Transformation in Online Teaching Environments

    In Language Magazine's January 2022 issue, Elaine Oliveira and Randall Davis highlight five transformative innovations relevant to teachers worldwide

    Without a doubt, the past two years have been unlike any others, and the pandemic has had an immense and cascading impact on economic, social, and educational systems around the world. In particular, teachers started the year unaware that their face-to-face classes would undergo a radical shift in the way teachers approached their classes, and students and parents have had to find their ways in the shifting tides of learning as a result. Indeed, although the need for novel approaches to online learning has been promoted for years (Flavin, 2012; Flynn, 2013; Horn and Staker, 2014), the idea of disruptive innovation with regard to education was thrust upon so many teachers with little warning or preparation.

    This dramatic change has forced us to rethink how we teach and engage our learners, colleagues, and families. Any radical upheaval in educational systems is filled with struggles and pain, but we have also experienced a meaningful transformation in our teaching.

    The Initial Wave of Uncertainty
    Initially, when we heard of the most serious consequences of the pandemic in our respective countries, we could not absorb the realities and potential consequences of such an ongoing event. In fact, citizens honestly thought that lockdown would never knock on their doors, and yet it did. For example, although Brazil had been through other crises over the years, the immediate and radical impact of this pandemic was devastating and terrifying for all, particularly from an economic perspective. The fear of losing jobs most certainly kept people awake at night, whether in Brazil, the US, or any other part of the world. As a result, many teachers have struggled to learn new tools to manage their classes effectively. That said, the fearful conditions caused by the uncertainties of COVID-19 have forced teachers into transforming their teaching in innovative ways. With this in mind, we want to share some possible devices and online services that can enhance your online teaching experience into a form of oasis amid the chaos. We realize that many teachers are struggling on shoestring budgets, and for that reason, the suggestions made here try to cast a wide net for a variety of scenarios.

    1. Microphones, Web Cameras, and Other Devices
    Perhaps the backbone of any online class is the technology that drives it, and your recording gear should take center stage, along with a solid pedagogical rationale for using it. Many teachers are working on their laptops, and the built-in webcam and internal microphone might be all they have. However, using a good-quality USB microphone should be the first priority. The Blue Yeti USB microphone has been a top choice for many people over the years because of the variety of recording patterns, but there are many much cheaper USB options today by FIFINE, such as the K668, which is ideal for podcasting and online teaching at around a quarter of the price. If you are interested in increasing the quality of your video, the Logitech c920 HD Webcam is a very popular choice. Aside from these two items, there are a variety of other devices including lighting, green screens, teleprompters, and tripods that can add to your arsenal of teaching tools, and these options are discussed in the video “New Twists, Tricks, and Tools to Enhance Your Online Lessons” (https://youtu.be/NI6IlqKpU-Q). With some of this gear, you can achieve even better results using the teaching ideas and services explained in the next section of this article.

    2. Online Music
    Music has been shown to have healing properties, and listening to music is considered effective in decreasing stress hormones (Porshi, 2020), so teachers can certainly make some use of relaxation in these tough times. There are countless possibilities for teaching through music, and the best part is that most of them do not require higher computer skills. Teachers can play music through their online teaching platforms such as Zoom as students complete various teacher-generated tasks such as fill-in-the-blanks, sentence order exercises, and sing-along activities to make classes more exciting and pedagogically appealing. If your students are camera shy, you can suggest they turn off their cameras and bring out the artist within, helping them be less inhibited to participate and engage. You can also access websites like lyricstraining.com that offer different activities with music organized by level. Activities based on music simply seem to resonate with any audience.

    3. Zoom Whiteboard
    Zoom is a popular web-conferencing service that many individuals and institutions use for delivering live online instruction. One of the most exciting features that Zoom offers is the built-in annotation toolbar and a whiteboard on which you can write or draw with several different tools according to your purpose. If you want to make written notes, you may use the typing tool to change the size, color, and style (bold, italics) of your font. Zoom’s toolbar also offers a wide range of possibilities, such as drawing freehand, and you can also add arrows, shapes, checkmarks, and more.

