I’ve had a couple of good experiences being in Second Life and getting audio via a Skypecast feed—enough to recommend that faculty members get a free Skype account.

If you’re not familiar with Skype, it is primarily a way to make free “phone” calls to any other Skype member PC to PC, and low-cost calls to regular telephones from your computer. You need to have some basic equipment, of course, including most usually headphones and a microphone. Most computer headphones that you can pick up at Wal-Mart will satisfy this, so it’s a low-cost solution for its original intention, i.e., talking one-on-one to someone else.

It has also turned out to be a low-cost (in most cases, free) way of audio conferencing. That’s what we’re interested in here.

I must tell you I have mixed feelings about it. Chat certainly has disadvantages, not the least being that for most people it takes longer (even fast typists can’t type as fast as the average person can talk) and loses the subtle intonations that can come from voice. However, I don’t particularly like an audio-only channel. I’ve always felt more awkward on the telephone than I do either in person or via written media. Plus, the audio leaves no record.

I’ll admit to having gotten accustomed to e-mail, bulletin boards, chat, etc., automatically enabling record-keeping. I’m an old reporter, but with electronic communication I seldom have to take notes any more–I can just go back through the actual transcript. I’ve gotten so rusty that when I recently had to cover a couple of audio-based gatherings, I was only saved by the fact that someone had recorded it and posted the results for download.

Having said that, I think Skype could make our inworld training sessions better. It will be simpler than trying Audrey’s patience by setting up an Elluminate session each time. On the other hand Elluminate would allow us to record the session. We should probably try it both ways.

If you want to try Skype, just go to their Web site and download the software. When you install it, you get the opportunity to create a free account. The software will run in the background in your systray (the little area in the lower right-hand corner of your screen–officially the “Notification Area,” I think). For our purposes, what will happen is that I will create a Skypecast and send you the link for it. (I can also post it via Chat inworld, where you can copy and paste it into a browser.) If you just follow that link you’ll be able to log into your Skype account and join the audio.

Hint: this limits your ability to eat while you work.

The Skype client itself is very small and shouldn’t interfere with running SL, but having to open your browser could be another challenge. Some computers don’t have enough memory to have SL and a browser open at the same time. That will be one of the things for us to consider. Of course, if that’s the case you probably won’t be able to run SL and Elluminate at the same time.
I will Skypecast the training session scheduled for this Friday, so if you want to try this, go ahead and get a Skype account and software between now and Friday.

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