Teaching Oral Communication Using Videoconferencing Alexander E. Dalampan

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1 1 Teaching Oral Communication Using Videoconferencing Alexander E. Dalampan Introduction Videoconferencing has made it possible to link-up students from geographically dispersed locations so that they can see and hear each other in real-time. In this chapter, I will explore how desktop videoconferencing (DVC) can help improve students oral communication skills and how it can enhance cultural awareness, particularly in EFL classroom. Participants who are engaged in linguistic actions such as checking comprehension, requesting clarification, repeating utterances, switching topics and stressing key words, have been found to be important for ESL/EFL acquisition (Roux, 2000, p. 1). This chapter begins with a brief review of related literature on videoconferencing by outlining its benefits in both ESL and EFL contexts. A review of videoconferencing technology is presented next. This section discusses the types of videoconferencing; introduces NetMeeting as an excellent tool for conducting DVC; and lists several practical tips and recommendations in using DVC. The final section focuses on a sample lesson plan using videoconferencing as medium in helping to improve students oral communication skills. The most obvious benefit of videoconferencing is the real-time oral and visual interaction among students. In an ESL classroom, videoconferencing motivates students to prepare projects and presentations for a real out-of-the classroom audience (Roux, 2000, p. 1). It also provides students a means to integrate language skills, academic content, and Internet literacy (Karet & Isbell, 1995, p. 2). In an EFL classroom, it gives students the opportunity to interact and practice their speaking and listening skills with native speakers of the target language, as well as to gain cultural insights and awareness (Katz, 2001). Videoconferencing provides EFL students the opportunity to participate in genuine conversations with native speakers of the target language. Overview of Technology Videoconferencing is an interactive tool that integrates the use of video, computer and communication technologies, allowing people in different sites to meet face-toface synchronously. A clear definition of the technology is necessary as there are different types of videoconferencing based on capabilities, cost, and quality of audio and video transmission (Roux, 2000). Room-Based Videoconferencing. This type of videoconferencing is the most expensive (around 40,000 US dollars) and requires complex set-up and technology: codec, multipoint control unit, dedicated room, and visualizer (Roux, 2000; Wang, 2004). It can be one-way video and one-way audio, one-way video and two-way audio, or two-way video and two-way audio. A room-based is wired for cameras, microphones and lighting. Those in the other location are viewed either on a TV monitor or on a large screen. Many universities and colleges are using this type of videoconferencing for teaching a variety of distance learning courses. Only a few language learning classes are held through this mode of delivery.

2 2 Desktop ISDN Videoconferencing. Integrated Services Digital Networks (ISDN) are basically telephone lines that can carry high volume of information. It requires two desktop computers, cameras, and microphones. An H.320 ISDN videoconference kit will cost around 60 US dollars a month, plus long distance charges (Roux, 2000). This type of videoconferencing is considered a point-to-point arrangement, meaning you have to know people who have similar H.320 stations for you to connect. Once connected, the person at the other end appears in a quarter-screen window on the computer monitor. Both participants work either on a shared whiteboard or shared software. This system is popular among K-12 schools in the US. More language teachers are also becoming more interested in using it for ESL/EFL and foreign languages. Desktop Internet Videoconferencing. This is the least expensive videoconferencing system. It consists of personal computers, video cameras or webcams (high end webcam such as QuickCam from Logitech costs 129 US dollars), headsets, and video conferencing software that can be purchased or downloaded from the Internet. Desktop videoconferencing provides a whiteboard utility a shared window in which both interlocutors can post notes and even paste graphics (see figure 5). It can be Internet or intranet based. Intranet-based videoconferencing uses LANs (Local Area Networks) as data carrier with larger bandwidth and minimum latency. In an Internet-based videoconferencing, data travel through the Internet. One potential drawback from using Internet-based mode is the delay of data transmission caused by Internet congestion and latency. Hence, bandwidth and latency are the two major problems encountered when using the Internet-based videoconferencing (Wang, 2004). Figures 1 through 4 are provided to illustrate the different environments under which desktop videoconferencing can be supported (Wang, 2004). Figure 1. The Intranet Environment Figure 2: The Modem - Internet - Modem Environment

