A World Wide Web: Engaging Learners Online
My journey into the world of online learning began with a Geocities personal webpage, which I used to catalogue lists of useful English second language (ESL) websites. It was ugly. It consumed my time. It has now disappeared (thank goodness). I developed my first blended course in 2006 at Campus Saint-Jean, University of Alberta. It was barely an online quiz based on a reading.
We’ve all come a long, long way since then
For those of us who remember the first university electronic mailing lists, MySpace, Yahoo groups, and ICQ, the ease with which current instructors and students navigate the web (and its many applications) may be astounding. Now, acronyms like WYSIWIG, LMS, SME, SCORM, and CBT/WBT are thrown about just as much as our modern shorthand, texting acronyms such as LOL, IRL, TBH, and SMH. And if these acronyms seem like a foreign language to you, don’t worry; look at Acronym Key at the end of the article.
In this digital age, information is available to our students at the click of a Google search. They have access to amazing tools as well as unreliable information at the touch of a finger. As instructors, we have the opportunity to help guide this rushing river of data to benefit our students and ourselves. They’re online at home, on the bus, while they’re eating, while they watch TV, while they socialize, and sometimes while they are in class. So, why not take advantage of this almost natural proclivity, and make use of it for educational purposes?
The Flipped Classroom, BYOD, and Authentic Online Engagement
Many educators see the computer lab as a time to fill with random, disconnected activities. It’s an hour of isolated learning activities. However, computer labs can be used for more than just extra marking time! In a flipped classroom, students are asked to research projects and topics and then are expected to bring that knowledge back to the regular face-to-face (F2F) group. For example, in one project, my students went to the computer lab with a list of books. They had to use a library search to find the books, used a Google Doc to collaboratively fill out a worksheet on the genre and synopsis, and then they came back to the classroom to discuss which book they wanted to read. It’s a simple concept of using individual computer time to provide an opportunity for students to build their background knowledge and come better prepared for group discussion.
Now, I understand some teachers might question whether or not it's appropriate for students to have access to their mobile devices in class. After all, many students are more likely to post on Twitter or Instagram than to conduct a research activity. However, if you’re not lucky enough to be at a school where iPad carts are readily available, then a bring your own device (BYOD) approach can work for some interactive activities. This can include :
- interactive quizzes
- research/scavenger hunts
- creating podcasts
For your reference, here are some great tools for the Flipped Classroom and in-class web activities :
Online engagement has to be authentic and meaningful. Students need to feel like they are a part of a real community to keep participating. What does this mean for designing online activities?
- Create attractive interfaces with clear, concise instruction.
- Choose discussion topics that provoke a reaction.
- Reply promptly and meaningfully.
Here are a few of my favorite tools :
Save Time with Online ESL Exercises
The Internet is not a small community. It’s a universe. Sometimes searching for the just the right tool can take as long as developing that tool yourself. However, there are a few sites that can make ESL teachers’ life just a little bit easier by providing lesson plans, targeted videos, and online exercises. Here are a few of my favorites :
- UVic Study Zone (http://web2.uvcs.uvic.ca/courses/elc/studyzone)
- UE Using English.com (https://www.usingenglish.com )
It’s hard to feel motivated when there’s a pile of ungraded papers on our desks and hundreds of students to help; however, learning how to use technology to our advantage can be both fun and helpful. Getting inspiration from national and international personal learning networks can be a great way to stay fresh. Here are some potential sources of support and ideas :
- Online Learning Consortium
- Cult of Pedagogy
- Join Twitter's #CdnELTchat (Canada, English Language Teaching chat)
You can also view the original slides of my presentation at SPEAQ 2018. I have included samples of student work and some ideas for activities.
There is so much to learn, and so much to sift through online. As educators, we need to choose our activities and learning outcomes to best benefit our students – and they live in a digital age, where they will need to successfully navigate all the streams of data pouring through their devices. We need to teach them to be savvy digital citizens, able to separate the credible information from the questionable information and to use web applications for learning, not just for passing time.
- WYSIWIG: What You See Is What You Get (usually referring to a drag and drop editor)
- LMS: Learning Management System (such as Moodle)
- SME: Subject Matter Expert (an expert who works with an instructional designer to create courses)
- SCORM: Shareable Content Object Reference Model (an online learning object that can be imported as a unit into an e-learning environment)
- CBT/WBT: Computer Based Training/Web Based Training (usually self-directed instead of instructor led)
- LOL: Laughing Out Loud
- IRL: In Real Life
- TBH: To Be Honest
- SMH: Shake My Head
- F2F: Face to Face
- BYOD: Bring Your Own Device