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Intensive English Online- CATESOL 2010

 "Intensive English Online"
2010 CATESOL State Conference
Santa, Clara, California
Kelly Cunningham

This presentation showcased some best practices in teaching ESL online with a focus on the teaching of an online pre-collegiate writing course for students in an Intensive English Program at a community college.

Face to Face Problems

& How to mitigate them online

 F2f problem

How mitigated online

Students take vastly different amounts of time to complete assignments

Students do the assignments on their own time thus relieving the class of the dreaded ‘waiting period’ or ‘rushing period’ on some assignments in class

Students want to continue the discussion of topics beyond the allotted class time

Discussion board conversations can continue to go on as long as student interest is there; conversations can even be gone back to and revived or reviewed

Students are shy to speak up in class, or one or two particularly gregarious students overpower the course and the discussion

Online boards, especially those where each class member is given a topic to post on or a question to answer, tend to give a more equal share of ‘talk time’ to each class member. In addition, those who may be somewhat reticent often come alive online when they can talk through text.

The multilevel nature of language classes means students will always go at different paces, and some may need more practice in some areas than others.

Individualized extra practice can easily be assigned completed and graded online. Extra examples and explanations can be fabricated or found online for students on particular topics. In addition, online quizzes, especially instructor generated, can provide instant feedback and self test practice for students who need it. Software, like my writing lab and others, does this automatically!

Can all be done face to face as well, but online other students probably don’t know about it and thus students are more apt to practice on their own without criticism form others.

Attendance/Scheduling can be a problem, especially with adult students, those with children and fluctuating work schedules

Online courses, though not necessarily independent, offer students the ability to work on their own time when they have it. Rather than necessitating that be in class a specified number of hours per week at specific, sometimes inaccessible, times and location.

Builds an ‘always on,’ always available, learning community students can access anywhere, any time, when they need it and no one misses out just because of schedule conflicts.

Questions- sometimes students ask questions that are too specific to answer as a group, some that you don’t have time for in class or the ones where you are simply stumped at the moment and need to double check you grammar or handbook. Other students need/want to ask questions but are afraid to in class (site the chat during and after class).

Online feedback can be instant but it can also be delayed giving time to find the best answer you can and refer students to other sources of information to follow up on. The questions can be submitted as they arise privately through individual chat or email or publicly within the course on discussion boards or during office hours. Those submitted on discussion boards can benefit the group. You might consider an anonymous discussion board just for course questions and material questions, but beware of possible abuse. You can answer questions on your own time with appropriate prep to answer the questions. In addition, students often get answers more quickly than they might in a f2f setting where they need to wait for office hours, or after/before class by which time they may have forgotten the question and you may not even have a proper answer for them.


Other Online Benefits

Other online benefits


Global link

Ideally want to have residents and non residents and int’l students in class together

Build bridges

Easier transition

Int’l students can begin language study and community building and interaction with those in states before even leaving home

Consider this as a pre-departure orientation course?

Newest outreach- Partnering with a school in China, teacher training course development and adaptation.

Schools abroad outsourcing language training online?












 Some Caveats of Online Courses

& suggestions to mitigate their impact

Caveats online

How to mitigate

Don’t understand the instructions

Be sure directions are clear, complete and unmuddled. Be specific! SHOW how wherever possible in addition to telling. Post easy to find summaries with links to more specifics.


Be available to answer questions, and create a board for students to post course questions and s-s questions in addition to always asking you

Give examples with your instructions as well as clear grading criteria, preferably with examples across the range of grading, high, low and medium.

Don’t understand the software

Give explanations, offer face to face demos if possible and appropriate, give screen casted orientations to new software and procedures as well as screenshot and quick how to guides. Link to tech support and ready made tutorials if necessary/available

Bandwidth connectivity



Limit the excess! Not everyone has high-speed always on always functioning internet connections, thus limit the unnecessary clutter, graphics, animations! Video etc. use it, but also be sure that your participants know what to expect and find out, when possible, what tech they have

Inappropriate expectations

 Be upfront. Students should know (and instructors too) what is going to be expected of them prior to signing up for the course. If there are any meeting times (hybrid) they should be clearly listed in the catalog. The tech requirements, time commitment and login expectations should also be made clear

Students may not be ready to handle the online environment technology wise

Pre-course survey or orientation?

