My Virtual Classes

some "history"

My "romance" with the internet started when I first realized its remarkable potential as a teaching tool, especially as an affective one for teaching English. I also noticed its tremendous appeal to school children. Children from all levels and ages may sit mesmerized for long periods of time and follow instructions on the web. Soon I discovered that this "interactive box" can supply a valuable factor in teaching, called "motivation".  In my teaching I combined the "box" with the student's motivation and reached some achievements unknown to me before.
I started using the internet with my 10th grade class last November (1996), when our school opened its first internet lab. We were supposed to search the web and collect material for a project called DAD (Day Against Drugs).  My 10th graders showed tremendous willingness to spend hours on the web searching for relevant material. They were willing to stay after school and continue working.  They put together a very nice project and won a few prizes.
Thanks to this class I learned a lot more about the web, about new sites and useful functions. I would bring my "web problems" to the class and the students would go to the lab (or to their computers at home) and solve them. A wonderful way of new teaching opened up for me. I started feeling the students are "partners" in teaching and not  just "consumers". Their level of mastering the English language has improved greatly and "going to the internet lab" serves as a valuable incentive. Today, they are 11th graders, and most of them have mastered the web, e-mail friends all over the world and help other friends.  They work on assignments sent by me to their mail-boxes and "submit" their papers to me, either written or by e-mail.

It is important to note here that I am using the internet to assist in the teaching of English as a foreign language, but it can be a valuable tool in the teaching of any topic. It is up to the teacher to "customize" its use in order to be relevant in other areas.

I have divided use of the internet into three general categories -

1. Email
2. Research work on the web
3. Combination of the Internet with Email

Use of email is the logical first step, because it is the basis of developing a virtual class.  Email provides the basis for formal interaction between teacher and student, such as  submittal of assignments, homework, feedback, or correspondence designed to improve language use.  Below, I have compiled a "tutorial" which describes the steps I have gone through in developing my virtual classes.

How to start a "virtual class"?

First of all the teacher should be familiar with all the functions that have to do with e-mail:

how to get an account,
open an address book,
send and get messages,
use spell check ,
save draft ,
delete mail ,

open folders for each student and other topics
The only way to become familiar with the above functions is to open an email account. The teacher must open an email account for his or herself and become familiar with its use. If the teacher is already  familiar with email, so much the better.
The second step is to make contact with one of several services which facilitate contact between students around the world.  Only then, can the students be introduced to email. Among the sites which I have found useful are:

eMail Classroom Exchange

The next step to take is to open an account for each student. There are several sites on the web that offer free e-mail accounts. The best ones are rocketmail and hotmail.  I prefer rocketmail since it is geared to accomodate the demands of teachers and students. It is also easy to use. The people are very helpful and all the functions are clear and simple. All my students from previous years had individual accounts using this site. Unfortunately, Rocketmail has now joined Yahoo, and all new subscribers have to use Yahoo mail, which is less successful.  Yahoo is still better than Hotmail, and I am always on the lookout for a new and better email server.

Before performing the above step, it is important to establish criteria for account names and passwords.  This is due to several factors. Firstly, uniform naming conventions makes it easier for both the teacher and the student , and uniform passwords overcome the tendency of students (and some teachers) to forget their passwords.  It is possible, and even recommended in certain cases to require the same password for all the students.

There are two possibilities for the above step.  Either the students can open their own accounts individually, or the teacher can do this for them.  This decision depends both on the teacher and the student, as the main reason for the teacher's doing it is to be certain that the account names and passwords are built according to the criteria established by the teacher.

The next step is to teach the students how to use email.  This requires a computer lab with enough computers connected to an email server.  Each student must be able to work directly on the computer.  This is a problem in many schools, as there are either not enough computers, or they aren't equipped with the right software, or the internet connection isn't working.  If there aren't enough computers for one on one work, then they should take turns, but each and every  student has to get his hands on the keyboard!!   The goal of this stage is that every student register with an email server, learn how to use the basic email functions, and finally to send an email message to you, the teacher.  This will allow you to do three things - determine that each student has learned the lesson, note the email name of each student, and build a mail group in your email address book.  Each class should have a separate address group in your email address book.

It is absolutely essential  to have a person that will give technical support while giving these classes, as students tend to be nervous and frustrated, especially during the first lessons. Also, the internet and the pc's are very "fragile"  and the presence of a technical person is very helpful. You may also use an overhead projector connected to one of the pc's, but still you will be needed by each student. Beware! Each lesson will demand a great amount of patience, much more than in a regular lesson.

Now, I suggest you go on to the syllabus I have prepared which will take you step by step through the process.


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