Sam McCarter – teacher, consultant and OUP author – considers the practicalities and benefits of teaching from a distance via videoconferencing.
The problem was one of distance. I am an ESP teacher who is based in London, a couple of hundred miles away from the students and only able to deliver a face to face session once per month. The students were a group of postgraduate L2 doctors in a hospital in the northwest of England. The simple solution was videoconferencing.
The practical side
The equipment consists of two TVs or computer monitors with cameras sitting on top. The box with the camera acts as a receiver and transmitter of data over the phone line. When a connection is made, the students telephone a ‘videoconferencing’ number and the connection is almost instant. The classroom has to be laid out to achieve the best picture: as far as possible not directly at the window, the curtains pulled, and the camera zoomed in at both ends. The teacher sees the whole class, but can zoom in and out at any time to one student or a pair. You need to train one or more of the students to be able to use the remote at the other end.
Is the equipment reliable?
The answer is yes. As with any technology, there have been glitches, but without wishing to tempt fate, they have all been minor: forgetting to switch the camera on, having the TV on the wrong channel and having one of the leads in the wrong socket. But once the system is set up, as long as you don’t touch anything, then it seems to work well. There is a troubleshooter at the supplier that you can telephone who can establish a link to your videoconference to diagnose any problems. One very practical administrator had a neat solution to leads getting mixed up: she photographed the back of the TV for future reference!