I wanted to show you what it looks like to use one of these VoIP programs. Since I already have an account with Skype, I took a few screen shots of me in a few Skype calls. Here are the screen shots:
The interface is very easy to use. To make a call, you click on the person's name and select the button to call them. You will hear ringing until the person either answers or the computer tells you they are not available. When you are in a call with someone, the options for what you can do are at the top of the box. The two buttons you would probable use the most during a call are the video button and the hang up button. If you click on the video button, it will turn on and off your video. If you want to chat with someone without video, you can turn off your video with that button. You can also see your picture on the bottom left hand corner of the video screen. If you are in a call and you do not see your face in the corner, then you need to click the video button to turn your video option on. If you do not see the other person's face, that means that they have their video option off and they need to click the video button. You can also select to make a conference call with Skype with three or more of your contacts. Unfortunately, you can only make voice conference calls with Skype.
I could definitely see teachers using this in their classrooms. One way to use it could be with students who are sick at home. If they are sick, you could have your Skype turned on and the child could listen in from home. They could do anything from take notes on a lecture or listen in on a read aloud.
Another way you could use this with your class would be for a telecollaborative project. You could get your class set up with another class that you share with through Skype. You could have students partner up with other students or it could be an entire class Skype situation. The activity could be as simple as sharing what they did over the weekend or it could be that one of your students is reading a book to the other class through Skype. You could do writing projects where the students have to actually colaborate through Skype. Any opportunity for the students to talk to other students, let alone other students across the state, country, or world, will most likely get them motivated to do whatever activity you wanted them to complete.