5 techniques that online teachers will need to know in the new normal
As we move forward into the ‘new normal’ of Covid restrictions and the post-covid educational paradigm, blended and online learning will become a bigger part of what we do as educators. The ongoing effects of the current global situation will be felt in schools and educational centres for years to come, so teachers need to adapt to this new way of engaging with learners. This article will look at 5 key online skills which will work to benefit you and your learners in the changing settings where you find yourself.
1) Understanding digital literacies
With the growth of online learning, and the use of different platforms, apps and online systems, we need to develop a deep understanding of what it means to be digitally literate in the emerging educational setting we face.
Digital literacy, or the level of understanding that one has about the use of digital resources, is a very broad area, and can be further defined according to the purpose of our computer use. For language educators, this means understanding the types of connectivity which are experienced by our learners, and the ways in which they engage with content online. More usefully called digital literacies, the way that people use their devices is central to how we will connect to our learners and facilitate their learning as we teach.
Most people under the age of 25 are literate in a range of different types of online platform, interface and communications system. Whatsapp, facebook, weibo, youtube, QQ, instagram, twitter, snapchat, tiktok, etc., etc. all have their own ways of helping people communicate, and their functionality, types of content and ‘feel’ all mediate the extent to which users can communicate using them. These different connectivities can be brought into language learning as engaging, familiar learning resources, with the right approach and with consideration of what can be achieved through these different interfaces. This is an aspect of your own digital literacy which requires development and thought as you plan what to teach.
2) Developing effective online and offline resources
Despite the rise of online learning, not everything can be effectively taught online. Internet-mediated lessons are somewhat compromised by time constraints, limits on interaction and physical engagement, so it is important to make the most of the materials you can give to your students to work with offline.
Reading for comprehension points, watching tasks and even listening activity tends to be time-consuming and leads to ‘downtime’ during live online lessons, so think about what content you can pass over to your students to do in their own time. This frees up time for more useful online interaction, and if well-managed, can develop self-study skills which will stand your learners in good stead in their academic futures.
Independent learning will become more and more important as we move into a more digital learning environment. The resources available on the internet are limitless, and independent research, resource gathering and note-taking tasks are all educationally healthy abilities for learners. Make the most of offline activity to help your students develop these important skills before and after the live, synchronous work that you do in your classes.
3) Harnessing the flipped classroom
Perhaps the most effective methodology for enhancing these transferable skills through offline work is by flipping your classroom. This means selecting content from your lesson that can be studied independently and giving it to students to work with in preparation for the live online class that you will deliver. Learners can find out about a topic, watch a preparatory video, prepare a presentation on a topic they have been studying or find a list of words and phrases used to talk about a specific topic. This groundwork supports any discussion, consolidation or presentation of ideas that they do with the material they bring to class.
Pre-class preparatory work does no have to be individual - by setting up groups or pairs of students to work together and prepare for class, more collaborative and project-style learning methods can be enabled. If you provide access to online content sharing sites such as Padlet or Slack, learners can work together to curate and organise a set of resources to bring to face-to-face sessions.
4) Maintaining communicative methodologies online
One of the biggest challenges for language educators working online is creating an inclusive, communicative and socially interactive space online. However, although online learners come to class as individuals, there is no reason why they should be taught individually during your online classes.
Some teaching platforms such as Zoom facilitate different kinds of interaction through the use of breakout rooms, where you can put students together to discuss a point or complete a task before coming back to the main class area to report on what they spoke about. This is a great way of making pair and group work possible, and you can monitor groups as they work, as you would in a physical classroom.
The ability to split groups up makes a lot of different task types and approaches possible, with opportunities to differentiate instruction based on ability, task focus and content. Having different members of a group working with content in different ways facilitates communication by providing an ‘information gap’ between the different groups’ experiences with the content. Students fill this gap by reporting on what they did and sharing their discoveries with the rest of the class.
5) Making the most of different online resources
In addition to the functionality of different learning platforms, it is important to reflect the level of connectivity which many learners work with in their everyday lives. Sticking to one system with one set of functions may not be enough to engage and stimulate your learners as you teach.
Breaking out of the main system and asking students to message, share and interact on other apps and platforms can be a good alternative to breakout rooms. Whatsapp groups and other messaging apps are a quick and familiar way for students to share notes or ideas, pictures or research results without lengthy explanations, presentations and individual turns where students talk through what they have been doing. Skype groups, short Zoom meetings and Padlet boards can be used alongside your main learning environment to give students variety in their study, and a different way of sharing their learning process.
However you move into the world of online teaching, it is important to stay flexible and ready to bring in different modes of learning, using the different resources at hand to stimulate the online activity that you ask your learners to perform.
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.