Videoconferencing has been proposed as a technology which has an immediate and beneficial application to language learning, because it enables face-to-face communication at a distance. The costs remain high, however, and course providers need to be sure what additional ‘pedagogical overheads’ are involved, i.e. in the rethinking of teaching approaches and the preparation of material. This paper reports on a study of a videoconference tutorial carried out as part of the distance learning component of a course in Professional English. The study shows that the interaction between teacher, subject expert and students was characterised by the absence, as well as the presence, of important features of face-to-face communication, and that certain kinds of tutorial activity, such as individual correction, and the management of group discussion, were not especially well supported by the technology used. We discuss the implications of this for the pedagogy of language teaching by videoconference, and draw some lessons for the incorporation of the technology into the mainstream of distance language learning.
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