The first thing we did when I became the IATEFL BESIG Web-coordinator (a position now ably filled by Claire Hart) was to form a BESIG Online Team (BOT) to introduce and manage a much wider range of web activities for both SIG members and non-members to enjoy. One of the initiatives we introduced back then was the online Weekend Workshops that the SIG organizes for the first Sunday of each month. The first workshop took place in 2011. Nowadays, webinars have become more or less mainstream, but back then, this way of reaching out to a wider global audience was quite innovative, and BESIG were certainly early adopters, if not pioneers in using web-conferencing technology for professional development. Members of the SIG can now access nearly 40 recordings of workshops on topics as diverse and wide ranging as ‘How to teach business English writing skills’ (John Hughes) and ‘Using technology and online resources for materials writing’ (Andy Johnson & Luke Thompson).
Back in February 2011, Pete Sharma’s inaugural workshop, moderated by then BOT member Mike Hogan, was attended by online delegates from as far afield as Peru and Russia. Some three years later, having been instrumental along with the other BOT members in getting this great teacher development initiative underway, it was my turn, along with co-presenter Justine Arena (a current member of BOT), to give a workshop, and it was fitting that Pete Sharma should be referenced when we used his definition of blended learning to focus minds on the topic at hand:
… blended learning means a language course that combines a F2F (face-to-face) classroom component with an appropriate use of technology. In this blend, the teacher has a clear role: to perform the needs analysis, write the syllabus and teach the course. The teaching is supplemented and enhanced by the use of technology, both inside the classroom and outside.
Pete Sharma, Guardian, 2007
In the workshop, we used a pilot scheme Justine and I had worked on towards the end of 2013 as the means for those present to share their own thoughts, experiences and tips on using technology for teaching purposes both in and beyond the classroom. IATEFL BESIG members can access the recording of the session here: Click and brick: a glocal blend for teaching business English. We encouraged those attending the workshop to take an active role in the proceedings, and as promised during the session, I’m making available here some of the valuable contributions that were made.
It’s worth remembering that these are reproduced from the text chat in the web-conferencing room and that attendees were simultaneously following (hopefully!) what Justine and I were saying as well as contributing. The typos and texting style language sometimes used have been retained to reproduce something of the spontaneity of these sessions.
Comments, questions & follow-up
Here are some of the comments made during the workshop with some follow-up explanations and responses from me.
- how to define technology – tape recorder? (Evan Frendo – Germany)
The interesting thing for me about this question is the implication that technology of the kind we discussed is, in fact, becoming as mundane as using a cassette player was in the days before laptops became affordable for teachers.
- my business students don’t like homework!! (Dana Poklepovic – Argentina)
Learners’ unwillingness to make a commitment to working on their English between face-to-face lessons is a problem that most of us face. As a colleague recently said to me, learners “who will do the homework/self-study will do it regardless of the medium while those who won’t won’t.” I go along with this, although I think that a little discrete use of mobile technologies (e.g. a two-minute quiz) can be used to bring the more resistant learners round to the idea of ‘homework’.
- BL must be Balanced! (Halima – Uzbekistan)
- is the time frame for the course 36 hours face to fac and 85 hours self-study prescribed by the university? how did you think that this was the right duration for the course? Thanks (Lalitha Murthy – India)
The mix of face-to-face and technology enabled self-study needs to be appropriate to the needs and circumstances of the learners. There is no point in developing self-access materials (which can be very time-consuming) and foisting them on learners who have no time to work on them.
To illustrate how an LMS can be used to good effect with large groups of learners, and by way of contrast with the way we used Moodle with the small group of adult learners (age range between 30 – 50 and all professional working people) who took part in our pilot scheme, we showed a course I designed for business undergraduates here in Germany. In this particular case, the ratio of face-to-face and self-study is determined by the university’s system of credit points and my objective is to provide a platform for the prescribed self-study. The most significant difference between the two examples we showed was that in the case of the university platform the degree of moderation and interaction is much, much lower and the LMS is essentially being used as a self-access tool. This is largely due to the large numbers involved.
- What about Moodle mobile? (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
In recent years, the developers behind Moodle have made great strides in making this LMS more mobile device friendly. It’s possible for learners to work in Moodle quite comfortably using their normal mobile device browsers. For extended use, however, it is, of course, more convenient for learners to use devices with larger screens. But, for example, the grammar revision activity shown during the workshop was completed by learners using their smartphones in the classroom. Now, there are also a number of apps which can be installed as an alternative way of working in Moodle on mobile devices.
- I find it difficult for the design part of Moodle? (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
Design is a very important factor and one we tried to address this in the workshop. Mercedes (the longest serving member of the BOT) a little later in the workshop, when we had shown screenshots of the homepage and activities developed for the project, expressed pleasant surprise at how attractive Moodle can be made to look.
- it seems to me that Moodle is easier to use for a course than Edmodo but I only used it during the EVO sessions. (Marjorie Rosenberg – Austria)
- Karen Eni in Israel also does a lot with Moodle to make it interactive. (Marjorie Rosenberg – Austria)
- Have always felt uncomfortable using Edmodo with adult business students (Adi Rajan – India)
During the workshop, Justine and I used the lessons learned during our pilot project to suggest design principles that are worth bearing in mind irrespective of the tools one chooses to use. Simplicity of use, for both learners and trainers, is key to success. We briefly touched on a range of tools that have been designed specifically for teaching purposes, all of which are I think user-friendly and don’t require a particularly steep learning curve to master.
