Teaching English Online: From the Perspective of a Teacher

Previously, I wrote about my experiences studying online, but I have also had the pleasure of teaching English online using several different platforms and would like to share some of my insights on that. As far as online teaching goes, I have taught one-on-one classes for Talkbean and Idapted, using their software, and I have freelanced using Skype. These experiences were vastly different, so I want to focus just on the best and worst aspects of teaching online in terms of technology.

Let’s start with the best. I highly recommend any platform with audio, video, chat, and a workspace that can be controlled by both the instructor and student(s). To me, this is an ideal situation because you can not only see and hear the student but also interact through writing and thus reading. Additionally, with a whiteboard type arrangement, students can be asked to do short exercises like matching or multiple choice if material is preloaded into the program. Without video, it’s impossible to assess student body language, which is such an important part of classroom management, and, in my opinion, it’s harder to make a strong connection with your students. The chat feature is really optional but it seems to help students because they can type their questions as you speak without the fear of interrupting, and you can respond immediately. Finally, the work space, like a whiteboard, PDF viewer, or something similar, is amazing and I would be hesitant to teach online again without this because sometimes you really do need to draw a picture—especially with lower level students.

Now for the downsides. Even with the best platform and all those great features I described above, technology doesn’t always work perfectly, and that can be frustrating for teachers and students alike. It is challenging to help someone troubleshoot their computer when you are speaking a language they are still learning and you’re not physically present to see and hear what they are seeing and hearing. Through no fault of my own, I assure you, I’ve had issues with my devices, too. It is just impossible to predict when technology will act up and that is, unfortunately, the biggest problem with teaching online. Having said that, if you have a good device and are in a location with reliable internet, I highly recommend teaching online.

As a classroom instructor it may be hard to imagine teaching a student online, but as someone who has both studied and taught online, I know that technology can definitely facilitate learning. Teaching online is both completely different and absolutely the same as teaching in a classroom.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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11 Responses to Teaching English Online: From the Perspective of a Teacher

  1. Ida R. Baily says:

    Thanks Tara! I think that different nature of teachers have different way of teaching according to there experience and there knowledge and also that how the teacher has collaborate with his student and how friendly environment the student is getting that he should have to be free to ask any thing that he does not have any conflict….

  2. xia says:

    Hello, Tara Arntsen
    I totally agree with the implement of on-line resource in classroom. I think it is a good way for teachers and students to build up a good relationship between each others. While in my country, students are not encouraged to use on-line resource, since most teachers regard the information on-line is not reliable and they think students will addict in internet. If I have opportunity, I will make good use of on-line resource in my teaching.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Hello, Xia. I really think that the world, in general, is becoming more computer-based so students really need the experience working with technology and determining for themselves what is and is not reliable online. While technology is viewed differently by different people, schools, countries, and cultures, I am happy to hear that you are willing to give technology a try. I think it will greatly benefit your students. Good luck!

  3. esl speaking says:

    Good blog. Thanks for sharing the secrets technical methods to improve the online tutors.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thank you for your comment. I am sure there are many others out there who could add their experiences in here. I would definitely be interested in knowing what other online ESOL teachers are doing too.

  4. Salma Dosi says:

    Dear Tara,

    I have a dream that one day I will teach English on line although I am lacking contacts. However, I have just started using Edmodo to post assignments and record activities to my IB students.

    Regards,

    Salma.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Dear Salma,

      Since you already have teaching experience, I would definitely encourage you to pursue teaching online if your schedule allows for it. In the beginning, it might just be part-time, even just 5 hours a week, but it’s a great experience and something teachers can learn a lot from. While Dave’s ESL Cafe mostly has job postings in various countries, there are always a few for online teachers so you might want to start there. Maybe that could lead you to the kind of contacts that you are looking for. I hope that Edmodo is working out well for you and your students.

      Best of luck,
      Tara

  5. Ian Simpson says:

    I am very interested to read the comments so far, and i agree fully. In addition to what has already been mentioned, i believe quality “feedback” is a very important part of any online platform. Some tools lack this ! The ability to record the video and save it to a password secure cloud space, gives students the ability to review the video multiple times and feedback to the teacher. We know the power of repetition, and the function of being able to drag the video timeline back and forth, enables the user ( teacher and student) to focus on specific parts of the lesson for review. Another innovative feature for the teacher is to be able to analyse the conversation in “real time”. ( coding). This makes the process very time efficient, for the teacher/business. A new, very innovative platform called THE EDGE – http://www.queens-edge.com, allows you to do the above. For me, I believe “performance analysis” is key to a good online learning tool.

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Thank you for your response, Ian. I agree that the types of feedback you mentioned can be very helpful for students and are unique in many ways to online teaching/learning. The platform you mentioned sounds great but when I visited the website, it was entirely in Japanese. Do you have a lot of experience using it? I would definitely be interested in learning more about THE EDGE. Thanks again!

  6. Melinda Burks says:

    Hello fellow Trojan!

    I wholeheartedly agree with the perspective of your article. As a former online-teacher and student of online learning, the audio, visual and whiteboard integration appeased my prior concerns on virtual learning. The real-time interaction and ability to listen and watch a recording at a later time proved to be the way to go. Although, being in the physical class setting still satisfies the traditionalist in me, I am excited to see where online-learning and teaching go.

    Best,

    Melinda

    • Tara Arntsen Tara Arntsen says:

      Hi Melinda! Thanks for the comment. I think many people that go into online teaching or learning share your initial concerns but it’s amazing how far the technology has come. I like that you mentioned recording lessons. Honestly, recordings of our classes could be one of the best tools we give to students learning a language so it’s great to have that ability built in to whatever software you use too. Watching recordings is also an excellent way for teachers to examine their teaching methods and evaluate their performance in the virtual classroom. I am also looking forward to seeing how online courses, especially the now popular MOOCs, develop in the future. From one Trojan to another, fight on!

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