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Online teaching tools Part 1 of…who knows? Video conferencing tools.

Hello to everyone!

I’ve been asked by some, and promised I would do so, if I would share some videos and posts about online teaching: my experience and what I’ve learned over these last 5 years trying to implement it in an academy in Madrid.

I know many of you teachers and academies are struggling with a sudden change from traditional teaching methods to online ones. And it has been forced upon you by these dire circumstances (COVID19). So I hope this helps ease the road for someone.
As I’ve said many times (and shown it) I think sharing is the way to go.

N.B: It’s 22:00 at night, I’ve got a long night ahead finishing online proyects, courses etc but I thought I could relax a bit writing this article.

N.B.2: I’ve got two companies, the above mentioned academy and an IT Support company (which helps as the IT department of the other company too). So I also have a “techy” background and experience analysing tools for projects and IT systems. I’m not talking out of the blue here.
If anyone wants online IT support we can provide it too (and have the experience in academies). We can advice, install and manage any system.

How do you start with online teaching?

Video Classes.

Obviously when you are forced to start teaching online from one day to the other, you don’t have time to do what should be done: a proper study of the tools that are available and then a test drive of a few chosen to see if they are adequate for your project (each case and teaching method is different).

So I will mention some tools, with a summary of the pros and cons I find in them, and most will have the evaluation done with this article.
As I know most are not interested in online courses (you should, and you’ll see why in future articles), I will evaluate those first.

The first tool everyone uses is:

Skype.

Yes, we started with Skpe too. It’s an obvious choice, we did learn a lot while we used it (of what we needed and it didn’t have) and it served it’s purpose for a short while.
But we soon found it is not a proper tool for teaching and here are some points why not (remember, this is just my opinion, take it with a pinch of salt). More information here.

Benefits.

  • Free.
  • You use Microsoft’s resources.
  • Most clients and teachers know or have used it. They are used to it.
  • Well tested and there compatible with most systems. Most OSs have an app for Skype.
  • Works fine, it’s stable and has an  instant messaging tool which allows document transfer.
  • Can create group meetings, so you can teach more than one student (we succesfully taught 5-8 students per class).
  • It allows certain permission management for those groups (not straighforward) in the sense of naming moderators etc.
  • Screen Share.
  • Online translation. Not good for our business…but it is there
  • You can now record calls.

So…it sounds great! Why did I stop using it? Keep on reading.

Drawbacks.

  • Users need a Skype accout, using their e-mail. And they need to create it. So everytime I convinced a client to try online classes, they had to go through the bother of creating an account with Microsot.
    Not a good image for my company, I prefer to create and send accounts for students and they just need to be sent the information.
  • Teachers need a  Skype account. Which, using the free service, meant I had to either:
    – create accounts for each one of them and end up with loads of accounts I couldn’t control. When they left, they were not used any more.
    – create generic accounts. But then it meant having around 20 accounts (and growing) which I had to control and manage. Teachers coming and going, passwords being changed…not practical.
    – Let teachers use their accounts if they had them. Nope…I like to keep it corporate thanks.
  • Skype free does not work with Skype Business or Teams. Not many people know that, Microsoft hasn’t made it public. But it’s a hassle with business. If someone wants more info a wrote two Spanish articles about this 1-2 years ago (Teams, and Skype for Business). At one time I had a company, who had Skype for Business, having to order its employees to create Skype for free accounts. A complete mess.
  • Skype has limits. Most people don’t know it, but it has (obviously). Group video calls are limited to “100 hours per month with no more than 10 hours per day and a limit of 4 hours per individual video call.
    I plan for the future, I plan big, I don’t like limits.
  • No whiteboard or teaching tools.
  • No integration with LMS tools.

Facetime.

Obviously not an option as it’s only for iOS devices. I’m not a fan of Apple, but if the tool limits the number of clients I can reach, it is no use for me.

Hangouts.

Google’s video conferencing tool. If you are going to consider it, look at Google Classroom ( I might write about it later on) as they combine perfectly and they are Google’s product for teaching, academies and schools. You might want to look at G Suite for Education for special prices.

Benefits.

  • Basically the same as Skype. Some things are more user-friendly, I prefer the chat, and screen sharing is better too IMO.
  • You can live stream or publish calls on youtube.
  • Chats are saved in gmail and can be searched.

Drawbacks.

  • You need a Gmail account. Again why would my users have to create an email account to have a class with my teachers?
  • The App is extremely heavy. Uses up a lot of space on smartphones.
  • No desktop application.
  • No whiteboard or teaching tools.
  • No integration with LMS tools except Google Classroom.

WhatsApp.

Benefits.

  • Loads of users have it.
  • Group calls
  • Easy to use.

Drawbacks.

  • Video call quality is not as good as the previous tools.
  • I need to give students the teacher’s telephone number and viceversa (privacy issues etc).
  • The previous point also means students can start contacting teachers on their own accord. This, in the end, produces chaos, misunderstanding and lack of information. I like to keep teachers teaching, and have all communication go through the administrative department or my teacher coordinator.
  • It is really an instant instant messaging tool, for chatting with friends, not for teaching.
  • No whiteboard or teaching tools.

Zoom.

To be honest I’ve never tried Zoom. By the time I had tried the previous tools and many others (Jitsi etc), I decided my approach had to be other. Specially since I wanted a corporate look, something which could be managed by us, implied as little effort for the students as possible, and was reliable and scalable.

From what I heard it is a great tool, but for an academy you have to get a paid plan (free allows 40 min group classes only) and, if I have to pay per month, I prefer total control of my systems. I don’t want to pay per host.
In the long run it is cheaper to have your own system, and I have more room to desing proyects and integrate them with the tool.
I do understand that this is because I have the IT company to support me, and usually this means an extra cost for academies.

But for people starting and with no plans to integrate it in online course, it sounds like a good enough tool and the reviews I’ve received are positive.

Which tool did I end up using?

Big Blue Button (thanks David for that tip), but that a story for another article…

 

 

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