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In 2003, Cheng and Myles discussed the challenges involved in changing on-site teacher
education courses to an on-line format. How would we impart information? Would we
use a textbook, course pack or internet resources as a guide? How would candidates be
assessed? And what about a practicum component? Those were big questions ten years
ago and still are today; however, what has changed is that online teaching and learning
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has made online courses increasingly popular and commonplace. They have undoubtedly
become the norm.
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teachers (K-12) for ESL Part I, II and the Specialist, Ontario universities annually serve
thousands of teachers (referred to as candidates) who want to grow professionally, increase
their employability and expand their knowledge of ESL instruction. Candidates can be
working in Ontario, other parts of Canada or in various countries around the world. This
article explains some of the reasons why online courses have become so commonplace, and
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effective online instruction.
ESL AQ Courses
A variety of post-secondary institutions, including Queen’s University, offer ESL Part I,
II, and the Specialist in an online format using such platforms as Desire to Learn. These
courses are designed to provide K-12 teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to
meet Ministry of Education requirements for English language learners, whether these
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Part I is an introductory course in TESL that focuses on both the theory and practice of
second language teaching, as well as cultural issues that can affect student performance
and adaptation to the Canadian context. Part II is an expansion of Part I, in that the course
content extends and reinforces the knowledge and skills acquired in the previous course.
Teachers have more opportunity to explore theoretical perspectives of second language
EFFECTIVE ONLINE TEACHING PRACTICES
IN ESL TEACHER EDUCATION1
By Johanne Myles and Vesna Nikolic
1 This paper is based on a presentation of the same title delivered at TESL Ontario in November, 2012.
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acquisition and apply their knowledge and skills, as most of them will have already had
ESL teaching experience in Canada or abroad when they take Part II. In the Specialist,
more attention is given to analysing the implications of ESL curriculum guidelines, policies,
procedures and regulations. This course is intended for those teachers who wish to gain
more knowledge about program administration and planning in schools and at the Board
of Education level.
The ESL AQ courses each consist of 125 instruction hours. Each course contains a set
of modules that include a culminating activity or task which candidates are required to
complete. Modules comprise a variety of topics related to ESL theory and practice with
related readings and resources (emphasis is placed on Ministry of Education documents),
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feedback with comments and rubrics. Candidates are expected to read the material, complete
tasks, engage in quality interactions with other candidates, extend their knowledge, and
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Advantages and Drawbacks of the Online
Format
There are numerous advantages to using instructional technology in K-12 additional
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and current information designed to enhance candidates’ understanding of ESL theory,
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courses can also reach a large number of participants and utilize interactive and engaging
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YouTube and other internet sites, candidates can now access and observe a wide selection
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Even “worst practices” can serve as a point of discussion and comparison (O’Connor,
2009). Online instructional technology can supplement or complement existing on-site
approaches and, in turn, foster the creation of new and innovative methods in teaching and
learning, which is essential for teacher education (Spiro, 2011).
Nevertheless, there are drawbacks, such as the lack of face-to-face interaction, which
can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretation of instructions, which are all textbased.
In addition, there isn’t as much of an opportunity for relationship building and
incidental learning, the kind of learning that takes place when candidates share ideas
as they are walking to class or having a coffee break. Time frames can be short and the
workload challenging for candidates and instructors alike. Because courses are created
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course is in progress and there is the possibility that links to websites and materials that
the candidates need to access are broken. Ethical considerations are also huge, especially
with regard to the practicum or tutoring experience. Instructors and candidates need to
be mindful of releasing pictures, or names of people, schools and any other information 
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candidates? How do they reach people who are not “showing up for class,” when the only
way to communicate with them is through the technology which they are not accessing?
So what does online teaching involve?
According to Salmon (2003), online education is purposeful. With this in mind, it is the
responsibility of instructors to think through the design of structured learning experiences
for their students, and tap into the potential of the online format, which is different from
any other instructional context.
Effective online teaching incorporates the following components:
‡ A solid level of trust between the instructor and candidates, and among the candidates
themselves
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‡ Virtual spaces that foster an engaging learning environment and support the sharing
of ideas and expertise
‡ A variety of materials and resources that everyone can easily access and incorporate
into their repertoire
‡ Course outlines, clear task instructions, and explicit schedules for due dates
‡ Asynchronous and synchronous communication, via a discussion board, chat, email
and pager, depending on software capabilities
‡ Small “class” sizes and much more …
Effective online instructors
Certainly, there are plenty of technological “bells and whistles” that can be utilized in
online courses but the most essential ingredient for effective instruction is having a
committed and knowledgeable instructor. Student views of online instruction reveal that
effective instructors adapt to student needs, use meaningful examples, motivate students
to do their best, facilitate the course effectively, deliver a valuable course, communicate
effectively, and show concern for student learning. Effective instructors are also visibly
and actively involved in the learning, work hard to establish trusting relationships, and
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timely and the expectations clear, fair and challenging (Durrington, Berryhill & Swafford,
2006; Young, 2006). Indeed, there are several strategies that instructors can employ at
the beginning, during and at the end of the course to encourage student participation and
interactivity. What follows is a selection of helpful tips.
