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Assessment in a Post-Pandemic World

empty classroomThere’s an elephant in the room!

At times, the whole world seems to be falling to pieces around us. Yet, the expectation is that we carry on and do our best to get through the crisis remains – and this expectation is right, as learners are looking towards educators for guidance and for a way through. I see it as our duty to ensure that the interruption to education is as minimal as possible and we’re all stepping up to try to do our bit. That’s why we’re doing the Oxford English Assessment Professional Development conference, to provide professional development to teachers who want to know more about assessment. For more information about what else Oxford University Press is doing to support students and teachers, click here.

My session is about assessing online and by providing access to this kind of professional development to teachers, I hope that our students benefit. Now the elephant called COVID-19 has been addressed, let’s move on to explore what changes it will leave in its wake and how teachers can adapt now to best serve their students.

A changed educational landscape

The current situation means that even teachers who have always avoided online are being forced to deliver lessons and/or content to their students digitally. There’s a spectrum here from the school which provides a few worksheets to parents to the schools who carry out all lessons via Zoom. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, there’s no denying that we’re all learning to do things differently and, in many ways, the digital revolution in education that has been promised for decades is now being forced upon the world. The impact of these changes is going to last far longer than the pandemic itself.

The continued importance of assessment

Assessment remains important in this new world for all the benefits that it brings, and I’ll discuss these more in my talk. In the absence of face-face contact, good assessment is more important than ever in providing feedback to students on their learning journey and keeping students engaged and motivated. Delivering this type of assessment online might be a challenge for some teachers and in this session, I’ll talk about some different scenarios where good assessment can be implemented, and I’ll provide you with a toolkit for carrying out assessment online.

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want!

The scenarios I’m going to address are based on what I know about learning, teaching and assessment but I’m not the expert in what’s happening for you right now. It would be awesome if you could leave comments and let me know about any scenarios you would like me to explore or any questions you have about online assessment. I’ll try to include as many as possible in the talk and I’ll make sure there’s a lot of time for questions and discussion. Join me and a community of educators to explore the topic of online assessment in a changed world.

 

In the absence of face-face contact, good assessment is more important than ever in providing feedback to students on their learning journey and keeping students engaged and motivated. In my session, I’ll talk about some different scenarios where good assessment can be implemented, and I’ll provide you with a toolkit for carrying out assessment online.

Register for the webinar

 


Sarah Rogerson is Director of Assessment at Oxford University Press. She has worked in English language teaching and assessment for 20 years and is passionate about education for all and digital innovation in ELT. As a relative newcomer to OUP, Sarah is really excited about the Oxford Test of English and how well it caters to the 21st-century student.


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Blended Learning: A Q&A with Pete Sharma

This Q&A follows Pete’s Blended Learning webinar. Here’s an introduction to the topic, and here’s a recording of the webinar

blended learningSome of the many teachers who attended the webinars on Blended Learning (BL) were already in enforced lockdown, having had their face-to-face classes cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This made the topic of BL especially relevant, in particular the concept of ‘face-to-face online’ classes. The webinars were given at a time when thousands in the UK were just starting to work from home which caused a huge spike in online use. Here are some of the questions that were raised.

Q1 Which platform would you recommend for us who must start now untrained?

There is no single answer to this question. Everything depends on your teaching context and what you wish to do. As mentioned in the webinar, there are thousands of platforms. Making informed choices is important. Here are some typical contexts:

If you use a coursebook like English File, start with the digital materials on the learner platform; students are already familiar with the methodology.

A freelance teacher could investigate Google Classroom. It is free and relatively easy to use. Other options here are easyclass and Classmill.

In order to teach synchronous classes online, many teachers are now using Zoom. It makes sense to start out using a platform you are familiar with, such as Skype.

If you wish to set up a virtual classroom, expert Nik Peachey has suggested iTeach.world. There is plenty of online help and support available, whichever platform you choose.

Q2 How can we make the online as interesting as the F2F?

This question implies that classroom practice is dynamic and exciting. Many classroom teachers new to online teaching start off trying replicate these practices in an online environment. Teaching online can be every bit as exciting, but it is different.

Before starting, first make a list of the similarities between classroom and online. Many conventional classroom skills and practices transfer easily to teaching online, such as the teacher’s role in motivating and encouraging participants; using the participants’ own professional materials or using a coursebook and setting up classroom tasks. Then make a list of what is different online. Communication involves facial expressions and gestures; in an online lesson, these can be hard to pick up on when viewing your students in the video window. Learners can physically move around in the classroom; in online teaching, they are static, communicating through the screen and keyboard.

Some skills are transferable but need to be done differently. Pair and small group work can be done online using ‘breakout rooms’. One key tip for teaching on-line classes is to make tasks interactive. Participants can enter text in the chatbox, for instance. Another is to move quite briskly from task to task: preparation is key.

Q3 How much per cent face to face is appropriate?

There is no single, recommended percentage. Imagining a ‘hybrid’ course, 50-50 classroom and online, is a good starting point. However, thinking in terms of percentages can sometimes be counter-productive, as it encourages the equation of classroom work and online study. Rather, think of the online element as ‘elastic’, with students proceeding at their own pace. The Webinar explored this concept of ‘differentiation’ as being a feature of BL.

Q4 Isn’t the real distinction between synchronous and asynchronous, not classroom vs online?

When considering BL, the classroom – online distinction is important. When it comes to online learning, the distinction between synchronous and asynchronous is vital (Clandfield and Hadfield). So, both distinctions are helpful. One model which I find very helpful is the well-known consideration of the dimensions of ‘time’ and ‘place’, as follows:

Same time, same place: teaching in the classroom.

Same time, different place: teaching an online class using Zoom, Skype; communicating through WhatsApp.

