Key principles of an online course


Here is a great article by Jim Henry and Jeff Meadows about the best practices in online teaching: mostly asynchronous, but still useful. In fact, a lot of the principles apply to classroom teaching as well, and I really like how the authors are expressing them: e.g., “content is a verb” (meaning that a lot of the learning should be done by doing); or “technology is a vehicle” (it’s just a tool to help with the process of learning). The authors also talk about the sense of community, ongoing improvement and adjustment of the course and thoughtful little ‘extras’, and cite a lot of references that promise interesting reading.

I wish I had the time to create my own online course now!

Missing a class (not)


Here is a nifty little idea that’s been sitting in my Pocket for several months: a one-to-one teacher has found a wonderful way to compensate students for late cancellations (when a student cancels and you have to take their money even if the lesson did not happen – don’t you feel bad? I know I do….)

So, what can we do? In the remaining time you can make an e-lesson for the student instead: several tasks on Google Docs with video instructions made on Zoom. Easy? Perhaps not, because you still need to think of a way to keep the student engaged and committed to the task. Yet the author of the post does it wonderfully: just check out her videos and best practice tips.

One might say that it’s just another example of flipped (or at the very least blended) learning; but to me it looks unique, and shows deep commitment to students and their learning progress. What do you think?


Task-setting to slow down fast finishers


This article is about creating online learning activities, but parts of it can be easily applied to any materials creation and, in fact, all kinds of task-setting in a lesson. How do you make sure that your learners don’t focus on finishing faster, but take the slow path and achieve more learning? John Allan, the author of the article, suggests ten solutions, from limiting easy question types like True/False to making questions that are impossible to answer without listening or reading the input again. Seems common sense, but it’s also something we tend to forget about 🙂

Online teaching 15 of 15: putting it all together


The final post in my Online Teaching series has certainly been long in coming! As always, I feel I have barely scratched the surface, but it’s time to stop reading and start working.

There are still myths and misconceptions regarding online teaching, whichever its form (the synchronous virtual classroom has been my main focus, but some ideas are equally applicable to asynchronous forms). And yet, there are a lot of teachers, trainers and researchers all over the world who see online teaching as a new exciting tool, an opportunity to engage students in a new way and reach new audiences.

At the very least, online teaching is always better than no teaching at all; if planned and done right, it can provide unique opportunities to students to study in a relaxed home environment without distractions, to develop their soft skills and knowledge and even to work around their shyness. Online teaching can be at the same time cooperative and differentiated, emotionally engaging and factually informative.

To benefit from it, students simply need to have ‘good transportation’ to class (a metaphor I borrowed from a book by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen about online teaching at universities I read this week): broadband connectivity and reliable equipment, as well as basic skills of using teleconferencing software.

To make sure students get the most out of online classes, teachers first and foremost need to be good teachers. In fact, the same book by Ko and Rossen says: “Techies” don’t necessarily make the best online instructors. An interest in teaching should come first, technology second.

That said, some preparation can’t hurt:

  1. be confident about the technology you need to use
  2. plan lessons carefully
  3. adapt activities and materials to online use
  4. incorporate more visuals
  5. build in reflection and feedback activities
  6. modify your teaching behaviour for the webcam
  7. read more articles (anything by Nicky Hockly is a great start!), blogs, books (e.g.  Teaching Online: Tools and Techniques, Options and Opportunities by Nicky Hockly and Lindsay Clandfield or Teaching Online: a Practical Guide by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen)
  8. take courses (e.g. Coursera or FutureLearn courses on online teaching)
  9. … and practise!

Phew 🙂

Online teaching 14 of 15: training the trainer


I think I’ve found several weeks’ worth of reading material about online teaching: the website of the Online Learning Consortium looks very promising. For example, this report on Virtual Classroom training focuses on the components a good training programme for instructors should have – and what it usually includes in reality. Apparently, too little attention is given to the real experience in the virtual classroom (as a student and as a trainer) and too much to the technological side of things. The authors also urge to pay more attention to the pedagogy of online synchronous learning and how it – and the materials – should be adapted to the new medium. Interesting!

P.S. Note that the materials there are behind a registration form; so far it hasn’t turned into a paywall, but I have opened only a few reports.

Online teaching 13 of 15: constraints and affordances


Here is another interesting research article you should definitely read, even though it’s not related to language learning. It’s written in very accessible language, by the way, and reads like a story – a rare treat. The author (Dilani S. P. Gedera) from a university in New Zealand explored how meetings via Adobe Connect had affected the learning process of a remote group of students. It seems that lack of familiarity with the technology and connection issues were the biggest constraints, yet the affordances the virtual classroom offered were very useful for the learners: they had a chance to engage with each other and with the material that they wouldn’t have had in the asynchronous mode.

Perhaps this is the key outcome for me so far – do not compare online and face-to-face learning, compare online learning with no learning at all.


Online teaching 12 of 15: what students need to know


I’ve started digging through Google Scholar results, so here is the best article I have found so far: Exploring the Virtual Classroom: What Students Need to Know (and Teachers Should Consider). Definitely recommended for finding out what exactly learners need to benefit from the virtual classroom. According to the researcher, Garry Falloon, the impact of student ‘knowledge’ on the quality of their learning experience is considerable. The learners should have technical knowledge (how to use the conferencing software), procedural knowledge (what conventions of the classroom should be observed) and operational knowledge (how to use the available communication tools). Without it, it’s harder for them to transfer their face-to-face experience to the online environment. Definitely something to consider!