TESOL 2014 Presentation Materials

Here are my presentation materials from the TESOL International Convention in Spring 2014. I’d be happy to answer questions! Feel free to post a note to me below.

Online distance learning for adult ELLs: Promising instructional practice

Technology Integration in ESL Classrooms

Collaboration and Constructivist Online Learning Models Support Cultural Inclusiveness

Smith & Ayers (2006) and Hannon & D’Netto (2007) both write about the propensity of online learning to amplify epistimologies of Western culture. If that is the case, it mitigates the potential promise of using technology to reach new audiences of adult learners and using the Internet as a tool for equity. We know that our adult basic education programs in the U.S. only serve about 10% of adults with basic skill needs.  According to Smith & Ayers (2006), most of these previously unreached adults do not share a cultural affinity with the creators’ web content, so the Internet and online learning can be perceived as another place represented by a discourse that excludes them.

Because students of different cultures learn in different ways, instructional designers and teachers must strive to understand cultures of diverse/potential student bodies to provide culturally responsive learning opportunities.  Online content could do this by using a “multiple-cultures” paradigm that is constructivist/cooperative, relevant for minority students AND helps them navigate dominant culture. McLoughlin (2000), as described by Smith & Ayers (2006) provides suggestions to ensure this type of opportunity:

  1. Learning is contextualized in action and played out in everyday situations.
  2. True knowledge is acquired through active participation.
  3. Learning is a process of social action and engagement rooted in distinctive ways of thinking, acting, and communicating.
  4. Learning can be assisted by experts and solidified through apprenticeship.
  5. Learning is an important means of participating in a social environment. (p. 409)

I’m going to keep this list in my back packet. It’s a reminder of the strengths of constructivist-modeled learning opportunities and reminds me that learning in online communities happens beyond transmission of pre-defined content.

Hannon, J., & D’Netto, B. (2007). Cultural diversity online: student engagement with learning technologies. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(5), 418–432.

Shaffer, B. (2012). Overview of Adult Basic Education in Minnesota – FY 2012. St. Paul.

Smith, D. R., & Ayers, D. F. (2006). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Online Learning: Implications for the Globalized Community College. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 30(5-6), 401–415.

Building Trust

There is ample research and writing on building community that discusses the importance of building trust. Whether it is in a classroom or an online environment, learners must trust that the course will be a source of learning, that their classmates will be respectful and contribute to their knowledge, and (most importantly) that the teacher is trustworthy. If trust is lacking in an online environment, there is no discussion or interaction, and hence, according to Ortner (2010), no community. In other words, any socio-cognitivist aspirations the instructor or designer has about learners co-constructing knowledge will be left unfulfilled.

I have lived this as a designer/facilitator of online learning! My first troubling experience like this was with a group of teachers, new to technology, who wanted to learn more about social media and technology integration into their classrooms. I used Schoology as an online learning venue and set up modules allowing for lots of interaction. During our in-person orientation and kick-off meeting, I gave them time to play in the site and gave support where needed. When it was time for them to personalize their homepage and leave an introductory blog post, they resisted. I heard many concerns about privacy and reluctance or refusal to put anything personal online.

No matter how I explained privacy settings and the security of the site, several refused to do anything that would contribute to developing their social presence online. They were very afraid of posted information being used against them and of identity theft. I allowed them to follow their intuition and didn’t press them; however, not surprisingly, these same teachers refused to participate in the online discussion. They said that they were worried about being judged by others in the group. They didn’t see how sharing their ideas could be a springboard for learning. I see a direct connection between their unwillingness to engage socially, TO TRUST, and their resistance to share their opinions and contribute to both their own and their colleagues’ learning.

How could I have prevented this? I think I should have started with baby steps. First of all, they didn’t know me personally, so I had none of what Brookfield (2006) referred to as “authenticity”. My assurances were not enough to mitigate their fears about privacy on the Internet. I could have put all of these beginners in an isolated group and had them practice interacting using low-impact topics where we could all get to know each other. Such sheltered, unstressful discussion may have eased their fears, proving that the only readers of their writing were trusted, nonjudgemental colleagues. I hope I get a chance to try this again with newcomers!

Brookfield, S. (2006). What students Value in Teachers. In The Skillful Teacher: On Trust, Technique, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (pp. 67–78). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kelly, R. (2008). Creating Trust in Online Education. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/creating-trust-in-online-education/

Ortner, N. A. (2010). Developing trust; the superglue of online communities. California Virtual Campus. Retrieved from http://www.cvc.edu/2010/02/developing-trust-the-superglue-of-online-communities/

Establishing Community in Online Courses: When Media Complicates.


I’m planning to rework a professional development study group/course I’ve conducted for three years. My goal for the changes is to apply what I’ve learned about the impact of developing social presence and building community on constructivist learning.  Why pursue a constructivist approach? There is ample research that supports opportunities for learning that mirror problem solving in the real world and that learning happens best when students weigh their knowledge against the viewpoints and ideas of others.

