I have been very fortunate to be involved in an area of English teaching for the last few years which I find incredibly fascinating and extremely rewarding, especially when you see the progress that undergraduate and post-graduate international students make within a period of time. In this post and video, I share my experiences of how I got involved in the teaching of English for Academic Purposes (also known as EAP).
Before I share how I discovered this element of academic English and EAP, I really need to focus on what started my journey within the field of English language teaching. I first discovered the English teaching profession by chance when I moved to South Korea to teach English to young learners at a small private after-school institute. It was this that ignited my passion within English teaching and motivated me enough to undertake an initial teacher training certificate – the CELTA – after a year of teaching to these wonderful young learners.
It has been over a year since I left my previous position as Young Learner Co-ordinator with a local private language school in my hometown, but was fortunate enough to secure employment with a University soon after leaving. However, I was reading a blog post by Sandy Millin in which she reflects on her 5 years as a Director of Studies, so I thought I would share my reflections for the six years I were a Young Learner Co-ordinator.
What Did I Learn?
Teachers can be unpredictable
When I was promoted to the position of Young Learner Co-ordinator, from English teacher, the majority of staff were very supportive – the Director of Studies, Principal, Directors. However, there were two staff who were not so happy and one person made their opinion heard almost immediately. As the Director of Studies (DoS) held a meeting to share the good news, this person quipped, “We knew this was going to happen!” and the DoS responded, “No, actually we didn’t!”. What other teachers did not realise the Directors offered the position to me to help out during the summer months – more a temporary position – and I responded saying, “Well, if you are offering a position for a few months, I will not accept this and go back to Korea.” A compromise was met and I was offered a full-time permanent position, so agreed to this.
So what did I learn from this?
There will always be people around who would respond more emotionally, and from various situations which occurred, I learned how to manage more demanding staff.
The pressure has now hit home with many of the students. They realise that they actually need to do some work and submit an annotated bibliography and sentence outline, in order to prepare for their essays. The previous Friday, I shared Essay Titles with my students and told them to consider a relevant essay title which connects to their subject of academic study. The majority of my students are going to be studying a business-related post-graduate degree from September, so the majority of the students chose similar essays. There was some emailing and responding to student queries in relation to their essays, with much of the catch-up sessions via Zoom explaining the expectation with an annotated bibliography and sentence outline.
I started the first day by emailing students of all necessary schedules for their course, highlighting important deadlines and times of live Zoom sessions. I also scheduled individual students for an allocated time of their one-to-one tutorial, spread over two days. One reason I wanted to spread the tutorial over two days was that when I decided to have the tutorials over one day, I felt exhausted and had little time to respond to issues as they emerged. The benefit I found of holding half the tutorials over a day was that I were able to spend time responding to issues by emailing students or providing further information.
Anyhow, the first day I prepared the necessary PPT for the following day, listened to the student self-study input sessions, and also reminded students to submit their newspaper article in preparation for this week’s tutorial. I find myself having to motivate students to complete and engage with tasks, when particular students are not so intrinsically motivated to complete their autonomous self-study tasks. Perhaps I over-analyse or expect too much from my students but I do understand that the course is very similar to what students encounter when they undertake their courses at university.
I have completed two weeks of an eight week pre-sessional course. Over the past month, I have shared some of the events leading up to the course which included a day of IT training and two days of induction to introduce this new course. I thought I would share my first week of teaching an online EAP course with my thoughts and reflections. I made quite a few mistakes during the first week and expectations were usually not met. However, apologies if this post rambles on and feel free not to read but I do hope that it offers an insight to others who have had similar experiences.
The first day of the course was quite stressful. There were no face-to-face sessions via Zoom and all interaction was to be handled asynchronously via the University Canvas website with introductions to be posted on the discussion forum by each pre-sessional group. I posted up a video for students to watch, but I noticed that had students used their mobile devices to access the discussion thread, the video would not have been visible. However, a script was included below the introduction video so students would have been able to view this instead. I was hoping that students would have posted up their own introduction video but all decided to introduce themselves with text in the discussion post. I suppose there were no brave souls out there willing to share their verbal introduction.
With my last blog post, I shared my induction surrounding the technology related to the online pre-sessional course which I am involved with for eight weeks this year. However, with this blog post, I wish to share the induction from last week and what was covered in preparation for the course in general as well as for the first week. The induction itself lasted two days, Tuesday and Thursday, and it was effectively a full day, morning and afternoon, of preparation and training – via Zoom of course.
The morning of Tuesday, aims of the induction covered an overview of the online course, the pedagogy of an online EAP course, the role of the online EAP tutor as well as channels of communication for tutors. Tutors were introduced to the online course – which had been organised by the a number of individuals who put in a great deal of work to ensure that the course was available. One of the concerns I had for the course was the amount of synchronous teaching being conducted during a week. However, this concern was misplaced as live teaching sessions would be organised twice in a week (Tuesday and Friday), with the majority of student work being asynchronous. I decided to conduct my live sessions in the morning, as we had to consider the time difference for students. The majority of the students are in South East Asia and they are around eight hours ahead. One of my colleagues mentioned that students in the Middle East would have to have their live sessions before the afternoon, so this made sense to place them in the morning.
