Monday, March 31, 2014

Challenges of teaching Business English online

Challenges of teaching Business English online

I have been teaching business English online for some time now, and thought it was about time I wrote a few posts on some of the challenges of teaching online and how I deal with them. Today, I will focus on challenges connected to technology and make some suggestions regarding how they can be dealt with. Before I move on though, I will explain what teaching online is for me. The learning platform I use is Adobe Connect and a phone line/Skype. So, what are some of the technology related problems that may lead to anxiety on your or your learners behalf (anxiety is a very soft term , may I just say)
  •  Connection problems.
You or your learner may have difficulty connecting which is why it is necessary to have very fast internet connection as well as back up plans in case something goes wrong. You could use a phone line or Skype when your online classroom/internet connection is not working. So you may not be able to have a lesson in your online classroom, but you can still have one via phone.  Remember always get your learner's contact info on different types of media (phone, mobile, emails).
  • Problems accessing the virtual classroom+technology related web notifications popping up.
I think it is a good idea to create a document or a podcast regarding the tech glitches connected to the software you are using to hold the sessions. Have some sort of reference list related to any notifications the learner may get and explain the steps he needs to take in order to deal with the notifications.This can be your learners' go to document or video when something comes up. Also, during the first lesson, guide your learners through the steps related to connecting to the classroom and the different buttons in the  online classroom. You may even take a picture of the virtual classroom and add notes to what does what.
                                            Example of document with guidance for learners (Pic of Adobe Connect)

  • Recording sessions
One of the advantages of teaching online is that you can record the session and upload it to your chosen learning management system  (LMS). This is great but you also need to be careful and always ask your learner for permission to record and upload the sessions because there may be legal issues or just simply out of respect of your learner's privacy. I have had learners who did not want their sessions to be recorded so you must know this beforehand!
  • Time management
Managing time online can be quite difficult especially when there are connection problems. Imagine a situation where you are teaching and half way through the session the phone line drops or your learner vanishes from the online classroom. You spend minutes trying to get connectivity back, you ask all the TRQs (technology related questions) and time flies without you noticing. Very often when you are trying to reconnect, you lose track of time, since you are more focused on checking to see if you or your learner are back instead of what time it is. In this case, the only suggestion I can make is realizing that connection problems may be a problem and checking the time is something that has to be done consciously and frequently.
  • Passiveness
This is the biggest challenge! According to Pelz's principles of effective online teaching (2004, cited in the Hannover research council, 2009) visibility is essential as lack of visibility may lead to passiveness on behalf of the learner. As online sessions are not face to face, it is important that the sessions are carried out whilst using a webcam. I believe that teachers delivering online sessions should encourage their learners to get and use a webcam. Teachers should also always have their webcam on so that the learners see the teachers face, gestures etc. When using the webcam, the teacher is not just a voice coming from far away but someone the learner can see!
  • Distractions
I think this is difficult to tackle. You use your computer as  the medium to deliver the session. Apart from your online classroom, your learner is also connected to his email account, Skype or an internal communication system which means that someone may be emailing your learner while you are having a lesson with him. So, you may be going on about negotiation skills, and your learner may be emailing a colleague about a meeting! What can you do? Not much. Try to explain to your learner that the English session is very important and that him being preoccupied with something else during the session, may lead to missing out something important! You could also suggest that the lessons be held in another room and not his/her office.
  • Group sessions
One of the benefits of online teaching is that you access your learners workspace with the click of a button. This can turn into a nightmare though when trying to hold group sessions. When having face to face sessions, you go to a classroom and everyone meets you there. When delivering a group session, you try to connect with three different people , in three different offices so all the technical issues get multiplied by three! I only have one suggestion here... try to avoid group sessions!

How do all these challenges affect my business English students?

Good question. Well, time is of the essence for your BE students so you really need to eliminate  or at least try to minimize any connectivity problems that may  waste your learners time. They are at work and dealing with connectivity issues may even make them want to cancel sessions. You do not want your learners cancelling sessions. Especially when their schedule is already tight!

You definitely do not want your learners to be passive. Interactivity is core to online teaching and using a webcam is a good idea. Another reason why webcams are necessary when delivering BE sessions is because business communication does require the teaching of paralinguistic features and this is when a camera can be useful. You can show your learner what gestures and facial expressions are appropriate/inappropriate/not so appropriate in different cultures etc. Of course, this does mean that as a teacher, you do need to feel comfortable sticking your face in front of a camera and focusing on facial expressions. Well, if you do not, you could also use videos from YouTube : ) which you can send as a link when teaching online. Yay! Another advantage of teaching online-immediate access of online material, websites etc.

Dealing with distractions your BE students may have, is not a piece of cake. You could incorporate them into your session though (if you realize your learner is doing something else instead of paying attention to the lesson) and they could be a great  learning experience for your BE student as you may help him/her with a real email he/she may need to send. Bottom line is that distractions do occur and  I am still wondering about what the best way to deal with them is.
Dealing with the problems that arise during group sessions is easy. Just discourage group sessions. Group sessions in my experience are more easily cancelled so if possible stick to one to one lessons when delivering business English sessions online.

