In Tara Arntsen’s “Technology in Education” TESOL blog, in March, she wrote about her experience of being a student, taking an online MA at the University of Southern California (“From the Perspective of a Student“). One of Tara’s main points was: “Learning online is still learning.” And in her August 6 post,”Teaching English Online: From the Perspective of a Teacher,” Tara’s concluding point was that: “Teaching online is both completely different and absolutely the same as teaching in a classroom.”
I have enjoyed reading Tara’s postings, which made me reflect on my own learning and teaching experiences, first as a student, then as a teacher, and this area of teaching and learning online seemed big enough, and growing fast enough, to warrant its own little corner of the Blogosphere. But as this is the first of these biweekly blogs, I should start with a “confession,” which is this: My relationship with technology of all kinds—online and off—is ambivalent.
Some years ago, at the start of the new millennium, I received a number of invitations to give talks and workshops on technology in language teaching in several different countries. But my talks often reflected my ambivalence, as I looked critically at the downsides of technology, as well as its tremendous potential benefits. After a while, the invitations to talk about language teaching technology in the new millennium stopped coming in.
That was partly because the millennium wasn’t new anymore, but I think also because, when organizations invite speakers to talk about technology, they generally expect the speaker to “talk it up” (or “to talk IT up”). It seems to be assumed and expected that the focus of the talk will be mostly on the benefits of technology, with relatively little time spent on its limitations. So, with this blog, I hope readers will be comfortable sharing their challenges as well as their successes with teaching and learning online.
I should also note that, with this blog, my focus will be more on teaching online than learning online, as I’m assuming TESOL teachers will be the main readers. But I would be happy to hear from learners too, as an increasing number of us have the experience of both, learning online as students, and teaching online as instructors. And of course, both of those come together, when we take online classes and courses on how to teach online. Interestingly, I have seen relatively few courses on how to learn online, although such courses are now also becoming available.
So, one of the benefits of online teaching and learning is that it is enabling teachers to learn more. For example, there is TESOL’s Virtual Seminar series, which has been offered for more than 2 years now, starting in May 2011, and its online courses, such as its TESOL Training of Trainers, which will be offered for the first time next year.
In future blogs, we will look at some of the methodological challenges of teaching online, but in this first blog, I wanted to start with some of the basic assumptions we’ve had for a long time, which are being rewritten as a result of online education. I’d like to begin with the space; for centuries, a classroom was a physical structure in which a group of learners and a teacher interacted, using physical objects, like pens, pencils, paper, and so on.
But within the space of barely 20 years, since the Internet become widely available in the mid 1990s, none of those features necessarily apply anymore. This means that the entire context in which teaching and learning takes place has changed dramatically, and expanded beyond most people’s wildest imaginations at that time. So, where to next?