a Wi-Fi hotspot service, a partnership with Facebook that produced the social network’s first video chat feature, and a pending acquisition by Microsoft.
Though it didn’t make as many headlines, Skype also launched its formal education initiative under Bate’s leadership. Skype in the Classroom, a dedicated teacher network, came out of beta in March with about 4,000 teachers already signed up. It now has more than 15,000 teachers sharing more than 779 projects on the site.
Mashable recently asked Bates about Skype’s new education initiatives and the developing education technology space. Bates will also be speaking at Mashable’s Social Good Summit in September.
Q&A With Tony Bates, CEO of Skype
What does video chat have to do with education?
The education process is moving beyond the traditional classroom/lecture setting. More and more teachers are seeking tools and techniques to engage their classes and enrich their lessons. Video calling is one of these tools, as it removes barriers to communication and lets students move beyond the boundaries of their classrooms. With Skype video calling, teachers can provide their students with first-hand knowledge from experts around the world and with other classes who are studying the same subject halfway across the world.
Personally, have you ever learned something via Skype that you wouldn’t have been able to learn without it?
Absolutely. One of my first days at Skype, my anxiety about not having a desk phone was quickly erased after I had a Skype (video) call with an important partner. [It] would have taken months to arrange a face-to-face physical meeting. The immediacy of video contact allowed the two of us to understand each other better and that really cemented for me the power of Skype. Every day at Skype, I am able to connect with employees from around the world and engage with them on a level that just is not possible through a conference call or email. When I speak to an engineer in Stockholm, he is able to talk me through a new product he is working on. The amount of education, in the most basic sense of the word, I receive on a daily basis through Skype amazes me. The technology is one of the reasons I wanted to join Skype and am eager to get Skype into every classroom around the globe.
Do you think that there’s still a resistance from schools when it comes to incorporating technologies?
There is always a certain amount of resistance when people try to introduce new technologies and methods of communication in any setting. The biggest cause of this resistance is usually a lack of awareness about ease of use and concerns about costs.
More broadly speaking, what are some applications of technology in education that you’re excited about?
There are a number of different technologies and applications that are being used right now that I am very excited about. One Laptop Per Child is a visionary program that is leveraging technology to make an impact on a global scale. Additionally, Blackboard is a company that is using enterprise technology to find ways to benefit students and teachers. Khan Academy is a truly exciting new method of … reaching students in new and exciting ways. Coming from Cisco and understanding the benefit of enterprise-level technology, I am always encouraged to see the ways enterprise technologies can be leveraged for the classroom.
What changes would you like to see in the way that schools implement technology?
I think an open dialog between educators, administrators and school districts would go a long way in removing the obstacles that are traditionally faced in introducing a new technology into a school or classroom. Many of the technological solutions that are available to teachers right now can be easily and affordably implemented in almost any setting. By working with school districts to educate their decision makers on the technologies that are available to educators — and exactly how they will benefit — would go a long way in increasing the rate of adoption in schools.