Moving to Online Teaching? The one about the Platform & Material

So coronavirus, huh?

I hope you are all healthy and you and your families are well.

Difficult times. A lot of us are looking at ways of moving from face to face to online. Whether it’s ELT or EAP, I am here to tell you that it can be done, but it will take time, planning and effort.

I have decided to write a few blog posts about how to transition from f2f to online. Before I start, a few rambley bits.

My Background & My Context

I have been teaching Business English online for about 7 years. I taught my last BE lesson this month. I thought that would be the end of an era…… but is it? I now work at a University and my main post is that of a pre sessional coordinator. So basically, I am working on this summer’s pre sessional EAP course (pre sessional courses are courses created usually for post grad students who need to improve their academic skills before progressing to their chosen MA). Some universities are already teaching online, others are starting to look at that. So, any thoughts/questions/advice? I have a few and will be sharing them with you.

Material and Your Platform

Myth: I can use what I created for my f2f lessons for my online ones. I already have them on my usb stick. Piece of cake.

Sorry to burst the bubble but maybe not…

You cannot use all the materials you created for your face to face class, for your online ones. Why? Well, for various reasons. One simple one, your material might be on a pdf file that is not what is compatible with the platform you are using. You may have linked a video on a PPT (which works when you use it in class), but the video does not work when you use your online platform. So, my first tip…. Know your platform. What are you using? Design for that. Just because it worked in Adobe, does not mean it will work in Zoom.

Make some slides/sheets and put them on your virtual classroom and check them. How visible/accessible is the material? How small is the writing? Do you have students who have dyslexia and need different colour in the background? Do you have colour blind students who will struggle if your slides/ material have contrasting colours. How much space do you have for students to write on your onlinr material? Can you highlight on your chosen platform or do you need to highlight on your material. Do you have an answer sheet? Will you need an answer sheet that will be shared with you students?

Oh! Also, where is your learner? Are there restrictions on the internet? If your students are in China, will they be able to access what you are sharing? Not just the videos you have or the grammar links, but also the unexpected ones. For example, when a student asks you “what does XYZ mean?” and when you are in Europe, you send a link to an image or something. Can you do the same with your students in China? What can you use? My advice here would be to make a list of everything that you may want to use, check and find alternatives (Google images will probably not work in China, so what can you use?)

Devil’s advocate

I know my platform and my materials are fine… Are they? Really? Questions to ask yourself:

Is this a one to one lesson or a group lesson? My focus in today’s post is on group lessons.

What type of group activities can I use?

In an EAP context (that is what my context is) can you ask your students to hold a seminar? Can they do a reading/listening circle? You could do if your platform has breakout rooms, but in that case you will need to think about the fact that you may not be able to monitor all groups, so you need to think about how you could address that. Another thing you need to consider is if your breakout room has the same tools as your main room. If not, how will you work around it? Think about what you need your students to do in the breakout room and tailor your task based on that. Also, does your breakout room have the option of someone being a chair/ leader/presenter? Someone who will be responsible for giving permission for use of tools, who speaks when etc.

Other things to consider when designing group activities

Can your students collaborate? This depends on the functionality of the breakout room or your main room. If students were using the main room, I would maybe draw lines as to where students would write. That way you avoid students writing on each others work. You would also need to time the collaborative writing. Say for example student A needs to write five sentences which student B will correct and then student B will write five sentences which student A will correct. Again, think of ways to avoid having people write on each other.

Can they peer assess? Can they self assess? Here the answer is yes. You need to create sheets for peer and self assessments that can be used be used by you students during their group work or as part of their independent study.

Back to the Platform

How strong is the platform? What is your and your students’ broadband like? Can you have multiple cameras on at the same time? How long does it take to get back into the platform if you are chucked out? What do you do if the platform crashed? What is your plan B and C? Does your platform allow recordings? How will you share them with your students? Any GDPR concerns? Is there a delay in the audio? Will you have loads of people speaking at the same time? Probably. So what do you do? Mute students or ask them to use the ‘raise hand’ feature. What happens when a student gets cut off and exits the classroom. How do you manage your time?

