Most English teachers are yearning for the real-world classroom and treat online teaching as a hurdle that must be overcome… And yet, despite the obvious difficulties, I feel there is a lot to praise about online teaching.
In the last year, as ESL professionals, we’ve all had to go through something of a baptism of fire. Whether we liked it or not, we suddenly found ourselves whisked out of the classroom and locked up at home, teaching all of our courses online. Gone were the paper printouts. Gone was the whiteboard. Gone were body language, mingle activities and textbooks.
And in their place, only one thing remained (for most of us, anyway).
But today I come to praise online teaching, not to bury it.
When I return to the classroom, I won’t just be mourning the extra hour-and-a-half each day I lose to commuting, but I’ll be missing a whole suit of fantastic tools we all have at our disposal – let’s examine why online teaching is something to be celebrated!
I’m going to start with the whiteboard… Zoom’s whiteboard isn’t great, but I prefer it to its physical counterpart! If you run out of room, you can easily move and edit components, or flick over to a second page (the small ‘+’ at the bottom-right). If you’re using Windows 10, Microsoft Whiteboard has unlimited canvas space and the ability to post pictures and videos.
Virtual whiteboards don’t just replace the features of their physical counterparts – they offer many more:
- Your students can write simultaneously.
- You can paste videos and websites.
- If you prepare whiteboards in advance, you can later edit and organise in-lesson notes into something worth keeping and email the results to your students.
With screen-sharing, it’s easier than ever to give presentations – no more relying on a smartboard or projector! Microsoft Sway allows you to quickly make snazzy presentations. Google Slides gives you more control over design and can be supplemented with the Pear Deck addon. With this you can ask multiple-choice questions, or ask (anonymously) if anybody is struggling. Students can even draw their responses, for more fun engagement.
For something more swish, many teachers use Prezi – and once again, these presentations can be shared with pupils afterwards, so they don’t need to frantically scribble notes the whole time.
Even tests are now easier – and more fun! Kids (and many adults too) groan and delay when you give them a paper test. But the same test online using Kahoot or Quizziz? They will yell out their answers, dance when they win and demand to play again! These websites will also mark the tests and present you with statistics. No more printing or marking! You can even integrate photos and videos to supplement written English with spoken.
Similarly, LearningApps offers dozens of different types of activities, including pelmanism, gap-fill, crosswords and wordsearches. It takes a few minutes to make your own, but then you can save them and reuse them, see completed statistics, give them as homework and edit them. Again – no more printing, cutting-out and laminating. No more carrying round and losing packs of cards!
OK, I’ll admit a little defeat here… The internet doesn’t replicate meeting each other in an actual, physical room. However, that is changing! Spatial.io is geared towards education and business, and tries to replicate the sensation of sharing a room. If you want something less overwhelming, CozyRoom offers a simple cartoon world.
You can place furniture, point things out and move around – volume is based on distance to the person speaking. Mingle activities are possible again! If you fancy something a touch more powerful and professional, there’s Spatial.Chat – this even allows you to post pictures and videos, so you can replicate your favourite ‘art gallery’ activities.
Of Mice or Men?
I’ve adopted a technique that one student nicknamed ‘Mouse Teacher’ (after the rodent, not the gadget). I keep my camera and microphone off at first, giving new students only a few pictures that describe me. They then have to guess as much as possible about me before properly ‘meeting’ me for the first time.
I can still communicate through on-screen annotations, but this way they talk more, I talk less, and we have a thought-provoking introduction:
- “He is under 40 and creative, by the way he types.”
- “He doesn’t speak, he’s a mouse!”
With some of my classes I’m now a mouse for most of the lesson, noting errors in a separate window before pasting them onto the whiteboard for correction. Students have said they really enjoy the opportunity this gives them to talk together, and they don’t look to me for constant guidance.
Conlusion: I, for One, Welcome our New Robot Overlords
Of course, teaching online has its disadvantages – but so does any medium. For me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages – and some of my students have been pleasantly surprised with their online lessons. It seems like we’ll be stuck online for a while yet – so let’s stop seeing screens as an obstacle, and rediscover the sense of wonder the internet once offered!
This post has offered a variety of suggests for within-lesson tools. If you want something to help with a ‘macro’ approach, check out Slobodan Kelecevic’s article on digital tools from the earlier days of lockdown.