Those who took part in the excellent professional development opportunity organized by Claire Hart in collaboration with EVO and her team of volunteer contributors in January 2014 will be familiar with edmodo. I was surprised by how well the tool coped with such a large group (over 200!) despite having been designed essentially as an online asynchronous classroom for small groups of young learners. This original intended audience and the resulting design is perhaps what lies behind Adi’s comments about Edmodo’s suitability for ‘adult business students’. Edmodo, and the similar Schoology, are easy to set up and use and offer quite a lot of scope for interactivity and for learners to add their own content. One of the reasons for their ease of use, however, is that they are, in comparison to something like Moodle, quite limited. Conversely, one of the reasons Moodle can be a little tricky to master is precisely because it is a much more powerful and therefore more complex tool, or more precisely, suite of tools.
- Feedback is the hardest thing in these sort of environments – so easy to drop into metalanguage and not realise the learners are not getting it (Evan Frendo – Germany)
- Fortunately, you also have the f2f component (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
These observations were made in response to our showing the kind of feedback it’s possible to offer learners when using an LMS such as Moodle. One point we wanted to get across is that it’s essential to provide meaningful feedback and opportunities for further learning when designing the kind of self-access activities we showed. But, as Mercedes suggested in her responses to Evan’s comment, what is still more important is that the results of the work learners do online is monitored and has some impact on what takes place in the other components of the blend. This is just one reason why I’m not a great believer in purely self-access courses and feel that a blended approach has much more to offer learners.
- how long did it take you to build this course and materials? I am especially interested in developing pronunciation effectively. (Alicia Barbitta – Uruguay)
As we discussed during the workshop, time is a major issue for both the trainer and the learner. One of the lessons we learned during the pilot, and something that my work moderating the Cert IBET course for the Consultants-e has also made evident, is that learners and trainees have less time available these days and that it’s necessary to build in greater flexibility by, for example, by offering a mix of core and optional activities.
Definitions of blended learning
There was pretty much a consensus of opinion when we kicked off the workshop by asking attendees what they thought blended learning was. Here’s a selection of typical responses:
- Any learning solution that involves multiple modes of learning delivery: classroom, one2one coaching, virtual classes, mobile learning etc. (Adi Rajan – India)
- Combining a bit of tech in the classroom, some on Moodle and then lots of f2f (Marjorie Rosenberg – Austria)
- f2f + distance (Evan Frendo – Germany)
- faceéface lessons +online lessons (Csilla Jaray-Benn – France)
- it’s about mixing face2face and distant learning (Dana Poklepovic – Argentina)
- combining f2f and online (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
- mix asynchronous and synchronous activities (Alicia Barbitta – Uruguay)
Uses of technology in the classroom
Here are some of the tools those attending use in the classroom:
- We occasionally watch short clips on YouTube. (Marjorie Rosenberg – Austria)
- I use ipods, videos, in class (Dana Poklepovic – Argentina)
- For learning engagement through apps like Socrative. (Adi Rajan – India)
- quizlet (Csilla Jaray-Benn – France)
Uses of technology outside the classroom
And here is what the attendees said they use between face-to-face lessons:
- emails (Csilla Jaray-Benn – France)
- I use a blog and embed other tools, like Quizlet, padlet, soundcloud (Csilla Jaray-Benn – France)
- English360 (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
- Whatsapp (Justine Arena – Brazil)
- Facebook activities I post to a closed group / FB works well for me as a complement for the class (Alicia Barbitta – Uruguay)
- BrainShark for flipping lessons (Adi Rajan – India)
- I enhance a course we teach with Edmodo material but this is optional (Dana Poklepovic – Argentina)
It’s exciting to see teachers using such an array of web-based, mobile tools and platforms.
Learning management systems
Here are some very interesting suggestions for alternative tools that can be used for learning management purposes. Adi’s suggestion looks interesting as an alternative to Moodle and Mercedes’ suggestion is of particular interest for teachers whose clients are tied into Microsoft applications.
- I’ve been using Coursesites (Adi Rajan – India)
- I use edmodo (Dana Poklepovic – Argentina)
- I also use OneDrive, similar to Google drive (Mercedes Viola – Uruguay)
Suggestions for activities in live virtual lessons
During the workshop we demonstrated one or two simple activities that can be used in live online lessons which make use of the different modes of interaction web-conferencing tools offer (e.g. audio and text chat, whiteboard annotation, etc.). Here are some ideas suggested by those present for live virtual lesson activities:
- short videos : TED (Alicia Barbitta – Uruguay)
- I create my own infographic. This allows participants to start talking and get involved in the session (lalitha murthy – India)
One of the learning management tools we suggested as an alternative to Moodle, particularly as it’s spectacularly easy to use, is Eliamedy. If you’d like to see this tool in action and at the same time read more on providing your learners with virtual training opportunities you can follow this link, register and enrol on this course: Click and brick. It’s free!
A huge thanks to all those who attended and contributed so generously. And of course a big, big thank you to Mercedes and the BOT for doing such a great job of moderating the session. And last but not least thanks to Justine for always being such a pleasure to work with!