Teaching in Virtual Classrooms: Meeting the Pedagogical Challenge

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Sharing lessons from ongoing research with English language teachers worldwide on best practices for teaching in virtual classrooms as part of a blended course.


Dr. Castanos recently completed her Ph.D. in Educational Technology at Walden University researching factors influencing attrition and persistence in online teacher training. She earned her B.A.s in Romance Languages (French & Italian) and Secondary Education from the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP). She also earned her M.A. in Teaching English for Speakers of other Languages (TESOL) from UMCP. Dr. Castanos taught foreign languages and ESOL for over a decade and provided teacher training for content teachers to differentiate instruction for English Language Learners. Currently, she is Program Director for Laureate Languages, Laureate International Universities. Since 2010, she has worked on the deployment of the Laureate English Program now serving over 150,000 students in 30 countries at more than 50 Laureate institutions. She oversees deployment of English blended and online courses to students, faculty, and staff. She manages product development and quality assurance for English and has begun development of Spanish programs. Finally, she coordinates and performs research in online language learning and teaching.

Extended Abstract

The concepts of blended learning and flipped classrooms have taken off hugely in English Language Teaching (ELT) in recent years, with "improved pedagogy" often given as the justification for these approaches. But what is the pedagogical reality of delivering language courses online? How can we truly use technology to do what it does best while supporting teachers to do what they do best? Attendees of this presentation will consider potential answers to these questions and learn from the experience of others - both the presenters and, hopefully, fellow attendees.

This presentation is based on learnings arising from classroom research that a major international network of higher education providers (Laureate International Universities) is conducting with Cambridge University Press into the pedagogical challenge of delivering blended English language courses in which the traditional face-to-face classroom element is actually done online, through synchronous teaching in a virtual classroom. The institutions include Universidad Privada de Ciencias (UPC)-Peru, Universidad ViÒa del Mar (UVM)-Chile, Universidad Europea (UE)-Spain, and central classes provided by the Laureate Online Language School (LOLS) for faculty staff throughout Latin America.

While there is a reasonable amount of existing research into blended learning, there is very little research focused on this particular mode of delivery. The institutions participating in this research are working to extend their provision beyond the borders of the physical classroom, without compromising on the quality of the language learning experience. The goal is to reach out to students' needs in fully online programs, working adults, and alumni who wish to further their English beyond graduation.

This presentation will outline how, despite the considerable teaching experience which teachers brought to their online language programs, a range of challenges have emerged which can undermine their effectiveness if not addressed appropriately, including:

ï facilitating and managing genuine interaction in an online class
ï monitoring and providing feedback to students, e.g. in "break-out sessions"
ï managing a "flipped classroom" approach in a wholly-online class
ï maintaining motivation in an online course
ï ensuring the technology serves the learning, e.g. by exploiting computer- based formats/functions for online activities

The research uses a number of tools, from quantitative data stemming from student and tutor experience questionnaires, to reflective teaching journals, to close analysis of recordings from live virtual classrooms. The research also examines the contrast between plans/intentions and actual practice across a number of different countries and different course designs, affording the researchers the opportunity to learn from and adapt to the practical reality of diverse instructional contexts.

The session is aimed at reflective practitioners who are interested in the principles underpinning online language learning, as well as their application in real-world contexts. The session will open with brief background information, before sharing both the challenges that participating institutions have faced and some proposed solutions. The session will include interactive slots in which the audience is invited to comment and reflect on the research learnings with reference to their own experience.

To further engage attendees both during and after the presentation, we will show examples of the materials and research tools used (including teacher reflections and recordings of online lessons), handouts will be provided to spark discussion and allow attendees to take notes, and the presentation slides will be made available for future reference on the conference website.