How to Reduce Background and Static Noise While Doing Tutorials on Skype?

How to Reduce Background and Static Noise While Doing Tutorials on Skype?

One of the challenges of being an ESL tutor is to find a quiet place in your home or apartment to where you can conduct tutorials. Having a noise free environment to teach via Skype is vital but is not enough to have an interference free conversation. Sometimes the student on the other end of the call still hears buzzing or static noise.

I remember the first time I taught ESL class on Skype, I was using a laptop which I usually charge during the calls because of its poor battery life. I could hear the static noise when I checked my audio output using Skype’s “Echo / Sound Test Service”. Charging the laptop battery during calls and voice recordings really causes buzzing sounds.

Here are several steps you can do to eliminate or at least reduce that buzzing sound and background noise during Skype calls.

  • Use a ground lift plug or adapter for your laptop power supply to reduce static noise caused by charging the battery.
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Image from Wikimedia Commons
  • To reduce background noise caused by other stuff like appliances, the sound from your neighbors, crying baby, barking dogs and bustling car sounds, you may change your Sound Control Panel settings on Windows. To do this, follow these steps:
    1. Go to your “Control Panel”. (You may also right click the speaker like icon on your notification area then click “Recording Devices”, then continue with number 5 from these steps)
    2. Select “Hardware and Sound” (or just “Sound” depending on your viewer setting).hardwaresound
    3. Click “Sound”. sound
    4. Click “Recording” tab
      recording
    5. Right click on the enabled microphone you are using. mic1
    6. Click “Properties”.  mic2
    7. Click “Levels” tab. levels
    8. Set “Microphone” level to 100 miclevel
      and “Microphone Boost” to +10.0 dB 
      micboostor 0.0 dB if level of the background noise is too high. Click OK.
      micboost
    9. On Windows 10, you can also select “Enhancements” tab then enable “Noise Suppression” and “Acoustic Echo Cancellation”. (I don’t have this tab because I’m only using Windows 7).
  • Buy a headphone with noise cancelling microphone.
  • It’s a lesser pain if you can invest by owning a desktop computer instead of a laptop especially if you need to conduct classes for long hours.
  • For more serious soundproofing, you may want to invest by making your room quieter.
    • Cover your floors with rugs or carpet.
    • Cover your windows with drapes or at least thicker curtains.
    • Station your furniture against your wall like wooden bookshelf with lots of books, cabinet with lots of fabrics like towels, linens, or even clothes.
    • Make sure to position your audio equipment far from air-conditioners or electric fans and other noisy appliances and devices.
    • Do not use headphone and a loudspeaker at the same time.

Keep in mind that these tips will not totally eliminate the noise while making calls on Skype, but with proper execution it will help you achieve interference free calls and tutorials.

 

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Dealing With a “Silent Student” (ESL)

Dealing With a “Silent Student” (ESL)

It happens many times during ESL tutorials. You are in a middle of a discussion with your student and the latter seems more comfortable listening to your explanations rather than speaking.

You only hear the expressions “hmmm,” “ahhh,” “okay,” “aha,” (sounds like the song with the lyrics “That’s the way aha aha, I like it aha aha“), or worse, nothing but silence. Chances are you are not doing it right! I have also committed these teaching mistakes before. When you’re in the mood to talk, you tend to forget the purpose of the tutorial. Later on, you may notice that the class seems tedious. Eventually, your tone of voice becomes boring as well. You think the student is too timid to talk. He’s really having a hard time completing a sentence. Listed here are some of the possible reasons why such students are keeping their mouths shut.

Possible Reasons

  1. You may have been strictly following your lesson materials that you tend to forget encouraging the student to talk.
  2. Not being familiar with the capabilities of your student. You’re lingering on your first impressions on him that he is timid and can hardly speak English. You’re not recognizing his small improvements.
  3. You’re too conscious about the time limit of the class and you answer your own questions.
  4. Not being patient. You are a perfectionist. You try to correct all the student’s errors.
  5. The student is afraid of you, or much worse hates you.

Possible Solutions:

