Friday, February 6, 2015

TESOL Foundations Course Module 2

Task 1:  Standards – Discussion Board

From the readings, these are some points I found relevant/ interesting/ noteworthy:

Orienting and dropping students:

Students are offered an orientation for taking an online course before starting the coursework.

At my college there are on-ground F2F sessions like this for students, but they are intended for students enrolled in credit courses and are held at the other campuses (my college has three campuses).  There is also an online assessment “Test Your Potential as an Online Student,"  which is great, but it is not intended for ESL students, nor is it intended for hybrid study readiness but rather for students planning to take or considering taking fully online classes. I would like to (collaborating with colleagues in my department – too much work for one person) create a similar quiz and an online orientation for our noncredit ESL students.

The instructor will follow program guidelines to address non-responsive students.

I understand that it is very important (US, higher ed) to have an activity students must do immediately in an online course to ensure students are enrolled because of an issue with drop deadlines and financial aid. In 2011 the Federal Dept. of Ed. became very concerned about students who just log in to an online course but do not engage in any academic activity in the course. Engagement in the academic activities of an online course constitutes "attendance" in an online course. Evidently, as I understand it, many for-profit online schools would collect students’ financial aid and let the drop deadlines slide by without checking in with students, and now this jeopardizes a school’s access to federal financial aid funds. All this doesn’t really concern me in my particular teaching situation or my students expect for the fact that if the students don’t do the initial online activities, it is a good sign that they are not committed to the class or that I need to intervene because they simply don’t understand what to do or lack the computer/technical skills to do independent online work.

The course content:

…provides online learners with multiple ways of engaging with learning experiences…

This is a no-brainer for ESL but I need to keep in mind that posting a ton of text is not the best way to engage students. The text needs to be short, to the point, and formatted so that it is easy to read.

Information literacy and communication skills are incorporated and taught as an integral part of the curriculum.

I just like the idea that these skills are integrated and embedded in the learning activities.

Assessment and assignment answers and explanations are included. Grading rubrics are provided to the instructor and may be shared with students.

I already professed by love of rubrics in previous post.

The course uses learning activities that engage students in active learning; provides students with multiple learning paths to master; the content is based on student needs; and provides ample opportunities for interaction and communication — student to student, student to instructor and instructor to student.

As part of the Distance Education Guidelines, March 2004, issued by the Chancellor for Community Colleges in California, the California Academic Senate for community colleges has a requirement as part of its distance education plan for online classes to include "regular and effective contact."

Watch this video that shows what NOT to do in online education. I believe that this is what may have accounted for such low retention rates in online classes in the beginning.

Course Design:

The course is organized by units and lessons that fall into a logical sequence. Each unit and lesson includes an overview describing objectives, activities, assignments, assessments and resources to provide multiple learning opportunities for students to master the content.

I like this idea because this method is how I usually organize and plan my on-ground teaching (integrated skills – listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar from a thematic context) with each lesson and its objectives building on the one that came previous.

The outline from the UCSF online standards for sound design and student engagement include “Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction:
  • Gain attention
  • Inform learner of objectives
  • Stimulate recall of prior learning
  • Present stimulus material
  • Provide learner guidance
  • Elicit performance
  • Provide feedback
  • Assess performance
  • Enhance retention and transfer
This list of Course Quality Standards from Madison College is so very specific!  Personally, I would feel nitpicked to death if someone evaluated my course with such as checklist.

I like CSU – Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction.  It is not so specific and not a checklist but with (scroll down and select rubric at the bottom) a rating system (basic, effective, and exemplary) based on these six domains: Learner Support and Resources, Online Organization and DesignOnline Organization and Design contains five criteria in which a course can be deemed exemplary. These five criteria are shown below in the three rankings of baseline, effective, and exemplary., Instructional Design and Delivery, Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning, Innovative Teaching with Technology, Faculty Use of Student Feedback.  Instructional Design and Delivery contains five criteria in which a course can be deemed exemplary. These five criteria are shown below in the three rankings of baseline, effective, and exemplary.I would use it to self-assess, or, if I were in the position of evaluating peers who are teaching online, I would refer to it. On the site, you can also view samples of exemplary online courses that fulfill the rubric (though they are for university online ed and not specific to ESL, of course).
This one is also a good guide for developing and evaluation online classes: Illinois Online Network Quality Online Course Initiative.
Last, I love TESOL's Technology Standards because they apply specifically to our discipline, ESL.  The vignettes are interesting and very helpful in showing what can be done in different situations in which technology access may be from minimal or limited to highly networked and tech-rich. Great resource to show to those folks who say “but we only have one computer….”

Task 2:  Web Design

These are some points about good and bad Web design that were mentioned in the articles, as well as some that I have been told about or experienced personally.


·       No warning that the site uses “cookies.” See Webopedia definition. Cookies are the reason why you may be browsing an online shopping site for Nike running shoes and then when you leave that site and browse to other sites, the ads on those pages miraculously are for Nike running shoes! Cookies can be disabled ( see, but I think a lot of people don’t know about them. I have been seeing a lot of sites that have a pop-up that say “this site uses cookies” and asks you to accept.  I am not sure what the law says.  Anyone know?

