Opportunities and Pitfalls {Teaching English online}

Online schools


There are many unprofessional ‘online schools’ exploiting teachers online. Do not accept substandard pay, even if you are still learning the ropes.


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What Sylvia Guinan feels holds most true from her 2014 article is the power of personal learning networks, the types of resources that help online teachers, and the role of creativity in facilitating socially relevant learning. While tragic family circumstances led to her taking a break from active blogging and social media in 2015, she continued working in the background. She plans to get back to blogging when circumstances allow, and has ambitions to specialise in eLearning design and publishing.


Additional resources and personal learning networks that have made a difference to her since 2014 are Nik Peachey’s award-winning Digital Classroom resources for creativity, Off2class online resources for when she had little or no time to create new content, the Learndash learning management system for building courses on her own website, and the IATEFL LTSIG committee with whom she worked as website editor from 2015 to 2018.


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Jamie Johnson is an artist and illustrator based in Glasgow, Scotland. He works in painting, collage, drawing and various digital media techniques. Jamie has exhibited his work in galleries around the UK, Europe and North America, most recently as a solo show at Chopping Block Gallery in London. He continues to work with a wide variety of clients as an illustrator and designer, alongside a personal interest in community-based projects


Building rapport


Learning management systems give you the backdrop you need for informal communication between live online sessions. You can manage online discussions with your classes, just like on Facebook. In fact, there’s nothing to stop you setting up private class groups on Facebook and engaging students directly from there. Working between Facebook and your chosen LMS would be ideal. It would entail building up rapport via text, chat and multimedia, using environments that students love, and adding more substantial projects and materials to the LMS. Some teachers also use Twitter as a tool to get students working intelligently while building relations.


My favourite way to engage with students is to give them creative challenges. If you ask them to create a video or comic, they will have great fun creating and sharing, and overcome any reservations they may be feeling. You can also help them explore the Internet mindfully by setting up engaging webquests.


Pitfalls to avoid

Social media


If you are a freelance teacher, you will need to have a dynamic online presence. Having your own teaching page with a unique teaching brand that reflects your professional values helps a lot. The pitfall, however, is getting sucked into a social quagmire. You’ve got to be aware of this and keep a professional distance.


Webtool mania


Webtools are, of course, creative and useful for online teaching, but be realistic about how many you can sensibly use, and avoid the trap of playing with too many toys. My criteria for this is simplicity. Tools should fulfill educational objectives on a deep level.


Motivating students online


This depends on the context of your online teaching model. If I had a class in a brick-and-mortar school and a language lab, I would have a field day. The fun activities one can use to supplement courses and have students creating their own educational masterpieces are endless. My favourite activities would include comic creation, video-making and story-telling via multimedia.

You can motivate students online through interactive learning environments. In the virtual classroom, your camera is king. You’ve got to be as expressive as possible to make students feel as if they are in the same room as you. There is an art to using the chatbox as a back channel, and this is often far more effective than a traditional classroom, as you can have some students on audio, and/or video, while the others comment, chat, or interact through the chat box. A huge advantage in my book is the break-out room feature in most of the best virtual classrooms. You can divide classes into groups or pairs and send them to different sub-classrooms. In this way, you can introduce many new games as you have the advantage of information gaps to exploit. Then, there is the extra communicative element for students, a greater sense of intimacy between classmates, bonding, creativity and lots of fun.

This can be extended to 24/7 facilitation through learning management systems (LMS). The most widely known LMS is Moodle. If, at first, Moodle is too challenging, there are course feeds on sites such as WizIQ. I also recommend the ClubEFL edutainment learning space. This would definitely motivate learners. Language schools all over Greece are enrolling their students onto ClubEFL and children are making their own quizzes, blogs and much, much more. From a psychological point of view, 24/7 facilitation gives all students a chance to get the teacher’s undivided attention and helps shy students to open up more. This doesn’t mean that you are at their beck and call; it just means that some of your work will be managed asynchronously.

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