As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with visa-denials, scholarship scheme cancellations and poor work-rights, COVID-19 is now the latest in a number of health concerns (SARS, Avian Flu/H1N1, Ebola, etc) that have created fear, uncertainty, and instability in global education. Coronavirus, don’t think you’ll prevent us from continuing to deliver transformative programs!
…But where in past years there have been few alternatives to weathering “health” storms, today online technologies emulating the instructional experience of a classroom have been improved and adopted to a level that can help bridge the uncertainty for institutions. To those that are bemoaning the limitations of online, my online-expert business partner, Rick Rattray, says:
Recall that for years, the Online Learning Consortium has polled students and faculty and seen consistent growth in the view that online learning is at least as effective as face-to-face learning” and sure, when given the choice, blended is seen as better than either purely online or purely face-to-face – a luxury for us in the face of the pandemic.
The presence of these approaches and their growing acceptance around the world has not taken away from students’ preference for a fully immersive experience (and in my humble opinion, never will) but online delivery is now an extremely viable educational option when travel is constrained. Despite our institutions’ and program’s need to adapt, our excitement and the opportunity at hand, we (TheParliamentGroup) are in many conversations where the following concerns are discussed:
There are too many pieces to sort out before we can launch a quality experience “quickly”
True, a number of crucial questions must be answered. My favorites ones are these: What options are there at my institution to serve my students through online tools/processes? What tools can be adopted at the least cost and greatest effectiveness to fit my teaching style and my student needs? What gaps do I need to address – from training for instructors to managing scheduling – to implement an online strategy? To get the right answers, I’ll have to talk to a few key experts on campus to but believe me, if I am pressured for time, I will not shy away from sitting outside their office to get the help I need.
Student-centred classrooms are a challenge to replicate online
“There are many tools out there, and while many aren’t immediately adaptable to existing ESL instruction, there are some great, pedagogically useful tools for moving online quickly. Take, for example, WIZIQ that allows the instructor to place students into groups, using virtual rooms that limit the exchanges to that group only. There you have it: a student-centered, interactive, task-based classroom … online! Pair-work, group-work, “walking around the classroom”, calling on specific students, asking students to put their phones down – these are all reproducible in an online environment. My good friend Ella Tyler, owner and Managing Director of Hello! Exmouth even offers a “buddy” system for her international online students, matching them up with local English-as-a-mother-tongue students.
This is moving too fast (and everything this entails)
Instructors need to be properly trained. Not all instructors have the right style for online teaching. If untrained or poorly trained, the student experience AND the instructor experience will suffer.
We are teachers and we know what proper training looks like. We know that comfort and mastery comes with practice. We know that learning a new skill, a new language, a new dance move takes courage. We may already have our 10,000 hours of mastery in the ESL classroom – and many of those hours and that confidence are transferable to sound online practices. When we all started in the classroom with our CELTA or our MA TESOL, we had perhaps 8 to 20 hours of classroom training under our belts. It won’t be comfortable but it might be fun to learn something new again. Let’s dedicate a minimum of 10 hours/instructor for a training program dedicated to two crucial elements: online teaching methodologies and software adoption tips.
Quality student feedback takes even more time in an online course
Only if the curriculum changes to require more tests and essays than usual! This might be true of an asynchronous classroom but the key to switching to online delivery quickly will be to keep the classrooms live. And the key to keeping the classrooms live and well attended will be to keep them dynamic and student-centered. For example, students can continue to do class-presentations (and you can require peer assessment to insure classmates are paying close attention).
At TheParliamentGroup, my partner Rick and I set up a new program for IEPs and ESL Programs called the Customized Rapid Online Implementation Plan. We hope that this 3-4 week execution plan can help your ESL operations gain quick insights into tools at your disposal, their costs, and actions needed to implement them quickly. We’ll also help create a training program for your instructors and devise a student engagement plan so that you retain as many future cohorts students as possible.
Author Nadine Baladi is Co-Founder and Managing Partner at The Parliament Group as well as outgoing President at EnglishUSA and Commissioner at CEA. As an international educator, she has survived SARS and H1N1 before online solutions were readily available. She is a huge fan of this brave new world of technology and of the dynamic and student-centered classroom.