Monday, February 11, 2013

Skype vs. The Virtual Classroom

I was doing a virtual classroom demonstration last week with a possible client and the person innocently asked, 'how is this different than teaching on Skype?' and so I thought I would answer the question here.  Skype is one of the best VoIP software programs out there and if you are just having a conversation with your students and don't really need to use online tools, Skype might just be the best alternative for a live online teacher.  If one is teaching groups and/or would like to make the class more interesting by using tools, the virtual classroom is the best.  I will start with the similarities and then go on to the differences between the two.

When teaching with either Skype or a virtual classroom, there are three areas that are exactly alike.  One, both teacher and student can use VoIP and their web camera for one-to-one classes.  If the teacher (or student) has paid for the option on Skype, they can also see groups in the web camera, but for the free versions, the teacher can only use the web camera if the call is with one other person.  The second similarity is the ability to share one's screen.  This is a nice opportunity for both teacher and student to share resources.  The third similarity is the chat.  The teacher can use the chat to provide feedback or give directions to the student using this function and copy the chat and email the student with feedback.

The following are some tools that a teacher can use in the virtual classroom that cannot be used on Skype.  The whiteboard is one of the best ways to get the student involved in a lesson.  When teaching groups, the teacher can ask the students to write on the whiteboard while one student is talking.  There are many activities teachers can do on the whiteboard.  They can upload matching activities, game slides or use it for free writing.  As illustrated in my last post, teaching beginning level children, I used the whiteboard for the children to answer questions through drawing that they may not have had the vocabulary for.  The whiteboard is just one excellent way to utilize the virtual classroom tools.

Another difference between using Skype and the virtual classroom is the ability to upload video.  I was giving the demonstration in WebEx, which allowed me to upload short videos.  I will usually upload quick videos for discussion.  Alternatively, the student can be directed to a website, but it makes it more convenient for the teacher to have a little control.

Webtouring is another feature that I use for YouTube videos and games and activities.  As previously mentiond, there is less control, but a feature that cannot be used in other formats.

In WebEx, one has the opportunity to annotate and/or write on the screen as one does on the whiteboard while screensharing, which is wonderful if the teacher is showing an online activity.

Blackboard Collaborate has a feature that I really like for teaching groups.  The feature is an online clock.  So, you give your students pairwork and set the clock for five minutes and the teach and students all see the clock.  The teacher can also make the clock invisible to the students for other activities.

One of the big advantages to using a virtual classroom like WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect, Spreed, Microsoft Live, or WizIQ is the ability for groups to see each other on the web camera.  In addition, the teacher can record the sessions and have it available for the students to watch at a later time.  One can record on Skype, but it has to be with another program and there is no opportunity to see the class.

So, to summarize, Skype lessons are great for conversation classes yet if one wants to teach groups or utilize online tools such as the whiteboard, webtouring, annotating screenshare, and video, the virtual classroom is a better alternative.

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