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.
During the second day, it was my first face-to-face session with my new cohort of EAP learners. I prepared a PPT to help structure the online session with the students, with the usual ‘get to know you’ activities included. One thing that I had to remember was some of the first-lesson activities would be difficult to prepare and structure as it was delivered virtually with an online platform. The ‘find somebody who …’ task, which normally works well in a physical classroom, was quite difficult to get students to complete online. What would have worked better would be for me to email the worksheet the day beforehand, so that students could have prepared questions prior to the online session. Oh well, I guess that is why it is important to reflect on activities and tasks, with many physical activities not being suitable to replicate online which requires preparation well before the synchronous sessions.
The third day (Wednesday) was the seminar discussion and was based around the students to watch a recorded lecture and to make notes about the history of Brighton and Hove. It was anticipated that this lecture would give students an insight into the city nearer the University and encourage student discussion during the seminar. I have found previously, that seminar discussions for EAP students can be quite challenging. Students are unwilling to commit and they tend to seek confirmation or support from the tutor during the discussion. Some students are shy and unwilling to question other learners in the class. What I usually end up doing is withdrawing myself during the seminar discussion and neither agreeing or disagreeing with learners. I bring a notebook, write down some possible errors and corrections of language and then feedback at the end of the class. I also get students to consider varying points of view to develop the seminar and encourage critical thinking. Online, I had my notebook to hand and told students that they must discuss thoughts and ideas about the lecture with each other. All I prepared for students included a range slides with prompts on: “Discuss something new from the lecture”, “Discuss an abbreviation that you wrote down”, etc. I left all students in the main room in Zoom and did not use breakout rooms. I also turned off my webcam and muted the audio and this offered me a chance to see which students were going to lead the seminar and the more confident or outgoing students started to manage the group. Every few minutes, I changed the slide or prompted students to discuss or encourage the quieter ones to contribute via the Chat function. At the end of the seminar discussion, I gave feedback to all students and explained that I could only feedback on what I had listened so if students are unwilling to speak up or lack confidence, they will not have any feedback on their speaking.
There was some feedback at the end of the seminar discussions as well as during tutorials in the fourth day, and the majority of the students wanted to have a chance to speak in smaller groups via Breakout Rooms. I suggested that I take their feedback on board and explained that the reason behind keeping in larger groups was to allow learners to see the PowerPoint slide with the prompts. However, as with the icebreaker tasks, I realised that student preparation before the live sessions was key for ensuring that learners had access to the materials. Yet, there was the challenge of getting students to engage with the online preparation material with some less motivated learners unwilling to use the worksheets prior to the seminar discussion and possibly expecting tutors to spoon-feed the input. After the tutorials, students realised that they had they were in the driving seat and it was up to the students to deliver should they wish to achieve what they had set out initially.
The final day involved meeting up with the other tutors via Teams to discuss first week experiences and then immediately starting my face-to-face live session with my students. It was great to meet up with the other EAP tutors and to discuss our experiences, share reflections and ask possible questions. The final session of the week with my students was a chance to review a grammar point, ‘articles’, with some worksheets which were sent out to learners. I incorporated the worksheet within a PPT and also included the answers. It was a quick chance for students to ask questions about English grammar, which was within my comfort zone. Students seemed positive about this aspect of language input and were starting to gain confidence as they had experienced this particular grammar point before in their language learning. I finally finished the live input session by asking students to complete their first week reflections and to submit them via Canvas as well as reminding students of particular deadlines for the following week, and I also reminded some students, who had not completed this, to submit their diagnostic speaking and writing .
Having a chance to chat with students individually once per week, and having three live synchronous sessions (one seminar discussion and two live catch-up sessions), it may appear that I do not have much work to undertake. However, what I realised – and perhaps what the course convenors noted – was that there is a lot of extra work required outside of the normal online face-to-face sessions: creating PowerPoint sessions for the live sessions, emailing students, posting session information on the Group Page, as well as responding to queries and getting learners to engage with the self-study material. Also, one of the key points raised by the learners was that they were expecting more face-to-face time with the tutors and less in the way of self-study, but with this really replicates what students will experience in terms of academic study at a University within the UK, albeit remotely at the moment.
I do hope in the forthcoming weeks, students are able to value their input and self-study to aid them in developing the necessary skills for academia. They will soon realise that the first few weeks will slowly evolve into an intensive EAP course and I envisage that learners shall start to take their online course more seriously, once the essay titles are handed out to students. Also monitoring engagement and attendance seemed a little problematic, so I am planning to keep a spreadsheet of students who attend the live sessions, complete the work necessary and participate. It is a little more work and not what is expected but it will aid me in viewing any possible patterns and responding to extended periods of absences during the weeks ahead.
Overall, I felt quite comfortable with the first week despite the initial worry and concern that I had with my class but I have soon settled into a routine and a ‘method’ in some respects to delivering content to learners remotely. I can’t wait to share future weeks with you all.