Monday, 16 April 2012

Book Review: 'Teaching Online' by Nicky Hockly / Lindsay Clandfield

Teaching Online
Tools and techniques, options and opportunities
Nicky Hockly with Lindsay Clandfield

Delta Publishing 2010
ISBN 9781905085354
From the blurb: Teaching Online is a clear, accessible and reassuringly practical book - essential reading for anyone interested in online teaching and course delivery. The authors share their wealth of experience in a fundamental area of interest to language teaching professionals today. It deals comprehensively with:

   - ways you should approach both online and blended courses
   - tools you should know about
   - techniques you should use for successful online teaching

I'm quite excited about this book because, although I'm not doing much actual teaching at the moment, I'm still keen to keep up with all the latest trends and tendencies. So, without further ado, let's dive in.

Teaching Online is divided into three sections. The first covers what you need to get going with online teaching, help for building your own online course (which interests me, he-he), elements of successful online teaching, and finally a cool list of tools to help us actually 'do stuff'.

The second part is fundamentally an 'activities bank' in classic recipe book format, with the major difference being that the activities suggested are related to the super-sexy world of online possibilities as opposed to poor old traditional teaching!

There are sections for starting and ending online courses, with language exercises and evaluation issues also addressed. Forty activities have been imagined for the four skills, split logically into reading and writing, and listening and speaking. Both have very useful introductions dealing with the pedagogical considerations of this type of teaching. All good stuff.

The last section is for teachers - rest assured, our own professional needs haven't been forgotten. This looks at ways of getting and staying connected with others of our ilk, presenting some of the latest fab resources out there and introducing the so-called Personal Learning Network concept (PLN) which is a fancy way of saying 'a bunch of useful contacts' with the aim of helping you move on and ever up.

So, as you can see, this book is a little different to your average teacher resource book, and in a nutshell I'll tell you straight away that if you're seriously interested in this area you'd be somewhat silly not to get your hands on it!

Let me pick out some of my favourite parts. I'll start by praising the first part to the high heavens as a brilliantly put together analysis of what the oh-so buzzy and how-misunderstood term blended learning actually means, as well as what it doesn't.

In fact, it's not that easy, as incorporating IT into your teaching results in a scale from 100% on-line right down to almost all face-to-face, with the odd online element to spice things up a bit. This is covered admirably.

There's also a great section covering tons of cool software for doing awesome things like creating comics and movies, blogs and mind maps, sharing whiteboards and slide-shows, posters and podcasts, recording things, adding subtitles, creating surveys, making quizzes and a host of other innovative applications which are fully exploited in the activities section to follow.

The Liveware (= us humans, like doing 'facemail' = talking face to face) part of the first section is also useful in making us aware of the dangers of the physically disconnected learning environment.

The activities in the second section follow the same standard format: What it's about; The tools you need; How to do it; Alternative versions or followups; Comments.

For example, the very first activity in The starting line unit is called 'Me, myself and I'. It's about introducing yourself online via text. The resources needed are the extant course site.

Learners prepare a short text about themselves and publish it on their course site. They've already seen the teacher's profile and pic so they can use this as a model. They then read each other's profiles and leave comments. They answer a series of questions, supplied in Teaching Online, as they peruse the profiles.

Follow-ups could include a quiz when they meet face to face (to prove they've actually read them!). They are encouraged to provide interesting and perhaps unusual information about themselves in their profiles. Pretty classic stuff for first lessons really, except that it's on line.

What's refreshing and practical is that the authors have managed to fit everything that's needed (except the internet ;-) for each activity into one or two columns. Indeed, it's precisely because the internet provides so much - the vast bulk of the resources - that the lesson plans can be so succinct.

A more advanced but not necessarily more complicated activity would be Web tours, from the Listening and speaking online unit.

The Web tours activity is about taking others 'site-seeing' (ho-ho) on the internet. You need chatware (everything's somethingware these days, isn't it?!) including audio, video and shared web browsing, and email as an option.

You show your learners your favourite website, navigate around it, say what you like best, show them what you can do there, etc. They then do the same with a site they've 'prepared earlier'. This would obviously be excellent for students who need to give powerpoint presentations.

There's a question and answer session at the end, either typed or oral. The teacher or someone does a recap at the end of all the sites they've visited, with the main points highlighted. The teacher's taken notes on language points to cover later. There are useful hints on running this activity successfully, such as retaining 'click' control so that seven shades of tangential surfing hell (or email checking) don't break out. Nice one.

The final teacher development section's useful, because whilst more and more English teachers are getting online and discovering the wonderful world of web resources out there, a large number are still stuck in varying sizes and strengths of insular virtual bubbles, totally unaware (is that another ~ware word, I wonder?) of the huge potential for zapping up their lessons and themselves just waiting to be tapped.

Hotch Potch English hasn't made it into their list of favourite online resources, I notice, but no ELT book's perfect, I guess ;~S

As a rather funny final point, I was surprised as I flicked open Teaching Online's back cover, just for a split second, not to find the ubiquitous silver disc in its little stuck-on plastic case reflecting my ugly mug back at me. Then I realised how ludicrous that would be.

We've moved on from those days, at least in this publication. We're living in the always online world here, and CD-ROMs are about as relevant as stone slabs and chisels were to William Caxton or, I'm afraid Microsoft had to admit, Encarta now is to Wikipedia.

It's called progress, and Teaching Online will help us to do just that. If I'd pursued a career as a writer of ELT resource materials for teachers, I'd like to have written this. Maybe I'll write the definitive English teaching text for the Web 3.0 generation, who knows. So just be aware. The online ELT world needs wares.

Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Teaching Online"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Book Review: 'Professional English in Use: Management' - Arthur Mckeown - Ros Wright

Professional English in Use:
Arthur Mckeown & Ros Wright
Cambridge University Press 2011
ISBN 9780521176859

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "Part of the hugely popular Professional English in Use series, this book offers management vocabulary reference and practice for learners of intermediate level and above (B1-C1). Key MBA topics, covered in 40 independent units, including Leadership, Change Management and Finance are presented through real business case studies. The course has been informed by the Cambridge International Corpus to ensure that the language taught is up-to-date and frequently used. Primarily designed as a self-study book, it can also be used for classroom work and one-to-one lessons. This book is a must for both students of MBA and other Business programmes and professionals who need to use English in a managerial context."

The world of English teaching's moving fairly fast these days, with the tendency towards ESP (English for Specific Purposes) being confirmed by all the major publishers. The danger is that poor little 'run-of-the-mill' language teacher is getting left behind in this mad rush towards professionalisation and specialised business skills which a lot of English teachers simply don't possess.

Indeed, I've just been working with a language school here in Paris which not only divides its offer into 'standard' English and 'professional' English, but pays teachers capable of teaching the latter more. That might seem blindingly logical but in fact it has rarely been the case, at least in my experience, where your average 'competent' teacher is expected to wear many hats, including that of business skills consultant. They are often woefully underqualified to do so.

Which is where books like Cambridge's latest Professional English in Use title, Management, are supposed to come in.

Personally, I've always felt a bit confused as to what exact role these sort of books are actually supposed to be playing, and who the target audience is, both in terms of student and teacher.

Be that as it may, let's check out this new and long-awaited title. Accounting and catering and air traffic controlling are all very well, but management, now there's a challenge for an ELT publisher. A lot will be resting on this book, both in terms of credibility and actual usefulness, in a series I've found, in common with all publishers in this area, often tends to only have about three or four double-spread 'units' which are of direct relevance to any given professional.

The problem is, if it's a business or management primer, then why not just use one for native speakers which already exists instead of going to the bother of reinventing the wheel?

If, on the other hand, it's an English language teaching book, then is there not a danger that in trying to please everyone and keep your target audience reasonably large (for commercial purposes) you end up dumbing down the subject and not providing anything of much use to anyone? We'll see.

Nothing much more needs to be said about the layout and the professionalism of the presentation that I haven't already said in five other reviews of Cambridge books in this series: it's good. Having said that, it's surprisingly dense, even for a professional business title. It'll take some ploughing through, which is why its original remit, I assume, of covering given topics in good depth for one-off purposes in the context of a properly prepared and varied lesson is probably what's in play here. There's meat. (I may have to revise that last comment, as you'll see later...)

As to the topics, well one of the authors, Arthur Mckeown, is 'an experienced teacher of management English and designer of courses in management English for MBA students and professionals', so I'll defer to his knowledge of the business world and assume the topics are representative of what your average manager (does that exist?) needs to know.

I've photographed some of the contents pages so I don't have to run through them here - just click on the pics for larger versions.

Personally, I enjoy all of these books because they give you a real insight into other worlds, be it the arcane rituals of accounting or the scary seriousness of law or one I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to, English for Football!, which I see is coming out soon from one of the big ELT publishers.

I don't think it's from Cambridge, but they're stuck in the Conference League so it's probably not surprising. Anyway, plenty of football jokes coming when I get my hands on that one, rest assured about that Brian.

Back to Professional English in Use: Management, then (without the colon actually, but that bothers me), and you could say it's a book of seven sevenths (I've still got English for Football on the brain, sorry).

The section headings are fairly standard, although occasionally slightly opaque: Management in Context; Innovation; Marketing: Operations; People and Human Resources; Finance; Strategy and Change, but the chapter headings give you a good idea of what to expect.

The book doesn't seem to have been webbified yet - it's just good old pen and paper folks - unlike the fancy new Murphy grammar book, the granddaddy of all of these 'In Use' titles, which I'll be reviewing shortly.

So what I'll do to finish this review is teach myself a new business management concept - you know, there's always the latest fancy-pants buzz word gimmick what-have-you, whether it's 'Sigma 6' or 'Time Management' or 'Getting Things Done' or 'Management by Objectives' or any number of weird and wonderful concepts - and I'm going to find myself a new one. Now, let's see (promise I haven't looked beforehand!)...

Aah! Here we go: 'Transactional and transformational leaders' - perfect! Management jargon at its finest. Now let's see what all that's about...

Some time later that same review:

Hmm, well, quite interesting, tons of argot (paradigm shift, contingent reward leadership, management-by-exception, laissez-faire approach, hey, that's French, that is!) and of course the usual linking and gap fill exercises to test students' 'understanding' of, err, the language.

Whether they can actually use it, or would need to use it, or have learnt anything about management which is relevant to their own particular situation will depend on... their own particular situation.

In the end, and joking aside, this is a 'horses for courses' type of volume, and as I've said before, it's the sort of book I would use a relevant double spread from with an interested party and end up with them rather impressed by my evident investment in their progress.

I've always liked these books a lot, so don't think this review is a negative one; it's not. But this book will come into its own in the hands of an already competent and experienced business English trainer, and as a back up to less experienced teachers who can get students to discuss the relevance of certain approaches to working life in their country in a more general manner. OK, admittedly they tout it as primarily aimed at the self-study market (see above) and I'll finish with two comments: it could well be excellent for MBA students studying full time; for busy business people with families, forget it.

Congratulations on the book, by the way, Ros. You can be justifiably proud of it  ;~Sab


Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Professional English in Use: Management"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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