At the upcoming Korea TESOL convention in Seoul, to be held on 12 and 13 October, I’ll be presenting a paper on teaching and learning online (TLO). As the theme of the conference is “Exploring the Road Less Travelled: From Practice to Theory,” I will be talking about how the practice of TLO is informing the theory of TLO. It’s good to see the usual direction reversed, and appropriately enough, I will be giving the presentation from the home of a family member (my brother, as mentioned in my second blog, 28 Aug) in Birmingham, England. Unfortunately, because of the time difference between England and South Korea, I will be presenting at 1 o’clock in the morning, UK time. But this does reiterate a recurring point, which is that, for the first time in several centuries, the confines of time and space no longer define when and where teaching and learning take place.
I’ve been going to KoTESOL, which I always very much enjoy, for 15 years, since 1998. Back in 2001, just as the new millennium was just getting underway, I published a paper titled “Teacher Development as a Selfish Activity,” based on a presentation I had given at KoTESOL in 2000. In the write-up of that paper (PDF), I claimed that effective teaching required the “development of necessary ‘self- ish’ traits, such as: self-assurance, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-reliance” (Curtis, 2001, pp. 22-23).
Connecting those two particular dots, between my KoTESOL presentation 13 years ago and the upcoming presentation there in a few days, I realized that those same “self-ish” traits that I wrote about in relation to reflective practice and teacher professional development also apply to TLO. I did write at the end of TLO Part 4 (Sep 25) that all teaching and learning methodologies and technologies have their limitations, which need to be explored just as thoroughly as their benefits.
So, the need for traits such as self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-management may be one of the limitations of TLO. For example, in an online MA research methods course I was recently teaching, one of the course participants wrote that he had been very ill, which is why he was falling behind with his course work. In traditional bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face courses, it is immediately obvious when a student is missing, so the teacher can take the appropriate follow-up action to support the student. Or, if the student can meet with the teacher in private, they can talk face-to-face about what has been happening and how best to proceed.
But in online environments it can take much longer for such “absences” to be noticed, because course participants do not usually post replies and responses to readings and tasks every day. In fact, most of the MA TESOL students I work with are doing their degrees while teaching. Also, the course participants on these kinds of programs usually have more teaching experience, which means they are older, and they often have families. So, juggling all those competing priorities means that the course participants usually have to wait for the weekend to get caught up on the readings, the tasks, and the postings. As a result, a missing student may not be noticed for some time, in which case, he or she may not get the help needed.
So, I’m going to go out on a bit of a virtual limb here and write what some teachers of online courses say privately, which is that TLO may not be suitable for students who do not have highly developed traits such as self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-management. Such students may be much better suited to traditional bricks-and-mortar, face-to-face classrooms and courses.
TLO is not for everyone. And that includes some teachers as well, who also need those “self-traits,” as it can be very difficult for some teachers, when they are without a classroom, an office, or college/university to physically go to. So, although TLO has enabled us to do all kinds of things we could not do before, it is not for everyone!
What are your thoughts on this?