By Chris Farrell
There has been a large opportunity for learning and growth since the sudden move to online teaching made by educational institutions in early 2020. Crash courses in using video-conferencing tools and the scrabble to find good, usable online learning content was followed in many cases by a consideration of the bridging competencies needed for a teacher trained in face-to-face teaching to be as effective in the online context.
We, as a profession, must reflect on what has been learned in the move to online teaching (and, in some cases, hybrid learning) and use this to improve the quality of education we provide for our learners.
It is important to consider the key differences between face-to-face and online teaching and how the teacher’s’ role is essentially changed by this shift in context. Areas and actions central to the role of the teacher throughout their career as a face-to-face teacher, such as monitoring or getting open- class feedback, are structured quite differently in an online context. Teachers and institutions must consider how these key teacher actions are modified by the online context and begin to look for solutions to ensure that the quality of lessons doesn’t dip and that the teacher isn’t put under unnecessary pressure.
When you first begin to look into the world of online teaching and the variety of tools available for the teacher and the learners, it can be quite overwhelming. A combination of this abundance of choice and the fear of missing out can mean that the teacher tries to use too many different apps and platforms and the actual teaching gets lost within the swirl of downloads and passwords. Break the tech into two categories: content and platform. Have a bank of content resources from which you get classroom content that you are happy using. Choose a platform or two to use as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or collaborative space for asynchronous learning.
Carefully consider the limitations and opportunities this context places on both you and the learner in the area of assessment. Consider the validity and reliability of assessment delivered in an online space. Consider the use of the key aspects of visible learning by incorporating surveys and polls into your lesson.
Did your school move online with you, or was it just you and the learners? For the teacher to be able to do their job effectively online, they should be supported by the institution in the same manner as if they were teaching face-to-face. Administrative issues, lines of communication, and clear policies for behavioral matters and safeguarding must be clarified and supported by the institution, or if you are working freelance or are self-employed, then explicitly by you. Failure to focus on these areas will set the teacher up for failure and make academic quality more difficult to achieve.
While training to be teachers, we may have relied upon our ‘apprenticeship of observation’ as learners to help us to get a basic picture of the context of the classroom as a learner. We would have brought a general understanding of the face-to-face learning context into our initial forays into teaching, and perhaps retained some of these ideas. However, the majority of us have no idea what effective online learning looks like from a learner’s perspective. Understanding how your class are going to engage with your lesson is crucial in the success of your teaching.
When I was a less-experienced online teacher, to help me understand the limitations and distractions of online lessons as a learner, I both recorded (with permission) and watched back my lessons, and observed my colleagues’ lessons. I have a long way to go towards fully understanding how learners in different contexts and at different levels are engaging with online lessons, but taking the first step has been really useful.
I hope these five considerations will help you as you continue your journey as an online teacher, and that what you continue to learn about and from online teaching will be beneficial to you going forward in both online and face-to-face classes.
The apprenticeship of observation: The period of a teacher’s life that they spend as a learner observing the roles and routines of the classroom.
You can find further ideas on the above, and more, in the following Trinity Teach English Online units:
To get an idea of what the course is like, try our free sample unit containing examples of videos, interactive tasks, texts, and lesson packs from across the 10 units.
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Article by Chris Farrell
Chris Farrell is a committed and enthusiastic teacher and teacher educator. He has a particular interest in action research and innovation, and is a member of various national and international CPD groups. Chris is based in Ireland and is head of training and development for the Centre of English Studies Group.