Virtual Classroom vs Skype / VoIP only – Round #2

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)

You can argue about this point from an academic and a for profit view, as you can basically for most points on the list. I will argue from the second point, of course.

First of all you have the same amount of control over the student as in Skype. And that is basically none. A virtual classroom is nothing more than a task which can be easily put in the background while tweeting, watching a video on YouTube, playing around with the privacy settings on Facebook and so on.

Secondly group lessons are still far from being interactive. As soon as there are more students in the classroom it is most certainly a lecture with a Q&A part.

But the biggest argument is of course the fact that the teacher needs to deliver an interesting and engaging lesson. The student is paying for it and therefore if the student is bored and looks at something else than your lesson this might be the last time this student booked you anyway.

I think this argument comes more out of a wish from classic school teachers. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be sure that all students are actually paying attention? But unfortunately technology cannot solve this, either. Even if all students in the virtual classroom would have their camera on and you could look them in the eyes you still would not know if they are looking on the whiteboard or another website.

Hence the task is the same. Be entertaining, resourceful and interact with the student and I also think we should to say good bye to the idea of group lessons. Why on earth would we want to simply copy the old and broken educational system of big overfilled classes and paste it into the new environment on the internet? The task should be to bring as many teachers online as possible so that we can deliver great one-to-one classes to those people who are interested in that.

Group activities are of course also important but I doubt that they will take place during language lessons. On the one hand because of the technological problems and on the other hand because of the better options that already exist for that like language learning communities.

It will be of course interesting to see how other topics like maths and science will perform online. Edoboard and Blueteach, two French start ups I interviewed on EDUKWEST have already developed classrooms for this kind of usage. But in general I’d say it’s the same as with language lessons. For example if you want to see great educational video content on those topics you should take a look at Khan Academy. This guy is simply brilliant.

Bottom line: If you are not able to catch the attention of your student technology won’t fix that problem for you. The Skype text chat and the screen sharing feature are more than enough to provide extra content during language lessons besides the ongoing dialog between teacher and student.

EDUKWEST #16 Edoboard | EDUKWEST #28 Blueteach | Khan Academy

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  • Louis George Machlan

    I pretty much agree with you, to a point. It seems you have a bias to one-on-one. That certainly is a desirable optimum but not very practical. A few can afford this and already afford such opportunities to their children or selves.

    This one-on-one is also more available with some economies (e.g. Indian) having teachers who can offer services at a favorable rate. This still leaves a vast number of students under served.

    Like it or not the group dynamic is still a must for at least two reasons. 1 The simple economies of scale. Many students have little or no money to pay a teacher. A group learning environment is still financially a must.

    2. The group dynamic is still a magical dimension in learning. Sure, a teacher and a student constitutes a micro group. But, a group of like minded students take on a life of its own. It is also self sustaining if nurtured and encouraged. It is a more natural dynamic than an artificial student-teacher relationship. Especially today, there is a trend toward a “tribe” social phenomena in the post modern world.

    The types of people who are drawn to the Internet and the online learning environment are predisposed to this new tribe like group dynamic. The wonderful aspect of this new online world is that one can find and associate with like minded people on a global scale. If we as teachers restructure our groups to meet these small tribes we can achieve a very cool group dynamic that is still tailored to an individuals motivators and interests but with a pool as big as the online world we can also work with a group.

    Whew, that sure was a long run-on sentence that time.

    Thanks again for great topics Kirsten.

    • KirstenWinkler

      I am totally biased on one-on-one lessons as I think this is going to be the only place where a real teacher will fit in the near future. I also believe that it is the best way of teaching to get maximum results.

      Group dynamic will take place outside of the virtual classroom. There will be a teacher somewhere who controls the environment but I don't think he/she will play an important role there.

  • Andrew Playford

    Kirsten, I really liked this blog. Sometimes we get tied up in the technology in our industry and forget that we still gotta provide a great service and the student still has to really want to learn. There is no easy way.

    • KirstenWinkler

      Exactly. In the end it boils down to what the student wants / needs and that is most often just a good lesson. Technology is just the connector and I think the less, the better as it can be simply too overwhelming.