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.

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