I have never imagined living in our current situation: lockdown, teaching fully online, weekend curfew and spending the whole day on my PJ. Surprisingly or not, I have been doing a lot lately and I want to share some reflections on my current work life.
E-mentoring at the Futurelearn MOOC/ Cambridge Assessment
This is the 4th time I’ve been a mentor on this successful and rewarding course and it just gets better. There were more than 55k participants ( I know, that’s a staggering number!) and it’s just so refreshing every time. The course is well-thought and comprehensive, thanks to the 2 top-notch lead educators Lindsay Warwick and Marie Therese. It goes without saying that I’ve learnt so much, have met amazing teachers from all over the world who are now facing with having to teach online due to the COV-19 pandemic.
Teaching EAP asynchronously and synchronously
Unfortunately, the lessons have been suspended and I had to start teaching my prep students online. Even though I’ve been teaching online for over 5 years, there is still room for learning and improvement. As Elizabeth Rohm’s quote goes “You never stop learning. If you have a teacher, you never stop being a student.” My institution is currently using Microsoft Teams for online meetings, synchronous teaching, and materials management, apart from the university main drive for staff. I found Teams easy to use and quite self-explanatory, especially in terms of storing materials, but it doesn’t work well for meetings, there are a lot of glitches. However, there is an interesting feature: streaming, where we can create or upload existing videos. It then creates a link to the video. It’s much better and functional, compared to Google drive ( I used to store my lesson recordings on Drive, but it had been acting up lately, so now my students record the lessons when they wish).
Our LMS is Moodle but I don’t find it very interactive, nor the students, I believe. It’s too robust and not visually attractive to me. I basically post announcements, messages, post their daily tasks, homework but students don’t interact there – rather, they send me emails or DM on Instagram.
In terms of classroom material, each teacher from my level group has chosen which topics they were going to prepare some input materials and exercises. Mind you, being given the chance to choose that was fair and democratic and less daunting than having to prepare all the weekly materials. Thus, I prepare one set of materials per week, which is shared among other teachers.
But…I do miss teaching my students face-to-face. I miss their energy, their sense of humour, their questions… unfortunately, everyone was caught flat-footed with this new reality and there was no time for learner training. Having read different articles lately, I came across this one that made my mind blow. Susan Grajek of Educause distinguishes remote learning from “well-considered, durable online learning.” Remote learning, she said, is a “quick, ad hoc, low-fidelity mitigation strategy.” Sad but true. Besides that, they continue “asynchronous online courses are also notorious for low completion rates. This is primarily because it’s impossible to control student focus and behavior in such an environment.” I do try my best to motivate my students, but there are limitations to what I can realistically do. Online teaching takes time. It’s hard work for both teachers and students. It’s hard to write concisely and articulate learning tasks.
Other interesting blog posts I read on this very theme:
- Putting pedagogy first in digital pedagogies
Tools I’ve been using lately
Before sharing my go-to tools, it’s important to highlight the obvious: your pedagogy should inform the tools you use. We should focus on our teaching, on our craft, without getting distracted with zillions of tech tools. My workstation is simple, my laptop and a headset. That’s it. I know teachers who use 2 laptops, fancy webcams, smart pens and that’s valid if they do make a difference in your teaching practice. I’d rather keep it simple and save some cash, so I focus on how I can use different tools to engage my students to learn and how my teaching can motivate them.
My lastest favourite useful tools are:
- Vocaroo – I use it for giving audio feedback to my students’ writing or any short explanation I find relevant. For example, when I notice an interesting mistake ( yes, interesting!) they make on a certain exercise, I record an audio message to each student individually and share the link with them. I have also asked them to use it for speaking tasks – then I listen to it and reply, giving them an overall opinion and how they can improve their skills. I find it effective because I can give a more holistic type of feedback and use my intonation to convey the feelings I want to express.
- Screencast via Zoom – I use it ( been using it for a while, actually) to give feedback to my student’s writing as well – the difference with Vocaroo being that my feedback more comprehensive and specific. I generally use informal-ish language, tell my students what I liked about their paragraph, tell them which sentences I found a bit confusing ( therefore they need to re-word it), ask questions for clarification ( eg. did you mean that …? ) while I point to the sentence. I’ve had positive feedback from my students, they usually re-write the paragraph having taken my comments on board. I find this strategy more straightforward than an error code framework.
- Whiteboard.fi – I read about it at the amazing blog from Cristina Cabal and tried it with my students in our synchronous lessons via Zoom. Whiteboard.fi enables the teacher and students to have their individual board. Everyone sees everyone’s board, which I think it’s great because it promotes an immediate “pre-engagement” task interaction. Using the breakout room is fine, but sometimes I like to see my students working individually in order to give them more agency and show them I care about their input in class ( as I do in my f2f classes). I let them manipulate the tool and use it to gather their answers from an exercise.
- Jamboard – It’s a versatile and simple Google app ( free of charge, by the way!) that works amazingly for brainstorming and creating different types of interactive tasks using sticky notes. I love its simplicity – nothing ornately designed. We can just upload a picture and add sticky notes in various ways. I have once used it to brainstorm some of my students’ ideas for a pre-reading task. I modeled it first and asked students to share their ideas on how they stay healthy. They were able to read each other’s ideas and write their own ( they could edit their sentences).
- Mentimeter – I love the fact that mentimeter is visually attractive and offers a wide range of question types ( word clouds, multiple choices, open-ended, scales, ranking, image choice, Q&A, type answer ( similar to Quizlet). You get real-time input and I find that really motivating and fun for students ( especially due to the fact the answers are anonymous).
Using social media
I have been using Twitter ( my favourite social media site for CPD) and Instagram to interact with other like-minded teachers. Twitter and IG have 2 distinguishing audiences and they definitely enrich my development as a teacher. If you want to check my favourite tweets ( I use the “like” button to bookmark those tweets and I also take screenshots of the most interesting threads). Instagram is more informal and fun, I like watching other teachers’ stories, lesson ideas, points of views…If you want to have a sneak peek at the teachers I follow, feel free to do so.
Finally, I would like to share the latest webinar I delivered. You can watch it here. I talked about different ways and tasks you can do in synchronous live lessons.
On the same note, I want to announce that I am going to launch a 4-hour course on Teaching the 4 skills synchronously. You can find more information here and, if you have further questions, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.