It is not easy to find the right time for training teachers in technology. Teachers are usually very busy teaching, marking tests, filling reports, correcting homework or preparing classes. So, Saturday mornings or some evenings are the only possible meeting time, but these are not the most popular times. Teachers – usually women – also have a family, dinners to prepare or children to look after, so virtual meetings may be an interesting possibility to solve this problem.
WIZIQ is a web based education platform powered by teachers who continually improve it in response to its users’ feedback. This collaborative web conferencing environment is amongst the best online teaching solutions in the world, and it integrates the following set of online tools: synchronous (happening at the same time) and asynchronous teaching through virtual classrooms, online tests and a content sharing and messaging system.
Pros: Wiziq is absolutely free of cost for teachers and students; it enables participants to communicate synchronously using audio/video or only audio broadcast or through text chat; all classes are automatically recorded and you can download the recordings; pdf, doc, xls, ppt or flash files can be uploaded easily; teachers are in full control of the environment: they can share the online interactive whiteboard (IWB) with multiple tabs, simple click start and stop functions and full-screen sharing; teachers can allow students to speak or activate their webcam,
Wiziq members can participate in community discussion forums where they get connected with members from around the world, participate in discussions, learn from the experiences shared by other members and/or ask questions and get answers in community discussions. The platform also has an official blog where users can read about its latest updates.
Another interesting resource is the fact that teachers can create tests and students can attempt and get their score. One new feature is that images can be uploaded and included in tests now. Here is the link to an example for testing basic English level: http://www.wiziq.com/online-tests/460-basic-english-test
Seeing that this platform has so many advantages, I decided to try it myself with a group of co-workers (four). I would play the teacher’s role and they, the students. I invited my students via mail a week in advance the virtual class in order to give them time to get registered. This is very simple from Wiziq website http://www.wiziq.com/. Once the user has completed some enrolling steps, one is ready either to give or take a course.
I set a date and then sent an invitation to my “students” with the link to the corresponding virtual classroom. I prepared a class with slides to make it more interesting, but when the date came and I wanted to upload the slides in advance, I realized I made a mistake: I did not book the classroom 10 minutes before the starting time, so I did not have access to it till the exact moment. This fact is important to have in mind to avoid losing time: reserve the classroom some minutes before your class in accordance to the material you are going to use, slides or weblinks, or for other reasons such as socializing or checking audio/video.
Another thing to make it clear in advance is how long the class will be and which netiquette rules you will follow to make the class more organized. Remember you will give a virtual class and in spite you can see your students if they have a webcam, you cannot solve some situations as you do in a face to face class. For example, you can see students are not following or understanding you very well from some face gestures. Working as an online teacher is quite different from working face to face. You are not just doing the same thing using a digital tool. Online classes have their own characteristics (Perhaps this is a topic for another article).
The final thing I would like to recommend is to have a set of headphones – not speakers- and a microphone to get the best kind of communication. The incorporated microphones of a laptops or netbooks seem not to have the best quality for this particular purpose although they may be exceptions, of course.
Summing up, I can say the results of my first experience as a teacher* were very good. My colleagues did not find much difficulty even though they are not digital experts. We used our webcams and microphones and the platform did not collapse during one hour class, but I must point out that it takes some seconds to change the mic or web permission to students. It is advisable to use mics in turns so as to avoid sound interference. I could uploaded slides and display them very easily and played on the IWB. The platform saved a copy of the class automatically. Wiziq may be considered an inspiring resource for creative teachers and curious students with little time for face to face classes.
* I have used this tool as a moderator in the Social Networking Congress (visit this link http://englishvirtualcommunity.blogspot.com/search/label/socialnetworking ) as well as participant in many online events.