Archive for June, 2008

video conferencing for language education

Open-Source Online Classroom

video conferencing for language education

When you think of online language education, you first think of a teacher and a class of language students, all talking together via a video link, right? Well, the reality unfortunately is a little different.

Unless the school or university you work for has a lot of money to invest in hardware or software (which your students are going to have to end up paying for in higher course fees) you’ll probably be teaching languages online with tools that look very much like a traditional webpage. This is great when we don’t need to talk to our students “live” , but when we do, surely we can manage better than this?

I found Dimdim recently, which allows you to create your own video conference and online meeting classroom, for up to 20 participants, for free! There are no complicated downloads for the meeting participants and no expensive hosting packages for the teacher or school. Dimdim also includes all sorts of useful features for online language teachers like a whiteboard, one to one chat and group chat as well as other handy features like a shared desktop, PowerPoint and PDF file sharing.

For those of us that want unlimited numbers of conference participants, you can even download all the files needed for free and setup your own online meetings server. You will need your own webhosting , something that many schools will already have, you may also need to upgrade the webhosting service you have to a more powerful package, but when you compare this to the prices of commercially available online meeting and conferencing packages, you are still likely to be saving a large amount. You can also then start to fiddle about with the look of your Dimdim server so that it matches your school’s identity and look.

I must admit, I have only tried out Dimdim with one other person so far, but it seemed easy enough to set up. I had hoped that I would be able to see the video of all participants, but the video broadcasting is only for the teacher. Dimdim do say they are working on a version with “Multiple Presenters,” we’ll have to see.

I did like the fact that you could choose whether to allow your students to only have audio or text chat, students can “put up their hand” to allow them to attract the teacher’s attention, the teacher can also decide how many participants can speak at one time (online lessons can get chaotic if everyone talks at once.) There are a host of other useful features, certainly too many to list here.

If you’d like to try out Dimdim with us, please feel free to come along to an online meting I have setup at 09.00 C.E.T. on Saturday 28th June. We will be discussing how you could use Dimdim with a class, and will try out several of the features of the software.

To access the meeting, simply follow this URL:

Looking forward to meeting you online soon!

Spend Time Teaching Languages (Not Clicking Through WebPages)

The more high quality content there is out there on the net, the more time we busy teachers end up spending clicking from one page to another to see if the content has been updated. Anything new at the B.B.C. Learning English site? Anything new on Nik Peachey’s great blog? What about the Webheads technology & teaching group, I wonder if anyone’s replied to my question yet? We can spend ages just clicking around just to see if our favourite content has been updated.

Does this sound familiar to you? Then you should be using an RSS feed reader. It will save you wasting time checking for updated content and allow you to focus on finding good new materials for your students (or simply checking your personal email or the latest sports scores too!) RSS readers work by “pulling in” any new content from all the sites you want to follow and presenting them all together in one place for you to read when you’re ready.

Here is a great video Common Craft made last year about RSS and why we should use it:

I do love the way Common Craft manage to explain things in such a simple way 🙂

There are heaps of good RSS readers out there like Bloglines, Pageflakes, or even you own web browser Like Firefox or modern versions of Internet Explorer. Personally I use iGoogle which includes the Google Reader RSS aggregator, not because it’s any better or worse than the others, I just like how it works.

I have set iGoogle to be my homepage at work and at home. Now as soon as soon as I log on to the internet I can check my mail, check the RSS feeds from Nik, The Webheads and The BBC, as well as checking the latest news and sport headlines all from one quick page. Very handy!

IWB for Under €50 -video

Interactive White Board for Under 50 Euros

Affordable interactive white board technology for every school sounds a bit Utopian, don’t you think? I recently found out that maybe it’s more realistic than you might have guessed! I know that pretty soon I’m going to have to tone down my enthusiastic introductions, but I literally applauded the computer screen (like a weirdo) when I saw this.

After recently having spent more than €4000 at our language school on a brand new commercially produced IWB, youIWB for Under €50 -video can imagine that I was just a bit surprised when reading Joe Dale’s blog about a school in Ireland who had managed to make one for under €50. “Rubbish,” I thought to myself. I thought wrong. The Inver National school in Ireland even have a blog to show you the how-to-dos of the whole process.

From searching through the Inver National’s video of the whole process, I found out that it’s the brain-child of Johnny Lee, a veritable genius of affordable and accessible interactive technology. It was at this point that I started clapping 🙂

Essentially it’s a very simple idea, which has been turned to good use. Simple ideas are always the best, don’t you think? The €50 IWB uses a Wiimote- the remote control from a Nintendo Wii, which costs €40 from my local supermarket, and an infra-red pen.

The Wiimote contains an infra-red sensor which can track the movement of an infra red light source. Johnny connected his Wiimote to a computer using Bluetooth and with a little bit of programming magic, he came up with some free IWB software to make it all work together. Incredible!

Here is his video on how to setup the IWB:

So I don’t think you need me to tell you how much this could benefit schools in countries where the economy is still developing, but from looking at this, I’d say that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of schools worldwide have now got IWBs within their price range. That has got to be a good thing, don’t you reckon?

I’ll definitely be trying this out with our school and I’ll be sure to write about it here too. If you want to try it out, watch this space and I’ll let you know how I get on. Send me a comment if you fancy trying to work together on making a Wii IWB, Two minds are definitely better than one!

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