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Tech Tools for Teachers: Video Communication

Type: Article, General lesson plan Video material Print material

Nik Peachey explores video communication and how it can bring the world into your classroom and give your students the chance to really communicate in English. Nik provides a comprehensive overview article on video communication, including a list of video conferencing tools like videomail.io and Skype, a downloadable lesson plan, and a printable how-to guide.

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Developing skills for video-based communication

In this article, we look at video communication, its role in developing our students’ digital literacies and how it can be used to get them speaking, listening and communicating online. Video communication is still seen as being a little bit ‘futuristic’ and many people believe that you need expensive cameras, TV screens and a dedicated phone line to do this. This is definitely not the case – live video communication has never been easier. Many mobile smartphones are already capable of doing it and if you have a simple computer with a webcam and internet connection, then you have everything you need to start video conferencing. All downloadables relating to this article can be found in the ‘Related files’ section on the top right-hand side of this page.

What is video conferencing?

Video conferencing is, in simple terms, video-based communication through the internet. Most people think of it a little like a video phone call, with two people speaking to each other and seeing each other live online. However, video conferencing can also be done with groups of people talking to each other and it doesn’t have to be live communication – it can also be done asynchronously, with videos being recorded at one moment and watched and responded to hours, days or even months later. This makes communication across time zones much easier.

Equipment needed:

  • If you have a laptop computer that has a built-in webcam, then you already have everything you need. If your computer doesn’t have one, then you can easily buy one and plug it in. Webcams can be very cheap but the better the webcam you buy, the better the results you get from it will be – so try to think of it as a good investment.
  • Most webcams come with some software but it isn’t necessary to have any additional software. All the activities in this article are web-based and don’t require any additional software.

Why is video communication useful for language teaching?

  • Getting students to do listening and, particularly, speaking work that is communicative outside of the classroom can be very difficult but video conferencing can enable this in a very quick and simple way.
  • Developing spoken communication skills involves more than just the ability to speak and listen. Video gives students the chance to actually watch themselves and build awareness of many of the non-verbal aspects involved in good communication.
  • Video communication is gradually becoming a part of our everyday lives and is being used increasingly in international businesses. Helping your students to develop and feel confident using this technology in English is an important part of helping them to participate in a 21st-century culture.
  • Video communication can help to bring the world into your classroom and make the use of English a real tool, rather than just a subject they study.
  • Recording, watching and listening to themselves can raise students’ self-awareness and help them to reflect and improve. It can also get students to focus on accuracy and can be a very valuable part of any TBL (Task-Based Learning) lesson.
  • Live or pre-recorded video conferences with students can help us to give them some valuable one-to-one time that they often don’t get within large (or even small) classes. This can help us to focus on individual students’ needs and abilities and give us the chance to really listen to our students.
  • Video conferencing can help students to see English as a genuine tool for communication and one which can help them communicate with the English-speaking world outside the classroom.
  • Video communication is more personal than any other form of web-based communication, so it can help us to create a stronger bond with our students.

Tips for using video communication

  • The better the equipment you have, the better your results will be. Most webcams, or laptops with built-in webcams, also have a built-in microphone. These are often not very good quality and pick up a lot of noise from the computer. If you can get a good quality microphone or headset, it can really improve the sound quality of the work you do. The best types of headsets to have are ones that connect to the computer using its USB port.
  • Lighting is very important if you want to look good on your video conference. Try to have a natural light source if you can and make sure it’s positioned so that it illuminates your face but doesn’t dazzle you. Having a strong light behind you will turn you into a silhouette, so be careful with that too.
  • Although the quality of video conferencing is improving all the time, it will be affected by the bandwidth of your internet connection. If you have a slow connection, the quality will suffer.
  • Getting lots of students to do video conferencing in a computer room might seem like a great idea but, even with a good connection, you could find things slowing down a lot and the students could start to create a lot of background noise for each other. Getting students to do the video conferencing activities from home can make things run more smoothly and will probably produce better-quality results.
  • Although most teachers spend a lot of time speaking in front of people and many younger students are happy to post images of themselves all over the internet, when it comes to video conferencing and speaking to a camera both teachers and students can become very shy and self-conscious. You can overcome this in time but you can start by wearing a hat or dark glasses, or make things more fun by dressing up. If students are really self-conscious, you can get them to use hand puppets instead of appearing themselves. However, never push students to do this if they are uncomfortable with it.
  • Especially with younger learners, privacy and safety has to be a serious consideration when producing any kind of web-based content with students. Always make sure that students don’t publish any personal contact information. You should get permission from your school and from parents if any student work is to be published in the public domain. Also make sure that students are aware of how to deal with any kind of negative feedback or harassment. Issues of cyberbullying can sometimes be over-exaggerated in the media but it is wise to educate students on how to deal with this in case it happens at some point in their lives.

