Picking Up From Where We Left Off or How Skype Eliminated Distance

Skype proved a great tool for our learning (Image taken from http://www.skype.com)

Before I get to the point of this post, I need to say two things:

– A great number of posts and articles have been written about teaching with Skype, but this experience was so helpful and eye-opening for me that I feel the need to share it : )

– For some who might not know, I used to have a school in Greece and had to leave my wonderful students behind when I moved to Switzerland.

So here goes…

Vassilis is a wonderful person and student that my sister first and (a little bit later) I have taught ever since he was eight. (He is now…gulp – twenty-three!) He is a graduate student of the Business and Economics University of Athens, Greece, in the Department of Informatics. We have kept in touch even after I left (as with a great number of our students) and one day he was telling me that he wants to do a post-graduate abroad so he needed IELTS and that he missed our lessons together. We talked about it and in the midst of nostalgia for our lessons with him in the past I blurted out, “I can teach you if you like.” “How?” he asked. I had to think fast. “Via Skype.” “Do you think it’s gonna work?” “We can try and see!” I answered.

So, that’s how we started : )

How can you use Skype?

– The video feature is great, but not that necessary. It is wonderful to see your student’s face, expressions and feel like you are in the same room with them, but with Vassilis we rarely used it. Perhaps at the beginning of the lesson it makes the lesson more personal – it is great to see each other!

– It was mainly useful for us for the audio, and you can practise speaking extensively with the student – with Vassilis, I listened to him, corrected him on the spot when needed and used the chat box on the bottom right of the Skype screen to write notes for him, or synonyms to vocabulary he used.

The chat box: It can be used as a virtual blackboard to write simple notes, which you can hand over to the student simply by pressing Enter. Using the Send File feature (which you can find on the button with the plus sign) you can share PDF or other files, pictures if you are doing picture description with your students – they open the files and the conversation goes on while various things are done in the meantime. Sometimes I immediately shared files with Vassilis if I felt I had to give him more material on something. Emoticons can also be used for reinforcement!

– Sure, there can be tech glitches (choppy sound or video, connection cuts out and so on) but investing in a good internet connection is one of the things I have never looked back on for all it has to offer. Or simply enough, you can just hang up and call again! It usually works.

Classrooms can Skype into each other! (Image taken from http://www.skype.com)

Skype can be used in so many more ways in education and I am looking forward to using it even more! I have also included some fantastic posts on using Skype below.

If any of you have written a post on teaching with Skype, I will be very happy to include a link to your blog here. If you have used any more features of Skype I do not have here (and I am sure there are lots more!) please let me know. I’d love to learn, as I am sure I can use more features in the future and make use of its full potential!


19 thoughts on “Picking Up From Where We Left Off or How Skype Eliminated Distance

    1. Hi Shelly!

      Wooohooo!!! Thanks so much, adding it to the list now! And headsmacking myself for not looking on the edtech queen’s blog aka Shelly Sanchez Terrell : ) EVERYTHING is there!!!! Thanks so much Shell : )

      Have a great weekend,

  1. very interesting! Personally I’ve never liked Skype even as a communication tool let alone teaching. Interestingly enough, I know many teachers who use Skype for teaching even though they are not generally very techie. Thank you for including the links to other posts.

    1. Hi Leo!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      I first started using Skype to talk to my parents and sister who live in Greece, when I moved to Switzerland. I never imagined I’d also be teaching with it! There are other tools now as well, like Google+ Hangouts and FaceTime but I have not tried them yet. I am sure they are equally awesome!

      Thanks so much,

  2. Hi Vicky,

    Interesting post about Skype. I use it every week to speak with my family and mates back home (I live and teach in Seville and am from London), but I’m not sure on the whole teaching thing. Do you know any decent websites for teaching on skype. The whole process seems a bit weird to me but I think it’s something to look into as a keen TEFL teacher and blogger. Anyways, if you know any sites that would be grand. Thanks.

    1. Hi Barry!

      Welcome to the blog and thank you for commenting – it did seem awkward to me at first as an idea, that is why I said I blurted it out : ) I had done it on a much smaller scale in the past and not systematically as this time with Vassilis. I must say it worked out great – we were both happy with the results and I can’t wait to do it again in the future! Face-to-face is an ideal situation, but in cases like this one Skype works a treat : )

      If you look at the bottom of the post, you will see a number of posts on how teachers around the world have used Skype. Shelly Terrell’s has a huge number of links and tons of info on how to make excellent use of Skype – in fact, I wish I had found that one earlier!

      Thanks so much,

  3. I’ve used Skype before but very often the video takes up too much bandwidth, and as you say, it isn’t really necessary.

    At the moment, though, I have a few distance students, but because of company rules and/or firewall, they can’t or won’t use Skype. I have the lessons by phone – the arms & ears ache, I tell you! For a board, I use Google Doc. GD works great – I think it’s one of the best tools around albeit underused. One of the advantages of using it is it not only serves as a board but as a notebook where both teacher & student can write on it.

    Even when using Skype, I like to use GD as it serves as a permanent record.

    Whoop, whoop!

    1. Hi Chiew!

      Thanks so much for your comment – it is so interesting to see how you teach your distance students. I must say, I forget Google Docs and thanks so much for mentioning it again, I should be using it much more as I think it has a lot of potentials. As you say, Google Docs serves as a permanent record. What I did, and think yours is a better idea, is that if I wanted Vassilis to have a record, I had my e-mail open, wrote everything there and sent it off. I think that Google Docs is better for the reason you mention: both teacher and student can write on it.

      Thanks so much, guardian angel! Whoooop!!!!

  4. Hi, Vicky! Thanks for this great post about teaching via Skype. I’ve been teaching one-on-one EFL classes to an Afghan girl via Skype for about 6 months. (I wrote a post about it here: http://thinkingoutsidetheschoolhouse.com/2011/10/19/alliance-of-international-womens-rights/ ).

    Many of the strategies you mentioned in your post are ones that I have found useful. In addition, it also helps to cut and paste the conversation log, review it, and insert any notes for your student.

    Do you use any other digital platforms to enhance the exchange? I’m going to experiment with using a Tumblr blog with my student starting next week. She has access to the computer one hour each weekday morning….We’ll see how it goes!

    Take care!

    1. Hi Kelly!

      Thank you so much for your wonderful experiences and for directing me to your great blog! I absolutely love what you are doing. The story with the girl from Afghanistan really moved me. I’d like to know more about your work! I will devote this weekend to reading your blog! (and I apologise for the late reply)

      Kindest regards and many thanks,

    1. Thank you Tyson!

      I am happy you liked it. It is absolutely worth using and I am sure the next time I do it, I will make even better use of all it has to offer, because it has so many potentials! And it meant a lot to me to keep in touch with Vassilis – in fact, we were chatting just yesterday again : )

      Thanks so much,

      1. I’ve really just used it for chatting with Ceci and my MA advisor… and the occasional group chat here and there, never with students. I really only migrated over to it from Windows Live Messenger during 2011.

      2. Aha…ok. I tried FaceTime too on the iPad with James once and it’s also great – it did not cut up at all. With Skype that can sometimes be the issue. But Skype is more common for tech users, I suppose : )

  5. Dearest Vicky,

    I absolutely loved reading this post. It has inspired me to use Skype even more – and what a wonderful way to keep in touch with my students who leave to go back home! Thank you for sharing all these tips. Big hug & lots of love xxx

    1. Hi Sheetal!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I am happy you liked the post! Keeping in touch with the students has been very important for them and myself. I will be very happy to hear about your experiences! I am sure your students will be thrilled to keep in touch with you : )

      Vicky xx

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