Sunday, 26 January 2014

ELT via Skype: headphones or not?

   

Are headphones even an issue?



                                    





Reflections on teaching via Skype: context ELT


Entry 2


After a break from writing in this space I'm back to jotting down thoughts that relate to teaching English via Skype. You can of course choose from a variety of video conferencing tools for this purpose, but at present this is my preferred platform. It's one that I know well and feel comfortable with.

Now it might seem an odd question to ask: What's the point of wearing headphones when teaching English, or any other language, via Skype? But it's one that worth considering. If only for a moment. 

First, depending on what type of device you're using to communicate with your students, this might or might not be an essential requirement.  For those who need them for functional purposes you've been spared  the decision making process. It's one less thing to concern yourself with, but don't run away. Aren't you curious as to why this is an issue at all?

Putting technical requirements on the shelf, a simple but significant reason for wearing headphones, whilst teaching in this context, is that they block out external noises. Seems obvious, but believe me it's not. I've always worn headphones with an attached microphone for teaching in this manner. But, sometimes my students forget. I've heard peak traffic motoring past, children screaming, music blaring, someone practicing scales on the piano, dogs barking and oven bells screaming to be switched off. They can be very disruptive. You'll find it difficult to hear your student.  So to avoid frowning into the screen and having language swallowed by unwanted sound effects, I now (after having learned this lesson) politely ask students to put on their headphones at the commencement of each lesson if I see that they're headset free.

A second less obvious reason, but equally disturbing, is that when you engage in specific listening activities e.g. this could be a podcast or a video link that you've given your student so that you can both have control over the settings. In this situation, if headphones aren't worn you'll hear the podcast / video from the other person's device and vice versa. This often sounds like off sync, distant conversation which again will disrupt the listening activity. It's not enough for one of you to wear headphones. The quality of the lesson will be better if both of you are connected to your devices with headsets and microphones. In my view, you have more of a sense of intimacy. It's just you and your student in a private virtual space giving your full attention to language learning.   So, don't give those disruptive factors a chance to spoil your lesson. Put your headphones on.

Will any headphones do?

There's no point in me recommending any specific brand as there are too many to choose from and not all headphones suit every device. Make sure you know what you need before paying for a set. Have a think about whether you'll be using your headphones with others devices as this will influence whether you choose a USB or  jack connection. If you choose a USB connection ensure that you have a port free. I 'd also think about the comfort factor. Your ears and the top of your head will be suffering even after a one hour session if your headphones don't have decent padding in these areas. So apart from specific device requirements and your budget, take a moment to consider whether comfort is going to be an issue for you or not.






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