Learning a language online

I’ve been teaching German on a one-to-one basis and in group settings for many years. I now find myself teaching German online to continue earning a living and to minimise disruption to existing students so that they can progress with their German language studies during this Covid19 crisis.

Until February 2020, I was no advocate for online learning. What are my views today with e-learning being the dernier cri?

To conduct lessons successfully via the data highway, a stable internet connection with enough internet bandwidth at both ends is essential.

A desktop, laptop or a tablet computer using headphones with a built in microphone to minimise background noise are ideal. Mobile phones are a little on the small side.

The question now arises, which platform to use. During the past month, I’ve used Facetime, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Teams and Google Hangouts. I am yet to try the Houseparty platform.

Skype is a great platform that offers the exchange of notes and files with course material. Screen-sharing is also possible. The sound and picture quality aren’t always consistent though. A good feature is that Skype stores the chat history that you want to refer to during subsequent lessons. My recommendation is that students still take notes during lessons.

Facetime on the other hand offers no facilities to exchange notes or files, nor does it allow to share screens. I would therefore discount FaceTime for e-learning.

Web-ex and Teams offer the same functionality as Skype. Both apps need to be dowloaded, seem to be using a fair bit of RAM and may slow down older computers with insufficient memory.

Zoom also requires downloading, but uses very little RAM and the picture and sound quality are excellent. Google Hangouts however, doesn’t require downloading as it works with the internet browser. Zoom and Google Hangout offer the same benefits as Skype but provide superior picture and sound. They are therefore my favourites.

As an interim solution, e-learning is great, but it lacks the immediacy of contact with no real eye contact and less real dialogue occurring. Teaching also requires the teacher to learn about their students which doesn’t happen as much during online learning. If not planned well ahead, e-learning can mutate into a one-size-fits all scenario with students loosing out on the conventional learning experience.

I certainly prefer face to face lessons, and post crisis, I will most definitely return to conventional teaching.

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