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English Language Teaching Global Blog


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To go online or not to go online in the EFL/ESL classroom

Go online in EFL/ESL classroomHow do teachers decide whether to go online in the EFL/ESL classroom? Chantal Hemmi suggests that a hermeneutical process to finding out about student progress and future needs can help. Chantal teaches at the Center for Language Education and Research at Sophia University. She is also a series consultant for Q: Skills for Success, Second Edition, advising on online integration.

A hermeneutical process is all about being a good listener and observer of student progress over time: ‘Essentially, hermeneutics accords an important role to the actors and demands sensitivity and ability to listen closely to them’
(Young and Collin, 1988:154).

With increasing learner access to both authentic materials as well as materials written for language learners online, teachers are faced with a question: Shall I go online in class or not? The same goes for homework. One way to make this informed choice is for teachers to think critically about the aim of the lesson. Here are some questions we could ask ourselves:

  1. Will the activity raise interest in the new topic area?
    Is it more effective to go online to stimulate interest in the subject, or do we want in-class activities that incorporate an interactive, kinesthetic element with the use of cue cards or pictures to encourage students to brainstorm activities interactively?
  1. Do we want to go online to do a reading or listening exercise, or a vocabulary learning activity for input? Can this be done more effectively online, or are your students in need of more face-to-face scaffolding of content and language before you go online?
  2. Are we encouraging students to develop their autonomy by going online to do some research on an essay or presentation topic? Do the students have access to a library from which to borrow books or download reliable materials? Which is the better option for them, to go online or to use paper-based publications, such as books?

The choice must always link into the aims of our courses.  We have to bear in mind the strategy we want to take in order to develop students’ knowledge of the content, the language they need to function in the class, and also the opportunity for students to think critically about what they are learning. Teachers must decide what mode of input and output we want in order to scaffold the content, language and skills students need to deal with communication in our diverse global communities.

How do good teachers that I know find out about what is authentic to the learners? Some go for needs analysis questionnaires. Others opt for interviewing or focus groups where you set a list of semi-structured open-ended interview questions that you want the learners to discuss.

In my view, teaching itself is a hermeneutical process of finding out about where the students are with their learning, what they have learnt and what they are still not confident about, and how they want to get the input, online or through basic scaffolding through classroom interaction, with the teacher facilitating the construction of new knowledge or language input. A hermeneutical process is all about being a good listener and observer of student progress over time: ‘Essentially, hermeneutics accords an important role to the actors and demands sensitivity and ability to listen closely to them’ (Young and Collin, 1988:154). Not only should we be a good listener and observer, but also we should have the ability to choose tasks that best fit the class learner profile, based on our observations about where they are with their learning.

Thus, a hermeneutical process of finding out about student progress and future needs does not only look at snapshots of learners at a point in time, but looks at what happens over a term, or over the whole academic year. For example, a short speaking or writing test taken before mid-term can show a snapshot of the student’s ability at that point in time.  But we can include different modes of assessment such as group interviews, presentations, and essay writing tests to see what kind of progress is observed over time. The key to making the process hermeneutical is to construct a dialogue through online or paper based learner diaries so that students can reflect on their progress and about what they are learning. The teacher can make comments about student observations and thus sustain the dialogue over a period of time.

I myself learnt through experience that when I am still being controlled by the actual technology, blended learning cannot help to manifest the aims of the course.  The beauty of an effective blended learning journey will only be actualized when the teacher gains control over the technical as well as the methodological knowledge and skills to design courses so that in every lesson, the teacher knows why he/she is going online or choosing to stay with face-to-face input. Blended learning is a site of struggle, because the teacher has to question his/her role and to become skilled in making those important decisions that are going to play a crucial role in the design of our courses. Ultimately the aim is to conduct activities that benefit our learners with varying needs. Finally, blended learning also gives the teacher and students opportunities to explore effective modes of learning and to make the learning experience authentic to the learner.

References and Further Reading

Garrison, D. & Kanuka, H. Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education 7 (2), 2nd Quarter 2004, 95-105. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/10967516)

Young, R. & Collin, A. (1988). Career development and hermeneutical inquiry. Part I : The framework of a hermeneutical approach. Canadian Journal of Counselling 22 (3), 153-161.

 Walker, A. White, G. (2013). Technology Enhanced Language Learning  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.


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How to bluff your way through the changes affecting English language teaching!

guide to changes in ESLAndrew Dilger and Sophie Rogers, former English language teachers, are part of the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press. In this tongue-in-cheek post, they consider some of the issues that any self-respecting ‘bluffer’ should be looking at over the long summer break.

English language teaching is changing

How many times have we heard that? This time, however, it really feels like it. With the increasing adoption of digital technologies including the use of tablets and smartphones in many schools; the emphasis on differentiating the learning experience for every student; a mass of edicts and policies from education ministries, school boards and  bandwagons, the average English language teacher – already exhausted and overstretched – could be forgiven for thinking it’s time to hang up their interactive whiteboard pen.

