Turku, Finland, Experiments With Real-Time, Web-Conference Language Class
By Wired Academic on January 30, 2013
Cost of Education, Education Quality, International, K-12, Language Learning, Required, Technology
By WiredAcademic Staff
Antti Huttunen says schools in Turku, Finland, offer language studies in Danish and Swedish but not always in French, German and Spanish.
So Huttunen, a project manager in the city school district, was tasked with figuring out a way to offer language training for students who want to learn these other languages. The innovation he came up with was to create real-time distance education in a primary school setting that is flexible and efficient. The district discovered it could hire a Spanish teacher to work from home and to teach a class to students (who tune in video computers) from the various schools in the city of Turku.
“Three schools in Turku don’t have enough students individually to offer Spanish classes,” he said during a presentation at the Online Educa Berlin conference in December. “But together, using a web conference server, we can offer a Spanish language course.”
Huttunen and the district decided to try using web conference for the project. They hired a teacher who could work from home or anywhere. “She can even be in another country,” he says. “It doesn’t matter.”
The web interface (using Adobe Connect and Moodle) allows all the students to see and hear the teacher. They can also look at slides, images or other materials the teacher wants to use. Each student uses a computer, a video camera and a headset. The teacher can see in real time when pupils are typing the names of colors in French for example. Teachers can use any curriculum they want on the platform.
Huttunen said the case study showed some students learn better in the virtual classroom than others. He notes: Three Important Things:
1) Interaction – It’s important when working with young people that the education can’t be passive. They have to be actively engaged in the process themselves. It keeps students’ motivations up. There has to be interactive methods – a lot of tools to keep the motivation up.
2) Internet – Need that of course.
3) Innovation – The method itself doesn’t change learning results. It’s not better or worse than classroom groups. Test results are almost identical for the virtual learning course as for in-class language learning.
One challenge he says is that the students in the virtual class don’t spend enough time speaking the language as they would if they were in a class.
One person asked if the teachers were trained in online teaching before or if they used Adobe Connect before this course. “None of them knew about distance education or web conferencing at all before this class,” Huttunen said. “They all received a week or two of short training – trying out the tools themselves. How long does it take for a teacher to really know the system to use it effectively? It depends on the person. I would say that after one semester, you are quite good with it.”
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