The Embedding English Language (EEL) project is continuing in a different space. The Academic Language and Learning Team (ALL) has extensively redesigned learning materials to address the online context and is now delivering 83 fully online discipline-specific Language Development Tutorials (LDTs) that were previously face to face. 

I am glad to have your support in this situation of remote online classes. Since I was confused and nervous about the system, but after the consultation with you last week and today, I am building up my confidence and getting things in place.

Student in Health

Overcoming challenges in the online space

We are further developing the project to help meet the needs of students who find it difficult to follow large online tutorials and lectures, and are struggling, isolated and confused. Here are some examples of challenges tutors are facing in the remote environment and our suggested strategies to overcome them: 

Absence of physical contact and being able to answer questions on assessment tasks or fully understand the assessment task/reading connection

  • Provide more scaffolding around assessment tasks and readings by setting pre-work reading templates and exercises to bring to class in order to rehearse or anticipate what will happen in mainstream tutorials. 
  • Make slides available the day before with prepared questions to review in class. 
  • Put students in breakout rooms and ask them to make a list of questions they would like to ask about assessments. These can then be discussed as a large group. 

Students can be confused about group work expectations

  • Set the task the week before. Send a document with the group breakout task, give an explicit time frame for the activity and expected outcome, prepare them for a report on the scenario they have been given. Examples can be used for this. Make it clear to students that they will all have a turn being the one who reports back. Decide the week in advance who the spokesperson for the group will be so they can be prepared. 
  • Teach students how to ask others to speak more slowly, clearly, and ask for thinking time before responding. 

Students have very few interaction opportunities and can be shy and lack confidence in their oral language ability

  • Set up Whatsapp, Zoom or Team meetings with small numbers of students and encourage them to contact each other. Recommend reading aloud from journals/textbooks.  
  • Ask students to attend a HELPS conversations class and report back on it the following week to other students – this is part of helping students to develop language learning goals. 
  • Discuss with students how they prefer to interrupt if they want to ask a question – turn on the microphone and speak; use the hands up signal; or use the chat function. 
  • Give students clear tasks to prepare where they are leading the group – e.g. teaching other students and the tutor several new discipline specific terms they have learned. 

Being in an online environment, especially in a big class, makes it easier for students to retreat into obscurity and fall through the cracks

  • Ensure that every student has an opportunity to say/ask something and/or contribute to discussions, e.g. by calling on them by name – this can be easily done by referring to the list of participants, OR using breakout rooms (with two students per breakout room, thereby ‘forcing’ them to talk). 
  • Contact students individually (e.g. via email or brief Zoom session) when possible (i.e. inclusion practice). 

Students have differing online learning experiences

  • Don’t assume that students are all adequately equipped with the same technological skills and knowledge and are familiar with online etiquette. 
  • Be explicit with ground rules and expectations at the start and ensure that students know where and how to access support.  

Maintaining mental health and wellbeing

The challenges that come with isolation (which many students are dealing with on their own without family or strong social network) can have a big impact on mental health. Students are having to deal with the new online learning environment and practices, day-to-day issues, possible financial struggles, and fear of increased racist attacks on anyone of Asian appearance.

  • Reach out to students individually, and regularly when possible ­– especially those who are reticent, to check in on them and refer them to counselling and other support services if necessary. 
  • Help them to connect with one another.  
  • Discuss the challenges of isolation with the class (e.g. PPT linking to key services). 

We can help foreign language students to build confidence in engaging in online oral and written activities, which is vital to the success of our learning community and preparing students for professional environments. 

I feel relaxed – for the first time I have a path about what I need to do to improve my language. Thanks for this clarify. I think LTD is really helpful.

Student in Business
  • International students are showing they need connection by signing up to both HELPS Conversation groups and the 1 to 1 BuddyProgram – gives them that chance to build confidence and make friends while they develop fluency to take back with them into their classes. Lots of opportunity to volunteer as well, which helps build confidence through supporting others.

  • Thanks very much for this, Kerry. It’s a great summary of some of the challenges students and teachers are facing in the online realm.

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