Want to continue with your language learning, but find that you have no choice but to take your language class online? No problem. Read on for our key pointers to look out for when making your choice.
First things first, we need to realise where the similarities between face-to-face and online classes end and the differences begin. Aside from the obvious elements such as the physical distance from one another, the need for an internet connection and computer screen, a huge part of this modern learning experience is in the whiteboard. If there’s no whiteboard, then what differentiates an online class from a Zoom chat with your friends? We’ve come across whiteboards of all shapes and sizes during our extensive research, with a wide range of differences when it comes to functionality. At the very least, the whiteboard should allow the teacher to display a document (pdf, word, powerpoint etc) or image, along with the ability to annotate it with notes or scribbles as things come up in class. Being able to annotate in the same way as as a student is really useful when it comes to a fuller and richer learning experience, as you will be able to upload homework for correction or share an interesting article with the class and teacher.
The ability to share whatever you are currently viewing on your device can be very useful in class, both as a teacher and as a student. The person sharing the screen can guide the rest of the class through a website, or a video in real-time (not all platforms offer the ability to simultaneously share sound and video, however), instead of taking a screenshot and viewing it that way. In terms of the student experience, it’s much more engaging to watch somebody navigate through a website than looking at a static version of a web page. The downside though, is that there’s no way to annotate something that’s live (you could take screenshots and use those on the whiteboard if there is one, but it’s a rather laborious method). Some platforms use a form of screen sharing as a whiteboard and the downfall is that it’s not editable in any way – you just see what’s on the screen and can’t make any on-screen notes.
Does the system require any additional downloads or can you just access directly via your web browser? If you intend to use the same computer every class, then downloading software won’t cause too much of a problem. But if for whatever reason you don’t have access to the same device for every class, then not being able to just log in directly could cause an issue.
Related to the above, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to use a mobile device or a tablet to connect to class. Make sure you find out whether the platform is able to handle it and whether or not you need to download any additional software or apps to join the class.
What’s the past participle of “to get”? Got? Gotten? Both depending on where you are in the world?!? What better way to find out than through an interactive poll. In some platforms, teachers are able to create polls on a given topic and let the class answer. This can be useful for correcting exercises as a class and adds an interactive and fun element to learning as you see the results come through.
Support in your language
The idea is that everything goes to plan and that there is no need for support or assistance, right? Well, yes of course, in an ideal world. In the event that you need some sort of assistance for whatever reason, take heed of the language. Luckily, most of the internet converses in English, so that’s useful as a means to practice your English in a real-world setting. However, when push comes to shove, it may well be worth considering a provider who can offer support in your language, so that you can be sure that you are on the same page when it comes to dealing with any of the administrative or technical issues that may arise.
Use of video and bandwidth constraints
We’ve tested a considerable amount of platforms (so that you don’t have to) and we’ve learned that video is the single biggest use of resources. By resources, what is meant is the strain on the internet bandwidth and the sheer amount of data being shared. You’re sharing your webcam and so is every other member of your class. To the less tech-savvy and without getting too technical, you basically have to upload your video, whilst simultaneously downloading the video of your classmates. Depending upon the design of the system you’re using, this will either be through a central server, or peer-to-peer (P2P). This and other issues are dealt with in more depth in another post that you can read here.
Platform demands and computer constraints
As we’ve seen, online classes are by their very nature heavily dependent upon a good internet connection. However, a super-fast, ethernet broadband connection on its own won’t provide you a great connection to your online class as this is also dependent on your computer. Having a computer updated with the latest browser and decent technical specs (such as processor, RAM, operating system) is important to complement your internet connection. Some platforms only function on Windows, so if you’re a Mac user, it’s important to check compability. The vast majority of platforms are designed to work with the Chrome browser, so whatever your personal opinion on the matter, it may be worth using Chrome to enjoy the best virtual class experience.