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

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