More…..

Time difference between your students. How will that work and how does it affect the dynamics of your group? When everyone is in the same time zone, it’s easy….. What if they are not? Have you given your students enough time to prepare for an activity based on their timezone (sorry folks, don’t have all the answers)?

Anything else?

Uploading material

If I were you, I would have everything uploaded on my platform and ready to go. Sometimes this can take ages and you don’t want to be sat there waiting for stuff to upload.

Time management, My Platform and My Material

Now that is a tough cookie and I am getting tired…. So my next post will be about time management and online teaching. I hope I have helped you think about stuff. Probably haven’t answered lots of questions, but asking them is a good starting point.

Thanks for stopping by….

Till next time…

EAP practitioner & identity crisis

So, the Baleap conference ended today. This was my first Baleap conference. If you do not know what Baleap conference is, it is a conference about EAP (English for academic purposes), I guess. EAP practitioners talking about EAP stuff.

I attended a lot of talks. I also presented with my colleague. A Pecha Kucha (that will be a different blog post). I learnt some things, but mostly started thinking about a lot of stuff. This conference made me want to blog and share some thoughts with you guys.

Thought number 1

One of the main themes of this Baleap conference was the role of the EAP practitioner.

Who are we?

A whole identity crisis (kinda).

Are we teachers? Are we academics? Are we support staff?

Who are we?

A whole plenary was dedicated to that.

We say we are not subject specialists

We do research/scholarship, so we are academics

We are counselors

We are language specialists

We are teachers

We are not just teachers

And lots more along these lines

The most interesting comment though (for me) was made by someone in the audience.

We do similar things at every single uni around the UK, but we all have different titles

(and salaries may I add) .

When teaching EAP, you can be called a language tutor, an EAP tutor, a lecturer, an Associate lecturer and many more. You can be a grade 5, grade 6 or a grade 7. Get paid something from 24K to even 40K (rough guesses folks) for the same thing.

So much inconsistency in the titles and the salaries, I do not get that. I am a person who has had the title EAP lecturer and language tutor. Both jobs exactly the same. Responsibilities, the same. My qualifications, the same.

I do not understand that.

We change title from institution to institution. How? Why?

Even the basics are not defined…. Blurred….

In 2013 I was called a Lecturer

In 2017 a Tutor

(and temporary staff…. )

As for my identity?

I consider myself an EAP teacher. I also find myself acting as a counselor a lot of times. I do not consider myself an academic because I come from an educational background where an academic is someone who has a PhD and publishes in journals. I do not.

So, thought number 1 blog post. Done.

Thanks for reading. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments below. Oh! Don’t forget to follow my rambles or my social media stuff….

Till next time (which will be very soon)…..

What Would You Do?

Hi everyone,
I have’t written a blog post in forever, but I am back. I have a question for you. I will give you the context and invite you to share your advice.
What would you do?
Context
International Students (mostly Asian) doing an EAP course. The students’ level is pretty much the same, but some do better in speaking than others. This session is a seminar/ discussion class. The students have been asked to write down a few questions they would ask their classmates and hold a discussion on X topic.
What happened
I put students in groups of four. Each student got to ask their question.
One of the stronger students asked a well formed complex question.
Student: XYZ. Why do you think this is?
Silence.
Student A: XYZ. Why do you think this is?
Again silence.
Student A: XYZ. Why do you think this is?
Student B: I don’t understand the question…….
Student A: I have asked the question 3 times. What don’t you understand (voice high pitched and kinda angry).
Me: Ummmm, maybe you can try to use different words to ask the question. Why don’t you paraphrase?
Student A: I am they do not understand!!(getting more frustrated. Borderline pissed off).
Me: Ummmmm, maybe you should try again or why don’t you say what you think and give them some ideas. They might be able to answer your question that way…..
Student A: Grumbles…. repeats the question….
Me:………………………….
2015-05-30 12.42.20
So folks, discuss. What would you do?
I look forward to hearing your views and discussing with you in my comments section.
Till next time……

The fish bowl and peer feedback

Hi everyone,

Today I am going to talk about a task I did in class and the follow up. The activity I am talking about is a fish bowl task. What is it actually? Well, I had a seminar class, so I put my students in groups of four. They were the students taking part in the seminar. Then I had four students observe them and give them feedback. These students sat next to or were standing behind the students who were taking part in the seminar. So, imagine an inner circle (seminar participants) and outer circle (seminar observers).

