TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Blended Interactions in ELT

This post is my reading response to last week’s BlendKit chapter, “Blended Interactions”. Even though I have not taught a blended or hybrid course (yet), I am interested in exploring the possibilities of mixing face-to-face and online components in a composition class for English Speakers of Other Languages in the future, hence my participation in the BlendKit MOOC offered by the University of Central Florida.

This week’s reading explored the value of interactions occurring in both face-to-face (F2F) and online settings. Some questions that came up for me were, “how do I determine which objectives can be met via online interactions?” and “which learning activities would be more effective in F2F meetings?” My first instinct is to start listing all the objectives and activities I have arranged for my current course, which again, is completely F2F. If I were to teach this same course following a blended approach, could I expect my students to successfully participate in seminars online? Like many English teachers, I have often struggled to find ways to encourage class discussions, especially if students come unprepared to class. Could allowing them to read at home and take their time for asynchronous discussions yield richer discussions?

The authors of this week’s text claim that

“asynchronous activities allow students to enter more deeply into the material or an idea. There is time to look up facts, to draft an outline of what to say, and to revise mistakes before others respond. For students who speak English as a second, third, or fourth language, asynchronous activities give them time to translate instructions or other students’ ideas and to refer to other resources before they communicate their own thoughts” (Thompson). 

While I have had a similar experience as a learner, I realize that the issue is not just deciding which activities would work better online or F2F. This might be more of a practical question, but deep down, what I need to understand is what my role as a writing instructor would be in a blended course, and perhaps more importantly, what the role of students, including the interaction among themselves, should be in a blended course.

Thompson et al encourage teachers to think about the role of educators and the process of learning in a networked world by highlighting four different models brought forward by other educators. Those models, as listed in this 2nd Chapter, are: 

  • John Seely Brown’s notion of studio or atelier learning;
  • Clarence Fischer’s notion of educator as network administrator
  • Curtis Bonk’s notion of educator as concierge
  • George Siemens’ notion of educator as curator
modern art....fancy a taste? @fionamau

“modern art….fancy a taste?”
photo by @fionamau (ELTPics)

While I had never heard of these models before, Brown’s and Siemen’s models caught my attention because they describe processes that are (or could be) part of my writing classes. Brown’s Atelier Learning, for example, is about students showcasing their work in progress to a larger audience, perhaps via a blog or online page where students could write for a larger audience. Although my students do not currently write online, I would like to try creating an environment where learners would be free to read and comment on each other’s work online without some of the pressure that giving feedback can have in a F2F environment. My role then would be that of organizing our “writing studio” and creating an online place where students are aware of their audience and care for the feedback they’ll get from everyone who will be able to appreciate their work, not just their teacher.

The other model described by Thompson et al is Siemen’s Curatorial learning. In this model the teacher is described as an “expert learner” and one who “creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected” (qtd. in Thompson). This definition reminded me of those times when I’ve thought of giving student guided access to different resources (e.g., corpus-based tools for vocabulary, writing guides online) or when I’ve offered choices to students when it comes to topics to explore in their writing. Being a curator is perhaps not that different to being a facilitator, but what I appreciate about Siemen’s model is that it brings up this image of a carefully planned space that could stay for students to use as a resource long after the actual course is over.

But back to the value of our interactions in a blended course as it applies to teaching writing and/or ESOL, I have to wonder. In this day and age, how vital is it for students to be in a F2F setting in order to communicate in English? Thompson et al seem to encourage us to think of ways we can foster a sense of community and belonging in a blended course through the F2F component. Can students come together in the process of expressing themselves in a new language if they don’t see and hear each other in the same room? It is not uncommon to hear of many people around the world nowadays who have learned English because of their need to communicate with people they have not met in other parts of the world. Could it be then that we can transfer a sense of community and belonging to a blended classroom of English Language Learners? I don’t have an answer at this point, but I do have a deep curiosity and desire to give it a try in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to continue learning from your experiences or thoughts on blended learning in ELT!

“See you” all next week…

Sources:

Thompson, K. (n.d.). BlendKit Course: BlendKit Reader: Chapter 2. Blended Learning Toolkit. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from https://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-2/

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