Previously, I wrote about my experiences studying online, but I have also had the pleasure of teaching English online using several different platforms and would like to share some of my insights on that. As far as online teaching goes, I have taught one-on-one classes for Talkbean and Idapted, using their software, and I have freelanced using Skype. These experiences were vastly different, so I want to focus just on the best and worst aspects of teaching online in terms of technology.
Let’s start with the best. I highly recommend any platform with audio, video, chat, and a workspace that can be controlled by both the instructor and student(s). To me, this is an ideal situation because you can not only see and hear the student but also interact through writing and thus reading. Additionally, with a whiteboard type arrangement, students can be asked to do short exercises like matching or multiple choice if material is preloaded into the program. Without video, it’s impossible to assess student body language, which is such an important part of classroom management, and, in my opinion, it’s harder to make a strong connection with your students. The chat feature is really optional but it seems to help students because they can type their questions as you speak without the fear of interrupting, and you can respond immediately. Finally, the work space, like a whiteboard, PDF viewer, or something similar, is amazing and I would be hesitant to teach online again without this because sometimes you really do need to draw a picture—especially with lower level students.
Now for the downsides. Even with the best platform and all those great features I described above, technology doesn’t always work perfectly, and that can be frustrating for teachers and students alike. It is challenging to help someone troubleshoot their computer when you are speaking a language they are still learning and you’re not physically present to see and hear what they are seeing and hearing. Through no fault of my own, I assure you, I’ve had issues with my devices, too. It is just impossible to predict when technology will act up and that is, unfortunately, the biggest problem with teaching online. Having said that, if you have a good device and are in a location with reliable internet, I highly recommend teaching online.
As a classroom instructor it may be hard to imagine teaching a student online, but as someone who has both studied and taught online, I know that technology can definitely facilitate learning. Teaching online is both completely different and absolutely the same as teaching in a classroom.