One idea for promoting community is to allow different media options for course participation: podcasts, videos, and tools like Flip Grid have all be explored as text options that can help all learners feel comfortable participating.  I would love to use them!


Complication:  I just learned that I will have several deaf or hard of hearing participants in the next offering of my PD course.  Soo… how can I integrate a greater range of media in a way that supports collaborative interaction when there are DHH participants in the group?  I’m assuming that I’ll need to provide a text option for discussion. Does it also mean that I need to require a text response for every discussion? For learners who want to use Flip Grid, do I still need for them to do the writing?  Is there some tech that can automatically close-caption the Flip Grid audio in a reliable way?

Much to explore to make this work!

Rovai, A. P. (2002). Building Sense of Community at a Distance. International Rview of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1), 1–8.

Social Presence. Overcompensate.

The standout lestaylor photo on flickr

I’ve been reading much about the impact of social presence in online learning environments. Essentially, I understand the concept to mean that one must feel seen and be seen by others in an environment if collaboration and communication can happen. In a constructivist online learning environment, social presence is absolutely essential for interaction to happen.

What does it take to project social presence in an online environment? Why should we bother? I’ve seen first hand what a failure to establish social presence causes. I unsuccessfully implemented an ongoing, online professional development opportunity for some teachers of adult ESL students. The teachers were hoping to learn how to use social media in their their classrooms. What better way for them to learn than to actually use a CMS that mimics social media, in this case Schoology?

Guess what!? They didn’t trust the environment or the facilitation, so they refused to build their profile pages or blog. Not surprisingly, there was not much collaborative learning. I’ve felt fairly frustrated by the experience for some time. What would I do differently? First, I think I’d start smaller. Several of these teachers were new to even email. Perhaps a listserv would have seemed a smaller step. Though harder to assert social presence in such a medium, research suggests that it’s not impossible (Lowenthal, in press). Second, I think I would do more modeling. I posted once every week to show them how to do it. I think once every day would have been better.

The experience showed me how hard it is for some people to put themselves out there. When I think about my own efforts to establish social presence in my online courses, I often feel like I’m constructing a new identity that is representative of but not exactly who I am. I do this by deciding what photos to post or which information to share. I trust that others in the community will accept these presentations/offerings and somehow that will begin to establish the trust necessary for collaborative learning. It does take some getting used to.

Lowenthal, P. R. (n.d.). The evolution and influence of social presence theory on online learning. Online education and adult learning: New fronties for teaching practices, 1–30.

CMS for Equity

I’ve been working to support both learners and teachers the field of adult basic education better use technology to support learning. My motivation for this work is what I recognize in the disparity in technology use and access between people educated, well-employed people and most ABE learners. We’re living in a tech-rich world where people with means and know-how leverage it to gain access to knowledge, support academic goals, gain employment, and efficiently handle life tasks. Most of our learners don’t use technology is this way, nor do a great number of their teachers.

The status quo further exacerbates inequity stemming from other places. To mitigate this reality, we need to transition our learners to more intuitive use of technology. That means first giving them access to well-developed quality and level-appropriate online learning. When accessed in a supportive environment, this sort of learning will help them develop skills needed to succeed academically, and perhaps begin to turn to online resources in other contexts.

If this is to happen, online learning needs to be very carefully constructed. Although it is possible for most any ABE student to learn online if given proper balance amongst skill, support, and the environment (Silver-Pacquilla and Reder, 2008), I think much more time and resources can be devoted to that learning if the environment is great.

Yang and Cornelius (2005) write that online instructors need to be instructional designers. The work, then, starts with use of a sound Content Management System (CMS), one with intuitively designed affordances provided to enable collaborative e-learning. Here’s a short list of what I’d want in a CMS:

Advertisement Free

Flexible and easy to manipulate navigation and page management

Flexible permission and role assignment

Healthy support community and prompt fee-based tech support (if needed)

Generally easy to use:

  • Easily customizable
  • Site set up wizard
  • Drag-n-drop content
  • Image resizing
  • Wysiswyg editor
  • Only very limited coding required, if any at all.
  • Preview

Useful, built-in applications that support collaboration/interaction

  • Blog
  • Chat
  • Discussion
  • Document manager
  • Calendar
  • My page
  • Photo gallery
  • Quiz/test maker
  • Site search
  • Polls
  • Announcements

Without such affordances I can’t image developing an inviting collaborative learning environment. My ability to creatively use them will, of course, matter more. I need to make a space where learners are enticed to stay awhile and return soon – one with clear, well organized pages, minimal text, easy navigation, and the possibility of collaboration.  Tall order!

Silver-Pacquilla, H., & Reder, S. (2008). Investigating the language and literacy skills required for independent online learning. Washington DC.

Yang, Y., Development, W., & Cornelious, L. F. (2005). Preparing instructors for quality online instruction. Online Journal of Distance Learning AdministrationVIII(1), 1–15.