Students may ‘over share’ in the over comfortable semi removed/veiled online environment

Be sure there is a confidentiality, respect etc disclosure, be sure to post a ‘netiquette’ which outlines principals and practice where ever possible, remind what is tmi, remind that info is posted in the forever sense and you can’t get it back; remind of appropriate language and constructive and nonconstructive comments. Here and in every task be specific and give clear examples


The 'To Do' List

The do list


Clear specific instructions


Present clear expectations at the beginning of the course and be sure all are aware of it

These should include log in time expectations, hours devoted to it

Consider a quiz to be sure students understand these expectations.

Teach the program/cms /applications

Recognize you are adding objectives to your course when you make it online, swbt utilize the tools necessary for the course

Teach the vocab if you’re going to use it

Again, added objective, swbt talk about what they are doing in the online course

Proof read!

Pilot with test group of students, give points and have expectation for students to find errors, use discussion board for this


Online, in person and screen casted and quick guides

Be available

Respond to inquiries as soon as possible

Hold office hours- online and possibly face to face if appropriate

Be clear about your response time and stick to it

Make sure students can use the tools before they complete major assignments with them

Test out the tools you will be using during the orientation module of the course. Make sure students understand the rudimentary use of the tools by having them complete simple low risk activities with them and sort out any problems then.

Ex- if you plan to do a big group research wiki, have the class share their favorite websites in one the first week of class

Use a discussion board for introductions and require replies if you will be using it in class

Possibly consider a synchronous chat so all experience the office hours in case they are needed

Give a quiz on the basic things from the syllabus so that you not only find out if they have read it and understood it but also to see if students can navigate the quiz application you use

Get feedback on the course, throughout and at the end

The first round will not be perfect

Consider even checking expectations post orientation module to see where students are at and see if further clarification is necessary. Have surveys (Google forms!) for students to fill out at key points in the course so you can get (ideally anonymous) feedback from them about the course as they see it. Not only this but ask them questions about their own participation and effort as well so that they are forced to gauge their own input as well.

Wherever possible share such results with the class and show what changes you have made based on the input received. These changes should not only include changing the given material and improving for ‘next time’ next course but ongoing changing through the course itself that the students are currently in and can experience.

As students see this they will see the value of their input


Learn- take courses, go to workshops, seminar etc on online teaching, ideally in an online format, and take at least one course online yourself before even considering trying to design or teach an online class.

I took my courses here:

You will experience the things that are helpful and those that drive you crazy first hand! And learn new techniques, methodologies and up and coming uses for the tools you discover through this.

Investigate the tools and never lose sight of your objectives

Take your Time- have realistic expectations of time, consider a minimum of 1 semester to design a 1 semester course. Add the time it will take to get it approved etc…Have your course completed before you begin to teach it and be ready to improve it. Research and prepare and double check and proofread. It is imperative that instructions be clear since this is the only information your class will get. Think about the objectives and the design first. This is not your f2f class. Consider it a brand new class reinvented on its own in light of the environment & tools you’re using.



Have realistic expectations

It is work, it is a new discipline expect challenges, expect downtime

Give yourself plenty of time and knowledge for development

In addition, find out as much as you can about the process at your institution about going from an idea to a  course. This may vary from school to school and dept to dept. it may be a much longer process than you think(1+ year)

Do NOT expect you can build a course and let it run itself. Do not expect you can take your f2f course and simply put it online.

Expect you will be even more accessible and responding even more often in your online class than your face to face class. You do not need to lecture daily but you should be available to respond whenever needed (set up some guidelines)

Should you be online?

Seriously consider if your course would make sense online. Most course CAN be online, but should they be? Will the population your course could draw be happy with an online course? Do some research. Would hybrid work better?


More About The Intensive English Program at Elgin Community College


Jing - Screencasting software
Elluminate V-Room - conferencing software, free 3 person room, or pay for more space

Further Training:

Illinois Online Network


Power Point available for download below:

Kelly c,
Apr 23, 2010, 6:44 PM