My final thoughts....
I only touched a few of the problems related to teaching online and how they may affect the delivery of a business English session. Of course, these challenges apply to any online session. I am really interested in what you think so do feel free to comment or make other suggestions. I will be back with more posts on teaching BE online.

Till next time...
Hannover Research council (2009) Best Practices in Online Teaching. [pdf]: Washington. Available at <> [Accessed 27 February 2014].

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A few days after Belta Day

A few days after Belta Day

Last Saturday (22nd March) I attended and presented at the Belta Day in Brussels, Belgium. The day started with a warm welcoming from the Belta president James Taylor and  was followed by an inspiring talk by Jeremy Harmer. After that, there were some very interesting breakout sessions. The second plenary by Luke Meddings  gave me a lot to think about regarding the material I use in the classroom and Dogme. Then came another round of talks. These breakout sessions were followed by some swap shop sessions where teachers exchanged views about what they heard during the conference. The day concluded with a small goodbye reception and then we all went home.

                                                      A closer look

The plenaries:

The plenaries were thought-provoking and very interesting. They made me reconsider some of the things I do in class but also validated some of my practices.

The breakout sessions:

There was a variety of sessions so you could choose and attend the ones that you were more interested in.

The people:

Wonderful! Everyone was very helpful and friendly. I can say that I met some really nice people which I hope to see again some day in the future.

My presentation:

I apologise for sounding like Kermit the frog, but I was recovering from the flu. The people who came to my talk were very encouraging and highly interactive. I hope those who attended felt it was a good talk. I would like to thank some of the teachers who actually emailed me or sent me a message on Facebook regarding my talk. They put a smile on my face : )

The swap shop sessions:

They were great! At last an opportunity to talk about everything you heard at the conference! I loved them! They also informed me about sessions I did not attend.

The raffle:

What can I say? I won Jeremy Harmer's book and he signed it too : ) Yay!!

Thanks to everyone at Belta for making it a wonderful experience!

Till next time....

Monday, March 17, 2014

The newbie tells all

The newbie tells all- The 35th TESOL Greece annual convention

I only have one word: FANTASTIC! Attending the convention and being a presenter at the 35th TESOL Greece annual convention was a very rewarding experience.
The people
Everyone there; the board members, the organizing committee, the other presenters, the volunteers and of course the people attending were so friendly and helpful. I met some remarkable people from all around the world and this is something I will always treasure! I made new friends who I will definitely see in the future : )
The presentations
I attended lots of presentations. Some were a pleasant reminder of things I must do in class, others gave me ideas on how to introduce new techniques in my classes. Some had a very hands on approach and were highly interactive, others were more academic oriented. All the talks I attended though, were given by enthusiastic teachers!
My presentation
I would like to thank the people who attended and listened to what I had to say. My audience was very encouraging and applauded me at the beginning so as to encourage me (this was my first presentation ever, remember?). In the beginning, I was nervous and trembling but as time went by I felt more comfortable whilst finally, I was in what I call "in the zone". I tried to make my presentation as interactive as possible. I hope the audience felt it was quite a good talk. I tried my best. I also made some new friends with whom I am really looking forward to exchanging views and ideas on how to teach Business English online.
The social events
They had everything:
great company+
view of the Parthenon+
What else can a gal ask for?
Note to reader: the + symbol means checked! I have no idea where the tick symbol is on blogger : P
My final thoughts
I highly recommend attending the TESOL Greece conference. It is educational, informative and fun. I also suggest you submit a proposal and present. You learn a lot as a teacher while preparing for the conference. You also learn on the day of your presentation from what you hear from the people attending your talks.
Where do I go from here?
Well, I am going to be presenting at two more amazing conventions.
 Belta Day-22/3 in Brussels (this weekend people!!!
 : D ). 6-7/6 in Bratislava ( see you in a bit!)
I have a few ideas on what else I need to include in my presentation and how I can make it more interesting for those who will come to hear me talk.
Goodbye Athens... I will definitely see you next year : D
Brussels... here I come! See you all at the Belta Day! I am really looking forward to another great weekend!
This is my badge and the Tesol Greece convention booklet. I have no pictures of my presentation cause... um ... I was so anxious... I forgot to take some : p
Until next time

Friday, March 7, 2014

Some really cool conferences ahead

Some really cool conferences ahead : D 

This time I am not going to talk about a task and what happened during it. Instead, I will talk to you about preparing for a conference. I got this idea after receiving an email from one of the 35th TESOL Greece convention interviewers (Julia Aliverti) but instead of focusing on one event, I will talk about something more general.  I have never presented at a conference before, so this is me sailing in unchartered waters. The newbie conference presenter :)

Preparing for a conference presentation on Teaching Business English online. What have I been up to? 

