Practical information about e-learning: recruitment and training05-Sep-2012
As my introduction promised, in the first article of the series I am going to concentrate on the topic of teacher recruitment and training. E-learning in this case means blended learning, the combination of traditional classes with various computer-mediated activities. I am going to talk about the importance of selecting the right teacher for the job and the key role they play in raising student interest. Throughout this article I will assess the issues at hand from an e-learning rookie’s point of view.
A teacher’s attitude towards any type of e-learning is a sensitive topic. Head teachers, usually with decades of teaching experience are more then often not experienced in blended-learning methodology and they feel intimidated if the topic is raised. The lack of interest can be because they are not experienced in using advanced technology in class (other than OHP and CD player) or believe that e-learning methods are inferior to the “proven” conventional methodology.
This can result in avoidance or shunning e-learning and this issue has to be addressed and spoken of openly. If there is a hidden “conspiracy” going on between the head teachers and other experienced members of the “old guard”, the success of your e-learning program could be in jeopardy. Therefore I suggest that the teacher who is appointed to oversee the program should have equally proficient skills in teaching and utilizing technology in class.
As a rule of thumb, when recruiting teachers, don’t try to convince them to do e-learning classes unless they are interested. You have to accept that some teachers will never become good e-learning teachers. This of course doesn’t mean they are bad teachers – you just have to find the right people for the right job. In my experience (based on a pool of about 120 teachers) approximately 25-30 percent of them are actually technophobes. No need to make their lives more difficult with assigning them a blended learning class. A good 40 percent is the average user and about 30-35 percent is the cream of the crop. But whatever the percentages are now, keep in mind what a cleverer man then me once said: “Technology will never replace teachers but teachers who know how to use technology will gradually replace those who don’t”.
When training teachers we concentrate on the three fundaments of our blended program:
- e-learning materials should be strongly related to and amend the conventional classes
- teachers should be involved in selecting and handing out e-learning materials as well as monitoring learners’ work
- teachers should be monitored and checked regularly by head teachers and given regular counsel to develop their skills
A classic blended learning course has fewer face to face sessions and the missing classes are supplanted by e-learning material to be completed by the learners at home. Typically receptive skills, writing, and grammar are done alone, while face to face classes concentrate on speaking and necessary explanations. For that reason in our training sessions I always make sure teachers understand the difference between homework and online, interactive part of the class that has to be completed alone by the learner. Teachers should be prepared and able to assign relevant material to their groups via the Macmillan English Campus or in other ways. It is vital for the e-learning material to be related to the conventional session in order to amend it and make it a whole. If learners don’t understand the importance of e-learning material, they will be less inclined to complete it.
In our language school we use the English Campus to supply the e-learning part to our blended learning courses. Macmillan books have their corresponding parts on the Macmillan English Campus, chapter for chapter, which makes it easy to use. However, it also carries a danger; teachers tend to just assign the relevant parts at the beginning of the course and then forget about it. Because of this we encourage teachers on their training to create unique e-learning materials (such as finding relevant videos, texts, or various other exercises on the internet) that are related to the relevant chapter and assign them from class to class or search in the Macmillan English Campus database for more related material they can assign, once again, from class to class. The key point here is regularity. If teachers assign exercises personally and regularly, there is a greater chance they will also check it next time. And if teachers assign and check e-learning materials every class there is also a large chance that learners will do their work alone as well.
Having monitored approximately 60 groups in blended learning for over 6 months I found – not so surprisingly – that there is a strong correlation between group and teacher activity on the Macmillan English Campus platform. In other words, where teachers spent more time online assigning materials and preparing for class, learners also spent more time doing exercises and thus achieving better results.
And this takes us to our third fundament: monitoring teachers. With the English Campus it is possible to be the “big brother” and foresee problems. As I have mentioned before, classes where teachers are less active will perform sub-par. But monitoring teacher and user activity can predict this and leaves enough time to act – consulting with the teacher, asking them the reasons for less activity etc. and solve the problem. All in all, it is reasonable to check teacher activity every month, either with Macmillan English Campus (statistics and logs) or by looking into the lesson logs if no English Campus is used.
Of course the best way to keep teacher performance up is to keep teachers interested in e-learning. Monitoring is necessary but nobody wants to create a police state language school. Ways for keeping up interest are, for example regular staff meetings, newsletters and training sessions. The aim of these is to keep up the “conversation” between teachers; i.e. to make them share their experiences and encourage each other to find out more about e-learning. I always found that a staff room full of chatter and interaction is half the battle won. Just like a language class of the similar kind.
Additional articles in the ‘Practical information…’ series can be found here: