Skype for CPD
In May, I launched this pilot project with the Regional Coordinators from Central Switzerland. The purpose was to trial Skype with ETAS (English Teachers Association Switzerland) members for the purpose of continuing professional development (CPD) and also as a means of networking.
These sessions enabled English language teachers to experience first-hand how Skype can be used for language teaching in conjunction with other tools. It's interesting to note that although some of the participants had experience teaching via Skype, not all were familiar with the affordances of the tool and indeed, few had considered using other tools in conjunction with Skype to improve their students' learning experience.
In my opinion, this project provided a great opportunity to exchange teaching experiences with one another in an informal atmosphere. It also provided a platform to discuss other topics that concern those of us working in online environments such as finding suitable online resources and understanding copyright. In relation to these points, I've provided a few links which you can follow up on the feedback board.
I throughly enjoyed meeting other English language teachers from Switzerland's diverse regions and hope that we can engage in more of these kinds of cyber sessions for CPD.
As promised, I'm providing you with a brief recapitulation of the content we covered. I haven't gone into depth. Instead, I've provided a summary of what we discussed and tools we experimented with during the sessions. So feel free to pick your way through the headings and explore tools that are of relevance to you and your teaching context. If you require further assistance please get in touch.
- organise a zero session via Skype in order to meet your prospective student and assess the reliability of their broadband connection and level of digital literacy skills
- carry out a needs' analysis before you commence the first lesson
- elicit where they intend to have their lessons. A quiet room away from any background distractions is optimal
- recommend wearing a headphone with integrated microphone
- discuss your backup plan when having instruction via Skype i.e. what is the procedure if severe technical problems occur?
- discuss your preferred payment and scheduling system.
- decide on what other tools you could use if technical issues with Skype arise e.g. Google Hangout, Facetime, Wiziq. It's worth testing at least one other tool with your students
- ensure that you have your students' phone numbers so that you can sms or phone them if your connection crashes. Have your phone in close reach just in case!
- ensure that you've already arranged who is going to call who via Skype, if and when, a problem occurs with your connection.
- explore the affordances of the tool (Skype) e.g. the chat box, history and screenshare
- experiment with links so that you can assess how your students react when they move between virtual spaces. This will give you an idea of how comfortable they feel using Skype and whether or not you'll need to take things a little slower. Remember, we don't want them to be cognitively overloaded with technical issues. The focus should be on learning English as a foreign language or as a second language.
Storing lesson material on your screen
- keep links that you want to use during the lesson in a readily accessible place. As an example, I store links to websites in my reading list whereas I embed links to videos, podcasts and digital canvas boards in a document on my second screen. Then it's a simple task of copying and pasting relevant links into the chat box in order to share them with my students
- If you don't have the luxury of a second screen, keep a document with links somewhere else e.g. on your desktop or the bottom of your screen. Find a method that suits you.
Google Drive is where I join my students for writing activities. I create a folder for each of them. The content of the folders and types of documents will vary depending on each student's needs e.g. some documents are solely used as writing spaces and others provide links to diverse sites to assist them with their own learning. Some of my students also have a learning journal in this space.
- synchronous and asynchronous work
- collaborative and individual tasks
- giving presentations
- creative activities
- storing everything you and your students have done. Hence, material is accessible at all times for autonomous learning and revision.
Digital Canvas Boards
Padlet and Linoit are my preferred choices. Some of you explored the affordances of both boards during and after our sessions. Here's the Welcome Board that you used and the Feedback Board. Please feel free to add any other comments.
- presenting material e.g. exam guidelines, links to relevant resources, extra activities
- brainstorming and polling
- creative sessions
- storing resources
If you're fortunate enough to work with other language teachers, you could share your boards and particularly if you're teaching the same level or type of English e.g. Business English, English for Academic Purposes. It's a terrific way to share resources and collaborate. It can also save you a lot of precious time.
Audio and Video Resources
As discussed during our sessions, I mainly source my audio and video material from these sites:
When you're using audio or video resources during a Skype session, I find it better when all participants where headphones. Otherwise, you'll hear the other recording which can be very distracting. I prefer to let my students have control when doing listening tasks so that they can rewind if necessary and take charge of the volume but this decision is up to you and the purpose of your task.
