By Kirsteen Donaghy

20 May 2020 - 15:18

'Concentration dips faster online, so moderators need to check students' progress more frequently.' © Poyraz Tütüncü

Online teachers must also be moderators. Kirsteen Donaghy, British Council e-Learning Consultant, shares her tips for running online courses.

Be sensitive to learners’ digital literacy 

With endless possibilities from online tools, it’s easy to get carried away. For examples, by asking learners to annotate on the shared screen, add their own image, save this, upload that, go into breakout rooms...

There's evidence from researchers Karen Church and Rodrigo D Oliveira that too much focus on technology can distract learners. So, introduce new tools and techniques slowly, recycle them for a few different purposes and then introduce a new tool. Use demonstrations where necessary by sharing your screen or using screen recording.

Good moderators should be familiar with the ‘learner view’ (what the learner sees) on a range of devices. Then, adapt lesson plans and instructions accordingly. Make sure learners know how to annotate, edit and share documents, whether they’re using a phone, tablet or large screen device. 

Moderators should also pay attention to learners' technical abilities. Pair and group learners with a combination of these skills so that nobody is at a disadvantage.

Make engagement a course outcome

Do you have the skills and time to turn learners into a team? That can be the difference between a good online course and a bad one. 

In an online course, social interactions before and after class are missing. So, it can take longer for learners to build relationships. However, learners need an environment where they can express themselves and take risks.

Some simple ways to build engagement are:

  • help learners create their own online presence through ice breakers and personalisation tasks
  • show genuine enthusiasm in learners and topics
  • get to know learners and use this knowledge in curriculum and tasks
  • ask about learners’ questions, concerns and suggestions (and respond to them)
  • give constructive, ongoing feedback
  • introduce techniques for feedback between peers
  • make space for socialising and humour in classes and activities.

Vary your content

Varied content can capture and maintain the attention of online learners. Huge lumps of text on screen only make our eyes – and brains – glaze over.

Moderators should give learners varied digital content, while making sure to introduce new tools and techniques gradually.

For example, present a language point in a written explanation or an introductory video. Then, use a recorded video or audio summary of a lesson. You can do this through successive interactive exercises, in online conversation with learners or in posts on forums.

Check learners’ progress more frequently 

It’s harder to read body language when teaching online. So, check in more frequently with learners on their progress and understanding. Concentration dips faster online than in person, so moderators must spend more time on this than in the traditional classroom.

Learner polls and surveys can help. Games like ‘Stand Up If It’s True’ can give an immediate sign of learners’ understanding. In the game, the moderator reads a statement and learners stand up if they agree with it, 

To help learners understand the rationale behind an activity and keep them engaged, moderators should spend more time describing the learning objectives and outcomes. That includes how learners will be assessed.

It is also important for learners to understand their strengths and weaknesses. Simple, self-managed exercises like gap fills and matching tasks provide automated scoring. These help learners to reflect on their progress.

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Embrace new ways to give feedback

In the physical classroom, teachers often use natural body language or simple gestures as cues to learners while they’re speaking. They can also give feedback to learners one-to-one in lessons.

A good moderator will try to give feedback to groups and individuals. Name individuals during a class, and provide feedback that is beneficial to the whole group. Or, talk to individuals in a private chat message.

Rather than sending a message or giving a score, try recorded audio or video feedback. This gives a more personable touch. Inviting learners to give their own feedback and ask questions builds two-way, trusted dynamic.

Choose synchronous and asynchronous tasks

A great online course will usually have a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous tasks.

Synchronous tasks happen in a whole class group, with a teacher at a set time (e.g. in a live lesson).

In an asynchronous task, learners work at their own pace. They may carry out further research individually (or as a pair or small group). They may contribute to an online discussion forum, create a video or presentation to reflect and build on their understanding.

Using asynchronous tasks gives learners more time to reflect and prepare. Forums and lessons will give learners the opportunity to use their skills in a classroom-like environment. They'll do this while asking questions, being guided by the teacher, and learning from their peers. Learners can go back to review online discussions, videos and presentations. 

When combining asynchronous and synchronous teaching, a good model is the flipped lesson. In a flipped lesson, learners complete tasks before the synchronous lesson. For example, assign three different reading tasks to three groups of learners. They read and prepare their answers. Then, in the synchronous lesson, mix the groups so they can compare their different texts.

For more information on flipped models watch Keith Harding’s webinar.

Decide what will work asynchronously and what best fits a synchronous lesson by asking yourself these five questions:

  • What type of activity fits my lesson outcomes best?
  • How challenging will this be for my students?
  • What scaffolding will I need to provide for all, and what optional additional support will I give?
  • How can I set the practice tasks to ensure they are motivating and challenging, but manageable within the timeframe?
  • How will I balance time for input with time for practice?

Join the TeachingEnglish Teaching live English lessons online webinar on 25 May 2020. 

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