We can see and hear each other in skype and many other platforms; can this be considered the new face-to-face communication?

Is skype communication face-to-face?
Nina MK, Ph.D.
More and more teachers of the younger generation use skype, zoom or any other means of communication in lieu of the traditional in-class lessons. It often happens when one teaches adults or has one-on-one classes or private tutoring. Rather than spending a lot of time commuting both the teachers and learners prefer to conduct their sessions online. When a student is sick or disabled, distance learning is a good option. Can we consider skype, zoom and other communication programs a new way of teaching? When we can see and hear each other, is this a face-to-face process? I think right now we are at that stage when a previously bumpy ride may gradually turn into a smooth one.

When some twenty years ago I took my first online professional development course with the International Education and Resource Network , it went this way: we received weekly tasks in our emails, performed them in the rare pockets of free time while doing our regular job as ELT. Then we sent the tasks to our coordinators, received their feedback and a new batch of tasks; thus it continued till the end of the course. One of the main problems was not the complexity of the exercises or the technology; it was many participants’ tardiness! Yes, we often discuss students’ tardiness, but many teachers are also guilty of that. Was the experience different from the traditional teacher refresher courses, with live lecturers , a set group of listeners, and daily communication? Of course. We could email our coordinators any time, but we did not see them; there was no instant reaction from our course-mates either since we did not see each other and had no idea what each of us was doing until our work got posted on the forum. One of the very clear advantages was the ability to work at our own pace and use our own time. All of us lived in different time zones. My supervisor in New York for instance was 12 hours behind me so to speak. She emailed the tasks in her evening and I saw them in my morning, which was my today but her tomorrow.

I have been conducting teacher refresher courses since 1996. Seeing my whole group busily working, walking around the class checking up on their progress, being able to help solve any problems, and sometimes simply laugh with them are all great advantages. When a lecture or a seminar is over they often get together around me in a circle to continue our discussions or to share their concerns. For many attendees this kind of real live face-to-face teaching and learning is still the most acceptable way of doing it. And yet the more we use computers and the internet in all spheres of life including professional development the better new ideas are assimilated and gradually perceived as the natural result of using ICT as an educational tool or teaching aid.

At a conference, nobody is surprised if a presentation is made via video-feeds. It can be prerecorded, in which case the participants take notes and ask their questions later. Or it may be a live broadcast which allows immediate interaction. I have seen lots of those and frankly I cannot find many differences between a real live report and one shown via ICT. But there is indeed one very important factor to consider. We teachers like to talk, to share. Most of our work is still fulfilled in a real classroom. This naturally translates into our desire to see and hear our own instructors in real life and not only on a screen. As a mother who regularly Skypes with her adult children, I am perfectly aware of this accompaniment to our sessions: if only I could hug them too! Well, presumably there is no need to hug our professors, unless on some very special occasions.

Information Communication Technology, ICT, is hopefully here to stay. Practically every day brings in something new. We now routinely include links to online resources into textbooks and lessons. We use more and more audios and videos, news items and cultural information straight from the web. We can have question and answer sessions, individual and group lessons via skype and other platforms in real time. Probably combining various kinds of communication is already our present, our Brave New World.

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