Different time, different place: emails: posting a message on a forum and replying.

We need not be too concerned about the final part of this model – Different time, same place.

Q5 What about those platforms in which you just click the correct answer with very little production or interaction?

Interactive exercises such as the ones you describe divide opinion. They provide 24/7 guided practice and include tracking tools which show how many attempts students have had at a particular exercise. They have also been criticised for skewing language by ensuring each example fits clear ‘yes/no’ answers which are easy to code. What I love about BL is that such exercises can be incorporated into a course. They serve a specific purpose, provide some useful repetitive practice and are appreciated by many analytical learners. The teacher can ensure language production, free discussion, communication and interaction occur in other parts of the blend.

Q6 Do materials need to be specially designed or adapted for the blended learning environment?

Again, context is all. Some publisher-produced digital materials may already be absolutely perfect for your situation. They are written by experienced authors and built by a professional team. In business English, you may be using client-specific material and so choose to create and design your own content.

Changing the approach to how materials are used is part of a BL approach. An activity may start in the classroom, continue online and then students receive feedback once again in the classroom. Here, the material remains the same but how the material is used is different.

While the webinar looked at BL, many participants were under huge pressure, considering how to suddenly switch to teaching online. One memorable comment in the chat was:

“Let’s think positive; the closed schools and empty classrooms will help us start online learning as we have no other option”.

This comment, like the webinar, is a perfect lead-in to other webinars specifically about teaching online. I cannot help wondering what will happen when schools and campuses re-open. Will classroom teaching and BL once more be options, or will the face of education be changed forever?


Pete Sharma is a Director of Pete Sharma Associates Ltd, a consultancy and training organisation: www.psa.eu.com  He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete has co-written many books on educational technology in ELT www.petesharma.com


Reference

Interaction Online (2017) Lindsay Clandfield and Jill Hadfield Cambridge University Press


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Online Teaching Part 1: Getting Started | Shaun Wilden

Online teaching in practice - a teacher and students connecting online As an unprecedented virus makes its way around the world playing havoc with teachers’ schedules, educators are looking into how to use technology as a way of filling the gap left by the closure of many schools. If you’re one of them then the first question you need to ask yourself is do you want to fill that gap in a synchronous or asynchronous way.  Or in other words, do you want to use online teaching to get the class together at the same time in a virtual classroom (synchronous) or are will you be sending out work to the students to do in their own time and report back (asynchronous).  In this post, I’ll give you some advice about getting started synchronously.

Choosing a platform to communicate with your students

The first question is probably what software are you going to use. There are many platforms to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and going over each would make for a very long post. Given that you probably need to move quickly don’t have much time for training, I imagine you need something relatively simple. You could, for example, simply use Skype; it allows for video, text chat, screen sharing, and recording. Additional features like ‘meet now’ would allow you to put all your students in one group. The downside though is that not everyone uses Skype and it can lead to the sharing of contact details.

If your school uses Google Classroom then you can use Google Hangouts which you will find as part of that.  Zoom, a platform many schools I’ve been working with have turned to this week, is free to use for 40 minutes but for large classes, a school will need paid accounts.  One advantage of it is that people simply click on a link to join, and it has a feature called breakout rooms to use for pair and group work, plus you can make different ‘rooms’ useful for different classes.  What I like about Zoom is that it has so much support online that it is easy to get started. I am not endorsing any of these platforms, in particular, just pointing out that they’re free.  There are many more but whichever you choose, first and foremost in your mind will be “what best fits the needs of my students?”

Additional technology you’ll need

Aside from an online teaching platform, what else do you need?  Well, a good internet connection helps. These days we are all used to WiFi and this will usually do, but if you can attach your computer to a cabled network this will make for much better stability.  Bear in mind also that, depending on your countries situation, the internet is getting heavily used. If everyone is confined to their homes then naturally they’re all online and this can cause a bit of slow down here and there.

Your computer probably already has a built-in camera and you’ll need that as students will want to see you.  Will you want to see them? If so, then they will need cameras too. However, bear in mind it is the camera that takes up a lot of the bandwidth in a connection so too many cameras could lead to issues.  As well as seeing you, students will need to hear you and you hear them. While computers have built-in mics, I strongly recommend you use a headset. The one you got with your mobile phone will do the trick.   The advantages of headsets are two-fold; the mic is closer to your mouth and more importantly everyone wearing headphones will limit the amount of feedback that can be caused by everyone having a mic on.

Getting set up to teach your first online teaching lesson

My final tip for getting started is to consider where you are going to teach from.  As many of you are possibly being confined to homes, think about where you are going to sit. You need to be away from distractions such as pets or kids. Being on camera you also need to make sure that what’s behind you doesn’t give away anything private about you. Finally, you need to make sure that your chosen location has a good light source.

Once you’re set up and ready to go, take some time to have a play around your platform. Push some buttons, see what things do. Don’t be afraid, it’s pretty hard to break an online classroom.  You can also use your platform to meet up with your colleagues. Not only will this give you an idea of what’s it like to have a class but working together lets you share advice.  You can set each other quizzes to test how well you can do things, i.e. ‘how do you turn on the mic’, ‘can you show how to use the whiteboard’ and so on. My one extra tip here is don’t try and learn everything in one go. Keep the first lessons as simple as you can.

From this not only will you feel more confident but you’ll also be to help students when they first come to the platform. Additionally, if you write down some of the answers you can turn them into a ‘getting started’ information sheet that you can send to students.  It can also help you come up with some classroom rules. For example, when you’re not speaking turn off your mic or, if you want to speak, put up your hand first.

Get practical tips for planning your online language lessons in part 2 of my online teaching guide here!

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

Learn at Home

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.