Teaching suggestions and activities

One-minute presentations

You can give your students a topic to talk about for one minute and get them to record a one-minute video clip for you. This gives you the chance to hear their pronunciation as well as giving them speaking practice. See the Making one-minute video presentations lesson plan which accompanies this article at the link at the top right-hand side of this page.

Video dictionary

Most teachers keep a vocabulary record of new words our students learn and encourage students to keep their own vocabulary record – so why not try creating your own video vocabulary record? Each time you have a list of new words, give a word to each student and make that student responsible for the word. Get them to find the definition, part of speech, etc. and think of an example sentence. Get the student to write the word on a sheet of paper. Then ask them to sit in front of the webcam and record a video dictionary entry for the word while holding up the word on the paper. You can then add your videos to a website or blog or store them on your hard drive and use them for regular revision.

General communications

You could just start using video conferencing and recorded video messages as part of your normal communications with students. This could be for things like sending homework reminders or setting homework tasks. You could get students to send you video messages if they have problems with homework activities, etc.

Video reports

You can use video instead of written text as a means of getting your students to do reports. These could be film or music reviews, topic reports or talking about an event they attended.

Describing objects / sales pitch

Give your students an object to describe and they can record themselves talking about different features of their object. You could get them to think of this as a kind of sales pitch and they could record a video of themselves try to sell their object. You can then replay these in class and see which objects your students would most like to buy and which student is the best salesperson.

Chinese whispers

You can set up a chain of video emails and send a sort of spoken text to one of your students. This student then listens and records themself saying the same message and they pass it onto the next student. This goes on until the message gets back to you. The message you get back is often drastically different from the original message you sent but it is a good exercise to highlight the importance of listening carefully.

Video interview

You can interview, or get your students to interview, a friend or expert in English. You can either do this live in class using video conferencing, or you can pre-record the video interview and then use it in class. If you pre-record it, try getting students to brainstorm things they would like to ask the person first, so they get the answers to their own questions.

Video diary

You can ask your students to keep a video learning diary. Each time they finish class, they should record an entry in their video diary saying what they learnt in the lesson and what they remember about it. If you prefer, they could just keep a personal video diary and talk about whatever they want.

Video communication tools

www.videomail.io

This is a free service that enables you to send video emails. You simply go to the site and record a video using the camera on your laptop or your webcam. The message is recorded onto the videomail.io server, so you don’t need to upload anything. You can then just write in the email address of the person you want to send the message to and a link to the message will be sent to their inbox so they can watch your message from their computer. 

www.skype.com

This is a free software program that you can download and install on your computer. It enables you to make free telephone calls and video conference calls to another computer with the same software installed. You can also have group conference calls, so you can have four to five people all in the same call. Skype also has a free app for mobile phones and tablets, so you can use this for video conferencing too.

Further reading

20 webcam activities 

This article from my Learning Technology Blog covers a range of suggestions with embedded examples of ways to use your webcam to create materials and activities for students.

ELT and the Crisis in Education: Technology in the Classroom

This article explores the role of technology in the classroom and questions how teachers and students use technology to develop English language skills.

Create your video diary

This is an online activity from my Daily English Activities blog which shows students how to create their own video diary.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Hi, The link to 20 Webcam Activities does not work. Thanks.

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  • Hello,
    Thank you for your comment.
    We've now fixed the link and checked that it works. Thank you for reporting it and accept our apologies for the inconvenience.

    Best regards,
    The onestopenglishteam

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