Teaching in front of a web cam to students abroad. You hear and see it more and more. YouTube is loaded with people who think that they can teach in front of a camera, but after a few seconds you either fall asleep, get irritated by the slow pace of talking, by their weird voice or by omissions in their explanation. Have a look at a teacher who doesn’t include the ‘you’ nor the ‘it’ in her basic grammar instruction, version 0.1.
So what’s the added value of web lectures compared to physical teachers walking around in classrooms? Is a web lecture a magical and educational tool or is it more close to a pain in the a**?
Just an example from my own practice: Two weeks ago I gave a web lecture to Business students at the Nikolas Copernicus University in Torun in Poland. I sat behind my computer with camera turned on and when in the air I saw my audience – business students – sitting in their classroom. Unfortunately I only saw the first row with five students due to the fact that the classroom camera did not hang high up on the wall. It was probably the laptop camera of the professor (so table-height).
Pros The professor played the moderator, an essential role. Without her testing devices and audio before the start of our internet ‘rendez-vous’, introducing me to the students and explaining them some parts in Polish when necessary, the whole session would have failed. So that was really good. Another pro was that I could actually talk to Polish students, from my home, and connect with a new group I never saw before. The international connection was there! I really thought that was exciting, and it made me realize that the only unbridgeable aspect of video connection is: the time difference. In Europe we only have one hour with England, not a big deal.
Cons A downside of importance was that I missed the facial expression of my audience. Also the distanced voices when the students asked a question or gave a comment. Only if they spoke really loud and articulated I could hear them well. The other thing was that I couldn’t tell whether the students liked the story or not. It is one of the characteristics of Polish students: they are quiet and modest, listen nicely to teachers while they do most of the talking. Here, at Dutch schools, I’m used to receive feedback, questions, positive or negative facial expressions, body language, anything that tells me: he, I’m on the right track or not.
What I also missed was the real-time passion and involvement of students. This could be partly explained by the way Polish students attend class, but I still wonder what the added value is of me sitting in front of a computer-camera beaming my head into a foreign classroom? What if my talk was only audible and students could only hear my voice as if I was on the phone? Would that help making this lecture better than real-time teachers? What’s more digestible, inspirational and educational for students and for teachers: with or without a talking head?