    Furthermore, a valuable feature of the whiteboard is that you drag around text boxes that you create and organize the board just as you would in your physical classroom. In addition, it is possible to use the toolbar on any material that you share with your class, not just on the whiteboard. You can draw, write, and highlight over a PDF file or a web page you are sharing. You can use the Save button to have a screenshot of your notes taken and saved. The countless options available make the whiteboard indispensable for teaching.

    4. Google Documents
    Aside from offering a powerful search engine, Google delivers top-notch educational tools, most of which can be used for free with a free Google account. Google knows how to please and has a solution to almost any problem. One of the best tools is Google Docs for on- and offline use. Google Docs also has an autosave feature, so there is no fear of losing data. You can access all your documents from any device just by logging into your associated Google account. All of the essential features from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint function on Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Furthermore, documents are shareable, which makes sending Word or PowerPoint documents to colleagues or students through email unnecessary. All you need to do is assign viewing and/or editing privileges to as many people as you wish, and everyone will be able to work on the same document in real time. It is also possible to see who has done what because every version of the document is also automatically saved. As mentioned earlier, you can use Zoom’s annotation features to make notes right on top of an open Google Doc page as part of class instruction.

    5. Flipgrid 
    In addition to the tips and tools mentioned so far, Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com) is by far one of the most powerful free web-based tools for creating an online space to create and share video discussions with your students, and the public if so desired. Educators can create a free account and then create discussion prompts to which their students can respond using a smartphone or their computers with webcams. For many teachers, the features of Flipgrid have made it possible to give speaking assessments that would typically have been done in high-end computer labs or not at all. Because Flipgrid was acquired by Microsoft a few years ago, teachers can have some assurance that this service will be supported into the future.

    Conclusion
    As highlighted throughout this article, the pandemic has triggered a multiplicity of changes to the traditional language-teaching and learning landscape, but such unique circumstances have also led to a healthy measure of innovation that will reverberate in educational circles for years to come. Language teachers tend to be very chameleonic in how they respond to new environments, and some adversity tends to be the birthplace of great ideas. The ideas mentioned in this article shed light on current tools that can change your teaching experience.

    Resources
    Microphones
    Blue Yeti USB Mic – https://amz.run/4B1D

    FIFINE K678 USB Podcast Microphone – https://amz.run/4Av8

    FIFINE k670 USB Condenser – https://amz.run/4B10

    FIFINE k668 USB Microphone – https://amz.run/4B1B

    Purple Panda Lavalier Lapel Microphone – https://amz.run/4AvB

    BOYA Lavalier Condenser Microphone – https://amz.run/4B0x

    Logitech C920x Pro HD Webcam – https://amz.run/4Bct

    Green Screens and Lights
    Portable Green Screen Backdrop – https://amz.run/4Av7

    LYLYCTY Green Screen Backdrop – https://amz.run/4B15

    Neewer Light Stand – https://amz.run/4B0z

    Softbox Lighting Kit – https://amz.run/4Bdg

    Neewer Dimmable 176 LED Video Light – https://amz.run/4AvA

    Selens Portable Round Reflector – https://amz.run/4Av1

    Tripods
    Neewer Portable Desktop Mini Tripod – https://amz.run/4B0K

    Mini Tabletop Tripod – https://amz.run/4B0w

    References
    Flynn, J. T. (2013). “MOOCS: Disruptive innovation and the future of higher education.” Christian Education Journal, 10(1), 149–162.

    Flavin, M. (2012). “Disruptive Technologies in Higher Education.” Research in Learning Technology, 20.

    Horn, M. B. and Staker, H. (2014). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. John Wiley and Sons.

    Porshi, J. M. (2020). “Music Relieves Stress and Anxiety during COVID-19 Pandemic.” Asian Research Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, 38–42.

    Elaine Oliveira has been teaching English as a foreign language for adults for the last 18 years in Brazil, and she has developed her own online training platform on which she bases her instruction today.

    Randall Davis is the program academic coordinator at the English Language Institute at the University of Utah. He also is creator of Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (www.esl-lab.com).