I have been home from Oaxaca for a month now but I continue to be in Spanish Classes. Every day, I go online and connect with one of my teachers at the Instituto Cultural Oaxaca in a Google+ Hangout. She can see and hear me; I can see and hear her. She can use her whiteboard to illustrate her points and I can use mine to practice and take notes. She can use photos when I hit vocabulary roadblocks because, of course, English is forbidden! We are together for an hour five days a week and I spend another hour, more-or-less, in homework and preparation.
I am very enthusiastic about this for several reasons:
- The classes are very affordable! I’ve priced online Spanish programs, and these personal, private lessons are a fraction of the cost.
- I can attend class wherever there is a wi-fi connection.
- The platform for making this happen – Google+ – is free and since we use its built-in VOIP for audio, there are no long distance charges.
- When I need to see something spelled out, Gaby can share her whiteboard and demonstrate for me.
- Anytime I need to share something – a website, a YouTube video, one of my documents – I just click a button and we both can see it.
- It is a private lesson. We can go as quickly or as slowly as I want and we can change directions at any time.
I remember being in Educational Technology classes at SDSU in the 90’s and learning about this kind of technology. More a dream than reality, it was very expensive, took tons of setup and technical expertise and often produced rotten results because compression capabilities and bandwidth restricted what could be done. I’ve been to conferences more recently where slick new platforms were presented, always at a steep price. Now, bandwidth has caught up with technology and Mother Google, in her own snooping way, has made it available to us for free!
I see so many applications for this technology: online meetings with several people, coaching, collaborating, even simple video calling. A Florida friend, Tamara Patzer is using it to teach people how to create and self-publish their books. She’s also using it as a platform for interviewing business leaders. I joined a group that matches people who speak one language and would like to master another, and have had a couple of meetings with Spanish speakers who want to learn English where we’ve helped each other.
Google+ works on a PC, a Mac, on my Android phone and tablet and on my Chromebook. If you have a gmail address, you already have Google+. Next time you sign into gmail. look for the +before your name in the upper right side of your screen. It will lead you to the app. And for a quick and easy start-up guide, go HERE. Once into Google+, you can start Hangouts with any of your contacts or create one around a theme, open to anyone.
While Facebook has fine video chat capabilities, it’s nothing like Google+ where you can see, talk, share things and invite others to the conversation. With Hangouts, sharing a learning experience at a distance got a whole lot easier!