As it might be quite obvious by now, I truly believe in online education. Learning in the 21st century has been transformed into a whole new experience, and that has a direct correlation to the advances of technology and the web 2.0. The opportunities never cease to increase for teachers and students alike, and the advantages of their new relationship extend to the public eye: By making content available online, educators are broadening the lines to the public and enforcing a no-wall policy, yet privacy settings are established to protect participants.
The National Education Association’s Guide to Teaching Online Courses offers some insights into this subject. It affirms that the relationship of the community, students, teachers and parents has undergone significant change and should be able to achieve yet a closer connection as academic institutions modernize and adapt to the digital revolution. In order for these canons to accomplish the required changes accordingly, however, a well-thought and structured process needs to take place. This operation can only survive in a reasonable and educationally sound context, which includes professional development “and requires a high level of technological and administrative support and strong guidance on pedagogical practice.” (p. 7)
Currently, technology has an important role in my classroom, but the lack of resources and a, somehow, outdated mindset from my students — granted they have just stepped into Middle School coming from a very traditional learning environment — delays the true establishment of more frequent online experiences within our walls. Therefore, were I to be given an opportunity to perform as an EAL teacher in an online learning course, chances are I would prosper as a person and a professional. Let us imagine how I would go about:
The first thing to be determined is that any content area would flourish in an online environment. The mere blend of text and image in any audio-visual format is able to cross significant boundaries in education and reach diverse learners. Consequently, in an EAL class, where the goal is to assist students in the development and achievement of a proficient level in the English language core skills — listening, reading, writing, and understanding –, tasks can take on enhanced features and the process becomes more authentic for teachers and learners alike. First and foremost, motivation has never been so easy: Users thrive from a sense of independency caused by the use of technology. Young learners can benefit from a number of games and interactive tools that trigger their interest and imagination. Users can make use of experiential learning, where they are able to become the creators of knowledge and have an added chance to choose what to explore. Linguistic skills can be enhanced profoundly with the use of spell-checkers alone. Introverted students greatly benefit from online duties, be it for individual tasks or collaborative ones. On the same token, students have a wider range of possibilities to interact with each other and share their work. Thus, extroverted students also thrive in this context. Interaction and global awareness have never been so powerful. Students get almost immediate feedback from their instructors and can benefit from peer-feedback instantly by simply posting a question onto a forum. As I said previously, the opportunities are endless.
To make for a concrete example, let us talk about a popular tool, WebQuests. Were I to use one with my EAL class, the outcomes that I would be looking into are, though not limited to, the development of life-long learning skills, integration and teacher/peer feedback. This task could greatly benefit a diverse range of learners as it does not require advanced technology skills (unless the task was created with such an intention) and can trigger student’s independency and personal interest. Pedagogically, I would offer scaffolding techniques to ease their way into the quest, providing enough samples to support their reasoning and make for a successful delivery of the targeted information.
Technologies that would not work so well with an online EAL class are the ones that are so complex that maneuvering through the steps to completion overshadows content delivery. For instance, having students write HTML code would be very challenging and would consume too much instructional time.
Nevertheless, all of the above can only happen when the core beliefs of education are the guiding principles to a successful outcome. Just like the traditional way, e-classes need to have a coherent instructor, who organizes the course sequentially and in a student-friendly timely manner. Further, clear learning goals should be aligned with content standards and benchmarks. It is also key to provide plenty of collaboration opportunities and a fostering of creativity and communication. Activities and assessments should be designed with the UDL framework in mind, and, most importantly, the tools to accomplish tasks cannot overshadow the learning goals. Last but not least, instruction needs to happen as it is suggested by the TPACK framework: with a thoughtful blend of technology, pedagogy and content.
Featured Image: Laptop Online Learning, CC SA By bluefieldphotos bp.