A class on Skype is about to begin. The students are in the Zone, revved up and ready to learn. The webcam is producing a fine video and the audio couldn’t be better. It’s time to start delivering an education via the Internet.
Education? Uh…what’s it going to be? What will the teacher teach?
Many high ranking educators throughout the world believe that students should prove themselves through standardized testing, which means they must learn how to test well on multiple choice questionnaires. This view, derived from a business model, suggests that education can be measured and evaluated just as profit and loss can be determined in any well-run company.
Then there are those who oppose this “teaching to the test” and would prefer to stick with traditional methods in which grades are dependent on the teachers’ own evaluation of student progress made by studying detailed lesson plans issued by large educational publishing houses.
The problem the teaching-via-video teacher faces, however, is that neither teaching to the test nor traditional teaching methods work via video conferencing. The achievement of meaningful results with the Internet is more reliant on interactivity and image-laden lesson plans than can be found in the traditional printed workbooks or even face-to-face lectures.
TWOL students in Haiti watching a YouTube video
Fortunately, Skype allows a teacher to deliver this kind of education in which the object is to teach students how to think creatively, solve original problems and communicate effectively.
Last May (2010), prior to a holiday celebrating Turkish national independence, I was having a hard time engaging an English class near Ankara on the use of the auxiliary verbs “should” and “could”. No one was interested. Students were fiddling with their pencils and staring out the window. In desperation, I flashed an English translation of former President Kemal Ataturk’s great 1933 speech on the need for Turkish equality and freedom via the camera. Then we watched a rendition of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address delivered on a video by Henry Fonda.
Suddenly, the class was awake. “How are the two speeches similar?” I asked.
The students began a heated discussion in English on the similar message of freedom and equality, which both leaders advocated. Time ran out before we could finish the discussion, but the students had been inspired to analyze and think critically about this topical issue after seeing Ataturk’s speech and the Lincoln video.
As the Harvard educator, Tony Wagner, writes in his book, The Global Achievement Gap, “Work, learning, and citizenship in the twenty-first century demand that we all know how to think – to reason, analyze, weigh evidence, problem-solve – and to communicate effectively.”
Our instructors at Teach The World Online are finding that the creative use of available Skype teaching tools, such as screen sharing, add people to create a group IM chat, group voice or video calling, instant messaging, send files of any size (for videos etc) and other features are an excellent way to achieve this all-important goal.