… and we’re not equipped to deal with it (especially in summer)

The thing is, it’s summer! One of the very few times in the calendar year when we can actually stop thinking about our students and start thinking about ourselves! Given the number of blockbuster movies to see, barbecues to go to, new recipes to try out on unsuspecting husbands/wives/partners/families (who we also need to get reacquainted with, by the way, after endless evenings of lesson planning and marking), how many of us really have the time to use the summer break to ‘skill up’?

… so here’s how to bluff it!

For this reason, here’s a bluffer’s guide for how to deal with the seismic changes affecting ELT. After all, the dream will be over in September and then it’s back to the chalk-face – or given the extent to which everything has gone digital – maybe that should be the ‘silicon-face’!

CAUTION: If your teaching is already ‘blended’, your classroom ‘flipped’ and you know your BYOD from your BYOT, then this blog post isn’t for you. For the rest of you, read on …

1) Get to grips with the terminology

Part of the problem is the terminology – we can’t bluff an issue until we know just what all the educators are actually talking about. So here are a few useful definitions to get you started:

  • Blended learning (also known as hybrid learning) – Situation in which a face-to-face classroom component is complemented and enhanced with learning technologies. For example, it could involve teachers and students communicating and interacting online as well as in class.
  • BYOD (Bring your own device; also known as BYOT: Bring your own technology) – Policy which allows students to bring their own mobile devices (tablet and/or smartphone) to school and use them in lessons.
  • Flipped classroom (also known as reversed teaching) – Situation in which students are able to watch videos of teacher-delivered presentations or lectures in their own time. This frees up more face-to-face time for interaction, discussion, collaboration, tasks, etc.
  • LMS (Learning management system) – System for managing learning and educational records or software for distributing online or blended courses with features for online collaboration
  • VLE (Virtual learning environment) – Online space where teachers and students can interact, share work, and organize online materials. VLEs are usually managed at the level of the educational institute.

Of course, the best way to keep on top of all these terms is to put up a poster-sized glossary in your teacher’s room. That way, everyone can add to it and everyone benefits.

2) Rely on experience

The good news for bluffers everywhere is that, as much as ELT is changing, the way we handle the change remains the same. We rely on our experience and wealth of teaching techniques to get us through. ‘Change management’ consists of simply adapting what we’re already doing anyway and if you don’t yet believe it, here’s a quote from someone who knew a thing or two to back it up:

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” ~ Charles Darwin

3) Get a book

With the sheer amount of published resources available – by both global and local publishers – there’s probably going to be a book about it somewhere. And chances are it’ll be written by someone who’s more immersed in the topic than we are. Some recent examples you might want to flick through include:

  • Bringing online video into the classroom – Jamie Keddie (OUP)
  • Technology Enhanced Language Learning – Goodith White & Aisha Walker (OUP)
  • Thinking in the EFL class – Tessa Woodward (Helbling)
  • Adaptive learning – Philip Kerr (theround – free!)

4) Go online

For many teachers, the internet is the equivalent of the days when we used to walk into the teacher’s room and shout out: ‘What exactly does student-centred mean?’ Or, ‘I’ve got a lesson in ten minutes with a class I’ve never taught before. Help!’ If you’re looking for shortcuts, then the following sites contain enough classroom-ready ideas and professional insights to put you right at the cutting edge of what’s hot in the ELT methodology:

5) Ask a colleague

It’s all about shaping learning together. The trick is to make sure at least one colleague we’re shaping it with is a bit more up-to-date than we are. This way, they can bring us with them into the 21st-century. If you’re looking to bluff it on an institutional scale, try setting up a ‘buddy system’ or ‘chat group’ to discuss some of the latest trends and how you can deal with them. Meet once a month/term and each take a topic – define it, summarize the implications and pool ideas for how you can bring it into the classroom. You could even put together a regular e-newsletter on the findings. Suggestions for some of the ‘buzzier’ trends affecting ELT for your first few chat groups are:

  • Mobile learning (using mobile technology such as tablet computers and smartphones; also known as ‘m-learning’ or ‘mLearning’)
  • Special educational needs provision (e.g. helping learners with ADHD, dyslexia, ASD, SEBDs, etc.)
  • Assessment literacy (understanding how all aspects of testing and assessment impact on the learning process)
  • 21st-Century skills (including the so-called ‘Four Cs’: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity)
  • Multilingualism (how communicating in more than one language affects the learning process – if you’re feeling brave, you could also tackle ‘plurilingualism’!)

So there you go. Five easy techniques for staying ‘ahead of the curve’ and bluffing your way through the changes affecting English language teaching. Now we can get back to enjoying our well-earned summer break and working on that tan. Roll on September!


