Secrets of My Online Success

Language Magazine asks the experts how to get the most out of online professional development programs

I’ve designed and taught online and hybrid MATESOL classes since 2007. Initially reluctant and skeptical, I’m now a strong advocate for online teacher education, with reservations. If you are thinking about joining an online program, consider these guidelines:

1. Course design and instructional engagement are paramount; the class should reflect and incorporate great pedagogy. While an online class is not strictly analogous to its face-to-face (f2f) counterpart, it’s not old-style distance learning, either. Look for multiple, and various, opportunities for frequent, regular teacher-student and student-student interaction. Assessment, feedback, and assignments work best online when they require reflective engagement and collaboration.

2. Teacher education involves transformation as well as explanation; there should be opportunities for offline practical, hands-on elements in online MATESOL courses: a classroom observation, a tutoring project, attendance at a workshop, etc.

3. Fantastic tech support must be freely available to all participants. A skilled, responsive support staff is essential.

If you’re wondering about what it takes to succeed as a student in an online MA program, consider these characteristics of the best online students I have taught:

1. Great time management. Everyone mentions this. There is no chance to fall behind and catch up; you have to hit the ground running, ask as soon as you don’t understand something, and stay on top of the workload. Online means it never stops!

2. Positive energy. In the online class, participation = attendance. In a f2f classroom, you can sit quietly and listen. Not online. To be “seen,” you have to post.

3. Good netiquette. Online discussions with classmates and instructors require heightened sensitivity to tone and nuance.

4. The ability to reflect on one’s own activity. Reflection is an essential part of good teacher education and development, so be ready to look inside yourself.

5. Willingness to take breaks. Crucial!

Deryn P. Verity, PhD, is the coordinator of the online graduate certificate in TESOL and director of ESL/EAP Programs in the Department of Applied Linguistics at the Pennsylvania State University.

Our MAT-TESOL program has both on-ground and online cohort groups; students either take all their classes on the campus or they take them online. The curriculum is exactly the same for both, but the online program enables students from across the country and around the world to pursue their degrees without having to relocate to Los Angeles. Their online enrollment, attendance, and presence contribute to a richer learning environment in our TESOL program in that their local perspectives and teaching experiences (be they in Saudi Arabia or Taiwan, for example) expand and enrich the theories and practices we study in the classroom.

One of the most rewarding aspects of our online professional development is precisely our global reach in attracting candidates from around the world. These candidates, by virtue of their currently living and working abroad, offer unique and localized perspectives that help create a truly global classroom here in our MAT-TESOL program. Another equally important aspect is the interaction with candidates from across this country, who live and teach in their local communities, and who are also able to articulate their communities’ needs that lead to a deeper understanding of the complex fabric of our society’s direction and the accompanying role of English language education.

The most successful students are those who are highly motivated and dedicated to teaching and learning about teaching English language learners. I often tell my students, “Be the kind of student in this program that you yourself would like to teach someday!”

Having a computer with a good Internet connection and a webcam is a must. Beyond this, I think for my students who graduated from the online program, they were able to make connections with classmates from around the country and the world, and in doing so expanded both their personal and professional networks, which is absolutely essential in this globalized world.

Christian W. Chun, PhD, is assistant professor of clinical education in the MAT-TESOL Program at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

We here at University of Maryland, Baltimore County have developed an online MA in TESOL program to parallel our face-to-face program. Our experience has been very positive, though there have been some concerns along the way.

First, the idea of online learning is growing very quickly in popularity and acceptance. Just five years ago, we used to get students who would say, “I’ve never tried an online course before.” Now we get many people who take them for granted. There seem to be three kinds of students with regard to online teaching. One group prefers the convenience of online to face-to-face and takes them whenever they have a choice. A second is the group that likes to sit in a classroom physically and likes the time constraints that a face-to-face requires. They seem to need the personal physical contact with their instructors and their fellow students. The third group can take either and seems to rate courses more on how well they are designed and taught rather than whether they are online or face-to-face. What has surprised me is the size and the growth of the first group. We have found, however, that every one of our classes can be well presented online, as long as the course is designed with the online aspect in mind.

John Nelson is the graduate program director for TESOL at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.