ESL teachers and students alike had a hard time transitioning online when COVID-19 hit.
Those with access to computers, smartphones, iPads, and reliable internet service, found themselves signing up on Zoom and accessing services such as ESL Library. As they navigated their way through the features of the different platforms, they learned new ways to keep track of emails and assignments. For them the transition was not too bad.
For students with very little experience using technology prior to COVID-19 using technology was not intuitive.
A lot of writing and videos on the Internet are for proficient English-language users. I wish there were a program that demonstrated how the Internet may look to someone who does not speak or read English well. How does it look to someone who has little experience with the English alphabet, let alone words and sentences?
With all those hardships in mind, once students got the hang of things, they seemed to enjoy it, even prefer it. Sure, there were students eager to get back to class, but there was also an increasing number of students who, when asked whether they would like to continue learning online, said yes.
Why is that? Well, there are lots of benefits to learning online. First and foremost, it is more convenient than going to class and fits better into students’ lives. I had many students comment that they looked forward to getting home from work, having something to eat, and then attending class online. They did not have to commute anywhere after a long day of work. They would be in a more relaxed setting. They could even wear something more comfortable.
Many of my students said they looked forward to seeing everyone. They would otherwise have been cooped up inside and isolated due to COVID-19. Class was a place to go and do what they liked; a place to socialize and see other people. Not to mention practice their language skills, which would help them fit into Canadian society better. Moreover, the program provided a sense of stability, maybe even escape or distraction, in these uncertain times.
Online learning can also help students to study at their own pace. Usually there is in-class work and independent work. In class, there is less pressure to participate. A student can relax and listen, and not feel like they are in the spotlight.
When students work independently, for example, doing some research, they have more choices. They can make their project as simple or complex as they want. Plus, using learning tools such as ESL Library or other interactive resources on the Internet can be fun, sometimes like playing a game.
The Internet opens up a whole new world to students. They can pick a wide range of videos, sites, articles, and information, to show what they can do and express their personalities.
I felt like I got to know my students better because they could choose what kind of recipe video or set of “how-to” instructions to use. Many of my students were keen to present material which was of more personal interest to them.
Furthermore, in my lesson planning, I got to present my teaching material more visually. We could learn vocabulary more readily by exploring images or video. We could also look things up in the moment. I was able to demonstrate things more clearly, rather than just telling them about it.
Finally, I was glad to see my students’ families pop in and out. It would get noisy sometimes, but I liked to see grandchildren practice English sounds with the class. It humanized the whole setting. My students have families just like I do.
What are some of the benefits you’ve seen using online learning? How do the benefits balance out with the drawbacks? Do your students prefer learning online? Do you prefer teaching online?