Skype is a program that allows audio and video calls to computers and other devices. It can also be used for file transfer, screen sharing, chat and calling phones (for a fee - landline or mobile). You can make video calls if your computer (or other Skype-compatible device) has a camera (built-in or external). A camera is not required to receive a video from others. Skype is a free program. However, to call regular phones from Skype or to make a group video call you need to make a purchase. Most newer computers come with a web cam (check with the Helpdesk or your manufacturer if you're not sure.) If your computer doesn't have a webcam and you'd like some recommendations for cameras, please see the Recommended Webcams page. If you are planning to use Skype for a class or an event and you need assistance, please contact the Heldesk at least 5 business days before your event to insure assistance.
Latest Skype Instructions
Note that Skype Ltd updates their Skype software very frequently. If the links in this document are no longer relevant or usable, please visit http://www.skype.com.
Create an Account and Install Skype
Note: Skype is compatible with Windows PCs, Macs, Linux computers, iPhones and other smartphones, iPads and other tablets, TVs and other devices. For a full list visit Skype System Requirements.
- To get Skype you need to create an account.
- Once you have a Skype account, you need to visit the Skype download page, sign in with your account and the Skype download will start.
- Follow the instructions on the download page (available after you sign-in as instructed above) to install Skype.
NOTE: On Windows, on the initial installation screen, you may want to click the Options button and remove the checkmark from features that you don't want to use (such as Skype plug-ins and toolbars - these are not essential for Skype).
- Once Skype is installed, on Windows PCs it will open automatically. On Macs you should drag it to your Applications folder, put the Skype icon on the Dock and launch it from there.
- The first time Skype launches it will let you create an account. Since you've already created an account, skip this step by clicking Sign-In.
- Sign-in with the Skype name and password you created earlier.
You can open Skype in a number of ways (e.g. on Windows it can be started from the Desktop or the Start Menu). If you need help opening Skype, visit How to Start Skype.
To use Skype to collaborate with others you need to know (or find) their Skype Name (definition of Skype Name). Some people publish their Skype Name on their website or as part of email commununication. If you don't know a person's Skype Name it is best to ask the person for this information. Note that you can use Skype's directory to look-up a partial or complete first or last name, however it may be difficult to find a specific individual as there are many people with same or similar names (remember that Skype connects hundreds of millions across the world).
A Note on Network Connections
Skype relies on your network connection to send audio and video. Thus, a reliable network connection is required if you plan to use Skype. A wired network connection or a 4G mobile broadband connection is preferred over Wi-Fi. If you plan to take part in an important call using Skype, you should check your internet speed using http://www.speedtest.net. When testing, be sure to connect to the same network that you plan to use for the actual call. While Skype may work OK with slower connections (e.g. 128 kbps), we recommend that you use an internet connection that offers at least 500 kbps.
Making Audio and Video Calls with Skype
- To call one of your contacts with Skype, open Skype, highlight their Skype Name and press the green Call button.
NOTE: By default this starts an audio call which is very similar to a phone call.
- If the other person has a camera they may choose to use it, though Skype doesn't start a video call by default.
- If your computer (or other Skype-compatible device) has a built-in or external camera the green Video Call button will be available in addition to the regular Call button and you can use this to initiate a video call.
- To turn video on and off during a call click the camera button in the Skype call window.
A Note on Cameras and Mics
Most Macs come with a built-in camera. Dell E6400 laptops distributed by the College come with a camera, as well. Check with the Helpdesk if you are unsure whether your computer has a built-in camera. You can also borrow an external USB camera (plug-and-play, no drivers required) or a Mac laptop with a built-in camera from the Circulation Desk. You can also purchase cameras (look for webcams) from many stores (e.g. Amazon or Best Buy). If purchasing online, any well rated camera will be compatible with Skype. If you'd like a recommendation for a webcam, please see the Recommended Webcams page.
Most computers nowadays come with a built-in microphone (mic). These are usually OK if you make your calls in a quiet area. If you need a higher quality microphone or want to eliminate noise, see the Recommended Computer Mics page.
Group Calls - Conference Calling with Skype
- Instructions for conference calling with Skype (computer to computer group audio call) - free
- Instructions for making a group video call Using Skype - requires payment
- If you add funds to your Skype account, you can also call phones from Skype (and if you pay for the phone number feature, you can receive calls on your Skype from regular phones)
Transferring Files Through Skype
This is a somewhat slow process, but may work well for small or medium sized files: Instructions for sending files through Skype.
Sharing your Screen Through Skype
You (or the other participant in a call) can share the computer's screen through Skype. Note that without paying the premium membership, you will need to turn off your camera to share the screen.
You can also use Skype for regular instant messaging (IM).
Skyping in a Classroom
It is possible to use Skype in a classroom setting - for example you can invite a guest speaker to join your class via Skype. Using Skype in the classroom is easy:
- Connect the computer to the projector and to the sounds system as you normally would (e.g. if you were giving a PowerPoint lecture).
If you're not sure how to do this, check Projecting from your Laptop Computer page.
- Open Skype and start your call.
If you're not sure how to do this, check the #Using_Skype section above.
- That's it! The Skype window will be visible on the big screen and the sound can be heard through the audio system in the room. As long as the computer or other device that you are using for Skyping is connected to the classroom's audio/video system, the class will be able to hear and see the guest lecturer on the big screen.
Classroom Skyping Limitations
There are some limitations to using Skype in the classroom:
- You need to turn the computer (or if using a standalone camera, the camera itself) towards the audience for the other party to see the audience. Repeatedly switching the camera between the speaker, the audience, and the person on the other end can become very tedious and disorienting.
- If a member of the audience would like to ask a question, the person will need to walk up closer to the computer that's being used for Skyping. A wireless microphone typically passed around in the audience for Q&A during lectures cannot be used with Skype.
- Skype relies on a peer-to-peer system to connect you to other people. This means that, when you initiate a Skype call, your call gets routed (securely) across other people's computers. While there is strong security in this connection, if there is a computer with a slow network connection in the chain, your call quality will suffer.
- To bring more than one Skype user into a call you will need to purchase Skype group calling. Even with Skype group calling, you are still limited to 10 Skype participants.
Other Skype Features and Step by Step Guides
Using Skype to Increase Educational Communication
As part of their curriculum, the University of British Columbia has published an article on using Skype to increase educational communication.