Professional learning from teacher educators

If COVID-19 has a silver lining, it undoubtedly is the learning opportunities the shift online has provided. Even though there have been challenges, most ELT teachers and teacher educators have developed digital knowledge and skills, pedagogic beliefs and confidence with technology which would not necessary have happened without the forced transition online. In this post, Anna Hasper, a Learning and Teacher Development Specialist reflects on key professional learning take-aways to explore, from a new way of working.

Although it is inspiring to see how teachers and teacher educators have managed to cope with the global disruption, Hodges et al (2020) highlighting that emergency online practices, developed in response to an emerging need, are necessarily not comparable to online practices that result from careful instructional design and planning.

Learning from crisis

Rapanta et al (2020) point out the worst thing that could happen is that educators do not learn from the crisis experienced. Teacher educators are in the business of enabling better learning, so it seems logical to reflect on a lesson learned from this shock experience, because ultimately teacher educators do not only affect trainee teachers; They also influence English language learners’ experiences.

Needs-based professional learning

According to Richardson & Maggioli (2018, p.7), the impactful Continuing Professional Development (CPD) responds to “daily challenges teachers” or teacher educators face. Reflecting on teacher educators’ first-hand experiences can inform the design of more needs-based, professional learning opportunities for online tutors. I conducted a small-scale study exploring online tutors’ experiences as part of my own needs-based development journey and below are some key take-aways.

Upon reflection, what have teacher educators learned?

Being aware of trainees’ social-cultural context is key.

This highlights the need to reconsider a uniform approach to instructional strategies and course design.

  • Training online most likely results in having trainees from a wider variety of backgrounds. Getting to know trainees’ prior learning experiences, as well as their digital confidence, is paramount as this impacts their expectations about the trainer’s and their own role. Have they experienced online learning before? Are they used to work independently? Are they confident with digital tools? Knowing more about trainees’ socio-cultural context means expectations can be managed and content can be adapted accordingly.
  • Establishing opportunities and limitations regarding trainees’ digital context is equally important. Are certain apps or websites blocked in their country? How is the internet connectivity? What kind of devices do trainees and students have access to? These insights inform which tech-tools can be used, and your back up plan: Plan B.
There is a need to humanise the digital learning environment.

The online teaching and learning context have a social impact; relationship building is vital.

  • Being physically distanced makes building relationships between trainees challenging. However, having a sense of belonging is a prerequisite for any learning to happen. Creating opportunities for group cohesion need to be purposefully planned, as this lays the foundation for learning. At the start of the course, or possibly even before, enable trainees to get to know each other through setting up asynchronous activities on a platform such as Padlet, WhatsApp or Telegram. During the course, ask trainees to log on 10 minutes early. As a result, they will have a chat in the room which occurs spontaneously – during coffee breaks or before and after classes.
  • As paralinguistic features are harder to read online, more planned communication between the tutor and trainees is recommended. Providing more regular opportunities to check-in with trainees, for example by creating a Zoom Lounge, is helpful. Ask trainees to pop into your lounge, weekly, at a set time for 10 minutes. This removes the barrier to contact you. But be mindful, it is up to them if they use this opportunity or not.
Develop awareness of how to manage wellbeing.

Managing wellbeing is a critical competency, for tutors and trainees.

  • Understanding how to manage and enhance physical, mental and social wellbeing is essential. The physical impact of being in front of a screen all day is only one aspect. Provide guidance regarding the set up of their learning space; the height of the desk, screen, their seating or standing posture, appropriate lighting etc. Giving more regular breaks and encouraging them to move away from the screen, go for a walk etc. During the course are important elements to maintain physical wellbeing.
  • Being visible on screen also has an emotional impact. Creating tasks that are off-screen (paper-based), allowing “cameras off” time and incorporating tasks that require tutors and trainees to work closely with others in break out rooms can be mood enhancing. Start the day with a quick scan to find out how everyone is feeling today. Later, end the day celebrating wins. This can help shift negative emotions and refocus attention on the learning process.
We need to keep learning.

In online teacher education, tutors’ online competencies are critical; it lays the foundation for trainee teachers’ success.

  • Tutors need opportunities to deepen their skills and knowledge of affordances technology brings to the online learning and teaching context. Growing their understanding of how the online delivery mode impacts course design, course organisation, and how technology can be used to enhance group cohesion is invaluable. Online delivery requires ‘new ways of thinking about pedagogy and the roles of learners and instructors are required‘ (Cleveland-Innes 2020, p.86), taking part in courses on online teaching or online course design can enrich tutors’ professional learning.
  • Professional learning during the crisis took place predominately through informal support networks. Here, experienced members helped others through sharing materials, informal training sessions etc. Whereas tutors mostly took personal ownership of their development and learned through peer collaboration – a fundamental ingredient of effective CPD (Richardson & Maggioli, 2018) – this is not sufficient. Tutors also need sustained structured professional learning opportunities.

Conclusion

A lot has been learned over the last two years. However, it is essential for online tutors to now shift beyond emergency remote training, where technology simply substitutes face-to-face practice. Developing online tutors’ competencies in online tutoring can reduce stress and heighten tutors’ sense of wellbeing (MacIntyre et al., 2020). This all together can positively affect trainees’ learning and will, ultimately benefit our future language learners.


References

Cleveland-Innes, M. (2020) The community of Inquiry Framework: Designing Collaborative Online and blended learning. In Beetham, H & Sharpe, R. (Eds). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Principles and Practices of Design (pp. 85-102). Routledge

Hodges, C. , Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T. and Bond, A., (2020). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teachingand-online-learning

MacIntyre, PD, Gregersen, T. & Mercer, S. (2020). Language teachers’ coping strategies during the COVID-19 conversion to online teaching: Correlations with stress, wellbeing and negative emotions. System, 94-1022352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2020.102352

Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P., Guàrida, L. & Koole, M. (2020). Online university teaching during and after the COVID-19 crisis: Refocusing teacher presence and learning activity. Postdigital Science and Education, 2(3), 923–945. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00155-y

Richardson, S. and Diaz Maggioli, G. (2018) Effective professional development: principles and best practice. Part of the Cambridge Papers in ELT. Available on our blog, here.


To read more about wellbeing and online teaching/learning, why not take a look at Tyler Shores’ blog post, ‘How to be mindful of Technology use’.

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