TLO: Part Two: Putting the Pedagogy First

After posting the first blog in this series on August 14, I received an e-mail asking about the name of this blog: Teaching and Learning Online (TLO). As we are all language teachers, in one way or another, the reader asked why the name was not, for example, Online Learning and Teaching. That was a very good question, so I thought it would be useful to explain my belief that “online” should “come at the end.”

As a TESOL professional of color, I first heard the phrase “people of color” shortly after Martin Luther King Jr referred to “citizens of color” in 1963. And although the phrase can still spark a lively debate even today, the phrase “forefronted” being people and citizens first, and being “colored” second.

Applying that to this idea of “Teaching and Learning Online” versus “Online Learning and Teaching” means that teaching and learning come first, and the online part second. That’s not to say that the online aspect of a course should not be thought about until the end of the process.

On the contrary, when that happens—when a course, curriculum, or syllabus is completely designed for a real-time, face2face setting, then it’s put online with few, if any, modifications—that’s when some major problems can arise! But “putting the online part last” is a phrase to help keep the focus on the pedagogy, as the technology can sometimes take on a life of its own, and become the end in itself, rather than a means to an end. In those cases, which are still quite common in my experience, the technology can end up driving the pedagogical processes, rather than being a tool, to achieve certain technology-enabled outcomes.

As a language teacher, I am especially sensitive to language—maybe in the same way that my brother, who’s an accountant in England, is especially sensitive to numbers. And I have heard some people say that we language teachers can sometimes be “too sensitive” to language, but whether we talk about “online teaching and learning” or about “online learning and teaching,” in those word orders, we are putting the “online” part first, ahead of the pedagogy.

For me, the point of TLO is to enable the creation of teaching and learning classrooms and communities that are not bound by the confines of time and space, which defined “the classroom” throughout human history, until about 20 years ago, when the Internet started to become more widely available, in the mid-1990s.

Another major shift that is being brought about as a result of the growth of TLO is a reduction in costs and an increase in access. At least, that was one of the new economic benefits of TLO that was heralded in the 1990s. However, now that education has become a big part of the Global Economy, the situation has become more complex, although there can be no doubt that TLO has given many people access to teaching and learning that was impossible before the Internet.

In relation to “Teaching and Learning Online” versus “Learning and Teaching Online,” as I wrote in Part One, I’m assuming that TESOL teachers will be the main readers for this blog, but I would be happy to hear from learners too. That brings up another change that is occurring as a result of the growth of TLO, which is the blurring of some of the long-held distinctions between teachers and learners.

For example, if the traditional role of the teacher was, for many centuries, to stand at the front of the classroom, what is the position of the teacher now—now that there is no classroom? I’ll start the next blog in this series with that question, but in the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts on where TLO leaves the teacher, I’d love to hear them!

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
From 2015–2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has coauthored and coedited around 200 publications and worked with more than 50,000 language educators in more than 100 countries. His current research is focused on the New Peace Linguistics. He is an online professor in the Graduate School of Education at Anaheim University, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent language education consultant for organizations worldwide.
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2 Responses to TLO: Part Two: Putting the Pedagogy First

  1. Andy Curtis Andy Curtis says:

    Thanks, Evan, for your reply posting, and for your positive feedback on the idea of TLO rather than OLT. I full agree with Alan Maley’s comment (if it was he who said it), and I’ve often found myself in situations where I have to ask: “In relation to teaching and learning, what is it that we could do with this technology that we can not do without it?” I also ask: “How much of the budget has been put aside for teacher training and on-going teacher development with this technology?” I both cases, I often get blank stares! Andy

  2. Evan Simpson says:

    Dr. Curtis,

    Excellent post!!!!!!!

    I couldn’t agree more with your assertion that sometimes people put the tech before the teaching. I can’t remember (it might have been Alan Maly) who said, “The question isn’t ‘we have this tech – what can we use it for?’ It’s ‘We have this problem – what tech can we use to solve it?” In this respect, TLO leaves teachers in the same place: as the designers and deliverers of lessons. However, just as machines have replaced people in many remedial professions, I can see a day when TLO replaces the “backpacker” TEFLer.

    Thanks again for the excellent post and I look forward to the next one.

    Evan Simpson

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