  1. Find out more information about the student as long as he allows you to do so. Know his interests, hobbies and favorite areas in relation to his job. However, avoid asking him direct personal questions. Take note of the situations when the student freely expressed his thoughts. As much as possible, incorporate all the information you gathered about him, like his interests and hobbies into your lessons to persuade the student to speak. Encourage the student to ask you questions, especially when he doesn’t understand the expressions in the lesson materials or the ideas you’re discussing. You can use some of the conversation questions for ESL students found on this website – iteslj.org/questions.
  2. DO NOT compare. Every student has his own strengths and weaknesses. Language development varies for every individual. Have keen interest in their progress. Repeat a certain portion of the lesson material if necessary. Understand that in every class held, the student learns something new.
  3. DO NOT OVERWHELM the student with many information or questions more than he can handle. If he is merely a beginner, it is okay if you can just let him answer some yes/no questions at first. If you can only tackle one or two points within the allowed time, that is good enough. You need to make sure he understands what you are talking about. For adult students, don’t ask them questions like “Did you understand?” especially if the student is a working professional. Instead, ask them questions like “Do you have a question about this part?” or “Would you like me to help you with this?NEVER ask a question which ONLY YOU can answer.
  4. It is a good practice to build the student’s confidence to speak up during the first few classes you have with him. In order to do that, NEVER interrupt the student while he is talking just to correct his errors. Let him finish what he is saying while taking note of his errors and correct them afterward. When to make corrections? That is up to your student. At times, when a student is timid, perhaps the best time to directly rectify his errors is when you have already built good rapport with him. When correcting, avoid detailing grammar rules he is not familiar with. It will confuse him. Other than that, just help your shy student talk with confidence. Give him a chance to correct his own errors by asking him questions like; “Do you think there is a better way to express that?” or “Would you like to rephrase your sentence?” NEVER forget to commend the student for his good performance. You can use the “Sandwich Method” when giving feedbacks.
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The Sandwich Method

This means you start by praising him for the positives he has done followed by your constructive criticism or corrections, and finally the overall good points the student has achieved. Always remember, teachers must be quick to commend and slow to condemn!

5. Use “could you,” and “would you,” to sound more polite when making a request to the student to do something. And yes, don’t forget to say “please,” and “thank you.” It sounds very basic, isn’t it? Well, remember the times when our parents taught us to use polite expressions when we were young? That was a vital part of our language learning!

To sum things up, being patient with your student is one of the best ways to help him achieve his goals. Use simple English words as much as possible. Conduct the lesson in a simple but enjoyable manner. Again, make it simple, DO NOT complicate.

 

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How to Blog? Step-by-step Guide

How to Blog? Step-by-step Guide

In my previous post How to Make a Website (opens in new tab), I discussed how you can make a website, the basics and the skills for successful web designing. In my other post , I described the differences between a blogger and a journalist. In this post, I will teach you the basics of making and maintaining a blog.

First, let us define what a blog is. According to one of my favorite online dictionaries, a blog is “a website on which one person or group puts new information regularly, often every day.” It is also called a “weblog”.

A Short History

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It began when internet users of the 90’s published their online-journals and diaries on the World Wide Web. One notable example of this is Justin Hall with his website http://www.links.net/vita/ in 1994. It is really amazing how his blog is still up and running up to this day. As you can see, the design of websites before has tremendously evolved and are still improving.

What Do I Need to Start a Blog?

Like what I have discussed in my previous tutorial in making a website, you need to have a web host for your blog or you may want to self host it. In my case, I’m currently using wordpress.com. WordPress is an excellent platform for blogging as the process and options are simple and easy to understand even for beginners.

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

When you want to self host your blog, use the wordpress.org open source program. However, this option is better for advanced users. Your wordpress.org program might have been integrated in the cpanel of your web host or download the latest version of it from here (https://wordpress.org/) then install it on your web host.

The simpler way, though, is to host your blog for free on wordpress.com. There are important things to note, however, if you choose this option. One is that, you cannot use third-party advertising solutions like Google Adsense. In other words, there are certain limitations when it comes to monetizing your blog. But you can still have the option to make an upgrade in the future or move your blog into another web host and self host it without these limitations.

Let’s just assume that you only want to try it out because you’re new to blogging. In this case, we will use wordpress.com.

Blogging with WordPress.com

  1. Sign up for free. Open https://wordpress.com/start/survey
  2. Choose a category.
  3. Choose an over-all design.
  4. Choose from hundreds of themes available on the list. (Note: Some themes are not free)
  5. Choose a domain name. You can either transfer and map your own domain name or register a new one. If you opt for a free blog, just use the subdomain option. (e.g. yourblog.wordpress.com)
  6. Select a plan. As you can see on the page, there are other plans you can choose from. But let’s assume you would like to start with a free plan.
  7. Now, you need to enter basic information like your email address, your chosen wordpress username and password. Pretty much like signing up with Facebook.
  8. Confirm it by logging in to your email. That’s it. You already have a new blog site.

How to Make Your First Ever Blog Post?

  1. Log in >> here <<
  2. Enter your registered username and your password on wordpress.
  3. Once you’ve logged in, click “My Site” at the top left part of the page.
  4. On the left column of the page, you can see the link “Blog Posts”. Click the “Add” button next to it.
  5. You will then see the area wherein you can enter the title of your blog post, the option on the left to add featured image or theme, and the text area where you can type all the information you want to include on your blog post. Study the options and you won’t get lost anymore.
  6. (This is optional) You can make a new category for your post by clicking “Categories & Tags” on the left, then choose “ADD NEW CATEGORY” below it. If you don’t, your new post will be added to the “Uncategorized” category by default.
  7. After you’ve finished encoding and editing your post, click “Publish” on the right.
  8. Check out your post by opening the URL or your blog address (e.g. yourblog.wordpress.com)

Congratulations! You have made your first ever blog post!

