If e-Learning works, it’s because of the teacher.

What is “e-Learning” in teachers’ minds?

16 years ago: Using PPT to present a lesson.
8 years ago: Playing a Youtube video during a lesson.
Today: ?????

A former student has a friend who claimed to be doing e-Learning. She later found out that to her friend, e-Learning meant using the electronic version of the textbook during a lesson.

Another former student has told me that some of the teachers she knows think that doing e-Learning means playing a Kahoot game towards the end of a lesson.

It’s actually not easy to define e-learning today, as the field is developing so fast, and there is such a wide range of things you can do under the umbrella term of e-Learning. Also, it’s difficult to judge whether a teacher is doing e-learning because there is no, and there shouldn’t be, a rigid threshold for implementing e-Learning, such as 30% of the curriculum, or 25% of lesson time.

This is because e-Learning is only the means – a tool which has the capacity for (a) making teaching and learning more effective, and (b) opening up possibilities of new learning activities which would otherwise be impossible in a traditional classroom.

But e-Learning is only the means – the end is good teaching. Hence, if the e-Learning teacher judges that a particular lesson design will work even better without technology, then he or she should not do e-Learning just for its own sake.

But one thing that worries me is the quickly widening gap between teachers who are fanatics of e-Learning (who keep exploring and experimenting), and those who have a phobia about technology.

To the latter group of teachers, I can assure them that technology is the last thing they need to worry about when they embark on their e-Learning attempts. The applications and the technology have become so user-friendly and simple-to-use today that all they need is a bit of initial familiarization with the technical aspects.

The real challenge is still the pedagogy. What is your teaching objective? What do you want your students to learn, or achieve? What initial teaching ideas do you have in mind?

It is then you turn to the technology for support. Which application may help you achieve your teaching objective most efficiently and effectively? How do you design your e-learning activity that will reap the biggest benefit given your teaching objective?

That is why in e-Learning PD events, my maxim for the teachers is always: “If e-Learning works, it’s not because of the technology. It’s because of the teacher.”


Learning from e-learning students

They say we teachers can sometimes learn from our students.In the case of e-learning, there is no doubt about it. This is because technology is developing so fast that there are bound to be apps or e-learning strategies which have escaped the teacher’s attention.

Earlier on, I learnt about Trello.com from an undergraduate student who was taking my CALL course. It’s an information and communication board for teams working together on a project. On each board are lists, which contain cards. I will spare you the details, but I’m using it as a very versatile to-do list, to juggle and prioritise and reprioritise the dozens of things (one thing on each card) I have to do every day and in the medium term.

Then, the other day, while marking the undergraduate students’ term papers, I came across an app, http://realtimeboard.com, which I immediately fell in love with. It’s like Padlet, which can be used for brainstorming, and displaying things, but it can also be used for team collaborations, and its many visual effects immediately outshine the dull-looking shared Google documents and folders. It’s so cool that I’m already exploring ways to use it in my own work, and also in teaching. ….

So, we e-learning teachers need to be humble – there are always apps, tricks, techniques that some students may know better than we do.

It’s not about the technology

The topic for my e-learning seminar presentation at the University of Hong Kong yesterday for teachers of primary English was:

“What, Why and How to Flip Your English Language Lessons”

This is what I said in the last two minutes of my presentation at HKU yesterday:

“…… So, why flipped classroom?

Last Saturday, after the e-learning seminar for secondary school teachers, I asked my co-presenter, Ms Jenny Leung, what she thought about our flipped classroom project, and the sharing seminar.

Jenny said, ‘Now I’m more certain why I want to be a teacher.’

I asked Jenny, ‘Why are you more certain now that you want to be a teacher?’

Jenny replied, ‘Because I can design good lessons so that my students will learn better, and I can share my experience with other teachers so that they can help their students learn better.’

So, you see, at the end of the day, it’s not about the videos, it’s not about the technology. It’s about how to help students learn better.

And doing their best to help their students learn better – this is what GOOD TEACHERS do.”


E-learning: A means, not an end

There are still people who equate e~learning with using apps. Well, e~learning does often involve apps. But apps are only the means (手段)。The end (目的)is more effective learning. E~learning teachers do not use technology for its own sake, but they ponder the question of how to use technology so their students can learn more effectively. This requires a supreme level of professional knowledge and competence.

What makes a good lesson?

In yesterday’s flipped speaking lesson, the main activity was for the students to edit a problem script, and then produce, in groups, a captioned video of an improved conversation using Adobe Spark Video. On top of the proper subtitles produced by the students, the video contained their oral recording and the pictures they took of each other speaking. When everything was done, they had to upload their group video to the class blog. So, there were quite a few things the children needed to do.

For the entire 25 minutes, these P4 children were highly motivated and totally engaged. Every group worked as a cohesive team. Not a single discipline problem popped up. Again, this didn’t happen by chance: the fact they loved English lessons (and their teacher); the task design which had appropriate cognitive and linguistic challenge; the fun of producing their own group video; and the good classroom management skills that Zoe Chan possessed.

Another seasoned e-learning teacher, Fiona Yung, has pointed out the importance of classroom routines, especially for e-learning lessons, where students will be given iPads to ‘play’ with. They can be doing things they are not supposed to do. They may be fighting with each other over the task. Or they may be so engrossed that the teacher is unable to regain their attention. So, some training in e-learning lesson routines is necessary. Fiona uses a set of short and sharp instructions such as ‘iPads up’, ‘iPads down’, to manage the lesson procedure. She is now even developing a set of such standard commands for all the teachers to use, so that the students would follow easily, no matter who the teacher is.

So, as I’ve been saying again and again, good lessons don’t happen by chance. They are the result of sustained classroom culture building, thorough and creative lesson planning, effective classroom teaching strategies, and proficient classroom management skills. Behind all this is also a wealth of professional knowledge and a rich pedagogical repertoire. Teaching is one of the jobs in the world that require the most professional competencies.

My first Nearpod lesson

This is the Nearpod session, which I used in the first half of the double lesson on Relative Clauses that I co-taught with Ms Jenny Leung. It was a S2 class, and the second half contained a series of e-learning practice activities for students conducted by Jenny.

A Nearpod session can be used for a live teacher-led lesson, and can be carried out either in a computer room, or with iPads in an ordinary classroom. It can also be administered as a self-paced homework assignment but then you have to pay to use this function.

This was my first attempt to use a Nearpod session in a lesson, and there will be room for improvement. Do let me have your feedback, or share your experience with Nearpod with me. (To advance to the next slide, click the arrow at far right of the screen- at the middle; to go back to a previous slide, click the arrow at far left of the screen.