3 3 Figure 3: The LAN - Internet - Modem Environment Figure 4: The LAN - Internet - LAN Environment NetMeeting Development of codec (compression/decompression) technology, advancement in video compression, and the proliferation of Internet have resulted in more people turning to inexpensive desktop videoconferencing (Smith, 2004). Desktop videoconferencing (DVC) is an inexpensive alternative to high cost and technologically complex room-based videoconferencing system that is being increasingly implemented in various educational settings. It allows people at different sites to see and hear each other using Internet-connected desktop or laptop computers equipped with microphones, webcams, speakers or headsets, and appropriate software such as Microsoft s NetMeeting. User-friendly USB desktop units that integrate a video camera, a microphone, and a codec are available at and NetMeeting 3.01 is an Internet-based videoconferencing tool developed by Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/windows/netmeeting/). It integrates audio, video and data conferencing into a single package. Note that NetMeeting can only be supported by Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, and Windows NT 4.0. NetMeeting is preinstalled in Windows 2000 and Windows XP versions. For an additional resource, Meeting by Wire s NetMeeting 101 at provides a wealth of information about Microsoft s NetMeeting. In a study conducted on eight language learners at Griffith University in Australia, Wang (2004) concluded, NetMeeting produced a wealth of data supporting the use of videoconferencing in DLE [Distance Language Education] for the provision of oralvisual interaction by offering features of great pedagogical value such as Whiteboard, Sharing, and File Transfer (p. 18). A sample whiteboard is illustrated below (Wang, 2004).

4 4 Figure 5: Whiteboard How to Use NetMeeting Microsoft NetMeeting website at illustrates the procedures in initiating a conference. To call someone: 1. Click the Find Someone in a Directory button. 2. In the Select a Directory field, select Microsoft Internet Directory (see figure 6). 3. In the Search window that appears, type as much about the person you want to call as you know, i.e., name, address, location, comments, etc. 4. Click Submit. 5. Look for the name you want in the resulting list. 6. You can also choose additional directories to locate people you want to call: (1) History, which lists the people who have called you in the past, and (2) Internet Locator Server. Figure 6: NetMeeting Internet Directory

5 5 To receive video: 1. Call someone you want to see/hear (see figure 7). 2. On the Tools menu, point to Video, and then click Receive. If you have a video camera, you can send video to the person you are calling. To send video: 1. Call someone you want to see/hear. 2. Click the Start Video button. You can also send video by clicking the Tools menu, pointing to Video, and then clicking Send. After starting the video, the button changes to Stop Video. To stop the video, click Stop Video button again. Figure 7: Interface of NetMeeting (Wang, 2004) Recommendations for Employing Internet-Based DVC Wang (2004) indicated that Internet bandwidth and existence of communication latency (i.e., time interval for the data to travel from the source machine to the destination machine) are the two factors affecting the consistency and reliability of Internet-based DVC. Presently, only one-to-one videoconferencing can be supported due to Internet bandwidth. The following are some practical recommendations that teachers should consider when employing Internet-based desktop videoconferencing tools (Katz, 2001; Wang, 2004): 1. Plan for videoconferencing way in advance. The more preparations that you and your students do before the session, the more easily the conference will go. 2. Perform a test of your equipment at least a week prior to videoconferencing. It is important to have a technician present before and during the actual session. 3. Ensure you check with your computer/lan administrator about firewalls when using LAN or ISP to connect to the Internet. For security reasons, institutions and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) sometimes use network firewalls or spywares to block unwanted incoming data. 4. Be aware of the time when Internet congestion is at its peak. You may need to negotiate with your students a timetable to come up with better times for using NetMeeting. 5. Reboot your computer prior to videoconferencing to start out fresh and to reconfigure all applications, especially the video.

6 6 6. For the best audio quality, wear headphones instead of using the speaker of the computer to avoid echoing of one s own voice. 7. Avoid making too many or too quick movements in front of the webcam because it can cause the video image to become blurred. 8. Close or stop running other applications prior to using NetMeeting. Having several open applications can take up too much computing power, which can result in slow program response and poor video and audio quality. 9. Katz (2004) recommended that beginning and intermediate class videoconference sessions should be limited to 20 or 30 minutes. Advanced classes can easily take up to an hour. 10. In a whole-class videoconference, use the video made during the session as a follow-up tool in class, either to clarify points that may have been missed or as an object of linguistic inquiry (Katz, 2004, p. 156). Teaching Unit This is a language exchange between English language students at a Japanese university and students at an American university using Internet-based desktop videoconference. Teaching Unit Title: Videoconferencing as Access to Spoken English Aim: To provide Japanese students opportunity to practice their English conversational and speaking skills with students in an American university through desktop Internet-based video conferencing. Level: Advanced Rationale: The activities that follow will allow Japanese students to work on their productive and receptive skills. They will be receiving input that is genuine, realistic, and representative of how native speakers express themselves in real situations. They will be able to talk to native English speakers and hear the many lexical, syntactic, and phonological aspects of spoken English. The activities can increase the level of motivation, facilitate language learning, and promote cultural awareness as well. In both activities, the teacher is a keen observer and students run the entire session by themselves. However, the teacher still retains the responsibility in making sure that students are involved in the discussion and in keeping the conversation flowing. Day One Activity Activity Title: Getting to Know Your Partner Sequence in Unit: This activity is primarily intended as an ice breaker to allow students to gain confidence in interacting with their American counterparts. Aim: To provide Japanese university students opportunity to practice their conversational skills in a less structured and spontaneous manner with native English speakers using DVC. Language: Talking about each other, conversational skills

