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Skype in the Classroom graduates from beta

VoIP provider says the new video service is designed to help educators worldwide collaborate with fellow teachers who are tackling the same topics.

Skype in the Classroom, a video networking service for educators worldwide, is officially out of beta, the company said today.

The service, which has been in beta since December, allows educators to collaborate with others around the world over video. The VoIP provider said it developed the service "in response to, and in consultation with, the growing number of teachers using Skype to help their students learn."

Skype in the Clasroom
Skype's service can help educators find one another by location, among other criteria. Screenshot by CNET

To set Skype In the Classroom apart from the company's basic service, teachers can use the tool to find fellow educators who may be teaching on the same topic. It can also be used to expose kids to guest speakers or collaborate on projects with other classes. Teachers can search through the service using age groups, location, and subjects of interest, Skype said.

In some ways, Skype is trying to be the next generation's "pen pal" service. For decades now, students have had pen pals around the world with whom they would communicate during a school year. It was effective at helping them learn more about the world, but it was rather impersonal. Skype, it seems, wants to change that.

The company cited one project under way between two classrooms--one in France and the other in Canada--that used Skype to enhance the pen pal relationship students previously had.

"Before arranging the first video call, our students exchanged letters and e-mails but we decided to bring the two classes together face-to-face over Skype video to enrich their relationship," Christophe Fetat, one of the teachers involved in the project, said in a statement. "The result was amazing. Students were really engaged to discuss different topics."

That project is one of more than 40 started via the service. More than 4,700 teachers are already checking it out. The figures were growing by the minute today.

Skype isn't alone in trying help teachers enrich their classrooms through technology. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, for example, launched a social network for educators last year. The program, called EDge, helps teachers collaborate on best practices, create lesson plans, and upload multimedia content for others to use in their classrooms. It's free to join.