This post is an article I wrote and it was originally published in Business Issues, the IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Summer 2015, Issue 90, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Editor, Chris Stanzer.
In today’s post you will find information about some of the challenges and suggested solutions of teaching online (Business English).
What do I mean by online teaching?
You can teach Business English online almost the same way you do it face to face. The only difference is the online part. You need a platform to use as a classroom (Adobe, Wiziq or even Skype can be used as an online classroom). You also need a learner’s management system, which is a site you will use to upload lesson notes, recordings and anything else you want with your students. Once you have students, you are now set to teach online.
Online teaching has a lot of advantages but I am not going to talk about those, here. Here you will find some of the factors that can make online teaching of Business English a bit challenging. I will make some suggestions on how to make these challenges…. less challenging.
- Connection problems and back up plans
The internet is the medium you use to connect with your learner. You or your learner may have difficulty connecting to the net or the learning platform. This is why it is necessary to have very fast internet connection. You also need back up plans in case something goes wrong with the connection. You could use a phone line when your internet is not working and Skype when your online classroom is not responding. It is also a good idea to get your learner’s contact information on different types of media (phone, mobile, emails). Time is of the essence for your BE students, so you really need to eliminate or at least try to minimize any connectivity problems that may waste your learners time. Your learners are at work and dealing with connectivity issues may even make them want to cancel sessions. You do not want your learners cancelling sessions, especially when their schedule is already tight!
- Problems accessing the virtual classroom + technology related problems
There are a lot of tech-related things that may go wrong during online teaching. The audio may not work, the webcam may not be responding, your learner may not be able to use the writing tools in the online classroom. For these reasons creating a go to document or a podcast regarding the tech glitches connected to the software you are using to hold the sessions is essential. You should also take a picture of the virtual classroom and add notes (see picture below).
Example of document with guidance for learners (Picture of Adobe Connect)
- Recording sessions
One of the advantages of teaching online is that you can record the session and upload it to your chosen learning management system (LMS) or send it to the learner. This is a great function, but you also need to be careful, and always ask your learner for permission to record and upload the sessions because there may be legal issues or your learner may not want to be recorded.
- Time management
Managing time online can be quite difficult especially when there are connection problems. During an online session the phone line may drop or your learner might vanish from the online classroom. You will probably spend minutes trying to get connectivity back and time will fly without you noticing. In fact, you are more focused on checking to see if you or your learner is back online, instead of what time it is. This can affect your time management and consequently the whole lesson. In this case, always keep in mind that connection problems occur, and checking the time is something that has to be done consciously and frequently.
Many people say that online teaching is not like face to face teaching, and it isn’t. The truth is that your learners can be a bit more passive if you are not careful. According to Pelz’s principles of effective online teaching (2004, cited in the Hannover research council, 2009) visibility is essential, as lack of visibility may lead to passiveness on behalf of the learner. This is why it is important that the sessions are carried out whilst using a webcam. Teachers should also always have their webcam on so that the learners see the teachers face, gestures etc. That way the teacher is not just a voice coming from far away but someone the learner can see! Getting your learner to use a webcam is also important. Webcams are necessary when delivering BE sessions because business communication does require the teaching of paralinguistic features and this is when a camera can be useful. You can show your learner what gestures and facial expressions are appropriate/inappropriate/not so appropriate in different cultures etc.
Distractions exist online and offline, but during online sessions they may take over your lesson. Apart from your online classroom, your learner is also connected to his email account, Skype or an internal communication system. So, you may be teaching negotiation skills, and your learner may be emailing a colleague about a meeting! What can you do in this case? Well, try to explain to your learner that the English session is very important and that being preoccupied with something else during the session, may lead to missing out something important! You could also incorporate the distractions into your session (if you realize your learner is doing something else instead of paying attention to the lesson), and they could be a great learning experience for your BE student as you may help him/her with a real email he/she may need to send.
Online teaching is here to stay. If you know what may go wrong beforehand, plan ahead, and are prepared, everything will go smoothly, and online BE teaching will be a piece of cake!
Hannover Research council (2009) Best Practices in Online Teaching. [pdf]: Washington. Available at <http://www.uwec.edu/AcadAff/resources/edtech/upload/Best-Practices-in-Online-Teaching-Strategies-Membership.pdf> [Accessed 27 February 2014].
Till next time…….