·       Ads that are all over the place and are distracting.  Some students with lower-literacy levels don’t know not to click on the ads and get lost in cyberspace. I really dislike those ads that pop up in front of the page and cover all the content with the tiny close X button very discreetly located. I have seen quite a lot of those ads (for chips and snack foods) lately as the Superbowl nears – actually, it’s tomorrow – I’m not an American football fan and wouldn’t know which teams are playing if it weren’t plastered all over the Web.

·       Bad coding – for example, when you get a message that “script won’t run at…”

·       No chunking of text or link to “next page” – you just have to scroll for eternity.  As I understand, the major eye-catching main ideas of the site should be above the the scroll-line (for lack of a better word). Comparing to newspapers – all the main idea content that you want to use to allure readers to delve further into the site should be above the fold-line.

·       Page views – look different on tablet v. phone v. wide screen monitor.  This has happened to me when I have created a site for class at home on my laptop and then see it looks so different on the widescreens the students are using in the computer lab.

·       Long URLs instead of hyperlinks: http://www.blah.blah.blahblahblahblhablahblah.........

·       Unrelated “cutesy” content – pictures, design elements, animations, widgets.

·       “Under Construction” messages.

·       “Free” sites that make your register just to look at them (inability to get past the front page).

·       No contact information or “About.”  Who is the author?  How can you check the credibility of the site content?



·       Coordinated color schemes and easy-to-read fonts. Use high-contrast text and background colors (never red or green or flashing text). A Web and graphic design instructor at my college told me that fonts should be12 point” (I believe that’s a default 3 in most web builders), sans-serif typefaces such as Helvetica and Arial. 

·       Nice focal point – a great photo (not just some people posing for the camera) with some action and/or even abstract as long as it catches the eye.

·       Easy to see how to return to home page with logo/site name in the same place on each page of the site.


Sadly, the majority of ESL sites I assign students to use or refer them to for supplemental practice are quite poorly designed. However, the site owners/authors are ESL teachers, not Web designers, so it’s quite excusable.  Also, the majority of them have some sort of distracting ads, which is something that comes along with using free or low-cost Web-building/hosting sites.


Emily indicated that any site could be evaluated for its design strengths for this discussion, but I decided to see if there were any ESL-specific Web sites that have a decent design.  The only one that is pretty good is Grammar Bytes! It’s for advanced ESL and development English students and teachers. A lot of its content is a bit too advanced for my classes, but I’m glad I revisited the site because I had forgotten some of the content that I could use.  The site has been around since 1997, and it has undergone changes since the last time I visited the site. I see now that the teacher who created the site now has a MOOC students can join.  I’m not a huge fan of MOOCS, but it is cool that she is doing that – I’m sure there are students who, for whatever reasons (physical disability, living in rural settings, lack of access to English teachers) could benefit from a MOOC.  Here are some points I like about this site:

·       The funny name that is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact for that a lot of folks, grammar bites! (i.e., they don’t like it).  Plus, the shark imagery tie-in keeps with the theme/idea. The colors are simple high-contrast (mostly black text except for title headers on white background). The font for the headers is some sort of all-caps block style, and for the text, it could be an easier to read font but it’s not horrible (though not Helvetica or Arial, as my colleague recommends).

·       Once you enter the site, the layout is so simple, easy to read, and easy to follow. There is a lot of white space. The links to the pages are briefly explained, and to navigate to them, you can click on the title, the icon, or the hyperlinked words within the description. Perhaps if the font were smaller and some of the white space was removed, you would not need to scroll quite so much, though.

·       The site has these sections:  Terms (grammar terminology defined), Exercises (interactive practice for students), Handouts (PDF files for teachers to use with or in place of the interactive handouts – great for the one-computer classrooms), Presentations (grammar PowerPoints), Videos at YouTube (link the site’s companion YouTube channel), and Tips and Rules (for grammar, of course), About (link to the author’s resume, teaching philosophy statement, dissertation, and personal blog), Shop (just says “maybe one day…”), and Feedback, and Connect (links to the site’s social networking profiles).

·       None of the sections has much continuance of the theme in terms of imagery, however, so to return to the home page, you have to either hit the back button or select “home” at the bottom of each page. I would say that including the little chomp-chomp shark (looks like the Jaws movie poster but less scary) as the site’s logo and including it on the top of each page would be a good addition.

·       What I appreciate most about this site is that despite the obvious fact that the author/site creator Robin Simmons put years of work into the numerous materials on her site that anyone can download and use for free, she so generously shares them online.  Her terms of use state: “You may not alter, sell, or post these materials on a different server. Photocopying for students or linking to materials here does not require my permission.”

·       Last, while not about the site itself but rather about the PowerPoints, I like how the presentations are brief in their explanation/lecture and then have questions that you can use to check in with students to see if they understood and to make grammar lectures more interactive.  Some of the animations are a bit annoying, but those that show the answers to the multiple choice questions are great because students could download the slideshows and use them individually and get answers to the questions.

