Language-learning activities: synchro/asynch, individual/group

The Fall semester kicked off today as we started our first teaching session of the 20/21 academic year almost fully online (a handful of classes meet once a week to satisfy immigration requirements for new international students). In my new role as Online Program Manager, my motto for the coming months–shamelessly cribbed from a certain fellow Delawarean–is Build a Bit Better. One way we can do that is by exploiting the potential of blended synchronous/asynchronous instruction more fully.

One of the myths about asynchronous learning is that it’s a-teacher-ous:

Exactly. In fact asynchronous also doesn’t have to mean individual activity: it can also involve group work and lots of interaction among students and between students and the instructor. I think I’ve seen a nice diagram of online activities along two axes: individual/group and synchro/asynch, but I can’t find it, so I made my own on Padlet. Hope you find it useful:

What have I missed? Or does anyone know the diagram I’m looking for?!

In coronavirus news, there have been nearly 17,500 positive cases in Delaware, and numbers continue to rise, although deaths from COVID-19 have become very rare in the past few weeks. Most schools and universities will start the fall semester online, with limited in-person classes in some districts, parochial, and private K-12 schools.

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”