Back to the Future is the conference theme for the upcoming Innovate ELT conference in May in Barcelona. Duncan Foord looks at the impact of the internet on Teacher Development past, present and future.
By my reckoning we TEFLers have had 20 to 25 years of online options, tools and channels of one kind or another, including websites, blogs, Facebook, online courses, e mail, WhatsApp, Moodle, skype, and many more. Every day is Christmas for developing teachers! Has this stocking full of tools and opportunities helped us develop further and faster and are we having any more fun?
In this article I will take a look at how I think internet has impacted teachers and their development and I will make some comparisons with pre internet times, which I am old enough to remember!
As TEFL blogger Sandy Millin points out in her article 360 Degree Development on the British Council website, teacher development happened before the internet, which begs questions such as: Have teachers benefitted from the web? Could we have engaged more or less than we have? What are the implications for the future? Let’s have a closer look at some assumptions I think we have made about the benefits of the internet.
“It’s great for my development to find like-minded teachers and connect with them”
Being able to connect with other teachers is a definite plus, especially if I am working in remote circumstances: the only TEFL teacher in the village, so to speak. IATEFL SIGs and other teacher groups flourish and develop on the back of the connectivity the internet provides. It seems hard to imagine the committee and members of TD SIG organizing events, publishing articles and materials and creating forums for discussion as effectively without the internet.
On the other hand if I work in a staffroom or town with 20 or 30 teachers or more, what would happen if I spent the time I spend on line with virtual colleagues, engaging with staffroom colleagues and local teachers instead? Internet offers access to a diverse geography of teachers, but it also aggregates taste and preference so effectively that we may end up engaging with teachers who are so like-minded, we might not learn anything from them.
Low cost training
“There are lots of opportunities to get cheap or free courses on line and you save money on travel”.
Not really. Online CELTA/DELTA courses will cost you around the same as face to face courses. This is because costs and quality tend to be determined by paying for people´s time, which costs the same whether they are in front of a computer or in a classroom. Savings on physical space are counterbalanced by the costs of maintaining effective up to date on line classrooms. Some TD courses may be very cheap or free but are likely to be an unsupported experience working through what amounts to an animated self-study book.
Flexible timetables for training
“I can log on and log off at times which suits me, making it easier to combine training with my teaching work”
This is indeed a huge plus for many teachers. I am convinced many of the teachers who complete the blended Trinity Diploma with us at OxfordTEFL would not be able to do so, without the flexibility of schedule and also location. Though there is usually some travel requirement with blended versions of major professional courses such as the DELTA and Trinity Diploma, the costs can be drastically reduced for large parts of the course. What is more, in olden times you had to give up working for at least 2 months to attend a full time DELTA course.
One rider to this benefit is that online modes of training have not suited all teachers. High attrition rates, particularly on some Cambridge on line DELTA courses, are evidence. Improvements in video conference technology in particular have meant that on line courses can now replicate some of the dynamics and fun of face to face courses far better, but this mode still requires greater self-direction on the part of the trainee than traditional timetabled attendance on a face-to-face training course.
Easy Access to material
“Sites like One Stop English and the British Council teachers’ website are a great resource”
Indeed. Yet, as it goes with much of the internet, it can be hard to dig out the quality stuff when it is buried in mega bites of mediocre generic material. For example, the article I quoted by Sandy Millin, sits on a site with, well, let’s just say plenty of less compelling or informative work, at least from my point of view. Are teachers getting better materials and articles to read in 2019 than their counterparts in a 1990s staffroom?
From a Teacher Development point of view, the value of the internet in this case may be more in the writing than the reading. This “prosumer” revolution may be the biggest gain the internet has given teachers. TEFL tube, so to speak. After all, I would have been less likely to write this article in the nineties, as it would have been more difficult to publish. Whatever you think of it as a reader, the process of writing it is definitely developmental for me!
Online development for online teachers. “Lots of English courses are online now. It’s good for teachers to experience training in the same way as their students experience learning”
This is an excellent point. However most blended teacher development courses I am aware of prepare teachers to teach face-to-face classes, or to train other teachers online. Amanda, a recent graduate from the OxfordTEFL CELTA course and based in Barcelona, spends most of her week teaching young learners in Korea and China via skype. Her CELTA course did not address this growing area of teaching and, as far as I can tell, her opportunities to receive training in this area are limited to the briefing and feedback she receives from the company that hires her to do this work. That will probably change, if the trend to online language teaching continues.
Where do we go from here?
Smart, sexy or just sensible, the internet will continue of course to factor in teacher development. If I had a crystal ball app I would expect it to tell me something like this:
- Online options for development through networking will continue to flourish. However the “think global act local” movement may see teachers take advantage of WhatsApp groups to organize meet ups with local teachers more in the future. Sensible.
- Blended training courses for teachers will get smarter and sexier, but not cheaper.
- Face to face conferences and events for teachers will increasingly differentiate themselves from online webinars and web conferences, offering more unique experiences for teachers. Traditional IATEFL style plenaries with power point and monologue will move on line (a sensible place for them) as teachers seek value in more participative experiences. Smart and Sexy.
- Blended courses which combine the benefits of on line and face to face experience will continue to flourish. Smart and Sexy. 100% online courses with little or no human interaction will disappear to be replaced by books. Sensible.
- Established online resources for teachers will become increasingly curated with subscription only sections (One Stop English already has this) or niche, like Jamie Keddie’s Lesson streaming site. Personal brands rather than corporate roll outs will become more popular. Sexy.
- Teachers will continue to experience classroom challenges and reflect on them alone and with students, bosses and colleagues, and this principally off line activity will continue to be the cornerstone for our development in the sense of improving performance, developing identity, community and self-esteem. Same as it ever was.
Duncan Foord is the Director of OxfordTEFL, Barcelona. He has 30 years experience in language teaching, teacher training and school leadership and management. He is the author of “From English Teacher to Learner Coach” (with Dan Barber, The Round 2014) The Developing Teacher (Delta Publishing, 2009) and The Language Teachers Survival Handbook with Lindsay Clandfield (Its Magazines, 2008). He is lead trainer on the OxfordTEFL Leadership in ELT course (on line and face to face).