To find a Web site design in general that I like, I did a search on Google.  Here’s one that is amazing because 1) it’s simple and beautiful (appetizing) with wonderful imagery, very basic layout, and the slidebar of pictures, which is something I like on any Web site 2) it features one of my “favorite things” and 3) I’m hungry!  Did I pique your interest?  You’ll just need to see it for yourself! Visit the site.  

Task 3:  Examine and Evaluate a Learning Site, Software, or Course

OpenLanguage is a subscription English language learning Web site and app that offers one free complimentary course.  The company offers a free mobile app (with in-app purchase options for monthly or annual subscriptions) for the following devices: iPhone, iPad, Android Phone, Android Tablet. Also available as an Amazon app, Samsung app, a Baidu app, a 360 app, a Huawei app, a Wandoujia app, a Xiaomi app, a QQ app, a Lenovo app, or as an APK file.

This is the URL for the complimentary course:, which has lessons on workplace and daily life for beginning through advanced students that an ESL teacher could use to supplement course content in class or to assign to students to work on outside of class. The content is most suited to adults but could also be used with teenagers. The app’s complimentary English course has lessons on workplace and daily life for beginning through advanced students. Other lessons in the complimentary course include the following topics: Can you speak English slowly?, Checking out at a hotel, Making a dinner reservation, Thanksgiving dinner, Wine tasting, Interview skills 1 – the introduction, Hiring a project manager, Making an Appointment, Analyzing a company’s annual report, Leadership styles, Obamacare, Smart Casual.

With a subscription, subscribers have access to all courses, which include a total of 402 lessons. There is a grammar placement test to help students know which level of courses are best for study, but you need to log in to take the test and get the results. Subscription costs are $30 US/month (one language), friends and family study together $40, or unlimited (all languages) $50/mo. 

I looked specifically at the lesson “Writing a Resume,” which has reading, listening, pronunciation/speaking, and resume writing activities.  This lesson is best-suited to advanced ESL students. I went through the lesson and did the activities on the app on an iPad.  When you open the lesson on the app, there are seven tabs: Dialog, Vocabulary, Expansion, Grammar, Exercises, Culture, and Task. In previewing the lesson, you may choose which sections to have students complete or you may have students do the activities in all sections, described as follows:

·       Dialog:  Listen to a conversation and read along.

·       Vocabulary:  There are key words and phrases from the dialog displayed with phonetic transcriptions for the pronunciation and definitions.

·       Expansion: There are sample sentences for some of the vocabulary

·       Grammar:  The target grammar for this lesson is “Would you mind…? There are sample sentences (questions using the phrase “Would you mind…?). When you select a sample sentence, you can then “Breakdown” to see phonetic transcription and definitions of some words in the sentence. Audio is provided. Students can select “Record” to record their voices saying the sentences, and then select “Accuracy,” which will compare students’ pronunciation in the recordings to the model and will provide an accuracy percentage.

·       Exercise:  There are 17 questions: drag-and-drop vocabulary sentence cloze, dictation (play audio and type what you hear), drag-and-drop matching vocabulary terms with definitions, and drag-and-drop reordering sentences of a dialog.

·       Culture: There is a short text to read.

·       Task:  The objective of this section is for students to practice writing resume sections. If you decide to have students do this task and share it by uploading it, be sure to remind students not to share personal information (real address, phone number, or other private/sensitive identifying information, etc.). You may have them use nicknames or only first names. Students then choose one or two sections of a resume to write (e.g., career objective and some key accomplishments). Students will need to use a word-processing software to type and save this part of the task. They then upload a document with these short resume sections. Once they have uploaded the task, they select “share” to post and share the task with other learners on OpenLanguage or social media channels. Students can see tasks uploaded by other learners by selecting “Discussion.”

Of course, although not included in the lesson, good follow-up activities would be to have students write and revise full resumes and/or have students do a comprehension or quiz activity on the content of the lesson.

After using the app, I checked the Web site, and I really like its simple design, basic interface, and easy navigation. The site provides the option for downloading all the lesson materials (audio, handout, dialog, vocabulary, practice materials). Therefore, if one does not have internet access in the classroom but wanted to use the materials in a class lesson, these materials could be downloaded (i.e., right-click on a PC to download to the desktop) and copied onto a USB device and opened on a computer with no internet. Additionally, there is a ton of content in the complimentary course.  What I like best about this site/app is that it includes all skills (L,S,R, and W) with vocabulary and pronunciation integrated around a theme, and that mirrors my own methodology to teaching ESL.  Many other sites focus on one skill and take more of a “learning about language” than “language in use” communicate approach.  Very few sites have the feature that students can record their voices for the purposes of having their pronunciation measured against a model as the app (not included on the site, though) does. Also, there is the inclusion of the social aspect of online learning in that students can read and comment on other users’ / students’ submissions. Finally, I love textbooks and sites that have accompanying apps because a survey of 129 students in the noncredit ESL program in which I work conducted a couple of months ago showed that 73% have a smartphone, so finding resources for them to study with using their own devices is important for me.
Overall, I recommend the OpenLanguage complimentary course as a supplemental source of study for students. It’s free, and free is good!

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