Give Yourself Credit for Broadband Learning

Formal classes are only one option for online learning, says Leslie Opp-Beckman. See Norma Scagnoli's Portal article, "Finding the Right Online Professional Development Course,"Essential Teacher, March 2005 (pp. 50-52).

"I've never tried online learning before. How can I get started?" I'm asked this question at EFL/ESL teacher education sessions all over the world. My reply? I rewind the tape and reframe the question as a mini-needs assessment:

Q: Okay, so, you want to try online learning. Do you ever use a computer with an Internet connection in your work or free time?

A: Well, sure [much rolling of eyes and some restless shifting from foot to foot].

Q: Give me a "for instance."

A: Last term, I coauthored an article with a buddy at another school, and we submitted it by e-mail to a couple of publishers. Then there's this discussion forum Web site that I check in on occasionally. Mostly I lurk, but sometimes I contribute ideas for resources or my opinions. I like to jump in on the hot topics--you know, things like politics in schools and whether or not to teach vulgar words in conversation classes [large grin].

Q: What about using the Internet in your classes?

A: Hmm, that's kind of tough. I've got one computer in my classroom, but the school doesn't have a lot of other computers, and none of them have Internet connections. But the really motivated students in my classes regularly go to cybercafés or use computers at their friends' or relatives' houses. They find and bring in printouts of current events, pop culture--whatever interests them--for class discussions and projects.

My school doesn't have a lot of encyclopedias or a big research library, either, but that's OK because I pull out background reading, photos, and the like from reference sites on the Web. Whenever our class text is short on information or the students are really interested in knowing more about some topic, I can pretty much get whatever I need from the Web and bring it in as a printout or copied on a CD for use on the one offline computer.

Q: Wow, when you put it all together, you're doing a lot online! What do you need a class for? You're already doing online learning, and so are your students!

The Many Flavors of Online Learning

My point is that, although formal classes definitely have a place in the overall scheme of online learning, you can also take part in nonformal or informal online learning activities--and you should give yourself "credit" for doing so.

If you don't have the time or resources to enroll in a full-blown class or degree program, try some of the following instead. Make sure you document your activities for your institution's review process--even if you are one of the first to do so--and your school administrators may recognize the value of your online learning.

Join a Forum

Join a professional forum or discussion list. Internet TESL Journal keeps an up-to-date list of forums for ESL/EFL professionals (http://iteslj.org/links/TESL/Discussion/). And Tile.net (http://www.tile.net/lists/) maintains a more comprehensive directory of all kinds of e-mail lists.

Sign Up for E-Zines and Newsletters

Join one of the many free Web sites maintained by professional organizations, and read the newsletters or teaching tips. The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/) offers a wide range of resources plus a free weekly e-mail newsletter. Dave's ESL Café maintains a directory of free ESL/EFL e-zines and newsletters (http://eslcafe.com/search/Online_ESL_Publications/).

Submit an Article or Lesson Plan

Write and submit an article or advice piece--by yourself or with a colleague. Start small if it's your first time, and be willing to accept constructive criticism and try again as needed. Lesson plan archives such as Information Institute of Syracuse's The Educator's Reference Desk (formerly AskERIC; http://www.eduref.org/) and A to Z Teacher Stuff's archive (http://www.atozteacherstuff.com/Lesson_Plans/Language_Arts/ESL/index.shtml) can facilitate the publishing of your teaching ideas. E-journals such as TESL-EJ (http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/) and Language Learning and Technology (http://llt.msu.edu/) are examples of high-quality, peer-reviewed publications that accept submissions globally.

Involve the Students

Write or submit projects with students. Many project sites give credit to the instructor and the students. Robb's Student List Project (http://sl-lists.net/) and Gaer's Email Projects(http://www.otan.us/webfarm/emailproject/email.htm) are easy ones to get started with. The International Education and Resource Network (iEARN) (http://www.iearn.org/) offers longer term class or extracurricular projects, as do many of the sites listed in Internet TESL Journal's student project directory (http://iteslj.org/links/ESL/Student_Projects/).

References

A to Z Teacher Stuff. Lesson plans: Language arts: ESL. http://www.atozteacherstuff.com/Lesson_Plans/Language_Arts/ESL/index.shtml.

Dave's ESL Café. Online ESL publications. http://eslcafe.com/search/Online_ESL_Publications/.

Gaer, S. Email projects. http://www.otan.us/webfarm/emailproject/email.htm

Information Institute of Syracuse. The Educator's Reference Desk. http://www.eduref.org/.

International Education and Resource Network (iEARN). http://www.iearn.org/.

Internet TESL Journal. ESL: Student projects. http://iteslj.org/links/ESL/Student_Projects/.

Internet TESL Journal. TESL: Discussion. http://iteslj.org/links/TESL/Discussion/.

Language Learning and Technology. Published by University of Hawai'i National Foreign Language Resource Center and the Michigan State University Center for Language Education and Research. http://llt.msu.edu/.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/.

Robb, T. Student list project. http://sl-lists.net/.

TESL-EJ. Published by University of California at Berkeley College Writing Programs. http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/

Tile.net. 2005. Tile.net lists: The reference guide to email newsletters and discussion lists. http://www.tile.net/lists/.

Leslie Opp-Beckman (leslieob@uoregon.edu), the outgoing editor of Compleat Links, has worked in the field of ESOL for more than twenty years and continues to teach, publish, and conduct research in the area of technology and language learning at the University of Oregon, in the United States.