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How might Covid-19 impact the world of education?

using hand sanitiser in the classroomAfter sinking or swimming in the virtual world of remote education, many teachers will probably look back at 2020 as when they learnt how to use most of the digital tools in the shortest of time. Some may look back and remember it as a time when they first recognised the English language ability of certain students that had previously gone unnoticed. Others might have concluded that completing the curriculum should not be their one and only goal and that their students also needed them for maintaining a level of wellbeing.

In fact, wellbeing has taken centre-stage for many people in 2020. Suddenly having to spend hours in front of their laptops; learning new tools; dealing with technical issues alone; working while sharing their home space; not wanting their students to see what their home looked like; experiencing lockdown, all heightened the need for wellbeing. An ELT friend of mine described it as being like “camping in a call centre”. Camping because he sat down with a flask of hot coffee (knowing he would not have time to prepare himself fresh cups), and a call centre because of the hours spent in front of his laptop talking via his headset.

There are clearly many lessons to be learnt and changes that educators and educational institutes can make to move forward in a positive way since remote learning is here to stay. We must ensure that our students’ and teachers’ emotional needs are met while considering the role our communities play in the future of education.

Building on lessons learnt

It has become clear that face-to-face education cannot simply be transferred online. If you used to teach 21 hours of English a week at your institution, it is important to analyse how much of that needs to be online. Do 100% of classes need to be face-to-face (physically or virtually)? How much can be blended, so that some things can be done by the learner after having received and understood instructions? Below are some suggestions on what can be done differently.

The educators:

  • How can we convey language virtually? The teacher is essential for the warm-up, lead-in activity to introduce the theme, topic or language, but s/he can support students to achieve the rest asynchronously.
  • Activities involving interaction can be done asynchronously with students working together online (recorded) or using a chat function which can be kept as a screenshot. This evidence of collaborative work can be sent to the teacher and used towards a portfolio of work. Tasks should incorporate creative skills, rather than only focus on knowledge or accuracy of language.
  • Later stages of the lesson can be recorded by the teacher for students to view at another time, to check answers or summarise what the learning points were. Monitoring could be done when students send in their group ideas – using audio or video from a Zoom, Microsoft Teams or a Google Doc that they have all contributed to.
  • Students who do not have the equipment or reliable connectivity to ‘meet’ their peers remotely still need the opportunity to learn collaboratively. When possible, provide opportunities for groups to come together at school in a safe manner (hand-washing, wearing masks, physically distant, etc). This would help those who have difficulty with remote education while allowing them to collaborate with the rest of their classmates online. This is becoming known as a ‘hybrid class’.
  • Last, but not least, don’t forget the textbook! If you are working with a set textbook your students should have it, so make use of it instead of recreating the wheel. But make sure that you provide open extension activities they can move forward with remotely so they can use some creativity while at home. Learning is not about simply learning knowledge and facts, there are other skills that students must develop, have fun with and discover they have.

 

The educational institutes and communities:

  • Physical teaching materials can be printed off by the school or institution and made available for the parents/students with connectivity issues that week (for whatever reason). The adults should then be able to visit the school reception and collect the relevant education materials for themselves / their child. These could be packaged in envelopes labelled with the name of the student and parent(s).
  • Smooth and regular communication between the institution, students, and parents is vital. A digital platform is the best and most reliable way of achieving this. Institutions should consult their teachers, students and parents when selecting a platform that will suit everybody’s needs. An unsuitable platform adds unjust pressures and additional workload to already time-deficient teachers!
  • Parents should be invited to practical demonstrations of how to access the platform so that they do not struggle alone with it – online demonstrations would save time and resources.
  • An institute needs to be mindful of the increased burden for the teacher in maintaining good communication with students/parents. – The time, electricity, mobile data, reliable internet are essential for remote teachers. Institutes are in a good position to negotiate packages with internet providers for their schools and teachers.
  • If teachers are expected to offer blended or remote learning, the institute should make sure they have the correct hardware/software to do so.
  • Partnering with a local radio or TV station, to transmit live classes to their students without digital connectivity would help institutions avoid the cost of platforms or dependence on unreliable internet connections.

