It was almost a year ago when I was required to teach an online pre-sessional course for my University, and thinking back it seems like such a distant memory. Fortunately, I have been invited by my University to return to teach a Spring online pre-sessional course for eight weeks (which is really sixteen weeks that spans from the beginning of May to the beginning of September with a little more information further in this post). Therefore, I assume it is timely to share a post of the similarities as well as differences between this year’s course compared to the prior year’s course.
Today, was the first of two inductions which offered an introduction to the course as well as expectations of the role of the remote teacher, the curriculum as well as the pedagogy of delivering these remote pre-sessional sessions. All attendees to the induction were offered an initial chance of sharing their year teaching remotely, and the reflections or lessons learned during that period of delivering course content remotely. Thoughts of teaching remotely the past year included the flexibility of teaching for tutors, accessibility of lessons for students, questions were raised about the monitoring of the levels of engagement with students (switching on webcams, contributing towards discussions, sharing thoughts and views, etc), as well as drawing comparisons of motivation with reference towards pre-sessional and other EAP-related classes.
This discussion naturally led the induction towards the role of the pre-sessional tutor and the delivery of sessions, as compared to the previous year. What I discovered prior to the induction was that I am going to be teaching more live input sessions rather than expect students to access self-study material and then share their results or contribute to discussions with the assumption that such self-study tasks have been completed. With greater autonomy for students leads to greater anticipation for teachers that students will have engaged with such self-study tasks. However, what possibly the course convenors discovered last year were that students were doing minimal tasks, not fully engaging with material and being unable to contribute to discussions. This has ultimately led to a greater emphasis for teachers to remotely deliver such material for students and raises questions about autonomy the time to plan and deliver class content.
The next stage of the induction involved an introduction to the structure of the course. Attendees were told that the pre-sessional is essentially a sixteen week course but is split in half. The first half of the course focuses on a balance of General English (with sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday) as well as an introduction towards Academic English (with sessions on Thursday and Friday). Teachers are also expected to hold weekly individual tutorials on Mondays. Essentially, teachers will be planning two-hours of course content (for either General or Academic English) with a total of eight-hours of synchronous teaching. With greater emphasis placed on teachers to plan and deliver lessons due to a more autonomous curriculum requires additional work to ensure that the delivery of lessons are of the personally expected quality.
I am pleased to be involved in another online pre-sessional course and it would be great to share the similarities and differences of teaching remotely compared to a year ago. The next induction session, set for a few days later, will allow teachers to plan and prepare for the first lesson. It is a small group of us and I cannot wait to meet my students. One of the things on my mind is the greater autonomy placed on myself to deliver online lessons to students, while balancing lesson planning time. Furthermore, one thing that I have to consider is whether my students (predominately from Mainland China) have access to particular websites such as TED Talks, YouTube or news sites, with the majority of Chinese-located learners being unable to engage with particular content. In order to know what websites that they can access, I am thinking about creating an initial lesson task for learners to report back what they can or cannot access – much dependent upon whether they have a VPN installed to access such online resources.
As ever, I will be reflecting on my online teaching as well as to document my progress of teaching my initial pre-sessional course. One concern that I am holding at the moment is whether I will be involved in the second half of the pre-sessional course. At current, I am on working on this initial pre-sessional course with limited indication that I am involved in the second half of the course, but I have requested clarification, so I will keep my fingers crossed. It is prudent to assess this so that I am able to make adjustments to be involved with other online summer pre-sessional courses at other universities. Other than that, things are progressing well and I am sure time will offer greater clarity in terms of whether I am working this summer for my University.