With a new version of Skype coming out tomorrow which gives prominence to video calls, as opposed to plain vanilla audio, it got me thinking why teaching English online via webcam hasn't really taken off in Taiwan. You'd have thought that Taiwanese people's love of convenience coupled with the ubiquity of broadband across the island, net-savvy ESL students and educators would be all over learning English via webcam.
There are a growing number of services which let students and teachers hook up online via webcam, such as Edufire, but Taiwan seems slow in catching on to this trend. I think there are number of reasons for this. The most obvious is that despite the tremendous convenience of having class online it's also a kind of sterile experience. I have chatted with my students online via Skype before and it was surprisingly hard going even though we get on very well in person. Video calls suffer from lag and the picture quality isn't all that great which makes it harder for non-native speakers to tell what is being said. Besides, students want to see their teacher up close, lob paper aeroplanes at him, maybe spill a full cup of iced coffee into his crotch, or even to delight in tugging on the hairs on his forearms. Can't do that with a webcam (yet, anyway).
Another reason is bounded up in the peculiar little way that your average Taiwanese student perceives language education. You either go to a buxiban with everyone else or you have a private tutor over to your house. It's all very passive whereas sitting in front of a webcam may feel too intense somehow.
You might think you'd make a killing setting up a webcam teaching service in Taiwan, but people will quickly realize it's easy for the student and the teacher to arrange this themselves using Skype. Ultimately, I don't see webcam tutoring replacing in-person teaching. Taiwanese are notorious for being late adopters when it comes to education, but in years to come I wouldn't be surprised if we see a handful of teachers using webcams as a supplementary method for practicing conversational English.
Mind you, all this is coming from a person who, in 1992, was reading a newspaper article about something called the Information Superhighway, and declared something along the lines of: "Pff! That will never come to anything. Few people own a computer and an even few number actually know how to use one." heh! We'll see....
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