 

Respecting and valuing wellbeing:

  • Local restrictions allowing, the teacher can use the connectivity and resources available in their institution, by delivering education online from the school classroom. – Students with connectivity issues are invited to join the teacher in a hybrid class (as described above). This can also solve some teachers’ problems with delivering remote classes from home.
  • Ask teachers if they prefer online or face-to-face education. There may be some who learnt to teach in a non-digital age and may struggle to deal with remote teaching. Thus delivering face-to-face classes could help to maintain their wellbeing. Those who particularly enjoy digital teaching could be assigned to teach purely remotely. Those who are somewhere in between the two could split their teaching hours between school and home. The most technically advanced teachers could provide professional development training for their colleagues on how to use certain educational digital tools efficiently, or suggest online professional courses to participate in. This also gives the teachers an opportunity to (physically distantly) meet and compare their experiences and thoughts on students’ progress.

 

The new normal for education:

We should therefore not be returning to business as usual, but taking the opportunity to innovate and allow our students to learn in different ways; at different paces; in a more autonomous manner. This can be done while respecting their social and emotional needs, harnessing the responsibilities of parents and communities, and ensuring the wellbeing of our teachers. Covid-19 has highlighted some inequalities, but it is up to us whether we now make the changes to even them out.

 

Are you ready to explore digital tools for teaching and learning?
Do you need help getting started with the digital tools in your Oxford course?
Are you looking for tips and ideas for using digital in your teaching?Move forward together

 

 


Zarina Subhan is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer. She has taught and delivered teacher training at all levels and in both private and government institutions in over fifteen different countries as well as in the UK. Early on in her career, Zarina specialised in EAP combining her scientific and educational qualifications. From this developed an interest in providing tailor-made materials, which later led to materials writing that was used in health training and governance projects in developing countries. Since 2000 she has been involved in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), materials writing, training trainers and teachers in facilitation techniques and teaching methodology. Zarina is published and has delivered training courses, presentations, spoken at conferences worldwide, and continues to be a freelance consultant teacher educator.


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What Could An English Test Do For Your Student’s Future?

Marina & NicolásMarina, a 27-year-old teacher from Zaragoza in Spain, loves learning English.

“I love English vocabulary. It’s both practical and beautiful, and it’s easier than other languages.”

For Marina, English presents the opportunity to communicate, not only with native English speakers but with people from across the globe who also have English as their second language.

“On vacation, I like to communicate with other people, go shopping, and eat in restaurants – everywhere you need to speak with other people. Last year, I went travelling and spoke in English with people from many different countries, including Italy, Portugal, and China. So languages are very important for me.”

Her English skills have also come in handy during her professional life, as well as on vacation.

“Before I worked as a teacher, I was a tour guide – a job I needed English for. When my boss asked if I had a certificate to prove my English level, I could say, “Yes, I have one for the Oxford Test of English!”

How do you choose the right English test?

One of the appeals of taking the Oxford Test of English in the first place was that it is certified by the University of Oxford. “That is important to me because it is such a famous university. I also prefer the Oxford Test of English because it is faster than other tests. You take the test in two hours, you have the results in 14 days, and the price is good.”

She enjoyed the experience so much, she recommends the test to everyone she knows.

“I always recommend the Oxford Test of English to my students, friends, and family. My brother is a marketing student at the moment, so I told him to take it. It’ll be useful for his future, too.”

Does she have any advice for her brother when he does take it?

“Don’t hurry, use all of the allocated time for each section, and you’ll do great.”

English for everyday life

Meanwhile, Nicolás, a 33-year-old teacher from Argentina, finds speaking English is an important part of his everyday life.

“I use English for nearly everything. When I teach biology in a secondary school, I have to read resources in English and understand them quickly. I also need it as a JavaScript programmer because all the programming language’s documentation is in English, and some of the team speak English, too.”

And it’s not just at work — Nicolás also uses English when he’s relaxing at home as well.

“I need English even when I watch baking tutorials or play video games because most of them are not translated into Spanish. Learning English is an important tool for me.”

Why take an English test at all?

When it came to advancing in his career, Nicolás found himself in a situation where he needed to prove his English level quickly and found himself limited by the options on the market.

“I needed to certify that my English was at a B2 level quickly so I could add it to my CV and do my master’s presentation. I researched several tests online, but they all took months to prepare for – I didn’t have that kind of time.”

Luckily he found the Oxford Test of English.

“I then called my local Approved Test Centre in Buenos Aires and was able to sit the test and get my results quickly, which meant I was able to do my master’s presentation and progress to my PhD.”

Like Marina, Nicolás would recommend this adaptive test to anyone who needs to prove their level of English; be that for work, travel, or academic pursuits.

