Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Save Skype at SJSU

This is a letter to my colleagues at SJSU about the pending decision by the University to ban Skype from our campus network:

We possibly will be the first university in Silicon Valley to ban Skype.

In my opinion this will result in our being at a competitive (not to mention technological) disadvantage compared to other institutions of higher learning when it comes to emerging technology, research and collaboration. Since we are located about ten miles from Ebay (the owners of Skype's) corporate HQ, I urge this to be considered with an open mind and extreme care. We need to be sure that the action we take is in the best interest of our university's educational mission.

This act has potential high visibility, given our campus's geography, with potential negative publicity, exposure and fallout. It can affect our relations with our neighbors and potential business partners in a very negative way.

Skype is a foundation technology that is often combined with podcasting. Skype, when combined with audio capture software, is a major way podcast conversations happen, are captured and are then enabled to be distributed in podcasts. A Google search of Skype + Podcasting yields over 20 million hits on Google. Conversations often happen on Skype that are remixed and shared with podcasting and this has a lot of educational potential.

In my class I have been planning to use Skype to bring authors of the textbook we use together to discuss their book with my students from various locations around the globe. Since I started using Skype daily in my work I have been contacted by educators from Europe, Asia and Australia. Educators have contacted me via Skype to collaborate on teaching and learning methods. One contact was from a group of educators who wanted to use Skype technology, combined with podcasting and iPods, to extend the reach of the Internet into the Outback to reach Aboriginal children.

Thanks to Skype, we are able to have easy and free international communications with colleagues. Thanks to Skype, we are able to collaborate globally and spontaneously. Skype has become the standard tool for this type of emerging technology. Banning Skype, in my opinion, would be like banning the web ten years ago. Like Skype, people use the web for profit, for buying and selling and for other uses that have nothing to do with university business. Could you imagine where this university would be today if we had banned the web ten years ago? Is that where you want this university to be ten years from now?

I know of foreign language educators, in the Skype Foreign Language Lab Project, who are using Skype as a tool to enable students in one part of the world to speak to native speakers of the languages they are teaching on the other side of our planet. There are pedagogically sound applications for this technology!

Last, we cannot forget the significant number of foriegn students at SJSU taking classes thousands of miles from their families. Skype is a great tool for our many foreign students to be able to maintain contact with their family and friends in their homelands. I don't think we should casually take a "let them eat cake" attitude towards student needs and the needs of other university students.

 I think with Skype we need to take a real cost benefit analysis of the software and the cost of not using the software. Skype is more than a program it is a global communications and collaboration platform. It’s also a pipe into a flat world where easy communications is a strategic advantage and the loss of which is a disadvantage. It is a platform of change as well as a delivery pipe of media-voice, video and data.

It has been argued that the current design may be a violation of the legal use of state computing resources. In my opinion, if the use of Skype violates state or federal law then the appropriate agency to take action should be the Chancellor's Office or the State's Attorney General. If what Neal alleges is accurate, I wonder why that has not happened?

Last as a counterpoint, here is a link on the Skype website on the issue of security of their product.

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