As a tip, when preparing listening tasks I note down where and how often I want students to stop the recording so that we can work on whatever activity I've designed. I create a document which is readily accessible on the screen. Remember, be prepared!
I put these kinds of resources to use before, during and after lessons. In addition, I upload links to Edpuzzle resources to my students' Google Drive folders so that they can access the video activities for the purposes of learning and revision at their own pace.
Socrative is great for creating quizzes and exit tickets. Once again, I export all results to Google Drive so that students have an overview of what has been covered during class and what they might need to revise.
I use Jing and Camtasia. The choice will depend on how professional I want the screencast to be and whether video editing is required.
Examples of potential uses:
- audio visual feedback
- creating brief tutorials
- creating resources
- annotating images and texts
You can also encourage your students to be creative and design their own screencasts.
Managing and Curating Resources
When working in online environments it's important to manage and curate your teaching resources effectively. This can save you an enormous amount of time.
Primarily I use Scoop.it, Evernote and Google Drive. However, you might also be interested in exploring Pearltrees and bookmarking tools such as Diigo.
You'll find that many of these tools have diverse sharing possibilities. What you choose will depend on your own needs. I tend to use Scoop.it to share curated resources publicly and for dissemination via Twitter. It's also a virtual space that I direct students and teachers who are looking for extra learning or teaching resources. In comparison, I use Evernote and Google Drive to store and manage resources that I have used or are still using with my students.
Although I create many of my teaching resources not all of these are created from scratch. I modify and adapt where necessary. However, if you're going to do this take care to use Open Educational Resources (OER) i.e. resources that have a Creative Commons licence or that reside in the public domain.
I find tips for resources through:
- social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook
- fellow ETAS members and members from other language teaching associations
- OER repositories
- curation sites such as Scoop.it, Pearltrees
- workshop/conference presenters
- specific web sites such British Council, Onestopenglish
- general web searches
These days, there are a number of online platforms where you can advertise your services as a language teacher. However, it was generally agreed amongst the participants who took part in these cyber sessions that it's difficult to compete with the prices that some language teachers offer from other countries. The cost of living in Switzerland is high so it seems logical to concentrate on the local market. And many of us have the advantage of speaking their first language. This is very useful in the case of lower level language learners when teaching via Skype.
Personally, I have always found word of mouth and personal connections to be very helpful when looking for further work. In Switzerland, the local papers and media channels can also be effective. Creating flyers is another method of getting your name out there, but can be costly. And of course as online teachers you can use a blog, website and social media to develop your online presence and to connect with prospective students.
I post invoices with an online payment slip as my Swiss students prefer to pay using this method. However, there are numerous online payment services available. So investigate carefully before making your choice. The platform needs to be secure for you and your students.
As I discussed with a couple of you, I use Second Life to complement Skype sessions when I feel it's warranted. Despite the growth in virtual worlds, Second Life is still my preferred choice. I meet my students via Skype and then we teleport into a particular destination. Sometimes, I ask my students to visit this area in advance and carry out a task before we set off on a journey together.
A lot of research has already been done into the potential of virtual worlds to enhance language learning. I won't go into that here except to say that the environment is highly immersive and that social presence is heightened. So you can meet your students and do things together in the same space. Rather than talking about shopping you can do it, or instead of looking at images via Skype of people travelling you can visit these places yourselves. It's interactive.
There are specific language learning islands in Second Life, but I prefer to explore other worlds with my students depending on the purpose of the visit e.g. looking at an art exhibition, going shopping, visiting medical centres, experiencing Shakespeare and other literary pieces.
Browsing through the Second Life destination guide will give you a taste of what you can do there and the types of activities that you can design for your students to assist with their language learning.
Choosing what's best for your teaching context
Thank you to those who participated in these sessions. Although I feel very comfortable using Skype and a range of digital tools, I realise that this was quite a new experience for some of you. So well done for taking the leap and trying it out first-hand. Don't feel that you need to integrate all of the above-mentioned tools into your online teaching practice. It's taken me several years to build up my archive of resources and to discover what tools work best for my method of teaching. I've done a lot of experimenting and playing with digital tools during that time. And I'm sure that I can still tweak things here and there to enhance the learning experience for my students. Don't be afraid to experiment.
See you at the next round of cyber sessions!
This post is Part 1
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