Don’t forget to inform your friends about your blog. You may also follow other blogs in order to enhance your understanding in blogging.

 

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How NOT to Kill Myself

How NOT to Kill Myself

(NOTE: This article might trigger depression. Do not read this if you’re experiencing severe depression at the moment)

Depressed? Yes, I am, and have been battling pessimism from day one. I find blogging as one good way to express myself. I tend to isolate myself like nobody understands. It hurts even more when you are in a group and don’t feel their presence. Perhaps, one of the most hated truths is when people in my case couldn’t find a shoulder to lean on when they needed it the most. We tend to mask ourselves with fake smiles so no one will ever dare to ask “Why are you so dying inside?”

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The Black Dog is constantly coming back and it’s taking its toll on me

Yet, I have learned to express myself to only few trusted people who would willingly listen and do not play blaming game with me. I’ve already felt remorse for my past mistakes, and I feel so alone every time something triggers that “black dog” to return. Of course, anyone suffering with severe or clinical depression must seek professional help right away. It might save us. But that black dog, without early signs, is constantly coming back from nowhere and it’s taking its toll on me.

I take a nap, rest, play games and write anything. I shouldn’t bothered how people would think about my maverick disposition. As the saying goes: “You can’t please everyone.” As long as I’m trying my best to be the best of me, I should focus more on things that make me and others happy. Instead of trying to please everyone I meet, I should care to those people who are closest to me. Loving them more makes me want to stay longer. It makes me want to fight for every second of my life and keep going no matter how slippery the road ahead is. Later on, that black dog would disappear. By the time it comes back, I should do what I ought to do.

What You Can Do

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Hugging me tight and listening to me is enough

Whenever I’m discouraged, it’s enough for me if you hug me tight and listen to what I have to say. Showing your affection is better than a thousand words just to lift up my spirit. Saying “I love you” is better than a 2 hour lecture. Saying “I am here for you” while being ready to listen is better than taking pain killers when I’m sick.

I am always grateful to those who stayed by my side and have never abandoned me when I’m not lovable or I’m at my worst. I’m also thankful to those who’ve pained me. Because of them, I learned that life is not easy. I learned how to stand up without thinking too much about what they are going to say. They taught me to stay humble and not be overly confident. They showed me that hating is one of the favorite human past times. Who else hated others for their supposed awful behavior? I did. And when the cycle comes back to me, it wounds. Yes I’m an imperfect person with many flaws and prone to mistakes. Nevertheless, I make sure I get the best lessons out of those errors. So I’m trying my best not to hate anyone for that. Forgiveness has always played an important role in my life. I forgive myself first, then the person. It eases the pain. It encourages universal tranquility.

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Yes I’m depressed, but I know it won’t last. My God loves me, my family loves me and I love myself as well. Making others happy is the key to happiness. I love what I’m doing. My message to myself is: “Stay alive and fight for genuine happiness.”

 

 

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How to Make a Website?

How to Make a Website?

“Do I need a website?” To help you answer this question, let’s have a look on why people make websites of their own. First, let me share a bit of my journey in web designing.

I made my first ever website when I was about 16 year old freshman in college. That was about 12 years ago. The famous web hosting companies among IT students in our school back then were Bravenet, Angelfire and the now defunct Yahoo!GeoCities. Social networking services which were prominent then are MySpace, Multiply, and of course Friendster. Little did we know that a much bigger social networking site by the name of Facebook would emerge in the future.

Over and over again, I grin remembering the days when we had to sneak into our school library just to upload web pages and images from our 3 ½ inch floppy disks to our web hosts. We only have limited time using the computer lab. And if you’re having a very good day, you had to look for an internet café outside the school and get charged with P20 to P30 per hour. That would be a large deduction to my P100 daily allowance since I usually spent P40 for my daily transportation fare. And it was the best day day when your diskette is infected with the computer worm called Brontok which causes damage to the files saved in your diskettes or pen drives. Yeah, I’m talking about the mid 2000s.

Our “cool” professor taught us very “exciting” html codes. Exciting huh? I really don’t know if it was but I did enjoy learning the basics of web designing. Prior to learning html codes, imagine me creating my first web page using Microsoft Word. Say what!? MS Word for web designing? Basically, you just have to save your word document file as an html file. That’s it! You already have a web page. When I opened my first MS Word made web page on the Internet Explorer 7 browser, I thought I was a genius. Then, here comes the MS FrontPage. Our professor disallowed us to use this program thinking we are that indolent to drag and drop everything which was ironically sounded like him. What is indolent by the way? It’s just another way of saying we’re lazy programmers.