Obviously, the curriculum places more emphasis on guided discovery and self-study. Therefore, tutors have to use the Canvas site to engage with students online, while also engaging with and prompting students to ensure they are following the course. If you are unaware of Canvas, it is a platform used by many higher educational institutes and facilitates online learning. You can include a discussion board, quizzes as well as set assignments. We were introduced to the site the week before and it is all intuitive. Anyhow, we were suggested that tutors upload an introduction video for their assigned group of students, so I decided to record, edit and upload it.
It took a while for the video to be uploaded to the Canvas site and to embed within a discussion post – they don’t make it easy. Anyhow, I got there in the end and I hope that some students create their own video self-introductions but I expect that they will write them though as it is more convenient.
Nevertheless, tutors were randomly placed in breakout rooms to discuss experience of online teaching and share advice for teaching remotely. It was really interesting to hear about the experiences of teaching online as well as advice to offer each other. Some advice shared included:
Expect technology not to work
Mistakes are likely to happen when using technology or Zoom
Don’t spend too much time preparing for the live sessions
Don’t respond to university emails outside of your office hours (09:00-17:00)
Get away from the screen/computer with regular breaks during the day
The next part of the induction was to consider the role of the tutor during the online pre-sessional. Most tutors agreed that they regarded themselves as a ‘facilitator’ rather than a teacher, while also responding to student queries and emergent language during the course. Teachers also considered their own teaching environment: I am currently working on my kitchen table and have a range of documents stuck up on the wall, so that I can keep an eye on my schedule during the week.
The next part of the induction looked at schedules for tutors. Within the week, there are a number of sessions that students have to complete themselves with a range of recorded presentations for students to watch. I also need to watch the presentations and predict questions that students may ask, so effectively I am also doing the course at the same time. It was highlighted superficially there may appear not much ‘real teaching’ going on, but there was consideration that tutors are responding to questions on the discussion board, organising Zoom meetings, providing pastoral care/tutorial sessions as well as marking assignments. Anyhow, it was a very interesting induction over the two days and a lot was covered: copyright issues, the firewall with China and students not being able to access some content as well as planning for the first day of teaching.
I hope to share my experiences of teaching a pre-sessional in future posts and also reflect on how students are learning given the greater autonomy required for them as well as how my live sessions are received. Although my students may be placed anywhere in the world, I am looking forward to meeting them and hopefully this physical distance will be reduced in via technological platforms.
Over the past week or so, I have been attending some Zoom meetings to prepare and induct for the newly arranged eight week Online Pre-Sessional course, which is to start next Monday. It is very much a new venture for all involved in the online course: students, teachers, convenors and admin staff.
Last week, all those involved attended a meeting to introduce all technology involved with the course. We were expected to become aware of all functions related to Zoom: breakout rooms, polls, chat, etc. This became quite an interesting experience for all end users. The person who organised this is technology and remote learning professional at our University.
The first part of this session looked at the hopes, fears and expectations of the Online Pre-Sessional course. Fears seemed to outweigh many other aspects: “Will I get used to the technology?”, “Will I embarrass myself to the students?”, “What will happen if I can’t use the technology?”. Some of the hopes focused more on being establishing rapport with students, noticing a development with student competency or being available for students during course hours. It was obvious that significant challenges faced by all tutors and students are related to technology and the ‘remoteness’ in relation to the course. We then looked at technological challenges and benefits and this was discussed in breakout rooms via Zoom. Much of what was discussed was demonstrated below.
On top of Zoom meetings, which focus on synchronous lessons, there is also an emphasis on asynchronous learning for students. With our institute, we have started to incorporate Canvas and were encouraged during the initial meeting to record self-introductions and post on the discussion board to students. Then, to encourage students to self-introduce themselves once the course starts. Furthermore, we were recommended to personalise the self-introduction – with the inclusion of hobbies, the place where we live or other aspects about our lives – so that rapport could be established. It appears to be quite invaluable suggestion, but obviously it is most dependent on how much a tutor wishes to share with their cohort of students. Other aspects on Canvas include the Announcements and Inbox, which I have not really used much in the past but I look forward to seeing how much this is integrated during the summer course.
Finally, there were a few considerations for tutors such as not organising a private WhatsApp/WeChat discussion group with the students (I guess there are some privacy-related issues). It was recommended that if students have any issues, that they use the formal channels of communication so that it is transparent and open. Obviously, it was possibly suggested that students could arrange their own private online social groups to help each other or share their own reflections and experiences. There is an assumption that providing learners with a private space would be of benefit and that they are able to liaise among themselves.
Some questions that I have going forward (and I hope to answer in future blog posts) include:
What is the ratio of face-to-face synchronous teaching/learning to asynchronous teaching/learning?
How much work ‘behind the scenes’ will go into synchronous teaching?
How will students respond to this new environment of teaching and learning?
What sort of EAP-related issues will emerge during the course?
This is my only second year as a Pre-Sessional Tutor and I am looking forward to this course as I feel much like a beginner teacher again. I also hope to share another update in the near future about my most recent inductions this week and my plans for next week’s course.