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20 reasons to prefer a virtual classroom to only Skype


Hi everyone.

The following is a re-make of a blog post by Heike Philp.  In the blog she posted the responses from a lively discussion in  Kirsten Winkler‘s ETCon conference of 2009.  The initial list contained 17 reasons, then in the comments, 3 more reasons were added.  The reason for re-posting this topic is that, in the routine of things, the opportunity for improvement and engagement that can be achieved wit the technology at hand are often forgotten.  Often it’s just a matter of training, in learning how to best use a certain virtual classroom.  Other times, it’s a matter of style and goals to be achieved.  I hope that together we can continue to enhance the overall quality of the live language training offered though the web.

Here is the list.  Tell us what do you think…

1) Annotations help visualization
Images are great teaching aids and annotating them in real-time on a whiteboard can really drive the learning experience. (Comment by Harman of WizIQ)

2) More control
For better or for worse, in a virtual classroom the teacher has more control over what students look at and sees how they interact with their peers, the chat and with the learning material.
(Stephen Jones)

3) Professionalism
Using Skype seems to mix business with personal use, hence using a virtual classroom lifts the professional image.

4) Greater availability
Some countries ban Skype (i.e. UAE), some learners prefer MSN or Yahoo and many companies do not allow Skype for security reasons.
(Giselle Santos, AmericanTeacher, Heike Philp)

5) Conferences
Conference like the ETCon would not have been possible on Skype.

6) Plan B as in ‘back-up’
Internet communication technology is fragile and it is advised to always have two of everything. So, it is good to use MSN AND Skype or Skype AND Virtual Classroom. If one fails, one can use the other.
(Heike Philp)

7) Skype is like using a hammer
‘If all you can use is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Many like Skype because they don’t know about virtual classrooms or do not know how to use it.

8′) Course structure
Slides communicate to the learners a course structure whereas Skype lessons may end up to be mere conversation lessons.
(Elisa Delaini of Myngle)

9) Multi-Modality
Speaking and listening, reading and writing and all of it all at once, this engages all of the learners’ senses. For example: some take notes of what others are discussing in a dialogue, this dialogue may be prompted by visuals or text which maybe annotated by others, and so on.
(Heike Philp)

10) Full contact rich media environment and it is sociable too
(Kevin of DimDim)

11) Teachers are leaders
If we do not master the technology, how will our students? Many of our learners use webconferencing on a regular basis and they are glad to learn this technology with us.
(Heike Philp)

12) Personal and professional development
Virtual classroom provide a challenge to grow professionally. We are advancing from one-to-one Skype lessons to group tuition in a virtual classroom. After virtual classroom, there will be virtual worlds, after virtual worlds ….
(Heike Philp)

13) Language teaching is by-an-large text-based
Language teaching requires a measure of text and the whiteboard is ideal for this.
Unfortunately most of the teaching material teachers have is in Word format. Word however uses the ‘old’ portrait format of books or pages in a folder. PowerPoint came about because of the typical shape of a computer screen. Why the Computer screens are in landscape format nobody knows but this happens to be the dominant format in a virtual classroom. This is the reason why we need slides. Many teachers have never used PowerPoint and now feel as if they have to redo all of their teaching material.
Did you know that you can convert a Word document into PowerPoint with a single click? Next time, in Word, look under the File menu and try ‘Send to MS PowerPoint’. It might look a little messy, but it is there.
(Heike Philp)

14) Virtual Classrooms will be with us a loooooong time
They already have been around for a long time (WebEx was founded in 1995) and they will be around for a long time to come. This is why it is worth investing time and effort into mastering them.
(Heike Philp)

15) A virtual classroom opens a world of learning
Just imagine virtual classrooms will become standard and from the comfort of your home you can now learn any course you wish. You as a teacher, what kind of course would you want to take? Would you perhaps take a Master program at a University? Would DELTA be your goal? Maybe a course in NLP, a programming language, a course at Harvard or a course in music or film production? Whatever your dream course looks like, the mere thought of these courses being conducted in a virtual classroom spells choice, right? Would we not also wish for this to be the case? Would we not wish for this University to be so ‘modern’ and offer their courses live online? Maybe this viewpoint helps us to understand the great potential of virtual classrooms for us and for our learners.
(Heike Philp)

16) Virtual classrooms are sociable
They can connect learners with learners and learners with experts across continents during rich learning conversations.

17) Virtual classrooms can enrich a local event
A simulcast can add richness to a local conference or a local classroom (in schools or universities).

18) Virtual classrooms allow for drop-ins
The virtual classroom provides a permalink and anybody who just wants to pop-in can do so. With Skype you always have to add people as a contact.

19) Virtual classrooms run multiple webcams
And multiple webcams create a proximity that is unmatched. Whilst we do not like to look into the mirror (see our own cam), do we not all love to see the others?

20) Record Option
Easier to record a lesson and have to show students what kind of teacher you are as well as the institutions looking to hire teachers with technology experience. Moreover, the video can be referenced later by students who did not catch everything within the lesson.  (Shelly Terrell)

Clearly, both Myngle’s technology and many of Myngle’s teachers can see from this list the potential for further improvements.

May this be extra motivation for all of us to do better and bring a level of professionalism and skill unmatched on the web.


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One Comment on “20 reasons to prefer a virtual classroom to only Skype”

  1. Lilith Says:

    Thanks for the post! I was interested to see the reasons you chose.
    However, many of the arguments (1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18) seem to ignore the fact that skype also has a white board and conferencing capabilities (although I’m not sure what ETCon was like). I believe they can record too, but don’t quote me.
    The idea that skype is unprofessional is merely a matter of perception. If we continue to use skype professionally, then it will be perceived as professional. Similarly, there are many possibilities for technologically-advanced tricks on skype that just need to be explored and utilized.
    I, for one, will continue to use skype until the quality of sound and access in the classroom improves. There are too many glitches, and the classroom has such high requirements for internet speed as to make it impossible for some students to use.