  • Loads of reading.
I have spent many hours trying to find articles, books, webpages, videos, and anything else related to online teaching and Business English. It is quite hard cause there is a lot of information out there on online teaching or BE but not much on teaching Business English online. I must say that my connections on LinkedIn and twitter were very helpful!
  • Drafting and redrafting.
Although I have been teaching students, for some time now, how to deliver a PPT presentation, I have come to realize that including all the information without squashing everything or having loads of blank pages is HARD (how do you do it lovely pre sessional EAP students?). Then, there is the whole deciding what should go on the slide and what not? Should I have pictures or not? What about animations?
  • Rehearsing.
I really don't want to mess up, so I have been practising what I will say over and over again. I sometimes forget some of the things I wanted to say, but I think that by the day of the presentations I will be ready (fingers crossed :0).I also want to avoid going into lecture mode, so I am trying to find techniques to keep the audience engaged and make the presentation as interactive as possible. I have made some note cards just in case though....
  • Handouts for the audience.
I will have two different handouts. One will have links to all the sites I will mention during my talk and the other will have the PPT slides for my audience to make notes on. I think the latter is really helpful cause the people watching you get to keep your presentation and take notes on the things they really found interesting. I also believe this is appreciated by people who can't see well! It is awful when you are unable to see the slides!
  • Letting my teacher friends know I am presenting.
They will encourage me and give me a sense of security. I am a newbie, remember.....??

Finally, there is all the girlie stuff I have to consider, but I would need to write a whole new blog post regarding the do's and don'ts of looks at conferences :).

My final thoughts
I will list the conferences I will be presenting at in chronological order. I am really excited about all three and I cannot wait to meet all the wonderful people I have been in touch with regarding the conferences. I really appreciate the opportunity the people hosting these events are giving me: )

15-16th March  Tesol Greece 35th Annual Convention  (Athens, Greece)
22 March    2014 Belta Day (Brussels, Belgium)
6-7 June   (Bratislava, Slovakia)

Links to these events:

 I will definitely blog about these events in individual blog posts later on. : )

Till next time.....

Monday, March 3, 2014

Teacher in LaLa land

Teacher in Lala land

How I think my learners will improve their writing skills and how they think they will improve is a completely different story. I ask CCQs and ICQS, but I don't really ask them much about how they think they can improve their English.
I had a CAE writing class the other day, the focus was on writing an essay.  The students were asked to suggest ways they can improve their writing skills and in particular:
  • vocabulary
  • structures
  • grammar & spelling
  • punctuation
  • layout
  • formal/informal language
  • developing paragraphs
  • linking words and linking sentences together
Now, before I move on to tell you what their answers were, I would like to tell you that my learners are C1 level learners, in their teens, and they have been taking English classes for quite some time now. They have written tons of essays and we have spent hours discussing what makes a good essay and what to avoid when writing one. We have also spent time doing exercises that help improve their writing skills in the areas I mentioned earlier BUT I have seldom asked them " How do you think you can improve?" Don't know about you guys but I usually tell them how they can improve!
So, I gave them about five minutes to make notes and tell me what they think they can do to help them improve in writing.
Here is what I got.

Spelling and grammar:
  • read books
  • listen to English music
  • watch TV
  • go through word lists and copy the spelling
  • review your grammar books
Use of linking words:
  • read essays, magazines, books
  • try not to write the same sentences again and again but use linking words and try to connect them
  • practice writing on a daily basis (yay!!!)
Vocabulary and structures:
  • read grammar books (huh?!) or in general reading books
  • correct sentences that are wrong
  • write your words in an accurate way so they can be easy to read
  • search the internet for magazine posts/posts in general (I think she meant essay examples)
Formal/Informal language:
  • compare formal and informal essays
  • know which words phrases are formal and which informal
Now, this is the point where I pour myself a glass of wine and reflect.

What I have not been doing
  • I have been telling them you need to do this and that but I have not been connecting it to the real needs and explaining why and how the exercises we do in class or at home will help them. I have not got feedback from them on the effectiveness of the tasks we do.
What I need to do
  • I need to give them more opportunities for natural or native like exposure to the language and give them more books, magazines and internet posts to read and make notes. Use what they read to learn new words and use the new words.
  • I should do more error correction in class with them. I think I ought to use their own material in this case to connect it with their language needs.
  • I really need to help them with features of writing that have to do with layout.
Things that made me happy
  • They know how to improve register and are conscious about formal and informal language.
  • They suggested reading as an answer to almost every problem connected to writing. So now I can say, " Well, we are doing this cause you suggested it as a way to improve, hehe" (I would drop reading grammar books! Who does that any more?).
  • I realized that I need to ask these types of questions more often.
Where do I go from here?
This week I will tell my learners that we will try to improve vocabulary on a daily basis. Every day they will read an article from a newspaper. They will look for any new words, write these words on word cards and bring them in to class. We will practice making sentences/paragraphs with the new words. They will also keep a journal of how this is helping them improve in vocabulary and spelling. I will also make tasks and exercises based on the new words they bring into class.

Till next time....