I had a couple online lessons during the weekend as well as one face-to-face.
The online lessons went amazingly well except for when my stupid, stupid Comcast connection died and didn’t come back for 10 minutes. I would even venture to say it worked out better than the real-life meeting because the place we had arranged to meet had already closed. (What kind of large coffee chain closes at 7pm??)
We have the technology
Here’s the technology I used to set this up, in case anybody is curious.
Skype with webcam: Of course you need some kind of chat program. One person suggested MSN Live Messenger, which I will try out but Skype with video works amazingly well. It’s almost as good as talking face-to-face!
Drupal: I use Drupal to manage my lessons, conversation notes, and any other content related to the lessons. If you’re not familiar with Content Management Systems (CMS), it’s a generic platform to manage content in different formats whether it’s a blog, online book, forum, etc. This was used to setup the main lesson site.
Google Calendar: I added a new calendar on my Gmail account to manage my lesson calendar. You can embed the calendar for others to share and sync as I have done in this page.
Yuuguu: I researched around for screen sharing apps and this was the first one I tried. It was very simple to use and works great so I’ve stuck with it. At least, it seems to work great for me since I’m the one sharing the screen. I don’t know how slow it is on the other end but so far, there seems to be little trouble following along. I can run Google searches and show how to find interesting information pertaining to your interests in Japanese.
I have screen sharing on my laptop and I converse on Skype through my desktop. I have the laptop on the side for demonstration mostly because my desktop monitor resolution is far too large for sharing.
Lang-8: I setup a separate account on Lang-8 exclusively to correct my student’s writing. I ask them to setup their own account and add me as a friend. This way, I can easily correct their writing and also allows them to find additional friends and input from the awesome Lang-8 community.
Google Checkout: I haven’t tried this out yet but it allows sending out email invoices so you don’t even need a website with a shopping cart. You can however easily embed one in your website if you so choose. I plan to send emails out at the end of every month for lessons already done to save myself the trouble of tracking amount purchased, amount remaining, and all that junk. The transaction fee is 2% and $0.20. Not bad at all!
Drupal is great if you already pay for a domain name and have a provider with PHP and database support. But you could probably do most of what you need with a free blog from blogger. So really, there is no overhead cost at all except for your internet connection which I assume you already have since you’re reading this.
My setup probably isn’t going to work for most people. If you need help finding students or don’t want to bother with managing billing and payment, you’ll probably just want to pay the 15% and go with eduFire. But I doubt their flash app can beat having screen sharing where you can show the student whatever you want, whether it’s the lesson, searching for their favorite author’s works in Japanese on Amazon.co.jp or showing them show to use wwwjdic to find example sentences of something they just learned during the course of the conversation. You can even give them control briefly so they can have their hand at it.
Update: I’ve been checking out some videos and it does look like eduFire has screen sharing as well so it’s actually a really impressive little app they’ve developed.
Update 2: Actually, the app I think is from Adobe so it’s a nice big app that they’ve licensed or bought.
Next time, I’ll talk about the most important part which are the actual lessons themselves.