Remote Teaching ESOL at a community college – welcome to the jungle

In the spirit of brainstorming and sharing out, I’ve been talking to folks and reading about this whoosh to online/remote teaching, and wanted to share some thoughts, mostly about the tech side. I sent most of this message to the PCC listserve on Friday, March 13.

From now until April, the most important tech will be email, phone/texts, and pictures sent by phone/device.

  • For communication, of course. No matter what else, this is going to be the cornerstone of success or failure.
  • And also for sending/sharing/submitting work. Students don’t necessarily need to do their work in a new way — working with pen, paper, and the tools they have may set them up for the best form of remote learning.
  • This is true for ESOL and college classes.  
  • Even this is particularly difficult for levels 1-3 (survival and beginning ESOL), as many have pointed out.

The consensus among online learning teachers and designers that I have seen is: keep your remote teaching lean and simple.

  • Use the tools and resources that you know, and that the students know (or could deal with, at least).
  • For example, if students can send you a picture of their written work by email or text, have them do that, instead of a D2L (i.e., brightspace, our Learning Management System) assignment portal.
    • If it’s you’re first time using D2L, what are you going to do when it doesn’t work like you thought it did?
    • What are the students going to do if they have never used something like this before?
    • How will you explain it to them when you’re on a Mac, and they’re on a Samsung Galaxy?
  • Some have mentioned PCC’s very simple site creator/editor, which basically lets instructors add text and links. That would work very well!
    • … and if you’ve used Google Sites before, then that is probably great for delivering info to students.
    • … and if you’ve used Google Docs + drive before, then that is probably great for delivering info to students.
    • … and if you’ve used D2L before, or feel comfortable, then that is probably great, too. But if you’re not comfortable with D2L, it’s not the only answer to offering students learning experiences in this time.

If there is one tool I recommend (at this stage), it is Google voice, the online virtual phone from google, which allows you to have a dedicated online way of texting, receiving voicemails, and making calls (without having to use your phone or your personal #).
Students will actually text us if they have a way, and they all have texting capability on their phones. And communication is going to be the make or break factor of the next two months.

In my 5+ years of using google voice, students engage with text messages quickly and accurately. They will respond. They will also reach out by text if they have questions. I think setting up and using this that may pay off way more than training in virtual lectures in d2L and zoom.

There may be other tools that allow for this kind of virtual texting, too. Maybe someone has had a good experience with another one. And, if you have concerns about using a Google product and student privacy, consider using your own phone service and phone number at this time.

(In my own five years of using Google voice, I have never had a student abuse it, and I would much more readily hand out my own personal number in the future, if need be.)

Finally, I saw this advice in a blog post yesterday, and while Barrett-Fox’s title and tone is a little snarky, this part is unadulterated gold, and a reminder of what we already know about our students: (emphasis added by me)

Remember the following as you move online:

  1. Your students know less about technology than you think. Many of them know less than you. Yes, even if they are digital natives and younger than you.
  2. They will be accessing the internet on their phones. They have limited data. They need to reserve it for things more important than online lectures.
  3. Students who did not sign up for an online course have no obligation to have a computer, high speed wifi, a printer/scanner, or a camera. Do not even survey them to ask if they have it. Even if they do, they are not required to tell you this. And if they do now, that doesn’t mean that they will when something breaks and they can’t afford to fix it because they just lost their job at the ski resort or off-campus bookstore.
  4. Students will be sharing their technology with other household members. They may have LESS time to do their schoolwork, not more.
  5. Many will be working MORE, not fewer, hours. Nurses, prison guards, firefighters, and police officers have to go to work no matter what. As healthcare demand increases but healthcare workers get sick, there will be more and  more stress on those who remain.
  6. Some of your students will get sick. Others will be caring for people who are ill.
  7. Many will be parenting.
  8. Social isolation contributes to mental health problems.
  9. Social isolation contributes to domestic violence.
  10. Students will be losing their jobs, especially those in tourism and hospitality.

All of these factors mean that your students are facing more important battles today than your class–if they are even able to access it.

Published by Eric

I teach English to speakers of other languages, mostly adults, in beautiful Portland, Oregon.