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Blended and cooperative learning in EAP

Stacey HugBlended and cooperative learning in EAPhes, a teacher trainer in the Professional Development team at Oxford University Press, offers some practical ideas for blended learning in EAP.

Although the idea of blended learning is not new, most people now associate it with including computer or tablet and internet use in the classroom. These tools can be used to expand the range of possibilities for communication between students and teachers. Here are some ideas to experiment with.

Train your students to use internet

It may seem odd to think about training students to use technology – after all, they are digital natives. However, many students have not yet developed a critical mind-set when it comes to assessing whether or not information gleaned from websites is reliable or valid. They also may not be very adept at using key words to search for academic articles and books – resulting in either too many or too few hits or information that is not relevant to their research.

1. Teach students to recognise which sites are reliable for their purposes. Show them Google Scholar as a starting point and teach them to recognise more generally reliable URL endings: .org; .ac; .gov; .edu. Teach them to think about who wrote the page and why.

2. Train students to use the university library search engine to look for information. They will need to understand how articles are kept in the databases and how to narrow or broaden their searches using key words and limiters: and, or, not, “…”, etc.

3. Teach students how to use online bibliography tools to create their lists of references. You could start by referring them to Education Technology and Mobile Learning which lists a number of bibliography tools. The university librarians may also have some ideas for good ones to use.

Using technology for collaboration

There are a multitude of resources that teachers and students can use for collaboration. They can help make teacher-student communication more efficient and can help students work together. If your university has a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) such as Moodle or Blackboard, the tools will already be available for you to use. If not, you can find resources on the internet which can be used for similar purposes.

1. Set up a discussion forum. Post a relevant question or topic and ask students to contribute to the discussion. Make sure they respond to each other rather than just posting their own views – this will make it much more valuable as a forum.

2. Create group or class wiki pages. Use the university platform or a wiki space such aswww.wikispaces.com to set up a virtual space for news, collaborative project work and assessment. Wiki spaces are also useful for uploading handouts for students who were absent from the lesson.

3. Give audio and video feedback on papers to save marking time, give fuller feedback and add listening practice. Visit the University of Edinburgh page to read some case studies.

4. Flip the classroom once in a while. Use screencasts to teach a point, then use the class time for a seminar discussion or debate.

5. Ask students to work in groups to create a video documentary about university culture and the changes new students will have to adjust to.

Using technology in the classroom

Many students will have tablets or laptops and may prefer to work from them in the classroom. A majority may also have smartphones that can be used for learning.

1. Encourage those students using laptops or tablets to look up information on the internet while engaging in the lesson. Post information on the class wiki that they can access while in class as part of the lesson.

2. Point students to useful apps that they can use for learning: the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, Practical English Usage, Headway Phrase-a-day and English File Pronunciation are all excellent apps for independent study or they can be incorporated into the lesson. Find out more here.

3. Ask students to record decisions made in a group discussion using their smart phone. Then ask them to email it to another group to listen to as a way of comparing information between groups.

This article barely scratches the surface of how blended learning can be used in EAP settings. Remember to think first of the pedagogical aim, then look around to find the right technological tool that could help forward that aim. If you are interested in exploring blended learning further, these resources provide plenty of additional information:

1. White paper for support, guidance and best practice ideas on implementing tablets in teaching and learning

2. British Council Report with 24 international case studies which illustrate different blended learning scenario

And finally, for some tips on ways to use technology in the classroom, visit the digital resources pages on the Oxford University Press blog. In particular, you may find the following helpful:

1. Edmodo: Introducing the virtual classroom

2. 5 Apps every teacher should have in 2014

3. Using blogs to create web-based English courses

 

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults,subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.


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Edmodo: Introducing the virtual classroom

Girl on sofa with laptop and papers

Image courtesy of Alessandro Valli via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at using Edmodo as an alternative to blogs for running web-based English language courses.

In my previous post, I discussed how blogs could be used to design, deliver and manage a complete English course. However, using blogs for this purpose has a number of potential weaknesses.

First, blogging platforms don’t have in built assessment tools. Second, while the comment/reply feature of blogs does allow for some interaction between course participants, it can get a little unstructured if there are a lot of learning activities. Finally, student privacy is a concern. Fortunately, there are some free, web-based learning management systems (LMS) that help with these problems. One such LMS is Claco; however, my favourite, which I have been using for about four years, is Edmodo.

Edmodo allows teachers to set up private, online learning environments for their students. On my blog, I posted the following learning module:

Figure 1: Learning Module

Figure 1: Learning Module

If the lesson was being done in face-to-face mode, the topic could be introduced with a general discussion about recycling before starting the reading activity. This could have been done on the blog using the comment/reply feature of the blog; however, as there are a lot of learning activities, these replies may become quite disorganized. I use the different Edmodo tools to break up the learning activities and allow for more interaction between participants.