“A test that adapts to the student and tests them to their limit? That’s a really good idea. I think the Oxford Test of English was the very best choice for me – and it’s certified by the University of Oxford, which is world-renowned!”

You can read more students’ success stories and find out how your students could benefit from taking the Oxford Test of English on our website.

Find out more

Like this? Now read: An English Test For Schools: Introducing Ana And Her Students

Don’t forget to share this link to our Learning Resources Bank with your students – where they can find additional tips and support to guide them through their English learning journey.

 


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Collaborative Learning Online And In The Socially Distanced Classroom

Cut-out paper-chain of children holding handsWhat is collaborative language learning?

One of the most satisfying experiences that I have as an instructor is when I have my class make pairs or groups and then, after a few moments, I hear lively chatter. Moving around the classroom, I hear students using the vocabulary and structures that we studied in class. Yet they are doing more than just reciting what they learned in this lesson; they are combining the learning goals of the lesson with the language that they already know in a personalized and creative manner. A casual observer might think that this was break-time or an opportunity for the class to relax. But while I hope they are having fun, I know that they are actually hard at work. This is the culminating activity that we have worked towards together as a class. It is collaborative learning in action.

The key principles of collaborative learning

Having students work in pairs and groups of three or four are key strategies in the collaborative learning approach. Together, they practice the target language and to establish meaning, in a carefully sequenced set of achievable, unintimidating, activities. From our own experience, we know the value of learning by doing. This is even more critical in language learning, where the production of new sounds, new words and new structures is so vital. To be a successful language user, it is not enough to know; students have to adapt their knowledge to create meaning and communicate with someone else. Increasing our students’ opportunities to do something meaningful in class is one of the main aims of collaborative learning.

So, what is the role of the teacher in all of this?

At the start of a sequence of activities, for example, when presenting the target language of the lesson, the method of instruction can look quite traditional; often the teacher speaks and the students listen. After the presentation phase, however, the class transitions in a way that makes the learners, and not the teacher, the focus of the class. The first step often focuses on accuracy. In pairs or groups, the students manipulate the language mechanically. They learn from each other. Crucially, the teacher moves from group to group, evaluating the progress, and correcting the learners as necessary. The subsequent activities in the sequence encourage the learners step-by-step to use the target language in more creative and open-ended ways, with activities that encourage students to combine what they have just learned with the language that they already know.

The collaborative approach is highly motivating because it allows students to communicate about things that matter to them, to be more active, and indeed, more successful learners.

Collaborative learning in the COVID-19 era

Only a few short months ago, the notion that teleconferencing technology would become an essential tool in our professional lives would have been unimaginable. Along with my colleagues, I have struggled to adjust to this new reality. What, now, are the most effective classroom management techniques? Does the collaborative language learning approach even make any sense?

When we went into lockdown in New York City, where I teach, my classroom practice probably resembled a traditional, lecture approach. Eventually, however, I was able to adapt what I typically did in a physical classroom to the virtual classroom.

4 key ways to conduct collaborative language learning in cyberspace:

  1. At the start of the lesson, I present the goals of the class and the target language. I could share my screen, where I could have a PowerPoint presentation, but instead I send my presentation materials to the students earlier. Since unconscious lip reading is such an important part of listening comprehension, I want my students to be able to see my face full size. Instead of sending a file of slides, I use the screen capture feature of QuickTime to record my computer screen and voice at the same time. (I am a low-tech person, but I have found it easy to use). Students, therefore, get a video of my presentation, which they can watch before or after class, multiple times.
  2. Most teleconferencing tools allow the host to make breakout groups. I set these up before class. It is a simple thing to conduct pair work and group work using this feature, and as in a physical classroom, I can monitor them as they work. One added advantage is that my students can video their work, (using any screen capture tool) which we can use later for student self-analysis or peer-reviewing.
  3. Many of the activities that my students do in the physical classroom involve completing charts, matching, and checking items, together. Now, I have students take a photo of their work using their smartphone, and then share it with me and their classmates using email, social media, or our school Learning Management System (LMS). We do collaborative writing activities in a similar way.
  4. In a physical classroom, I can’t imagine teaching in a room without a whiteboard. Almost all teleconferencing tools have a whiteboard feature. I find this feature cumbersome. It takes me a lot of time to write and then erase the digital whiteboard. When teaching online, I find it much more effective to use the chat function when I want my students to see something in writing. For more extended notes or hand-drawn charts, I much prefer to use a small, handheld physical whiteboard, which I hold up to my laptop screen. Some students take photos of this with their smartphone, just like they do in my regular classroom, while others take screenshots.

