Sep 272020
 

Every year, teachers on EAP pre-sessional courses are observed. As teaching took place online this summer, we were given two options:

  • being observed live
  • recording our session.

I decided to record my session.

Good reasons for recording

Time

The pre-sessional courses are very intensive and the online format being new, I wasn’t sure I’d have time to choose a lesson, write the lesson plan and send it to the observer in advance, which was a requirement for live observed lessons. Whereas, if we chose recording, it was possible to send the lesson plan together with the recording.

Possibility of tech failure

There’s always the possibility that the technology might fail. The internet connection might get interrupted, the platform might cause problems, the observer might have issues joining at their end…In the worst case, this would mean preparing another detailed lesson plan and spending another couple days worrying about it (see my next point).

Nerves 

This was my tenth year  of teaching a pre-sessional course, but although after each of my observed lessons I was told in the feedback that I looked calm and under control, I still feel nervous even after so many years. I’m a very confident teacher, but it simply feels unnatural to have another teacher sitting in the back of the classroom (or just being present in the live online session), observing and taking notes – no matter how nice they are.

Disruptiveness of observation

There’s a kind of intimacy and trust relationship between the students and the teacher. I’m very good at establishing trust and rapport in the classroom. However, when a third person – an outsider – comes in, the dynamics can change. If that person was participating in the lesson, it would be less awkward, and I do try to involve them just a little bit, but generally they’ll just be there in silence and focusing on their observation. In a live online session, they can be less intrusive by keeping their camera and microphone switched off. However, if they join the breakout rooms with just two to four students in each, it is even more disruptive than in the physical class.

Drawback of recorded sessions

If breakout rooms are used, the observer can move between the rooms in a live observed lesson. However, if the lesson is recorded, there isn’t much to watch/observe for the observer because only the main room is recorded and for most of the lesson, when everyone would be working in the breakout rooms, they would only see a black screen and hear nothing, at least this is how it was in MS Teams.

As I was using MS Teams and  breakout rooms  for the first time, I wanted to have feedback on how effectively I managed the class and the technology, including monitoring the groups, opening the shared Word docs each group was going to work on, etc… I had found a way that I thought was good, but I didn’t know how everyone else was doing it and whether there was a more effective or efficient way of managing the class, so feedback was important.

My solution

The tech team told me there was no way to record all the activity within MS Teams. So, I decided to record the main room as usual, and I asked students to record their breakout sessions (which one group did). This was just a backup solution. At the same time, to capture everything I was doing, I recorded my screen with Quicktime and send this to the observer.

The result

Recording the session in this way worked very well. I was much less worried and nervous before and during the ‘observed’ lesson because if anything had gone wrong with the technology or the lesson itself, I could have recorded another session; it also wasn’t disruptive because no third person joined our session. And most of all, the observer was able to see everything I did, and I received good feedback.

Jan 292020
 

New teaching experience

I’ve taught ten and six-week EAP pre-sessional courses at UK universities since 2011. In 2020, I was supposed to be teaching my tenth course, but I wasn’t keen on travelling and mixing with so many people for extended periods in the classroom or staffroom. Fortunately, the course came to me 🙂 So instead of spending the summer in the UK, we rented a house with a fruit garden in a beautiful village hidden up in the mountains, but still close to home.

I always believed the pre-sessional courses could and should be taught in blended mode. Some universities have been offering all or parts of their courses in blended mode or (partially) online for a while now. This year all universities had to go online. I really enjoyed teaching the course online, and I can say it was the least stressful one ever. I co-wrote an article with Zoe Smith for The English Teaching Professional, reflecting on the the challenges and opportunities of online pre-sessionals.

New role as research manager

A couple of months ago, I decided to change directions in my work. I started digital authoring and editing back in 2013 and it’s been really a rewarding and interesting seven years in which I’ve learned new skills and found a new community of wonderful people: editors, writers and publishers. When content and copy editing, I found it really interesting to go through a complete course and see how it was built, designed and what the writers had created. I like editorial work, even style guides and spreadsheets up to a point! I even sometimes experience some kind of flow when copyediting…Yeah, I know what you’re thinking 😀 

But I felt I needed a change, or rather something in addition to what I had been doing. I felt I wasn’t creating anything and I wasn’t making much use of what I had spent years learning and experimenting with. I missed being involved in the planning and development of a blended or online course, doing research, exploring new things and writing about them.

As nearly all teaching and learning had gone online this year, one thing I noticed was often missing in online courses was the social element. Lessons also quickly start to feel the same in a video conferencing environment, and role-plays don’t work as well as in a face-to-face setting. So I started exploring how these things could be done better online. Which is exactly why I had started experimenting with language teaching in a 3D virtual world more than a decade ago. I started reading up on the latest developments in the field of virtual reality and building new connections on Linkedin with people working in this field. And this is how I met my lovely colleagues from Immerse. Their enthusiasm was so contagious that I had to join them when they asked me whether I’d like to work for them as a Research Manager. The good thing is that my role with them allows me to follow my interests in VR: read about research, meet researchers and other people who are doing great work in VR,  facilitate research and help disseminate knowledge gained about language learning and teaching in VR.

I still accept editing jobs because the skills set an editor needs, such as paying attention to detail, are useful in any job, and as I said, it gives me insight into how others design courses and write content. I also hope I can do some teaching too, because whether you are developing courses, writing lesson plans or doing research into teaching and learning, having recent experience as a teacher gives you invaluable insights.

I’m really looking forward to what 2021 will bring in terms of work and new experiences.