Online teaching -the niche

The niche

I attended a live class by Jack Askew yesterday as part of WizIQs Teachers Teaching Online MOOC (if you want to learn about online teaching, I strongly suggest you enroll NOW. It is excellent!). The title of his presentation was ‘ Being a Successful Online Teacher: Find your Niche, Build your Brand, and Constantly Grow’ (you can watch the recording of his talk if you enrol!). It was a very informative session, he gave a lot of tips and it was an hour well spent. One thing he said, and something many people agree on, is that if you want to be a successful (freelance) online teacher, you need to be known for one thing you are really good at. You need to create a niche. A specialisation may I add. But do you or should you? Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that nowadays, you cannot do everything well, you need to specialise, but as a teacher, why can’t my niche be teaching? Won’t I be a successful online teacher if I do not specialise?And, if I specialise, I may be a successful online teacher, but will I be a happy one? These are just a few thoughts……….

All in favor of the ‘niche’ say, “I”
” I”  but “Why?”

  • Well, practise makes perfect, so the more you specialise in something, the better you will become (well, at least that is what common sense says). You become an expert!
  • You target a market. You find people people who are interested in your ‘brand’, your specialisation. You have loads of experience teaching Business English, you are into EAP, you like teaching with songs. Find your niche, make a brand and promote it.
  • You create good resources, your own material and you do not have to be constantly looking for and creating material. You do not have to teach an Ielts class, make the material for this class, and then prepare new stuff for your Business English class. You create your own , solid bank of material and enrich it.

BUT…… and yes, there is always a BUT

  • If I specialise in one field, won’t I get bored after a while? If I am bored, won’t my learners be bored? I like variety and new challenges.
  • Don’t I close my door to ideas, teaching trends and mixing and matching? Taking a Business English idea on leadership and turning it into a session for my young learners about what makes a good leader, is what I do now. As an online teacher with a specialisation, will I be able to do that?
  • Can I not be good at two or three things?
I don’t know about you guys but I like to stick my fingers in many pies! I enjoy teaching Business English (online, yes , who would have thought?), I like teaching EAP, and I like teaching young learners. I guess for me, finding my niche is gonna be so damn hard… unless I could have a niche for teaching, but then how would I survive the online teaching market? Hmmm then again, if you look at this ramble, two out of three of my likes are ESP so maybe that’s my niche : ) Dunno about you guys, but I am on the fence about this one. I understand why I need a niche to be a successful online teacher, but I am not sure if I wanna have one. I am doomed : P
Final thoughts
Very confused……sitting on a fence. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. I really want to hear from people who DO have a niche.

Till next time……..
                             which will be very soon cause, well I have a lot of free time.

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The perks of being an online teacher

The perks of being an online teacher

If you have read my posts before, you will probably know that I teach Business English online for some time now, and I am really enjoying it which is why I got the idea to write about some of the advantages of teaching online. Before I move on to talk about the advantages of being an online teacher, I will tell you what I mean by online teaching. When I teach online, I use the Internet of course. My virtual classroom is in Adobe connect. There is a white board which is also the area where I can upload files and share the lesson material, a chat box section and an area for the web cam. There are other pods in Adobe connect but I do not use them. Sometimes, I  also use a land line or Skype when Adobe is acting out and the sound is all over the place.
So, after this brief but succinct definition, let’s get down to business. First of all, you may ask me, ” Is it better than teaching face to face?” My answer is, “Of course not!” But there are some perks, some are serious… others a bit more humorous…” and here goes!

Perk No.1
I have students from all over the world which is probably the thing I like most about online teaching! One minute I am in Stuttgart, the next Paris. I see how my students view things and how their educational background blends into my teaching practice and choice of techniques. The classroom is not my limit, my internet connection is!

Perk No.2
To all you weather freak teachers, at last a chance to talk about the weather with not one, but ALL your students. When teaching online, you get real life weather descriptions from all over the world. I often ask….. “So, how is the weather over there?” I always smile after asking this question, cause of course, my weather , here in Crete, is much better than theirs : P.

Perk No.3
It is green teaching (kinda…). Paper free to the core. I use no books, no handouts, nada. Just my computer screen.

Perk No.4
I save money on transportation, snacks and coffee. I am at home. I make everything myself. On the plus side, it literally takes me one minute to get to work : D.

Perk No.5
When my students are late, I do not have to sit around doing nothing. I go to my kitchen make some coffee,  tidy up my room….the lots!I can do whatever I want whilst waiting for the late comer.

Perk No.6
I have access to material with the click of a button. I do not have to go through different folders of handouts, books, magzines etc. I just send my learner a link and he has the material I want to share. I can also change my material very quickly if my learner is not in the mood for what I have planned. I once had a learner who said to me, “Joanna, I am tired. I have had so many meetings today. I do not feel like doing a grammar lesson. Let’s do something else.” We did. I sent her some links to interesting articles and we had a great conversational session.

Perk No.7
I can record my lessons (remember: you should get the permission for this!). My learners can listen to the lesson again if they are uncertain about something . They can also see how they have improved over time (my learners actually DO do this). It is a great way for me to reflect on my lessons. I get to listen to my weaknesses and my strengths.

Perk No.8
It tests and challenges my time management skills. The tech problems always interfere with my time management. Online teaching has challenged me in relation to the time I spend on tasks. I have to be time effective!

Perk No. 9
I think that online teaching is becoming a practical solution for learners who are very busy and we, as teachers, need to keep up with the changes. Technology is everywhere and now it is becoming a way to deliver lessons.

