Video conferencing or Skyping is the kind of technological tool I used to dream about when I was a kid. I grew up watching James Bond movies with awe as he used futuristic equipment like a radio phone, voice changer and fountain pen gun. And we spent hours talking about the cartoon “The Jetsons” because they had flying cars, 3-D printed food and smart watches. Cut to 40 years later and now we have the ability to talk and see one another on our computers — for free!
Skype, or the Internet phone service offering free video calls, is easy to use. You’ll need an Internet connection, computer, webcam and microphone (most computers now have the camera and microphone built in). You can connect one-on-one or with multiple users. Skype is great for international calls. We set up monthly Skype appointments with our exchange student, Clara, in Halle, Germany. It’s been a great way to keep in touch with her after she returned to Germany to pursue her studies in medicine. Although we occasionally encounter frozen images on screen or a delay in relaying information, it works well most of the time. We are able to see Clara, her dorm room and she can pull up websites to reference while we are Skyping. It’s a dramatic difference compared to the phone connections I made in college. We called home on Sundays, only because this was when the long distance rate was the least expensive. We would line up in our dormitory hallway and wait to use the phone attached to the wall. I remember wrapping the curly phone cord around my legs while sitting on the floor, talking with my parents about college life. It was our only landline. There was no such thing as a mobile phone and certainly not Skype.
At College of DuPage we recently adopted a web based conferencing tool called Collaborate in Blackboard. Some of my colleagues in the Languages Department, specifically Donna Gillespie and Edith Jaco, are using Collaborate with their online students. Edith spent time with me in her office sharing how she uses Collaborate for a variety of applications in her courses. She explained that in a language course like Spanish Conversation, BB Collaborate is a critical tool in helping students develop the ability to speak, understand, read and write Spanish in a cultural context. Collaborate invites students to “raise their hands” anytime during a designated video conference and the conference can be recorded for students’ future access and review. The teacher can incorporate a whiteboard, application or selected files in Collaborate as well. Edith schedules specific times for video conferencing, requiring students to log in and participate. My colleague, Jason Snart, teaches his online classes using Google Hangouts, Skype or Adobe Connect. He is very comfortable with a variety of video conferencing tools and prefers using these collaborative tools to interact with students.