Notes and Polls

I use these to get students thinking about the theme and start a conversation. I like the fact that the students aren’t just selecting an answer for the poll but also making comments. Notes and polls (and quizzes and assignments) can either be sent to the whole class, groups or to individual students.

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 2: Note and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Figure 3: Polling question and replies

Notes can also be used to give students more information, for example to introduce a grammar point.

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Figure 4: Note with information about grammar

Students can also post if they have a question or need to discuss something.

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Figure 5: Student note with helpful information

Quizzes

After reading and listening activities, students may need to do a comprehension quiz. The Edmodo quiz tool allows quizzes to be easily set up and offers features such as different question types, time limit, randomisation, and can be linked to the grade book.

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Figure 6: Quiz tool

Assignments

After writing activities or projects, students may need to submit work for grading. The Edmodo assignment tool allows assignments to be easily set up and linked to the grade book.

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Figure 7: Assignment tool

Grade Book

All assignments and quizzes can be linked to the grade book. Other nice features include the ability to award badges to students and exporting the grade book to a spreadsheet tool such as Excel. Students can also see their grades.

Figure 8: Grade Book

Figure 8: Grade Book

The above tools will help you make your online lesson more interactive. But Edmodo also has some other helpful tools. The Group tool allows you to group students into smaller working groups. Subscription and notification tools allow class participants to keep up to date with all new learning activities. The Planner tool allows you to highlight important dates and deadlines for your students. And the Library tool allows you to store and share all course related documents.

While the above examples demonstrate how Edmodo can be used in a fully online English class, I have also used it extensively with my face-to-face students. My daughter’s teacher (year 6) also uses Edmodo with her classes, but as a supplement to regular classroom learning. My daughter will go to her Edmodo class when she is at home to check for homework, deadlines and other learning materials. It allows me, as a parent, to see how she is progressing.


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So you want to teach online?

Middle Eastern woman on laptopShaun Wilden, a freelance teacher trainer and expert in online tutoring, shares some thoughts on his upcoming series of webinars on teaching students online.

Over the last few years, language teachers have had to come to terms with a technological shift in the way they teach. Though VLEs (Virtual Learing Environments) have been used in education for many years, it is only over the last few that they have become part and parcel of teachers’ working lives as either they, their school, or the material they use have found their way online. Be it setting homework via edmodo, using Facebook to extend the classroom or using online workbooks to complement courses, language teaching is more blended than ever before.

Being thrust into this asynchronous world of teaching can be quite daunting for those of us that were trained for the face-to-face classroom. We are used to standing in front of a group of learners, setting tasks that get our learners to communicate while we monitor, react, guide and prod. We are skilled in the art of classroom management, noticing when a student is off track, reading body language to gauge if a student is struggling and knowing when a task is finished and how to wrap it up. We are comfortable working face to face, knowing our training and experience has given us the skills to handle most things that school life throws at us.

While the popularity of social networking has implicitly helped us come to terms with asynchronous communication, a tweeted conversation or discussion of the latest cat photo on Facebook hardly counts as adequate training for dealing with students online. Is it a given that a skilled classroom teacher will automatically make the transition to the online environment?

As with many of the technological changes that come to schools, blended learning is often introduced at the behest of the stakeholders, sometimes with little thought given to how the change is going to affect teachers and impact on their working routine. Likewise, they often presume this is what the students want and assume that students will jump into asynchronous learnin,g embracing in-task discussions with the same gay abandon they show when updating a social network status. However, in reality an online forum is, for many, a far more stressful entity than the physical classroom. If you have ever joined Twitter, think about how long it took you to craft your first tweet and the angst of getting it right. Will anyone read it? What does it say about me? Is my language correct? Do I have anything to say? These are all questions that tend to go through your mind. There is something about the written word that increases the stress – perhaps the permanency compared to the ephemeral nature of something said.

Having trained teachers to work online for the last eight or so years, I’m all too familiar with all these issues and the nervousness teachers feel when venturing into the online teaching environment. Even the most confident teacher can feel trepidation when taking their teaching into the asynchronous world. How do I set my class up? How do we communicate? How do I motivate them? How do I stop certain students dominating? When do I need to give feedback? Are questions I regularly get asked.

Now, you may be forgiven for thinking that starting to blend your teaching is a bit of a minefield. It isn’t. Getting started is easy; being effective is more of a challenge. So to help you get acquainted with the asynchronous world, we’re running a series of workshops over February and March. If you want to learn about the skills and being an effective teacher, join me over three webinars when we’ll discuss everything from netiquette to making sure students join in and not lurk.

To find out more about tutoring online, join Shaun’s forthcoming webinars:

Online tutoring part 1: what does it offer teachers and students?
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 2: the challenges and benefits
Watch the recording of the webinar.

Online tutoring part 3: getting the most out of your students
26th March 2014