It’s not too late to plan for an online Fall!

Slowly but surely, universities in the US are ceding to the inevitable, reversing their rose-tinted reopening plans, and committing to fully or almost fully online Fall semesters. My own institution made its announcement on Wednesday of this week, although the writing had been on the virtual wall for several days.

To be clear, it’s the right decision, and I applaud the university for its courage and support for the faculty. Given the country’s abysmal failure to contain the coronavirus and the overwhelming evidence of the personal and public health risks of Covid-19, it would be a catastrophe to allow hundreds of thousands of students to travel or commute to colleges, live in dorms (or take the virus home with them), and spend hours a day in poorly ventilated classrooms, not to mention gymnasiums, dining halls, fraternity houses, bars, libraries, or wherever students spend their free time. No, thanks.

So, we have five weeks until Sep 1, the first day of our Fall classes. That’s not a long time, but it’s enough to make the semester better than spring and summer. In many ways, we’ve been working towards high-quality online classes every day since mid-March, but it’s clear that students have a right to expect effective, planned, and coherent courses, not “Zoom University.” We can’t pretend that we’re still in “crisis mode” next semester.

Continue reading “It’s not too late to plan for an online Fall!”

Synchronized swimming (or drowning)?

When my eldest son was 5, he participated in the North Brandywine Swim League (go Sharks!). This involved the rest of us sitting by the side of local pools for many hours waiting for the highlight of our summer evenings, the under-7 backstroke, or as I called it, synchronized drowning. Twenty yards of tense excitement (for the lifeguards).

Over on Twitter, our British and Canadian #tleap (teaching/learning English for academic purposes) colleagues have shortened synchronous online teaching to synchro, and it’s hard not to think of synchronized swimming. Or possibly drowning.

Synchronous instruction is a mode of online teaching in which students are present “live” at the same time in the same virtual space, usually with the teacher, which for us now means a Zoom class.

Continue reading “Synchronized swimming (or drowning)?”

Broadway metaphors for online teaching

The usual dumpster fire of news was quenched slightly this week by this announcement: CBS Will Replace This Year’s Tony Awards With a Grease Sing-Along.

(Fun fact: I stage managed St Catharine’s College’s one-day only May Week production of Grease in 1997 at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, in which we used a motorbike as “Greased Lightening.” I had to bring a fire extinguisher on stage and try not to make it too conspicuous because fire regulations.)

Anyway, it struck me that the substitution of a Grease sing-along for the Tony Awards is an apt metaphor for online ESL teaching. You have questions? I thought so. In the remainder of this post, Grease Sing-Along will mean new online ESL classes, while the Tony Awards refers to traditional face-to-face ESL classes. Continue reading “Broadway metaphors for online teaching”

Remote Learning: What students told us

Soon after we started teaching remotely at the UD English Language Institute, we learned that we wouldn’t be going back into the classroom this summer, and many students will continue to take our courses online for longer than that because we don’t know when international students will be admitted to the US, nor when they will feel safe enough to try. So we wanted to know more about the students’ experience of our remote classes.

We conducted an online survey in our intensive English program with three simple open-ended questions: Continue reading “Remote Learning: What students told us”

Keeping our distance: What we did next

In my last post, about a century and a half ago (OK, two and a half weeks), I described how we took the English Language Institute at the University of Delaware online in ten days. Now we’ve finished three weeks of remote instruction, how’s it going?

Not bad.

Which, all in all, is pretty good. Continue reading “Keeping our distance: What we did next”

Going live: What we did and how we did it

As intensive English programs like ours are shifting from face-to-face to remote and online classes around the world, I thought it would be useful (if only for posterity!) to document what we have done at the University of Delaware English Language Institute.

My view is largely of the academic side. There is a whole complex layer of administration and student support going on as well, where my colleagues have moved mountains to recreate advising, tutoring, registrar services, and extracurricular activities for the coronavirus universe. But in terms of teaching and learning, these have been our steps so far, forming a rough timeline of a very rough time. Continue reading “Going live: What we did and how we did it”