My wife teaches Italian. She has regular classes and individual lessons, but some of her students don’t live in Johannesburg. She teaches them using Skype. I know she was amazed at how well it works, and it is certainly an amazingly powerful platform. Skype is a free Internet VOIP service which allows for person to person calls, with or without a video link depending on whether you have a web camera or not.
The way my wife works it is that when the time comes for the lesson, she messages the student to see if they are ready. One will then initiate the call. She has a web camera – not a very high-resolution one. Students need to see her face and gestures: it helps with language learning especially, but is more empathetic in any case. The camera is a cheap one because the higher the resolution, the more data is sent, and the more expensive an hour-long lesson becomes on bandwidth.
Shortly before the lesson a student may have emailed her homework – this can be done within Skype itself. She gives feedback and returns the homework, together with any files that will be needed for the lesson. The student opens these files and follows the lesson as she goes through the material. Skype has limited desktop sharing capacity as well, but my wife prefers not to use it! It is so much easier to email the documents needed, and let the student open them on their screen.
From what I have eavesdropped on, the sessions do not really suffer from comparison with face to face teaching. The use of voice and the optional video link make it altogether equivalent to a live lesson. A huge advantage is convenience. lessons can take place at any time. For busy people, and language learning situations it appears an ideal medium.
The applications for the classroom are equally exciting, whether bringing in an outside expert, or collaborating with another classroom somewhere, anywhere else in the world! I have a web camera mounted on the Interactive White Board which can take in the whole classroom. The IWB can display any video link on the other side. A mike is positioned centrally so it can pick up anyone who speaks.
By the way, if you want Italian lessons, just contact my wife, Lisabetta on Skype at lisabetta.lollis This is not a shameless plug! She is a superb teacher!