The Hybrid Classroom

What will happen when we move to a hybrid classroom model, where we combine socially distanced in-class learning and distance learning? Can we have collaborative learning when students must be apart from each other?

Before the pandemic, I frequently had students take photos of their work with their phones, which they posted on a social media platform, and I then projected to the class. Now, I will have them share with each other, in socially distanced pairs and groups.

What activities to do online or in the socially distanced classroom will be an important decision. Right now, I am planning to present new language (vocabulary and grammar) online, in the manner that I described earlier. Writing activities, including collaborative ones, can be successfully conducted online, as can listening activities – my students can access the content on their mobile devices. But since speaking is by its very nature performative, I will prioritize the physical class time for open-ended pair work, group discussions, and role-playing. But at a distance.

 

For more practical tips, and two free activities for running pair work and group work with adult learners, visit our collaborative learning page!

Get Expert Advice On Collaborative Learning


Thomas Healy is one of the authors of Smart Choice as well as an Assistant Professor in the Intensive English Program at the Pratt Institute, New York City. He has given several webinars for Oxford University Press on how to use smart devices and social media to encourage collaborative learning including The potential of smart devices, How to use mobile technology in class and How learners can use mobile technology outside of classFind these recordings in our webinar library.


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Teaching English with Technology | ELTOC 2020

We know that with fast-paced change, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest trends. Jargon heavy instructions for unfamiliar technology can make getting started intimidating. And with so many Edtech innovations on offer, it can be difficult to know which solutions actually make a valuable difference to a student’s learning.

As a result, publishers have a duty to keep on top of trends and to experiment with technology. We challenge our own assumptions about technology and are always trying to learn how Edtech can benefit learning and help teachers to realise these benefits in their individual situations.

At Oxford University Press, some of that work is done by the Partnerships Team

The Partnerships team

The ELT Partnerships team.

We’re responsible for a lot of the English Language Teaching division’s partnerships with external companies and we work with a huge range of partners, from the start-up community all the way to the famous tech giants. In many of these relationships, we find innovative new ways to include Oxford content in the partner’s product.

This is a great way to help the quality educational material OUP produces to reach new audiences around the world, but it can also lead to deeper relationships, where we start offering a partner’s product in the packages that we offer to learners.  For example, our relationship with Lingokids has evolved from offering our content in their platform to their app being directly integrated into some of our primary courses.

This way of working helps us to learn more about technology companies can enhance our content and how their products are used by learners and teachers, before making a decision on whether we could include them directly in our courses. As a result, we can improve our technology solutions, for teachers with effective support on how to use them with their learners.

This also allows us to innovate with exciting new technologies.

We keep a close eye on the new technologies that have the potential to disrupt education, such as augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. By working with partners, we can experiment with how new developments might be applied to English language learning.

For example, we worked with VictoryXR, an award-winning virtual reality developer, to create the first language learning VR experience using Oxford materials. Designed for learners in China, the product immerses the user in real-world scenarios, such as travelling through airport security or introducing themselves to a stranger, for unrivalled authentic English practice.

We were a content partner with Google for the launch of Expeditions AR tours, providing learning content to be used in augmented reality experiences that are freely available through the Expeditions app. Since then, we have worked on a variety of pilots to investigate the pedagogical benefit that using AR can provide. We have also developed multiple experiences for use with smart speakers at home, to test how artificial intelligence can help extend meaningful, independent language learning outside the classroom.

By working with partners, we interact with the world’s leading experts in Edtech, who are constantly innovating. As a result, OUP is constantly learning about new ways technology can benefit language learning and, just as importantly, the frustrations and issues it can cause when teachers try to implement it.

So, we’re here to answer your questions at ELTOC 2020

As part of OUP’s ELTOC conference in February 2020, we’ll be running a session designed to give you an introduction to all things Edtech. We’ll explore some of the most popular technology buzzwords, such as the difference between augmented and virtual reality or what artificial intelligence actually means, all easy to understand language and with real examples of free products you can use to get started and tips for how to implement them in your lessons.

We’ll also be answering your questions about Edtech and the future of digital products. This is your chance to clarify anything you don’t understand, ask for tips with a particular technology or start a discussion on something that interests you!