The HTML or Hypertext Markup Language

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In a simple sense, HTML is a set of symbols or codes that determines how a web page will be displayed in a browser. It tells the browser how text, images, hyperlinks, tables (I mean web page tables not that one in the dining room) and other elements would look like.

Example:

<html>

<head>

<title> These are the text of the browser’s title bar </title>

</head>

<body>

<h1> These are the texts you will see on the web page when you open it with your browser</h1>

</body>

</html>

Interestingly, you can encode these codes using Notepad. Just save it with the file extension name .html or .htm (e.g. filename.html) then Save as type “All Files”.

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Your first html file. (Image is owned by Grow and Teach)

This is how it looks like on a web browser like Firefox.

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Your first web page on a browser. (Image is owned by Grow & Teach

Some Terminologies You Need to be Familiar With

Web Browser – a program used for viewing web pages of a website. Examples are Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Safari, Mozilla Firefox etc.

Web page – a computer file usually written in a markup language like HTML

Website – a web page or pages from one location that are linked on the Internet.

Web host – a local data center or a company with its own server that allows individuals or organizations to make their website accessible on the Internet.

World Wide Web – a system where web documents and resources are interlinked by hypertext links and can be accessed using the Internet.

Internet – the system of interconnected computer networks around the world.

Hyperlink (or simply link) – a reference to another part of the web page or website you are currently viewing. Usually, by clicking the link, you will be transferred to another portion of the web page, another web page, or another website.

Domain name – the address or name of the website. For example, http://www.google.com, http://www.youtube.com etc. Subdomain is a part of the main domain. For example, this website’s address is https://growteach.wordpress.com. WordPress.com is the main domain, growteach is the subdomain name.  And it’s hosted for free by wordpress.com.

What Do I Need to Make a Website?

These are the basic things you need to have in order to publish your website on the World Wide Web. First, you need to have a computer that is connected on the internet to encode and save your works. You also need a program for coding your web pages like Notepad or Adobe Dreamweaver. A browser which you can use to see the appearance of your web pages. A web host where you can upload and save all the files you need for your web site. A domain or subdomain name. In one of my upcoming posts, I’ll make another article focusing on web hosting.

Let’s get back to the first question. What makes us decide when to make our own website? There are several reasons. If you have a business, you can use your website to offer products or services to your target market. A blog is another thing. I’ve already discussed blogging in one of my previous posts. Here you can post whatever topics you are interested in. You can also monetize it and earn decent amount of money if you know how to play the marketing game.

My first web hosting company back then was Bravenet wherein you upload all the files for your website and they will host it for free in exchange for banner ads they would put on every page of your site. This and GeoCities are very common web hosts for IT students during our time. Sometimes, the banner ads ruin the design of our web pages because we already put images on top of our web page as our banners. But we’ve figured out a trick to place the banner ads at the bottom of the page. The <body> tag of every html code of our page should be placed just before the closing tag of <html>.  Put all the contents and its coding right after the </head> tag. So the coding looks like this,

<html>

<head>

<title></title>

</head>

<h1>Put everything you would like to see on the web page here before the opening tag of the body section. </h1>

<body>
</body>

</html>

I tell you, I’m getting nostalgic reviewing this code.

When Facebook Killed MySpace and the “Beloved” Friendster

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By the time Facebook was introduced to IT students like us, we couldn’t stand leaving Friendster immediately. Not until Friendster itself decided to leave social media service and focus in gaming. We had to sign-up for Facebook accounts to stay connected with friends and relatives abroad. By that time, I was already busy with some other important events in my life.

After a while, I decided to continue my journey with web designing. By this time, I came into blogging. It’s more convenient because I don’t need to code every web page of my site. I just need my ideas and imagination to work together, with a little bit of originality to carry on.

4 Basic Skills for Web Designers

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Surely, if you’re a beginner, you need to learn these essential skills in web designing:

  1. Web page layout – you should understand at least the basics of html and designing a web page.
  2. Content production – “content is king” as they say, but it’s better to say “content is life”.
  3. Graphic design – believe me, I’m not a Photoshop expert but you should at least learn how to cut, resize, recolor and put text in a picture to be used on a web page.
  4. SEO – stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. Well, it doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money but you need to be acquainted with internet marketing to boost traffic on your website. When I say “boost traffic”, it means number of internet users visiting your website.

We don’t know how long or how far the World Wide Web can go. One thing is for sure, we need to accept changes and adapt to it. I am confident that there will be another type of technology craze in the future. If you know the basics of web designing, you do not need to be jack-of-all-trades. Learning is a continuous process. We just have to be passionate about it.

 

 

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