Now, time for some context. My students are international students (Asian) who are in their fifth week of an EAP course. They are all intermediate/ upper intermediate students. This is their first time studying in the UK. They have taken part a few seminars before and they have self assessed and given peer feedback a couple of times. They are not very experienced at giving feedback.

The fact that their English is a bit weak and they are not very experienced at giving feedback affected the activity. In what way you may ask? Well, instead of asking them to give a lot of feedback, I focused on two aspects of the seminar. I asked them to look at the course’s assessment criteria, but only focus on the column that was about interaction. I need to mention here  that I went through the criteria with them and made them more student friendly (simplified the language and used emoticons!).So, that was one thing.

The second thing I asked the assessors to comment on  was the use of set phrases for taking turns and interrupting. These were part of the lesson as well. I printed out some useful phrases and asked the assessors to tick the phrases their classmates used.

The Task

The seminar participants took part in the seminar. The assessors listened quietly and gave feedback. Then the students swapped roles.

After the seminar

Students sat next to each other and gave each other feedback. They told each other what they did well and what they needed to work on.

When the whole activity ended, I asked my students to tell me what they thought about this task (I used a Google classroom comment thread).

What they said

Most students enjoyed the activity. They felt that their classmates gave them good feedback. They enjoyed the role swap and that they were not asked to give a ton of feedback.

There were a few comments about feeling shy and embarrassed, but those students did say that this was not a big problem because in the end they did find the task helpful.

Practical stuff

I printed out the helpful phrases check list.

The student friendly rubric was on the board and students had to take notes.

As for timing, this whole activity took about 40 minutes. The feedback part was an extra 10 minutes. I asked them to spend 5 minutes on student A and then five minutes on student B. That meant that each member of the pair got 5 minutes worth of feedback. The whole activity lasted for 50 minutes.

aa0a3-dsc01572Will I try this again? Yes. My students really enjoyed it and I found it very helpful. have you done something similar? let me know in the comments below.

Till next time……

How to mark online without… crashing

Nowadays a lot of marking is being done online. Marking online can be very effective.
  • Results and feedback do not get lost as it is stored in the world wide web’s cloud.
  • It is easier to highlight, add links and comments when the essay/ piece of work is being marked online.
  • It saves paper, so it is better for the trees.
But……
Marking online can be quite stressful and tiring.
I get the benefits, but I do find it hard to mark online. That’s why I decided to dedicate a post to marking online. I have been teaching at various universities for the past few years and I have been and will be marking online quite a bit…..

My Top Tips for Survival

Be rested, calm, and relaxed

When technology (aka the pc) acts up, you need to be prepared to take a breath and find a solution to the problem. Panicking because you cannot save your comments does not help. You may also need coffee or tea.

Back up

Always keep some kind of trail of any kind of feedback that is important, grades for example. Sometimes things vanish or do not get saved and that may cause a lot of problems.

coffee break

Coffee time

Comment/ Feedback Bank

When you are marking online, it is a good idea to make your own feedback bank. A document where you can write generic comments which you can then add to wherever you think is necessary. You can keep a list of useful links which you can add as part of your feedback.

Check your settings

Make sure that when you are marking online everything is going as it should. Do you want your feedback to be private until a specific day/ time?

Two screens/ printouts?

