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Lync, Skype, Education, and the Eraser

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time in Redmond, working with the Lync Marketing team on our 2014 plans, in their new home in Building 5 on the Redmond campus. The facility is pretty impressive, with gleaming new fixtures, plenty of glass and unusual "hangouts" for impromptu meetings. One thing that is hard to miss in the entrance of Building 5 is the "in your face" Skype video wall and signage. Clearly Skype and Lync now have a common home and mission going forward.

And that visit got me thinking about the mash-up of Lync and Skype. Lync 2013 is quickly becoming a leading business tool. Skype is clearly the world's most popular consumer communication client. What will Skype and Lync interoperability mean in the real world?

One area that jumps out at me almost immediately is Education, potentially turning the concept of a "classroom" inside out--bringing distance learning over the Internet far closer to reality.

Many educational institutions have already started to deploy Lync for administrative functions--examples include case studies we've profiled at Georgia Military College, Broward College and Oxnard Union High School District. In these cases, the collaboration features were initially deployed for staff and faculty collaboration--not intended for teacher/student interaction; giving every student a seat license for Lync would be prohibitively expensive and open up all kinds of security issues as students roamed the virtual hallways of Lync. Web clients are okay for occasional use, but are poor substitutes for "the real thing".

This is where Skype comes in.

By having students use the ubiquitous Skype client on their desktop, tablet or mobile device while the school uses Lync, you now have an architecture that makes sense for distance learning. Lync servers provide the collaboration tools that a teacher needs (voice, video, presentation and presence), while the student has a capable and free client with familiar controls that are easy to use. From what I can tell, the current effort to solve Skype/Lync interoperability is well on the way to achieving this vision.

But we aren't there yet. Seared in my memory of Mr. Stewart's 11th grade Social Studies class was the almost daily pinpoint-accuracy eraser toss--an attention-grabbing tool that had many an inattentive student leaving class with a yellow chalk stain on their shirt. The eraser toss was highly motivational at keeping you on task and snuffing any side conversations. For distance learning to truly work, we'll need to remotely address the shrinking attention spans of today's students, without the aid of a flying eraser.

Continue the conversation with your comments or suggestions--Alan can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlanDPercy