Learning by Extension

Jonathan Harper explains how to build a community-based teacher-training program online

The tools for language training are changing. Electronic media, such as online translators and individualized learning programs, are reshaping the learning environment. But for the global industry of language instruction, the nuances of language and culture often require more human interaction and mentorship to be successful. Not only are the tools for teaching language modernizing, the methods through which we train our future instructors are also evolving.

One degree program that has stepped up to the demands of an increasingly digital educational landscape is American University’s TESOL Program. In response to the growing needs of an international student body, it has recently launched an online TEFL master’s degree.

At its best, an online TEFL program can bridge EFL instructors from every continent. An online program can attract international students or teachers who are working abroad that would not be available to travel to a traditional program for graduate study. The question is, how does a resident community-based program translate into an online model?

1. Experiential Learning and EFL classrooms do exist online.
One of the objectives of the virtual classrooms is to guide students into finding teaching connections in their locations. They conduct teaching observations, tutor English language learners, and work with teachers of English in various capacities. The students then receive extensive feedback on their teaching and observations, including critiques of their teaching videos and feedback on their microteaching sessions.

Collaboration is a key component. Students who enter TEFL programs already bring with them various teaching and professional backgrounds, as well as life experience from their communities. Through collaborative online assignments, students can bridge their experiences from all across the world.

2. Mentorship is not limited by location.
TEFL students are assigned a primary academic advisor for the duration of the program. This advisor takes on a mentorship role, not only guiding the advisee through their coursework but supporting them in their career development, and providing professional advice after graduation.

The TEFL students also stay in close contact with their professors and the program director. The TESOL faculty remains accessible online and via Skype to provide academic support using virtual synchronous and asynchronous office hours. Professors play a key role in mentoring their TEFL students in the completion of an electronic teaching portfolio by the end of the program.

3. The global network is all about community.
Online TEFL programs aren’t intended to be a solitary learning process. They offer a centralized space to combine geographically separated learning environments. Not only do TEFL students connect with professors and professionals from abroad but with each other as well. TEFL students are also a part of the larger university community; and they join AU TESOL for events at national and international conferences and have access to on-campus events virtually.

4. Theoretical foundation and experiential learning is key.
In the TEFL master’s program, students start with introductory linguistic and teaching-methods courses to gain theoretical understanding of linguistics and become familiar with the history of language-teaching methods. Students also gain their first experiences in classroom observations and tutoring. Later in the program, students advance their knowledge in theories of second-language acquisition and gain hands-on experience with lesson planning and student assessments. All students complete an electronic teaching portfolio at the end of their program. Through this, TEFL students explore various approaches to teaching and also develop an understanding of the role of culture in language education and development.

At first glance, it would seem that an online TEFL program is a departure from the traditional TESOL setting. But actually, it is more of an extension and further strengthens the overall network.

Jonathan Harper is senior admissions associate at American University.