In March 2020, ue to the coronoavirus, my evening classes with Cactus languages were switched from face to face in the school in Manchester to online, each student in their own home and me in mine!
I wasn’t sure how it was going to go but I’m glad to say that online teaching proved to be enjoyable and fun.
I have taken part in many online lessons in the past. I followed the Teachable summit last year, a series of live webinars organised by the New York-based Teachable online course platform. It was fun and exciting to be a part of it, knowing that the presenters were in New York talking into the camera and being heard by hundreds of participants around the world. From time to time I would write a message in the chat and they would acknowledge it, maybe even read my name aloud. I believe there were hundreds, maybe thousands of participants to this online meeting.
Another live webinar I took part in was a seminar on the Welsh language presented by Kerstin Cable of Fluent Language. The seminar was presented using Zoom. There were a smaller number of participants. It was interesting to see how she presented the information and we were able to respond with messages.
In March 2020 I took my first online lessons with my two German evening classes, organised by Cactus languages. I used the Zoom platform. Cactus had already organised a webinar on Zoom’s features, so I already had a good idea of what it is able to do.
I quickly got to know its main features. On the Wednesday evening I used my iPhone to conduct the class. That’s because I couldn’t figure out how to send an invitation e-mail to my students from the computer-based version. The seminar went very smoothly, though the sound and picture quality varied from student to student. Some students had a good quality camera and microphone, and that made the experience a lot easier. Other students had older computers and the camera and sound wasn’t so good. That can degrade the experience a little.
In a language class, it’s very important to have good sound quality. The sound needs to be continuous and high quality. I’ve previously used Skype to chat with friends and family in other parts of the world and have often been a bit disappointed with the sound and picture quality.
With Zoom, the sound seemed to be consistently good.
So what features does Zoom have?
At its simplest, it can handle a two-way conversation. You invite the person by sending an e-mail message. They click on the link and are connected. It’s very easy and simple.
Zoom can of course handle group chats with several people. Each person appears in a small screen. The screens are arranged along the top or at the side of the Zoom window.
You can share part of your screen. You can place a rectangle over a document on your screen and share it so that the students see it on their screen.
It’s also possible to have a ‘virtual whiteboard’ onto which you can draw, type and past graphics. It’s very cool.
Zoom has a chat function – you type in the chat field lower right and the chat window appears on the right hand side of each student’s window. This is useful for writing examples of words or highlighting spelling.
It’s also possible to set up chat groups consisting of two or more students. When you want them to rejoin the main group you simply click to end the group. I didn’t get this far with either of the groups I took.
As the teacher, you have a lot of control over the features of Zoom and once you know how to use those features, you have a lot of options at your fingertips.
So what are the main advantages and disadvantages of online teaching?
1) Teacher and students don’t have to travel to a central point – a school – and can save time and transport costs
2) It’s possible to teach and take part in lessons with students located anywhere in the world. That means there are no geographical limits on who you are able to teach and as a student, which courses are available to you.
3) I find it fun to take part in an online class. It’s great to see today’s technology in action. It simply wasn’t possible when I first started teaching. Today’s technology is superb and yet we don’t always make full use of it.
4) It is perfect for a an emergency, such as the corona virus. You can’t catch a virus down the wire of a video link. During a pandemic,’s a 100% safe way for people to come together and interact with each other. Any face-to-face language class can be re-organised as an online class. Today’s technology allows us to continue classes where in the past, they had to come to a halt.
What about the disadvantages?
1) It’s not quite the same as meeting people in person. You have real face to face contact, with no barriers. But when that’s not possible, as during a global pandemic, online classes are the next best thing.
2) Poor sound and picture quality can be a barrier to the success of an online class. Not everyone has a computer with the best quality microphone and camera. If there is a bad connection, sound quality can deteriorate and inevitably, there are times when the broadband connection is interrupted. But these are relatively minor problems. Most of the time, online classes work well.
After this experience I will be making much more use of videolink. The crisis has opened my eyes to its possibilities. I would urge anyone, whether students or teachers, to take a closer look at the possibilities of classes via video and to find out more about Zoom and other software products.