I'm really happy to share Martin's contribution with all of you, as it contains some practical, useful, and easy ideas that can help you to start your online course. These activities all have a physical, face-to-face alternative as well, should you teach in a hybrid setting. Thanks, Martin!
Since 2005, Martin has taught English whilst resident in South East Asia, on the Continent and in the UK. At the University of Sussex, he has delivered face-to-face and online Intensive English, Pre-Sessional and Academic English courses. You can find out more about Martin from Twitter and he also runs his own English teaching website.
Starting your online course is as important as your first face-to-face course. You have all the necessary requirements to develop rapport, learn about your students, create a conducive environment for language learning as well as set the tone for the remainder of the course. However, what can language teachers do at the beginning to achieve the aims of their online course? In this post, I shall be sharing three practical ideas that remote teachers can incorporate at the start of their online course.
1. Using A Class Padlet
At the beginning of any class, it is always a wonderful idea to create an activity to develop awareness of your students. One way to achieve this is through the use of a class Padlet (www.padlet.com). You can do a variety of tasks with Padlet: get to know you (GTKY) activities, sharing photos or audio, or (as I suggest in the first task) a scavenger hunt.
You can create a Padlet for students to share personal photos or memories from their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. Ensure you create a Padlet where students (much like the image above) can share the following:
A Cute (Object)
Wearing Something (Adjective)
Someone Hugging A/An (Object)
Holding A/An (Object)
Eating Something (Adjective)
Something You Made
A Message to Your Teacher/Class
I incorporated this activity once with my class during the summer and they were so keen to share their own memories and photos with each other. I just wished I had used this task earlier as it was quite successful, and students responded positively to the task. It is quite easy to create a Padlet and you are not just constrained to the scavenger hunt, but you can also be quite creative at the beginning of your course with student writing and group work via this application.
2. Virtual Introductions Quiz
As we would consider, during any course, is to introduce ourselves to our students. One task that I particularly enjoyed, in the early weeks of a face-to-face course, was introducing myself to students and then getting students to complete a true and false quiz based on my introduction. This checked whether students were listening to the introduction, but they also were able to check their answers in small groups. However, I had to adjust this task which is best suited for a remote environment. One thing I would recommend is recording your self-introduction with your smartphone or tablet in a quiet environment. I propped my phone up with a gimble (a fancy tripod for a smartphone) on a table and then recorded my introduction.
Figure 1: Personal Introduction on YouTube
You can use some editing software and add some subtitles if you wish or leave it as it is. Once you have created your introduction and uploaded it as a Private YouTube video or shared it via a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), you can create a corresponding true or false quiz to use in your first remote lesson. Once you have shared the video with your students prior to the remote lesson, you can then get students (in the first synchronous lesson) to complete the true and false task with each other in small breakout rooms. This would be a wonderful opportunity for students to get to know more about their teacher.
One way to extend this task, from the very first online class, is to get students to introduce themselves to each other either by video or in written form. I have, however, noticed that students have been unwilling to record themselves and share to others, perhaps due to a lack of confidence. Once you have received the introductions from the students, you can create a corresponding True or False task for the next session. This would get students to learn more about each other.
3. Hopes & Fears
One suitable first lesson for a course task to incorporate within a physical class is the typical ‘Hopes & Fears’ activity. If you are unsure what this task is, it is essentially whereby students and the teacher share their hopes and fears for the course. Hopes could include passing the course with a score of 70% or more, or learning more about the subject, while fears could include failing the course, or not being able to complete the essay. Traditionally, the students share their thoughts in small groups (between 3-5 students) and write out their thoughts and reflections on a piece of large paper. These are then reviewed as a class and the teacher can respond to anything which emerges. Within an online environment, you are able to replicate a similar task.
First, you need to explain to students to take notes and type down their ideas within breakout rooms. You could possibly demonstrate this task to the whole class, and it is a good idea (as with any other task for online lessons) to email students the form/worksheet prior to the first synchronous class. You should place students into breakout rooms, between 3-5 students in each, and allow them 20-25 minutes. I have found that group activities take longer than you would expect and a 20 to 25-minute activity would be best for this particular group task. While students are in their breakout rooms, you could pop in to monitor progress and to allow more time if required.
Once students have finished the task, you could get students to present their thoughts with the whole class. Questions could be responded to by each individual group and then after everything is complete, students could share their ideas and reflections via a Class Padlet.
I hope you have found some of the ideas suitable for your future lessons and courses, especially as we find our place as educators within a virtual environment. Do you have any favourite first online tasks that you enjoy incorporating in classes? What would you recommend teachers embarking on their very first remote lessons?
These were some really simple ideas that can start off your online course quite well! I especially liked the class Padlet idea, because it can be used for many other things, such as uploading other project tasks or just to keep track of memories.
I also agree with Martin about students being a little reluctant to record and share videos with each other but if you emphasise that it's just like talking in class and it's all private, they might want to give it a try. And a big plus is that they can re-record it as many times as they want, so they can aim for perfection!
Feel free to share your experiences and ideas in the comments!