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At the Beginning
Getting the course off to a good start
‡ Be available as much as possible at the beginning of the course
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‡ Make sure that everyone is aware of and has accessed the course content or other
important tabs in the course
‡ Take notes related to the professional and personal information the candidates share
and occasionally use them it during the course to add a personal touch (“By the way,
how is your son doing?” or, “How are things with your supply teaching?”)
‡ Establish an effective system of tracking candidates (Excel spreadsheet, Word, or
hard copy notes)
Knowing your candidates and accommodating them
‡ Create a dynamic and vibrant online community right from the beginning
‡ Emphasize things that you have in common
‡ Accommodate candidates in special circumstances
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‡ Encourage candidates to get to know each other and network
During the course
Implementing fair formative assessment practices
‡ Send email reminders to candidates who lag behind as soon as you notice the pattern;
keep these emails, and if you anticipate problems, copy and paste them into a Word
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‡ Send feedback and formative assessment grades on time
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postings
‡ Provide occasional, quick, positive anecdotal notes to show that the candidates’
effort is appreciated
‡ Set clear expectations and offer guidelines for responses to postings at the beginning
of the course
Engaging in meaningful communication
‡ Foster a non-threatening, comfortable environment that encourages the candidates
to be active in the course
‡ Praise the quality and depth of overall discussion wherever appropriate
‡ Post links to articles with different viewpoints to encourage discussion
‡ Maintain a constant and timely communication pattern, so that students feel the
instructor’s presence at all times
‡ Get actively involved in facilitating the course by raising questions and using prompts
to encourage critical thinking
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‡ Be careful with wording and tone in your responses and postings; use questions rather
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and/or teaching context
‡ Ask for feedback on your instruction during the course, invite candidates to make
suggestions
Encouraging student interactivity
‡ Encourage the candidates to collaborate and interact with their classmates
‡ Praise in-depth interaction: ask questions about candidates’ postings and encourage
everyone to respond by adding to the discussion or raising additional questions
‡ Discourage candidates from posting short, thank-you notes, such as “awesome
activity, thanks for posting” without providing more details about why it was
“awesome,” and how they would use it
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Sharing your expertise
‡ Expand on the candidates’ knowledge in your postings and responses
‡ Post additional resources, links and materials
At the end of the course
‡ Create a new topic on Discussion Board during the last week of the course (“Say
Good Bye to Your Colleagues Here”)
‡ Acknowledge the candidates’ contributions
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‡ Encourage candidates to evaluate their experience and offer sincere and construction
suggestions for how to improve the course and your teaching
Concluding Remarks
Online ESL teacher education is here to stay and the number of candidates (and providers!)
of online courses is growing fast. No doubt, the software is improving but despite its
capabilities, it cannot replace the conscientiousness, dedication, knowledge and passion
of the instructors. The degree to which instructors require effective, mostly text-based
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the online format. Equally critical are teaching strategies that encourage candidates to
not only acquire knowledge and skills through continuous and meaningful presence, but
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have the opportunity to focus on the metacognitive aspect of the course, engage in
meaningful professional development, network with other ESL teachers online, share ideas
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acquisition and instruction.
Author Bio
Johanne Myles has been
involved in teaching,
teacher education,
writing and research in
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Canada, holds a PhD
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on a project with the
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Extensions
TED Talks:
Salman Khan: Let’s use video to reinvent education
Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education
References
Cheng, L. & Myles, J. (2003). On-line challenges facing in-service teacher education courses in
teaching English as a second language. Open Learning, 18(1), 29–38.
Durrington, V., Berryhill, A. & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in
an online environment. College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193.
O’Connor, E. (2009). Initial study of pre-service teachers’ comments on a reality-based, urbanstudent
video streamed within an online course. Journal of Educational Technology Systems,
37(2), 139–157.
Spiro, J. (2011). Guided interaction as intercultural learning: Designing internationalisation into a
mixed delivery teacher education programme. Higher Education Research & Development,
30(5), 635–646.
Salmon, G. (2002). E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online (2nd ed.). London:
Kogan Page.
Young, S. (2006). Student views of effective online teaching in higher education. Innovative Higher
Education, 31(2), 83–98.
Author Bio
Vesna Nikolic, currently
with the Dufferin-Peel
Catholic District School
Board, has shared her
enthusiasm for education
for 34 years in
on-site and online
teaching. She is the
FRDXWKRURIb$P,
Teaching Well, and she
holds an M.A. from
OISE.
 davido.extraxim@gmail.com