Sometimes you have to mark a second draft of something. In that case it might be helpful to have a printout of the first draft or maybe a second screen which you can refer to whilst marking.
Finally, just remember the first 500 are the hard ones, it gets easier after that!!
Do you have any top tips? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Don’t forget to follow my blog is you liked what you read. Feel free to check out my beauty blog if you like… beauty.
Till next time…..

Research is like….. Getting creative in the EAP classroom

Hi everyone!

In today’s post I am going to talk about a fun and creative activity I did with my students (not my idea, but really enjoyed it and thought I’d let you in on the task). Teaching in the EAP classroom can be sometimes dry and tiring. It can get boring as well!! Teachers are always trying to find ways to make some of the lessons a bit more enjoyable. This is the case of today’s writing idea. It’s sort of like an EAP picture composition.

What did I do?

Students were introduced to metaphors and were then asked to finish the sentence
research is like……
What this meant was that students had to compare research with something
Research is like a birthday cake……
Now, they also had to discuss the features/elements of research with those that go into the process of let’s say, making a birthday cake. I probably do not make sense…….

Procedure

Students were then asked to think and brainstorm about everything that comes together in order to do research (professor, thesis statement, books, journals, library etc.).
We wrote everything on the board. I then started writing my text. I introduced the task with an example.
I said,
Research is like a day at the beach. The water is my research question and the sand is the data and the sources I need to use. When I combine the water and the sand they become one entity which helps me make a castle. The castle is my research project. The person who helps me create the sand castle is my professor. He tells me ……
I actually drew pictures of some of the items as I was writing this text.

Final thoughts

Most of the students got into it and made picture essays in a Google doc. Others just wrote a text. It was a fun activity and I will definitely be trying it again next term.
Till next time…..
Joanna

What’s the highlight of your teaching career?

highlight

I was asked the other day,

What’s the highlight of your teaching career, Joanna?

and that question was quite difficult to answer because it made me wonder

what is the highlight?

Highlight

the best or most exciting, entertaining, or interesting part of something

                                                                                            Cambridge online ddictionary

Exciting? Entertaining? Interesting? Hmmmm.

So, for a teacher, what is considered a highlight?

Is it getting a promotion? Yes? No? I ask….what’s a promotion? Is the best case scenario becoming a principal at a school? Maybe becoming the Prime Minister of Canada? Is it becoming teacher of the year? How many steps does the career ladder of a teacher have?

Is it gaining degrees and diplomas? Becoming the best you can become because of your education?

Being acknowledged, respected by your peers?

Going to conferences? Presenting at conferences? Being invited to conferences?

Owning your own ELT business?

Is it writing articles? Getting published? Writing a book that people actually read? Seeing your book quoted somewhere?

Maybe it has nothing to do with the career. Maybe it’s a feeling.

Can a highlight just simply be getting out of your rut, avoiding burnout, and feeling like a super hero every time you walk into the classroom? Having the ‘energy’ to keep going on. Having the strength to keep trying even though you are underpaid and not appreciated.

Is it feeling like you had a very productive day with a very challenging class?

Is it being creative? Making something? Sharing something? Having a zillion

Ah hah

moments?

Is it inspiring learners? Making a kid say,

I want to become a teacher because of you.

Is it seeing your work… ‘work’? I mean, witnessing a child or adult acquiring knowledge? Using a language? Having the chance to experience things in another language? Opening doors to a whole new world?

Is it when your kids make you a card or stay in touch even though you haven’t seen them for 10 years?!

What exactly is a highlight for a teacher?

Probably all the above.

My answer

That’s a very difficult question to answer because I cannot put my finger on just one thing. I  felt extremely happy when I realised that one of my kids ‘got it’ or when I saw another kid be able to express himself in English and thought to myself, “Hey! I helped make that happen”. I also felt very good about myself when I got to teach academic English at a university in the UK. I have managed to educate myself quite a bit. So, as I said,  I don’t really think I can mention just one thing. It’s not just one thing…………………

I also think that there are many more ‘highlights’ ahead.

So, how do you measure success?

Till next time…

J.