Support Where It’s Needed: Helping Language Professionals to Develop Online Teaching Skills for the 21st Century Classroom

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The DOTS (Developing Online Teaching Skills) workshop provides modular, flexible, clearly structured and immediately implementable activities in different languages designed to help language teaching professionals develop their online teaching skills. The use of a Moodle-based workspace as a central resource serves not only as a repository of teaching materials but also ensures that participants are able to exchange opinions and experiences after the workshop has ended, allowing for a gradual development of a sustainable online community of language professionals.

The DOTS targeted support

In line with this broad context, the DOTS targeted support offers awareness-raising and training workshops to support language teaching professionals in using online technologies. They are organized in the ECML member states, and are suited to the specific needs of the local context. The workshops are very flexible with regard to their objectives and implementation, although they typically consist of: (1) negotiating specific learning objectives with the local organizer; (2) promoting hands-on work, reflection and sharing during a face-to-face meeting of the workshop participants; (3) promoting continued participant involvement (online element); and (4) ensuring a cascading effect.

In the first phase, specific learning objectives, skills and competences are negotiated in detail with the local organizer, usually a person involved in teacher training. This is crucial because the local organizer will be aware of the needs in the local context. Based on this, a participant profile is drafted, which may include teachers, teacher trainers and/or decision makers. The workshop may focus on a variety of specific issues (e.g. awareness raising, skills on using a specific tool, dealing with a specific language skill in a blended/online classroom, etc.), all of which are informed by the integration of pedagogy and technology.

The workshop (lasting from 2 hours to 2 days) is usually a face-to-face event, moderated by two members of the DOTS team, and it includes a significant hands-on element and participant input. Ideally, laptops with Internet access will be available, allowing hands-on activities on the DOTS workspace. In addition to working on the specific objectives defined in the first phase, the workshop also tries to facilitate a dialogue between workshop participants and aims to carry over the dialogue onto the online workspace. Conducting the workshops initially in a face-to-face setting gives the DOTS team the opportunity to adapt to local necessities and make on-the -spot changes to the original format as needed. The central resource in any targeted support activity is the DOTS workspace,[4] which contains a number of training activities for the use of online tools (in a variety of languages) and social tools (enabling the cooperation of workspace participants). The workspace is the result of the DOTS project[5], supported by the ECML in its 2008-2011 programme. The project developed a number of bite-size self-training activities teaching how to use Audacity, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, wikis, Moodle quizzes, the Moodle platform, Youtube, blogs, podcasts and forums. These activities are flexible (to accommodate different levels of technological expertise), modular (they can be started or stopped at any point), clearly structured into three parts with immediately implementable practical steps and a reflection task, and they combine theory and practice to accommodate for different learning styles (cf. Stickler et al. 2010). The DOTS workspace if freely available, and currently has 295 registered users. All the activities are available in English, and most are available in German, Spanish, and Turkish. Translations into Polish, Chinese, Catalan and Croatian are under way.

In addition to the activities, the DOTS workspace includes a number of forums and wikis enabling users to communicate with each other, sharing their practices and activities they might have used themselves. Workshop participants are encouraged to become involved in the workspace, to support the lifelong learning aspect of their (self-)training. It is our aim to build on this, eventually creating a completely self-sustaining community of practice.[6]

Finally, the workshops are designed to promote a cascading effect, by encouraging workshop participants to let their colleagues know about the workspace, or help them with integrating pedagogical and technological issues. Participants may volunteer to be involved in moderating one or several of the forums on the workspace (which ensures its community-of-practice element), they can become involved in the translation of the activities, or may use the workspace, and the materials available there to conduct their own training (e.g. as part of regular in-service training or refresher courses) or adapt it to their own context. To enable this, all the materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.[7]

All of the workshop aspects are evaluated. We are currently piloting the workshop organization and its four components by offering the workshop to different audiences. The first pilot took place in Graz, Austria, and was organized through the Verein EFSZ and the Pädagogische Hochschule Graz in cooperation with the ECML as part of regular in-service training . The second and third pilot will take place in Warsaw, Poland, at the “ICTs and Social Media in Language Education” conference, and in Halden, Norway, as part of regular in-service training of teacher trainers, members of the Norwegian National Network for English and Foreign Languages. During and after the workshop its impact is evaluated via questionnaires and by collating data about overall participant activity and the popularity of particular segments of the DOTS Moodle workspace.

Conclusion

The DOTS targeted support workshop is designed to empower teachers to use their existing pedagogical expertise and combine it with relevant ICT skills independently with the help of bite-size self-training materials. It focuses on experiential learning (“learning by doing”) by encouraging full participation in situ and online. The online participation via the DOTS Moodle-based workspace aims to establish a sustainable online community of language teaching professionals, which promotes learning. The approach is based on socio-cultural and constructivist theories of learning, and is in line with a variety of European and local policy documents calling for lifelong learning and the development of ICT skills.


[6] The notion of “community of practice” is linked to the theory of learning as social participation, whereby individuals are grounded in communities which legitimize and enable the development of their practices (Lave and Wenger 1991). This promotes deeper levels of knowledge processing and retention (cf. e.g. Wenger et al. 2002). People who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain form a community of practice (Wenger 1998).

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