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Published May 4, 2014 | English (Second Language)

Three Lessons Learned from Virtual Team Teaching

Last year, when Norm Spatz presented his virtual team teaching project for English in Business courses at RASCALS, the provincial convention for ESL teachers, he asked for partners to work with him the following year. Despite the problems that he shared with us, the project intrigued me. Here are three lessons I have learned from this experience.

Lesson One

Permitting our regional business students to interact with stronger students and hear presentations by Montreal businessmen was tempting although I felt there was too much demand on students. I limited my participation in this project to audiovisual communication and collaborative writing in Google Drive. Fully aware of the English abilities of regional students, I worried whether they would be up to the task.

Conclusions: Stay focused on your target audience and its goals.

Lesson Two

The interface during a meeting. This image is from the final evaluation meeting where groups were larger than usual. Faces have been blurred to protect confidentiality

The interface during a meeting. This image is from the final evaluation meeting where groups were larger than usual. Faces have been blurred to protect confidentiality

Administrators and pedagogical advisors supported this virtual team teaching project from the start, beginning with coordinated times for partners’ classes and lab schedules between my college (Cégep de Jonquière) and Norm’s school (Cégep du Vieux-Montréal). A meeting with technical staff was called to discuss technical needs and options. I proposed the ideal environment for group meetings as a small conference room. This seemed feasible, but nonetheless a complete analysis of needs and technical possibilities was made before giving the go ahead for the project.

Dany Deschenes, Jonquiere’s infrastructure analyst, evaluated our pedagogical and technological needs, meeting me and later Norm. Dany suggested possibilities such as reserving a portion of bandwidth during class to better ensure stable communications. Dany also pointed out the limitations in using a third party server for the audiovisual communication. Neither college could control technical issues related to the CCDMD Adobe Connect software.

Two separate small teamwork rooms, one permanently equipped with Apple TV and camera, were reserved.  A portable was used in the second to permit two teams to meet simultaneously. Mathieu Arsenault, technician, was always available when needed for technical issues within our control.

Conclusions: Let each team member concentrate on bringing their strengths and knowledge to the project. Concentrate on pedagogy, let the technicians worry about the hardware.

Lesson Three

My students generally responded positively when presented with the project, although there were some reservations in working collaboratively on a joint Dragon’s Den presentation pitched to actual Montreal businessmen. Norm’s students had similar reservations.

Google Drive was also introduced to the students at the same time, and initially students familiarized themselves with the tool, building a portfolio of documents. In fact, contrary to reservations for the audio visual collaboration, my students were very interested in working collaboratively on a common team business plan. Ultimately, due to pedagogical restraints, the written collaboration between classes was the revision and correction of my students' work by Norm’s students. This was generally well appreciated by those who were on task.

Two separate presentations by Montreal businessmen were presented to students. The first was very complete and organized, focusing on ethics. Unfortunately, in a classroom environment, my students were unable to fully enjoy it because of minor technical issues such as small screen, poor sound quality and a  lengthy presentation. Luckily, a recording was made on Adobe Connect which permitted later viewings.

The second presentation was more interesting for my students, permitting them to interact - although admittedly few questions were asked. It was particularly helpful from a small business perspective.

Over the semester several team meetings were organised and students were always in class to participate. There was an obvious interest even though students were often unsure what the task in the audiovisual meetings was, despite the fact that they were given discussion suggestions.

During meetings, I really found myself torn between classroom and meeting rooms. I would have needed pedagogical support, a second pair of eyes to permit me to continue my classroom teacher role. During team meetings, I had the rest of the class to consider. Although tasks were given to the classroom students while I checked on the progress of meetings - I still felt torn and overtaxed. I felt I was living the paradigm shift between teacher-centered instruction and constructivist learning.

Conclusion: Determine a focused purpose for small virtual group meetings such as formally introducing yourself using professional, standard vocabulary, proposing a solution to a problem using the subjunctive voice or practicing the present perfect in discussing work experience.

What do we want to accomplish in speaking with partners? Enlist the help of your IT Representative for pedagogical support and that second pair of eyes.

Student Conclusions

I retain these comments from several of my students.

My partner (101) is a little weaker in English than I am (102) and at first, I thought it would be easy to help her and correct her but I now see that in trying to explain to her or answer her questions I do not know as much as I thought, as well as I thought and have had to ask my own questions in order to help her.

I am very happy to have learned how to use Google Drive - it is an awesome tool for Business and Accounting projects.

In meetings, the video feed is not that important - what is important is the audio feed. Of course, we need to have a visual of who we are talking to, at first, but after we do not really need the video until maybe at the end.

Teacher Conclusions

For me, this was a pedagogically stimulating semester. I feel my students have progressed in ways they do not even realize both professionally and linguistically. I have learned so much over this semester.

I will remember to:

  1. Continually ask myself about the pertinence of the technology and how it is usually used. Simulate real-world use.
  2. Constantly refocus my attention on students and their needs as well as on goals we wish to reach. Stay focused on my role as teacher.
  3. Continue to trust those that have knowledge that I do not have.
  4. Prepare case studies and meeting agendas that have clear linguistic, lexical or grammatical goals for practice in online meetings.

Empowered by this learning, I would willingly take part in a similar project to do it again, but better!

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