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Phuket Lifestyle: Lights, camera, action – online teaching its rewards and risks

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PHUKET: Before the internet, teachers were limited to face-to-face learning and eventually correspondence courses. But with innovation comes progress and now many web-based agents are helping connect teachers with students around the globe.

Matthew Nobel was a former expat in Thailand before moving back to the States to complete his master’s in education. Upon his return, Nobel turned to Skype to continue teaching.

“I’m just starting out. The idea is to see how much business it allows me to drum up. At the same time, I’m spending time on trying to market directly, targeting mostly Thai students for Skype classes.”

Nobel says that despite the distance, classes can still be productive.

“Schedules are flexible and you can really do a lot with the sights and sounds. It might seem counter-intuitive, but being on the computer with a headset and camera is comfortable for a lot of people these days.”

Teachers interested in working online will typically complete an informal application and wait for a reply. Once approved, the teacher submits a short biography and on some sites they’re able to record a short video as part of a sales pitch for prospective students.

Payment is almost always done via PayPal so an account is necessary. First lessons are typically offered for free and even after setting a rate, it seems popular for students to negotiate fees and discounts.

The Phuket Gazette recently conducted a survey of the most popular providers and came up with some mixed results:

VerbalPlanet.com is sponsored by the famous Collins brand of academic texts and seems to be the best option. The site allows teachers to choose how much they want to charge for their lessons, with top teachers charging more than US$20 per hour. Students can pick their teacher according to price, experience or by satisfaction ratings. This site also offers classes and teaching opportunities for nearly every major language.

TeachOnlineEnglish.com suggests teachers can “gain financial freedom”. The site pays teachers US$12.50 (about 390 baht) per lesson, per hour, which is almost 25% better than what most language schools in Phuket are paying. This site provides some basic training as well as some structured lesson plans and suggests it has thousands of students waiting to learn with its teachers.

LanguageSpirit.com encourages teachers to “chat for cash” and allows teachers to set their own prices for classes in English or Chinese. The site looks nice, but a quick read over its Facebook page indicates the management is slow to respond to teachers’ comments and has many complaints regarding a lack of students.

OnlineEnglishTeacher.com is a terribly busy site with more bells and whistles than a Thai game show. It would be a minor miracle that anyone stays on the site for more than 30 seconds. After viewing the snippets of teacher introductions, one gets the impression this site is only there for a good laugh.

One Phuket based teacher warns of a lack of students despite the websites’ claims to the contrary.

“I’ve wasted a lot of time filling out applications and the introductory videos can take a lot of time to complete. I’ve done a few and waited for the students to come but got nothing in return.”

More concerning than a lack of students is that any foreigner teaching in Thailand should know that this job is technically illegal without a related work permit. The chances of getting caught are low, but the ramifications can be very serious. Depending on one’s propensity for risk, this could be a make-or-break factor.

Despite the drawbacks, most indicators suggest this is a growth industry and one to watch. Whether in Thailand or back in the teachers’ country of origin, teaching online represents a great avenue for earning income and connecting with a global community.

— Eric Haeg

 

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