When McLuhan wrote ‘the medium is the message’ he was referring to the potential for any new technology (the medium) to change the way we perceive what is being communicated (the message). A simple example would be the change from oral to written cultures meaning messages were received through eyes not ears. We can see this happening in language teaching but not necessarily always in a good way. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve used a variety of different technologies such as language labs, tape recorders, video recorders and of course, in the last 20 years, digital online resources. As each new technology was introduced, there was enthusiastic uptake from some practitioners but the technology changed the way we viewed aspects of practice. For example, recordings of a variety of English accents on tape and video enabled a wider range of pronunciations to form models for learning but enabled teachers to question received pronunciation and then native speaker models of language.Continue reading “The medium is not the message”
Is it time to unplug the PowerPoint for more genuine learning tot ake place?
In my early teaching career, I met a colleague who explained that you only need three things to teach: a piece of chalk, a watch and a hanky (to blow your nose). This minimalist approach found expression in Scott Thornbury’s Dogme Approach in the late nineties and noughties – borrowing the tenets of Lars von Trier’s Dogme approach to film making. At that time, Thornbury and colleagues were responding to a flood of materials: coursebook, video, online, that seemed to get in the way of learning:Continue reading “The power of PowerPoint”
The importance of collaborative conversations in online classrooms
I used to repeat this mantra to a rather garrulous colleague who taught translation studies in the languages department where I worked. He was a larger than life character who liked to entertain his students with personal anecdotes of his many adventures in far flung locations. We collaborated on short English courses for interpreters who wanted to improve their spoken fluency and repeating the mantra seemed to be the only way to make him stop and think about his impact on student learning. Now we’re seeing an analogous situation in the recorded online lessons from the Pre-sessional programme in 2020 that my colleagues, Sue Argent and Judith Gorham, and I are analyzing. We find some of the teachers spend the short (one hour) synchronous sessions talking most of the time. Students stay silent or contribute one or two-word responses in the chat function. Indeed one of the more experienced teachers, who has taught on the programme for over 15 years commented in his evaluation: ‘I found myself monologuing and not being able to stop doing this’.Continue reading “They have to talk and you have to listen”
Understanding the dynamics of spontaneous teachable moments in online classrooms
Spontaneous teachable moments – often referred to as unplanned learning opportunities or critical moments (Myhill and Warren, 2005) – are those moments in your lessons where you sometimes need to depart from the planned flow to address specific student needs (Haug, 2014). The triggers for these moments arise in a variety of ways, e.g. student responses and questions or a particularly difficult sentence structure or unfamiliar lexis in a text or a link to an assessment task. If you think back to the last spontaneous teachable moment that occurred in one of your classes, you might consider how effective you felt it was in contributing to student learning.
- To what extent did it function as a distraction, taking up time that did not serve the needs of most students in your class?
- Were you able to connect back to the main aim of your lesson so that your students were aware of the learning point?
- Did you experience any confusion in your knowledge of the concepts you were teaching that prevented you from fully exploiting the teachable moment?
Attitudes to the value of teaching online
I recently heard a conversation on Music Matters (UK BBC Radio 3) between the presenter Tom Service and Ray Chen, a young Australian violinist, ‘who redefines what it is to be a classical musician in the 21st Century’, by embracing and celebrating social media as a way to connect with his audience in these strange times. Most other musicians are also recording concerts in their homes for online audiences, with some creative collaborations, but the usual comment is that they can’t wait to get back to the concert hall and a real audience. They see their online concerts as inferior kinds of music making, presumably with unreal audiences. In contrast, Ray Chen embraces social media, with 151K subscribers on his Youtube channel. He sees his Youtube concert platform and so-called live performances as equally valid. For him, the essence of the connection in an online performance is how much the performer and the concert goers really want to be there.continue reading
A review of the past and future of learning from the Head of Open Learning at MIT
I like to read beyond the boundaries of the EAP discipline to gain insights into the way other disciplines (Learning Development in HE or Learning Technologies) are grappling with problems that I’ve experienced in syllabus design or teaching and learning. However, I don’t have time to read the primary research – there’s too much of it and it won’t be accessible to me as a non-specialist – so I’m always on the lookout for publications which digest the research for a general reader. I can then follow on from those with a more detailed look at specific aspects of interest. One such book came to my attention recently: Grasp by Sanjay Sarma, Head of Open Learning at MIT. The subtitle claims that the book explains the ‘science transforming how we learn’. I recommend this book for anyone grappling with the move to online learning.continue reading
Designing feedback surveys to deliver evidence to drive or resist change
The summer Pre-sessional period is drawing to a close with institutions heaving a huge sigh of relief that they have managed more or less successfully to deliver their programmes online in the wake of Covid19 lockdown. Having written that last sentence, I realise it is full of dead metaphors (highlighted in italics) that writers often fall back on to connect with their audience. I’m not writing creative fiction here so these well-worn structures are useful to get us on the same page. (Now I can’t stop myself!) It got me thinking though about whether we aren’t guilty of doing the same thing when we craft feedback surveys for students and teachers at the end of Pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes. Do we fall back on the same questions without stopping to critically evaluate how appropriate or useful the responses will be?continue reading
Learning through interaction in synchronous and asynchronous modes.
The Heriot-Watt Pre-sessional English (PSE) Online programmes are almost finished for 2020 with materials delivery and assessment now complete. In migrating the campus-based programmes online, we used a flipped learning approach. Bishop & Verleger (2013) provide a working definition of this concept by contrasting activities which require human interaction with activities which can be automated using technology. (see image) For programmes delivered wholly online the contrast would be synchronous versus asynchronous activities.continue reading
Reflecting on what counts as authentic listening in online teaching
In migrating Pre-sessional English (PSE) online, we’ve come up against the notion of authenticity and in particular what it means to say a listening is authentic. In the on-campus version of the programme, we had regular live lectures, delivered by PhD students sharing their research, together with a number of lessons formed around a video-recorded lecture, perhaps a TED Talk or an inaugural lecture given by a newly ‘enobled’ professor. In the online version of the programme, we’ve adhered more closely to the coursebook, Access EAP: Frameworks, which contains a variety of scripted audio lessons (no video), often divided into short preparatory extracts before a longer (5-10 minute) stretch of uninterrupted speech. To what extent can any of these listenings be considered to be authentic?continue reading
Working in partnerhsip with students to enable them to show their performance through assessment.
Lockdown to slow the spread of Covid-19 has been in place for three weeks in the UK with no prospect of it ending anytime soon. At my institution, we are now planning to move our three summer pre-sessional English (PSE) programmes entirely online and to assess them there as well. In the early days of lockdown, there were many useful exchanges on the BALEAP Jiscmail discussion list with colleagues sharing their experience of delivering online teaching & assessment for pre-sessional programmes. At the same time my institution was going into overdrive to reformat end of semester degree-level assessments, for delivery in the May-June assessment diet. There was much sharing of good practice and principles for secure and reliable assessments that were fair to students and maintained the quality of degree qualifications. Last week Advance HE, the professional body that supports academic excellence in the UK, ran a webinar: Moving assessment on-line: Key principles for inclusion, pedagogy and practice. It was a model of good practice in hosting webinars and delivered clear messages about assessing online.continue reading