Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Virtual Classroom Tools: A case for web cameras!

As a teacher trainer in the use of virtual classroom technology, I ran into the question about web cameras a lot and I learned that there are basically two schools of thought on this issue.  Some live online trainers believe that it is necessary and some do not. I believe in the former and  I will systematically describe why I believe web cameras are important and let you decide for yourself.

First, the people who find web cameras necessary believe that a web camera allows the students and teachers to connect as real people.  When there is a group of students and there is no web camera, the teacher does not really know who he/she is teaching and the students wonder about the teacher.  If there is a web camera, it makes it more human somehow.  I have a small dog and sometimes have activity around my house and so I usually introduce my dog to the class during the first lesson and put him up to the camera.  When I started teaching live online, he eventually started jumping into my lap to see why I was having so much fun so I started introducing him to my classes.  My students have all gotten a kick out of it and there is an instant connection, especially if the student(s) is an animal lover.  They always ask about him in subsequent lessons.

Another reason some teachers are pro web camera is because the students really want to use the web camera.  Some students want to be able to see the teacher speaking as it helps them, as visual learners, make out what the teacher is saying (or so they say).  When I first started teaching live online, I had two students who could not get their web camera working and told the language school that they would not continue until it started working and so I had a technical expert work with them to get them into a virtual classroom that would take their web camera.  They really wanted to see that all the tools within the virtual classroom were being used.

A  final reason for the use of web cameras in the classroom is that it usually helps the students stay on task.  If their teacher is seeing them, they will pay attention a little more whereas if there is no web camera, the student could realistically walk away and come back a little later, especially if it is a larger group.

So, to summarize, online training can be isolating and the use of a web camera can make the students and teachers feel like they are still in the same room.  Many students like the web camera and feel it is important in the case of pronunciation and web cameras help with accountability, especially in large groups.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Virtual Classroom Tools: The chat

The first tool in this series of Virtual Classroom Tools is the one that every online teaching situation should utilize:  the chat function.  The chat can be used very successfully by the teacher in several ways.  The following is how I have used the chat effectively:

1.  The chat is a great way to provide feedback to the student(s) without interrupting the conversation.  The teacher should not write down what the student has said wrong, but what the student could have said.  For example, the student says, 'Yesterday, we discussed about trains and today I want to discuss about cars.'  In the chat, the live online teacher can write, 'Yesterday, we discussed trains and today I want to discuss cars.'  Later, the live online teacher can send this list to the student for them to keep and read through before the next lesson.

2.  The chat is a great way to provide clarification to lower level students.  If the student is saying a word and it is difficult to make out, the teacher can ask the student to write the word in the chat so that he/she can help them pronounce the word better.  The teacher can also do the same.  Since, listening is quite difficult for our students, the teacher can write words or phrases in the chat for the students to follow.  This allows the student to be comfortable.  One has to be careful not to write too much because the student can become dependent on the chat, however.

3.  When teaching writing, the chat can be used to have the student write a short email in the chat and then you can go over the writing through this tool.

4.  The chat can also be used in pairwork situations allowing students to do an exercise together and then presenting it to the rest of the class.

Regardless of how you use this tool, the chat can be easily copied and pasted and sent to the students' emails for future use.  One virtual classroom, Adobe Connect Pro, even allows teachers to email the chat from within the virtual classroom, which is quite convenient.