7 7 Materials/Sites: Various Preparation: Give each student ample time to practice real-time videoconferencing using NetMeeting on university s LAN to get themselves familiarized and comfortable with features and functions of NetMeeting, as well as practice asking and answering questions. Procedure: 1. Have students brainstorm on some interesting topics to ask their American counterparts. Tell your students to prepare a list of top ten open-ended questions that they will ask the American students during the conference. Encourage students to prepare open-ended questions with more conversational talk as necessary for comprehension checking, clarification, or elaboration. If it is necessary to ask yes/no questions, remind them to follow it up with strong questions or comments. 2. Tell your students to turn in their prepared questions to you. Check the content and correct grammar errors, if necessary. Return the questions with corrected grammatical errors. 3. Have students memorize questions in advance and during the videoconference, allow the oral exchange of information to flow freely. Reading questions in front of the camera can detract one s attention. The prepared questions should allow students a turn at talk to minimize confusion on when to begin speaking. 4. At the appointed time of conference, tell your students to log on by clicking the NetMeeting icon on their desktop following the steps in How to Use NetMeeting section of this paper. Encourage your students to use the whiteboard and sharing functions of NetMeeting. Day Two Activity Activity Title: Talking About Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Sequence in Unit: Whereas the preceding activity is designed to break the ice as indicated by the absence of a specific topic, this activity consists of structured and predictable interactions between the two groups. Aim: To provide Japanese university students opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills and gain cultural awareness by interacting with native English speakers through DVC. Language: Global issues, speaking and listening skills Materials/Sites: and local Japanese websites. Preparation: Tell your students to go online at and watch and listen to several videos and podcasts about bird flu. This topic requires knowledge of new and challenging vocabulary items. Have your students look up dictionary and practice those new words that they encounter so that they can use them correctly during videoconference. Procedure: 1. Tell your students to get as much information as possible about Avian Influenza A (H5N1) bird flu by checking Centers for Disease and Control Prevention s (CDC)

8 8 website at and by checking local websites. Prior to conducting research online, emphasize the following to the students: extent and significance of the problem, countries affected, and the worldwide implications of the problem. 2. Have each student do a 5-minute presentation of the topic in class making sure that they have understood its content and cultural allusions, if any. 3. Based on the research, students brainstorm and prepare 10 questions that they will ask their American counterparts in preparation for videoconference. Again, encourage students to prepare open-ended questions essential for comprehension checking, clarification, or elaboration. Avoid close-ended yes/no unless they have strong follow up questions. 4. Check questions for grammar and content. 5. Have students memorize questions in advance and during the conference, allow the exchange of information to flow freely. Reading questions in front of the camera can detract one s attention. The prepared questions should allow students a turn at talk and minimize confusion on when to begin speaking. 6. Prior to videoconference, both teachers each other the prepared questions of their students. 7. At the appointed time of conference, tell your students to log on by clicking the NetMeeting icon on their desktop following the steps in How to Use NetMeeting section of this paper. Encourage the use of whiteboard and sharing functions of NetMeeting. Follow-up Activity/Variation The preceding activities will likely generate great interest from students. Teachers can set up an exchange between the American and Japanese students by having an assigned partner. The EFL teacher can monitor progress by requiring students to forward copies of the written by students to their teacher. Analyzing those s can help the teacher design appropriate language activities. Teachers can also create a class website that features a message board for students from both sites to engage in continuing discussion.

9 References Karet, J., & Isbell, K. (1995). Videoteleconference on environmental issues. Retrieved February 17, 2006 from Katz, S. (2001). Videoconferencing with the French-speaking world: A user s guide [electronic version]. Foreign Language Annals, 34(2), pp Roux, R. (2000). Videoconferencing and language teaching/learning. Retrieved March 27, 2006 from Smith, J. (2004). Effective use of desktop videoconferencing in teacher education and professional development with reference to strategies for adult basic education. Retrieved March 27, 2006 from Wang, Y. (2004). Supporting synchronous distance learning language learning with desktop videoconferencing [electronic version]. Language Learning & Technology, 8(3), pp

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