No matter how trivial it sounds, in an online class the organization of course content is absolutely essential. Let me share a few practical observations.
1. Materials and Assessments
The most basic organizational tenet of an online classroom stems from the platform itself: in my case it was Google Classroom which gives an opportunity to divide learning content into assignments, quiz assignments, questions, and materials within a section called Classwork. It is a slight deviation from the terminology usually employed in the LINC/ESL world, but one easy for learners to accept. Understanding the distinction between materials and the other options is primarily important for students.
To apply PBLA nomenclature, the section called Material contains skill-building activities allowing exploration of the task at hand, introducing necessary vocabulary and grammar, controlled exercises of the targeted structures, etc. This is the section of the website where students find content to study. Assignments comprise skill-using tasks and assessments. Quiz assignments and Questions can be used both in teaching (as part of the materials) and in assessment.
There is a different level of teacher engagement in each section depending on the type of task. Materials require explanations: either directly – in my case often during videoconferencing – or through posts on the website (maybe recorded in Screencastify). Marking is not required here; however, students have to be provided with the correct answers to the activities they undertake asynchronously. There are several ways to do it: online exercises that function as skill-building activities often provide instantaneous answers (see a4esl.org for example), so linking a specific exercise to the website will provide immediate feedback.
In some cases, when my materials had a different nature (I used scans, for example), I posted answers after a certain time (usually the next day) to allow students to correct their work without my intervention. Quiz assignments allow learners to see the correct answer without the option of changing their initial choice, so immediate feedback is available here as well. Instantaneous feedback while working on skill-building activities is the online equivalent of collaboration with a teacher, partner, or group in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
The Assignments require grading, and Google Classroom offers the opportunity to include rubrics (often referred to as assessment tools, see the popular Real World Assessment Task Bank). Google Classroom also allows individual learners to organize work into a portfolio. The assignments function as summative tasks, certainly, and should be completed independently in the affixed time frame. These attributes pose some challenges that I try to address in the last part of the post.
3. Content Labelling
Although it might seem quite secondary, the organization of the content of the website introduced early on can be crucial for the success of your online collaboration. Indicating a topic and a skill of the posted material/assignment helps students find their bearings in cyberspace, which might be not only new, but also discouraging if difficult to navigate. Careful organization also reduces time spent on clarifications. Therefore, labels such as “Gardening/Green Spaces – Speaking Assessment,” “Health” – Vocabulary,” etc. turned out to be helpful. Also, although I did not implement it in my initial Google Classrooms, I think indicating the week of studies or the lesson number could be very helpful. I am planning to use something to the effect of “Week 1 – Getting to know you – Reading,” “Week 1 – Getting to know you – Idiom Practice,” etc.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to discuss the layout of the website (at first without too many details) at the beginning of the course. It is equally helpful to assign enough time during face-to-face sessions to discuss inevitable challenges of the online learning. Frequently, what seems obvious to a teacher might be profoundly unclear to a student for whom the initiation to online learning has been abrupt.
Post written by Dr. Kasia Kasztenna
Dr. Kasztenna is an active ESL/LINC instructor and PBLA Lead Teacher with the Durham District School Board. She is also an independent researcher and author of multiple publications in her original field of expertise – literary studies and discourse theory. Most recently she contributed a chapter to the book Being Poland…, published by UofT Press.