What have they been up to?

‘I have eyes in the back of my head’. Teachers everywhere

Classroom management is all about knowing and controlling what is going on in your classroom and is a core competency for teachers teaching face to face.  This is reduced to a certain degree in online teaching but we still need to know what our students are getting up to when they think we’re not looking.  Teacher omniscience is not only about behaviour though.  It’s also about appreciating what our students are understanding or struggling with and making decisions about how to address this.  So how can we be sure they are doing what we want them to do?

1. LMS access data

examples of dataUsing the information in Teacher Reports, you can easily track how much time your students have spent in the LMS.  You can filter the reports so that they just show one class so you can see straightaway if anyone is spending a lot less time than the others in the system.  This may mean that the student is slacking and just doing the bare minimum.  Be careful though – it could mean that the student’s level is a bit higher than the others so they are getting through the material faster.  If this is the case you will need to devise some additional tasks e.g. research and blogging that they can do to keep them interested but how do you know which is which?

2. Student progress data

Looking at student progress, you can see very detailed information on how the students are doing at any one time by clicking on the student’s name.  You can even see how many times a student attempted a particular exercise.

students progressLooking at the data for the student above, we can easily see the area she needs more support with.  She probably understands yes/no questions fairly well is struggling with the vocabulary for the lesson.  Hover over learning outcomes to get a clearer picture of what the student should be able to do now that she’s finshed this lesson.

This data isn’t really worth putting on certificates.  It’s for you to get a clear idea of what you need to do in your next face to face session or synchronous activity*.  Think about doing a grammar gamble or a quiz or a communicative activity that uses the language or skills in question that would give you an opportunity to address the issue with the group and see if they can help each other find the answers.

3. Web 2.0 Tools

web 2.0 tools imagesThese communicative tools provide you with a unique window on your students’ world.  You have the chance to see what they are thinking and how they express themselves in ways that are not available to you face to face.  For instance, with Voice Tools you will be able to hear the pronunciation of even those shy students who stop talking whenever they see you approaching.  Because the tasks in the Forum and Blog are directly prepared and scaffolded in the Touchstone content, you can get a very clear picture of what your learners have understood from their activity in the online course.  Take care not to fall into the trap of trying to correct all mistakes for everyone but do invite comment on common errors when in class.  Give them the opportunity to correct themselves as a group first and then fill in the gaps in their knowledge when they’ve run out of options.

Speaking of behaviour, you may still need to check into forums etc to make sure everyone is ‘playing nicely’.  It is important to establish an atmosphere of trust in the online learning environment so that students feel confident enough to risk making mistakes that their peers will see.  If there is anyone in the group who is behaving antisocially, e.g. making fun of other students, they are damaging that atmosphere and negating the value of the community of learners.  Part of the cure for this is to agree ‘class rules’ or netiquette and to emphasise its importance during orientation – not what punishments are available for rule breakers but what value there is for everyone if everyone follows the rules.

We no longer need to have eyes in the back of our heads but we still need to know what our students are getting up to and how we do that is changng too…


New Directions

‘You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.’  Edison

I actually borrowed this quote from Michael Peluse who is the Managing Director, Cambridge ELT who was talking about how we all need to change as our environment changes.  He was talking about publishing as we enter the digital age but it applies just as well to how teaching and learning has to adapt as the landscape of new materials, ways of working and communicating change all around us.  It requires us not only to adapt to a new way of thinking but to develop the ability to adapt to constantly changing needs and demands of our learners and their sponsors, be they parents or employers.  Books and materials change.  Activities change.  Relationships change.

So, whether you’re teaching with Touchstone or any other online or blended learning product, you may need a bit of inspiration from time to time so here are just a few of the great resources that are out there to help you.  If you have any favourites of your own, do tell us!

Resources for Teachers

Teaching Online: A new skill set by Dewar and Whittington

An academic article on exactly this theme   Written in 2000, the article is quite ‘old’ but the notion of developing new skills for a changing environment still holds true.

An old favourite – the BBC’s Teaching English site.  This link is to a blog post on the kinds of skills that have been identified in online teachers.  Can you see where you are on the pyramid?

The full pyramid is represented here: http://www.llas.ac.uk/resources/gpg/2530

A similar theme is explored by Nicky Hockly in her post and subsequent discussion linking face to face and online teaching skills


The on teaching online blog is a bit more about the bigger picture of teaching online so moving away from individual interactions and thinking about creating a course framework or assessment strategy around the materials you are using.

Resource for Learners

And finally, a little something for the most important people in the process, our learners. 7 tips for developing online learning skills

So it seems there are plenty of us going in this new direction.  Let’s keep in touch!

What’s it all about?

During recent training with some very smart teachers in Moscow in October, it became apparent that teachers were feeling confident about some parts of the LMS, teaching using the programme and the Web 2.0 tools…but not all of them.  Everybody had different strengths and weaknesses and were worried about different components or activities or philosophies or had one idea of how to use something but wanted to try alternatives.

So, on the inspired suggestion of Olga from Samara, I have started this blog to keep putting out ideas for teaching, for using the platform and motivating students.  Every Monday there will be a post on a topic of the week, with technical How To’s and pedagogical What For’s with practical advice on different components and methodology.  Teachers are invited to share their practical ideas too, particularly if they try out something they heard on the blog.  From time to time we’ll hear from other trainers and even teachers who would like to talk about their experiences of how they adopted Touchstone with their learners.

I hope that this will become a resource for new and experienced teachers alike so if there’s anything in particular you’d like to read about and try out do let me know!