Wednesday 16 July 2008

Video conferencing for EFL

It's not often that you look at a product and think 'Ah! That's exactly what I've been looking for! And it's free!' But tokbox does seem to be that kind of product for me.

For some time now I've been looking round for a suitable video conferencing type application and while there have been a few that look okay, like SnapYap which I reviewed a week or two back, when I saw tokbox this morning I realised that here was a video conferencing tool that had exactly what I wanted and a bit more.

Here's a quick video demo of what it can do.

So what do I like about it?

  • It's free and doesn't require any downloads.
  • I was registered and signed in without disclosing any personal information (apart from email address) within less than 3 mins of finding the site!
  • It has a range of ways to communicate including group video conferencing, person to person live video calls, video email messages, and a video feed.
  • You can embed videos or your call messages into blogs websites and a whole range of social media sites including Facebook and Blogger.
  • You can report inappropriate use and users who are doing 'unsuitable' things with their accounts get deleted.
  • Students can use it privately, with groups of friends or publicly.
  • I like the inbox idea so you can check your video mail and get alerts sent to your own email inbox when someone wants to call you or has left you a message.
  • It has a really nice clean easy intuitive interface.
Here's a quick message that I created to show you the kind of quality you can get.

So how could we use this with ELT or EFL students?

  • Chinese - video - whispers - Use the video email feature to record a short text. Send it to the first of your students. Ask your student to write down the message and then record it themselves and send it to the next student. Each student should rerecord and send the message on to another, until the last student sends it back to you. You will then see how accurately the message matches to your original text.
  • Interactive video learning diary - You could get students to create an interactive learning diary, they could email you their video summary of what they feel they have learnt that day and you could then respond. Your videos would form a good learning record and students would be able to look back at them later and see how they had improved -quite literally - and also hear the improvements in their speaking ability. This is also a great way to give your students one-to-one-time which can often be a problem in class.
  • Class survey - You could send a video message to your students with a class survey question that they could respond to. This would be a good way to carry out classroom research, decide on learning goals and make sure that all students had a means to feedback to you in private and on an individual basis.
  • Different perspectives - Show some of your students a video clip or picture, that includes a number of people (scenes from films with bank robberies, where a number of people are involved are quite useful for this). Then ask the students to imagine that they are one of the people in the film or picture and they need to describe what happened. Ask them to a video giving their account of what happened. You can then ask the other students to imagine they are detectives and watch the clips your students have created and make notes to piece together what happened. The 'detective' students should then try to recreate the scene using the student videos to guide them. Afterwards they can watch the original film clip or picture together and see how well they did and what they missed.
  • Favourite poems or haiku - Students could record themselves reading their favourite poem or haiku, you could then embed the videos into a webpage or blog as a class poetry collection.
  • Live tutoring support - This looks like an ideal tool for supporting distance learners and doing 'face to face' tutorials.
  • Video interviews - You could get in touch with someone for your class to interview. Just have one computer plus camera set up in class, and a visiting expert, friend or colleague on the other end for your students to interview. They could also interview an expert in groups from home with a conference call.
  • Video lesson with conferencing - You could use the conference call to video cast your lessons to a group of distance learners.
  • Video twitter - using the feed feature you could create a kind of video Twitter, with your students video micro-blogging about learning English, their day at school, or any topic they find interesting.
  • Text and video message - Using the video email feature, you could record a video of yourself reading a text, then add the text within the email message. You could include some errors in the text and get them to watch the video and correct the errors.
  • Create a collaborative story - Email students a video with the first line of a story and ask them to record your line of the story and add their own, then pass it back, or pass it on to another student. This way you could build up a story between the group over a period of time.
  • Tip of the day, word of the day - Send you students a tip or word of the day by video email. These could be exam tips, study tips, recommended websites, or words and definitions.
  • Video dictation - Send a video email of yourself dictating a text and ask your students to watch and write the text in the email and send it back to you for correction.
So why use video conferencing with your EFL / ELT students?
  • It' a great real life IT skill as these kinds of tools are going to become a normal part of our day to day work and pleasure daily routine.
  • IT adds an element of personalisation to your lessons and materials and can make it easier to build up rapport, especially with distance students.
  • It can help you get some one-to-one time with your students.
  • You can use it to create some really nice personalised materials.
  • Students can use it (with caution) to find people with similar interests to talk to or to do learning / language exchanges.

Possible problems

  • As ever be sure your students are aware of how to protect their privacy and that they don't share any personal information or contact details with people they don't know.
  • Try to keep any video messages you make quite short or they will become slow / bandwidth heavy to watch. This is almost certainly a tool that will be more useful to broadband users.
  • Students are going to need a webcam and a microphone of course.
  • Even though inappropriate use can be reported, someone has to see it to report it, so if that is going to be one of your students, make sure they know how to report anything that disturbs them.
  • You have to be careful with any tool that enables mass communication, even if it's only email, but despite that I think that tokbox is a fantastic product and one which can really enhance your teaching and your students learning. I think they have come up with a fantastic product that could become a market leader in the field of web based video communications.
  • Appearance is important, so watch out for bad hair days, hangovers ad make sure you wear something nice and try to find a room with some good natural light.

Fantastic! Hope you and your students enjoy it. Happy EFL video conferencing

Nik Peachey

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Anonymous said...


Thank you for posting an interesting way of using

Xie Xie:)


Unknown said...

Hi Nik and damon,
I have tried to use this videoconferencing tool. Only that the voice doesn't come up at at all. I know my mic is ok, so I have to press a button on my keyboard and hold it or what. Help please!

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Khalil
I think you can solve this problem by right clicking on the video sreen and getting the Flash plug in settings. Then go to the mic settings and make sure you have the correct sound source sellected (have a look at this screen shot) tokbox image

Hope this helps


Teadira Pérez said...

Hi Nik:

Thanks for sharing with us this tool. I am going to try it very soon for an online meeting.

I will keep you posted.


Nik Peachey said...

Hi Teadira,
Do let me know how it goes. Hope it goes well!



daggyt said...

Hi Nik,
great tips for use in class must follow these up and use some of the ideas in my lessons.

Susan D said...

This looks really interesting. Can you embed it in a wiki?

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Susan

You used to be able to embed Tokbox videos into any web page, but unfortunately they have withdrawn that feature. It's a real shame as it was THE most useful feature of the service. There is a service called and that can be embedded. I worte about it here:



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