Welcome to the last of this 16-part series of TLO Blogs, which have had, in total, well over 2,000 hits (so far). So, I wanted to thank those readers, especially those of you who posted questions and comments. Thanks also to Tomiko Breland, the Editor and Publications Project Manager at TESOL, who looks after all the TESOL blogs.
One of the recurring themes in these blogs has been the extraordinary connectivity that the Internet has made possible over the last 20 years. But in spite of that, one of the things that the Internet has not changed dramatically is the fact that writing remains a relatively solitary activity. So, feedback from readers will always be an essential part of the writing process, whether the feedback is face-to-face or online.
I should also apologize for those comments that I was not able to respond to, as I still find myself regularly in parts of the world where there is little or no Internet connectivity. That is an important point to keep in mind, as it can be difficult for those of us who live in countries where almost everyone can access the Internet at anytime to remember that there are still many places where that is very much not the case.
In TLO 15 I reviewed and summarized the main points from the first eight blogs, which included links to recent research reports on TLO. In TLO 9, I wrote that “many of the ‘how to teach online’ sites get straight into the ‘what,’ ‘how,’ and ‘when’ without first fully considering the key question: Why TLO?” So, having laid that groundwork, we were then able to focus on the “How To” of TLO in the remaining blogs. We started that by looking at the importance of course participants (including instructors) getting to know each other, especially when they have never met face-to-face before. That includes asking questions that would only be asked in TLO environments, such as: Where are you now?
In TLO 10 and TLO 11, we looked at establishing the ground rules, which in my experience is another one of those areas to which some of the “how to teach online” sites should give more time and attention. The reasons for having two blogs on the ground rules was partly because: “The diversity of participants in courses online is often greater than in physical face-to-face classrooms, as people from all over the world can attend the same class at the same time, without ever having to leave their home.”
From my days in a medical science office, working in hospitals in the UK, I know that “strength through diversity” is not just a political slogan. It is a Fact of Life, and applies to all living entities. But with great diversity can also come great communicative challenges, especially in online environments. Related to that intercultural complexity in online settings, TLO 12 looked at how course participants can build trust in virtual environments, which is an essential aspect of all relationships, personal and professional.
TLO 13 and TLO 14 focused on assessment of learning on TLO courses and programs, which is a third area that, in my experience, is not given enough attention up front, i.e., when online courses are being first discussed. I did note that this tendency to think of assessing learning outcomes towards the end of the program design process is not in any way unique to TLO courses. But with assessment of TLO outcomes, it may be especially important that the process starts by considering how the outcomes will be assessed.
TLO 1 wrapped up with the question: So, where to next? That’s also a good question to ask here. One place that I can recommend is TESOL’s upcoming Principles and Practices of Online Teaching Certificate program. The program is, of course, offered online, and it is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. During that time, more than 600 participants from all over the world, including Bolivia, Colombia, Jamaica, Qatar, and Uruguay, have completed the program, one of whom recently wrote: “This was one of the best online courses I’ve ever taken.”
Readers who are familiar with my work know that I tend to take an unconventional approach—some would say “contradictory.” So, in keeping with that approach, I can admit that, after some years of doing almost all of my teaching and learning online, I am by now missing the traditional, face-to-face classroom more and more, and I enjoy going back to it whenever I can. However, TLO has given me the opportunity to work with teachers and learners from all over the world, which I could not have done before. So, when I was recently asked by a colleague who also does most of her teaching and learning online now how to avoid the online version of “teacher burnout,” my answer was: “Make sure you spend some time regularly going back to the traditional, bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face classroom!”
It’s clear to me now that, as teachers, we need to do both kinds of teaching, keeping our hands, heads, and hearts in both worlds, straddling and bridging the two, so that each can inform the other, in mutually beneficial ways.