Ten years ago, Argentinian Pablo Bernardi was traveling through Japan and Korea to watch the 2002 World Cup and to practice his 2 years worth of school-learned Japanese. Little did he know that destiny was waiting for him in Japan. He enjoyed touring Japan so much that he decided to stick around a bit longer and got a job working at a company that taught languages online. That’s also where he met his wife Eika, and they joined forces to start their own online language school: Paso A Paso. The rest, as they say, is history.
About Paso A Paso
Pablo and Eika started Paso A Paso (meaning “step by step” in Spanish) about 5 years ago. It offers Japanese learners the opportunity to have one-on-one Spanish and Portuguese language lessons with native speakers. As you can imagine Japan isn’t exactly teeming with people wanting to learn Spanish or Portuguese nor is it overrun with Spanish/Portuguese language teachers, so virtual space is the perfect place for the twain to meet. Paso A Paso currently employs 5 teachers and supports approximately 50 students from all walks in life ranging anywhere from 10 to 70 years old.
Why Choose VSee?
When Pablo stumbled upon VSee, he was intrigued by the collaboration tools it offered, and he really loved its simple, clean design. Unlike some video calling products he and Eika tried, VSee was not cluttered with a lot of tools and buttons that confused students and distracted them from seeing the teacher. He liked how VSee created the feeling of “just you and me”–no crowded dashboard, no whiteboard, just teacher and student talking face-to-face. However, the tools are there and can be easily accessed when needed.
Why not use something people are more familiar with like Skype? Even though Skype has always been more popular, Pablo has never been impressed with its design. He notes “Sure Skype is easy, simple if you just want to talk to someone, but to go further [like desktop sharing], it’s very difficult.”
Biggest Challenges Using VSee
One of their big challenges is working at the students’ technology comfort level in general. Pablo points out, “We are working with people who don’t know much about computers. Some are over 70 and get flustered very easily. For example, if a window is behind your image, they won’t necessarily know how to bring it to the front. They don’t know how to click or how to fix your image over the application.”
Another related area is the initial introduction to the technology. Sometimes everything works great the first time, and sometimes it doesn’t. The key is aggressive preventative technical support: “I really have to thank my wife for all the time and patience she puts into helping people set up their computers and learn to use VSee. It is a lot of work, and she does an amazing job!”
How VSee Fits Into Their Work Flow
So now for the meat of this case study. How is VSee implemented at Paso A Paso? Here’s a general outline of how things work:
First you come to the Paso A Paso home page inviting you to learn Spanish with them. If you’re a new student, you will have to apply at the registration page to get an account,
otherwise you can login to go to the next page, where you can choose from a list of lessons on different topics. It’s also where you go to start a lesson you’ve already booked.
If you haven’t scheduled a lesson yet or you’ve never taken a lesson before, you will need to call or e-mail to schedule a lesson of your choice.
Paso A Paso will book your lesson with a teacher at a mutually available time and send you a confirmation e-mail with the lesson time. You should probably pay for your lesson through their online checkout about this time, too.
If you are completely new to Paso A Paso, Eika will make sure to call you to thoroughly go over all the equipment beforehand. She will also ask you to call into the lesson about half an hour before the lesson to make sure you are set up and trained to use VSee.
If this isn’t your first time, you are asked to call into your lesson 5 minutes ahead of time. Because it’s very bad form to have one student interrupt the teacher during another paying student’s lesson, Paso A Paso has designed an entry page to make it easy to call into the right teacher at the right time. Simply click the circled button to launch your VSee call. If you try to call in earlier, you will get a pop-up message. If you call later…well that’s for you to work out with your teacher.
From this page, you can also do a VSee test call to make sure everything is working before a lesson. Simply click on the “Test” button and allow VSee to run. They have set up the VSee test call to automatically bring up a shared application which shows students how to manage their VSee settings. (The testing camera was off when I called, but they could always have it pointed towards a picture or message like email@example.com)
Lessons are 45 minutes long, and generally any sharing or file-transfers are only used by the teachers. Occasionally students may need to hand over remote control for some technical troubleshooting.
The hardest part of this process is getting the tech il-literati over their fear and frustration of using a new technology for the first few times. Once VSee is on their computer and working, it’s usually smooth sailing. Then students can enjoy the thrill of getting personalized language lessons from a native speaker!
Into the Wild Beyond
In the future, Pablo and Eika would like to offer group lessons of two to three. Their biggest barrier right now is finding a way to make the process really smooth for their non-tech-savvy students. They also plan to eventually add Italian, French,
Russian German and maybe even some other foreign languages to their repertoire. As for VSee, one day they hope to be able to purchase the Education version of VSee with features more geared towards online learning (perhaps movie sharing and multiple languages?), but until then the VSee workhorse is doing the job well for them.
pictures from the Paso A Paso website