Reporting from the Showcase (IATEFL 2019)

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by scholarship winner and roving reporter, Serrana Muniz

Forum on Teaching and Learning Online

Susana Galante, Lowri Mair Jones and Maggie Sokolik at the Forum

The LT SIG Showcase event opened with a forum on teaching and learning online. The subject was analysed from the perspective of three presenters that come from very different contexts, ranging from MOOCs to reduced groups, from teenagers to adults, from highschool English to Welsh and business English, resulting in a very enriching exchange. The forum covered areas that are key to online learning and teaching, with a special emphasis on the characteristics interaction and engagement have in this context.

Susana Galante is a Digital Pedagogy lecturer and advisor who designed a virtual learning environment for the Virtual High School in Israel. In her talk she addressed the challenges for online English teaching in this context, some strategies and tools that are used to facilitate it, emphasising the need to prepare students for a world in which change is the only constant, and findings obtained through action research. This form of teaching allows to reach remote areas, address shortage of teachers and give students choice of modality and pace, among other advantages. Some challenges include generating the conditions for collaborative learning to take place, promoting active learning and using language for communication in a context that can seem cold and lacking in human connection. How can we compensate for the lack of eye contact and human touch? How do we get shy students to participate? The variety of platforms, tools and patterns of interaction that are used as well as the reduced number of students seem to tackle some of these issues: Moodle, Zoom and Whatsapp are combined to strengthen social presence and Padlet, Flipgrid, shared Google docs and break out rooms are used for collaborative tasks in which students have to research, synthesize and share, promoting reflection and peer learning. Findings suggests that reduced numbers, this clear structure and variety had a very positive impact in creating a relaxing learning atmosphere, increasing student confidence and engagement of those who completed it. However, high dropout continues to be a challenge in online learning programmes. Access her slides here for more details.

Lowri Jones is a Welsh teacher. She teaches online to small number of students located in different regions. She focused on the difficulty in facilitating the kind of rich interaction that takes place in face to face contexts online, as this is key to language learning and it is indeed one of the biggest challenges in online learning. She stressed the need to approach technological tools from a critical pedagogical perspective. One of the highlights of the talk was her demonstration of nearpod, through which we got to learn some Welsh! It is a tool she uses to facilitate interaction, combining it with videoconference software. Nearpod allows students to interact by completing multiple choice exercises, gap filling or some other kind of activity while the teacher can see in real time what their responses are, provide feedback and use their input as prompts for interaction. In this way, it can facilitate activities that maximise students engagement and language production and minimise teacher-centred moments, digital pedagogical principles Lowri fosters and practices.

Maggie Sokolik is an English language specialist and researcher from the University of California, Berkeley. She outlined the research findings into different strategies that were used with the aim of increasing retention and completion in MOOCs on Business and Academic English and English for journalists. While research suggested that sending inclusion statements to reassure students and make them feel welcome increases completion and retention, they found it made no difference. However, they did find that students who set their personal goals for the course and made reasonable plans and schedules regarding the time they’d devote to it (a voluntary process, reason why cause effect cannot be presumed) did have considerably higher passing rates and showed more engagement, which, although hard to define and measure, was analysed through completion of assessed items. The future of MOOCs is uncertain, but more research and future developments would be needed for them to increase engagement and interaction, which, it seems, could result in higher retention and completion.

In conclusion, the forum provided both practical ideas and food for thought on the possibilities and challenges online learning poses and, as all the speakers mentioned in different ways, a need for digital pedagogy to continue being developed and driving the decisions regarding technologies that are made, as online contexts of teaching and learning become more and more common.

More reports from the showcase and conference, including recordings, can be found in the latest edition of LT. Below, Serrana shares her experience of reporting from the conference.

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