As its major outage in December demonstrated, Skype bridges the personal and the professional, and many of us have come to rely on its VOIP calls to family, co-workers and colleagues.

Skype has also been embraced by many educators who are using it in the classroom in some innovative ways.

Teachers use Skype to open their students to a world beyond the classroom walls. They use it to bring experts, authors, and guest instructors into the classroom, those who would never otherwise be able to visit the school. Students can take virtual field trips, if you will, via Skype as they're connected to places through video chat. A Skype communication session can involve foreign language learning or a cultural exchange. It can connect classrooms across the city, state, country or around the world.

A Skype Directory for Educators

This usage by teachers has caught Skype's attention, says spokesperson Jacqueline Botterill, and the company has just launched the beta version of Skype in the Classroom, an effort to support their efforts.

The first step, Skype says, is building a directory of educators who use the VOIP service and want to connect their classrooms with others. Currently, many teachers turn to Facebook, Twitter, and their own personal and professional social networks in order to find other teachers to connect with, and it looks like Skype wants to make sure it's providing its own matching services and helping provide the resources and skill-building so that teachers feel comfortable with video conferencing.

Teachers can sign up for the Skype in the Classroom beta by connecting their existing Skype accounts. Then, they can build out their profile with their interests, specialties, grade level, and location. Teachers can look through the directory and find others who can help with questions, resources, tips, and classroom visits.

Skype says it plans to improve several aspects of the directory very soon, including building out its search functionality. (It's missing a time zone filter currently, for example - a crucial piece for hooking up with another classroom for a video chat.) Skype says it has other development plans too in order to support connecting classes with speakers and experts -- authors, astronauts, politicians, and the like --who are willing to Skype in to a class.

Botterill says Skype is eager to hear teachers' feedback in order to build out the initiative to best support their classroom needs. "We'll work on what teachers need to better use the technology in the classroom," says Botterill.