Perk No.10
It is easier to coordinate the use of video, music, the net in my lessons. I no longer need a computer, a cd player, books and a TV. I only need my computer.

Perk No.11
I get to wear my pyjama bottom. What else can a teacher ask for, people?

(November, 2014) New entries……

Perk No. 12
I am hip, a tech savvy teacher and it looks great on the CV.

Perk No. 13
You sound cool when you describe your job to other people. No one can get their head around using a computer to teach and everyone asks, ” So, what about a board?”

Perk No. 14
Your time zone is NOT your limit. If you want to teach at 12 o’clock at night, you can. It is day time somewhere else in the world!

Perk No. 15
It is a teaching context that has not been researched enough, so if you are into the whole publishing (academic research etc) scene, well, maybe you should look into online teaching.


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Till next time…..

Challenges of teaching Business English online

Challenges of teaching Business English online

I have been teaching business English online for some time now, and thought it was about time I wrote a few posts on some of the challenges of teaching online and how I deal with them. Today, I will focus on challenges connected to technology and make some suggestions regarding how they can be dealt with. Before I move on though, I will explain what teaching online is for me. The learning platform I use is Adobe Connect and a phone line/Skype. So, what are some of the technology related problems that may lead to anxiety on your or your learners behalf (anxiety is a very soft term , may I just say)

  •  Connection problems.

You or your learner may have difficulty connecting which is why it is necessary to have very fast internet connection as well as back up plans in case something goes wrong. You could use a phone line or Skype when your online classroom/internet connection is not working. So you may not be able to have a lesson in your online classroom, but you can still have one via phone.  Remember always get your learner’s contact info on different types of media (phone, mobile, emails).

  • Problems accessing the virtual classroom+technology related web notifications popping up.

I think it is a good idea to create a document or a podcast regarding the tech glitches connected to the software you are using to hold the sessions. Have some sort of reference list related to any notifications the learner may get and explain the steps he needs to take in order to deal with the notifications.This can be your learners’ go to document or video when something comes up. Also, during the first lesson, guide your learners through the steps related to connecting to the classroom and the different buttons in the  online classroom. You may even take a picture of the virtual classroom and add notes to what does what.

                                            Example of document with guidance for learners (Pic 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). This is great 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 just simply out of respect of your learner’s privacy. I have had learners who did not want their sessions to be recorded so you must know this beforehand!

  • Time management

Managing time online can be quite difficult especially when there are connection problems. Imagine a situation where you are teaching and half way through the session the phone line drops or your learner vanishes from the online classroom. You spend minutes trying to get connectivity back, you ask all the TRQs (technology related questions) and time flies without you noticing. Very often when you are trying to reconnect, you lose track of time, since you are more focused on checking to see if you or your learner are back instead of what time it is. In this case, the only suggestion I can make is realizing that connection problems may be a problem and checking the time is something that has to be done consciously and frequently.

  • Passiveness

This is the biggest challenge! 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. As online sessions are not face to face, it is important that the sessions are carried out whilst using a webcam. I believe that teachers delivering online sessions should encourage their learners to get and use a webcam. Teachers should also always have their webcam on so that the learners see the teachers face, gestures etc. When using the webcam, the teacher is not just a voice coming from far away but someone the learner can see!

  • Distractions

I think this is difficult to tackle. You use your computer as  the medium to deliver the session. Apart from your online classroom, your learner is also connected to his email account, Skype or an internal communication system which means that someone may be emailing your learner while you are having a lesson with him. So, you may be going on about negotiation skills, and your learner may be emailing a colleague about a meeting! What can you do? Not much. Try to explain to your learner that the English session is very important and that him being preoccupied with something else during the session, may lead to missing out something important! You could also suggest that the lessons be held in another room and not his/her office.

  • Group sessions

One of the benefits of online teaching is that you access your learners workspace with the click of a button. This can turn into a nightmare though when trying to hold group sessions. When having face to face sessions, you go to a classroom and everyone meets you there. When delivering a group session, you try to connect with three different people , in three different offices so all the technical issues get multiplied by three! I only have one suggestion here… try to avoid group sessions!

How do all these challenges affect my business English students?

Good question. Well, 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. They 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!

You definitely do not want your learners to be passive. Interactivity is core to online teaching and using a webcam is a good idea. Another reason why webcams are necessary when delivering BE sessions is 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. Of course, this does mean that as a teacher, you do need to feel comfortable sticking your face in front of a camera and focusing on facial expressions. Well, if you do not, you could also use videos from YouTube : ) which you can send as a link when teaching online. Yay! Another advantage of teaching online-immediate access of online material, websites etc.

Dealing with distractions your BE students may have, is not a piece of cake. You could incorporate them into your session though (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. Bottom line is that distractions do occur and  I am still wondering about what the best way to deal with them is.
Dealing with the problems that arise during group sessions is easy. Just discourage group sessions. Group sessions in my experience are more easily cancelled so if possible stick to one to one lessons when delivering business English sessions online.

My final thoughts….
I only touched a few of the problems related to teaching online and how they may affect the delivery of a business English session. Of course, these challenges apply to any online session. I am really interested in what you think so do feel free to comment or make other suggestions. I will be back with more posts on teaching BE online.

Till next time…

    Hannover Research council (2009) Best Practices in Online Teaching. [pdf]: Washington. Available at <> [Accessed 27 February 2014].