Harry spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Harry Cunningham is an Innovation Manager at Oxford University Press in the ELT division. He’s focused on enhancing and bringing OUP’s English Language Teaching content to life with the latest and best technological solutions.


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The Complete Guide to Running a Blended Learning Course

Blended learning - students working together on laptopsWhat is blended learning?

Blended learning is both flexible and dynamic. By ‘flexible’, I mean it is not just one thing (a fixed combination of X and Y) but rather, it can be many things depending on your teaching context. By ‘dynamic’, I mean that the components which make up blended learning are constantly changing. A recent incarnation of blended learning, for example, involves students donning headsets and practising a talk in VR (Virtual Reality) in preparation for giving a presentation in real life.

The classic definition of blended learning combines teaching in a ‘bricks and mortar’ classroom with web-based learning. The latter is usually ‘online’ but could be ‘offline’ and might not even involve the Internet at all, such as doing exercises on a CD-ROM or using a ‘native’ app – an app which ‘lives’ in your mobile phone and does not require a Wi-Fi connection to function.

Another approach to blended learning involves blending the use of print and digital resources, effectively combining the traditional and the new, analogue and digital.

 

When should teachers use blended learning?

In a very narrow definition of blended learning (such as face-to-face plus online) the answer to this question is: when studying online is a realistic, feasible option. In a broader definition of blended learning, such as that described by Sharma and Barrett ‘face-to-face plus an appropriate use of technology’ (Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett, Blended Learning, Macmillan, 2007), the answer is: ‘All the time!’ In other words, teaching in this new digital age should use the technologies which students meet in their everyday lives, such as the Internet, laptop, smartphone and tablet.

 

Why blend?

There are many reasons why teachers decide to run a blended learning course, as opposed to (say) a 100% classroom course like those I ran when I first started teaching, or a 100% online course.

One is time. There’s simply not enough time in a course to cover everything. Moreover, some language areas are really suited to be studied outside the classroom. Extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes, for instance.

Combining the best of the classroom (live interaction with the teacher and classmates) and the best of technology (anytime, anywhere guided practice) in a principled way can produce a ‘better’ course for students. In other words, the best of both worlds.

 

What is the value of blended learning?

Flexibility is one advantage. Students taking a blended learning course are frequently offered choices. We all know a class of 12 comprises 12 individuals, displaying different learning preferences. Students can match their path through the material to suit their own learning style and approach.
Similarly, from the teacher’s point of view, blended learning enables the implementation of ‘differentiation’.

We are all familiar with the restrictions imposed by the teaching timetable. The English language lesson is at 16.00 on Thursday. Yet this is the age of u-learning, ubiquitous learning. The distant part of a blended learning course can be done anywhere, anytime – in a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, at the airport, in a hotel … , this ‘best of both worlds’ (the classroom and online) is a key feature and benefit of blended learning.

 

Different approaches to blended learning

The approaches taken to blended learning are as many and varied as the different types of teaching: YL (young learners), business English, CLIL (content and language integrated learning). One common approach would be to issue the students with a printed coursebook and have them use the code on the inside to access their online digital materials. I focus particularly on this approach in my series of articles on running a blended learning course.

 

Different types of digital activities

Here’s a snapshot of the vast range of tools available for blended learning:

 

  • a vocabulary memory game on an app to review new language
  • a podcast; students can listen as many times as they wish, using the pause and the slider to listen intensively to selected parts
  • a video, with on-demand sub-titles or a transcript
  • a discussion forum; students answer a question before their in-class lesson. The additional time helps develop critical thinking skills and contrasts the real-time pressure to reply in the classroom

 

How to run a blended learning course

Looking for some practical advice and tips? Read my complete guide to help you prepare, set-up and run a blended learning course:

 

Download the guide

 

References

Blended Learning, Pete Sharma & Barney Barrett (Macmillan, 2007)

 


 

Pete Sharma is a teacher trainer, consultant and ELT author. He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete worked for many years in business English as a teacher trainer and materials writer. He is a regular conference presenter at IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) and BESIG (Business English Special Interest Group) conferences and has given plenary talks and keynote speeches at conferences around the world. Pete is the co-author of several books on technology including Blended Learning (2007), 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards (2011) in the Macmillan ‘Books for Teachers’ series, and How to Write for Digital Media (2014), and most recently Best Practices for Blended Learning. Pete was the Newsletter Editor of the IATEFL CALL Review (2008-2009) and has a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT from Manchester University.