December 1, 2012 by Admin
Season’s Greetings to All!
We are just six weeks away from the start of a new semester here at the Universidad Panamericana in Guadalajara. The new year brings with it some new challenges for the professionals teaching advanced levels of English at our university. We have been tasked with designing our own courses for the upper levels, and for the first time in a long time, there will be no textbook available for the students to use. As part of my course design for the next semester, I am going to use a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as a portion of my course. Except for one co-worker, who won’t be teaching at the same level next year, my other co-workers have never used Coursera, so this post is for them as well. Here I will lay out the steps I think are necessary to use a Coursera course in an advanced EFL class.
- Student ability: We are a smaller institution where the level of most student’s abilities is fairly consistent. If you are unsure of your student’s skill level, you may wish to evaluate whether taking on a college-level course in English would be a good option for the students. Remember Vygotsky.
- Student attitude: Assess your student’s personalities. If on the one hand you have a class full of bad-attitudes, “I hate English” types, and generally lazy students, a Coursera course with its deadlines and requirements might not be a good idea. If, on the other hand you have motivated students, then get started!
- Teacher attitude: As a teacher, you must be prepared to take the course yourself, and be prepared to have younger minds outperform you. You will have to work ahead of your student in order to help them achieve their maximum potential. That means being an alert, astute student yourself. Also, if you’re not a great writing teacher, you may wish to reconsider. Coursera instructors often ask for writing assignments. Most often, students will need a lot of help with that.
- Institutional attitude: I am lucky to have supervisors and co-workers who welcome and take measured risks (challenges). It would be a good idea to explain what you are doing to sometimes well-intentioned, but less informed administrators.
- General courses: Unless you are blessed with a group of students from the same major or career field, finding courses for your class can be a little difficult. Coursera offers some general courses. By general, I mean courses that are part of an area like business say, but have applications across a broad area. Take for example, the course I completed along with several students called Gamification. While it was mainly a business course, though it was also listed as an Information Technology and Design course. Many of our students are in business-oriented fields, so it was a natural fit.
- Time considerations: A shorter course is better, especially when you consider you (the teacher) won’t know much ahead of time about the course or content. Like any other college course, you can ask for the syllabus, but you can never know what the teacher will be saying on a given day, or will that professor give you the exam questions ahead of time. It can be a tiring process for you and the students, too. You should check out the site. At the top right hand of the page you can use the ‘sort by’ selector to choose between duration and start date.
- Most important: This may seem trivial, but whether or not a course offers a certificate at the end should be considered. You can see a picture of mine at the end of this post. It’s not glamorous, nor does it bear the seal of any university, but it is a motivational tool that should not be overlooked. I had a little graduation ceremony with a printout of my student’s certificate. The rest of her class was flabbergasted as I played “Pomp and Circumstance”on my laptop, then presented her with her ‘diploma’ and a small gift. She was very proud of her accomplishment. Don’t underestimate the value of a small thing!
The Larger Picture
- Determining the fit: Where does a Coursera course fit into your plans? Right away…in my case, but for your purposes, you may want to wait until you have a more complete picture of your students.
- Follow-on activities: Can post-course activities be created in which students can apply what they have learned? In the case of the Gamification course, students chose to try and ‘gamify’ a language course. Before I say anymore, the first course was a learning experience, so we didn’t expect much…and we weren’t disappointed. The results weren’t spectacular, and a more directed approach to the project might have made it more worthwhile. Still, a follow-0n project, that is properly designed and structured might be of benefit.
- A positive learning experience: For the students of the Gamification course whom I talked to, most reported a very positive experience. They felt they were using their English for a better purpose, that they had ‘actually learned something’, and that it was a different kind of experience. Most of the students were considering taking another course, and as of this writing five had already signed up for a course in the new year. For those of us involved in using Coursera for the first time, this was the biggest reward: Students using their English as a means to learning more.
How I am going to implement Coursera this semester
As part of my course this year, I am going to use Coursera again. The course I chose was “Developing Innovative Ideas for New Companies“. This course should be of interest to most my students. Our university has a strong record of promoting entrepreneurial spirit in all of its career fields. Also, there is a focus on creativity, decision making, and other competence areas that are critical for students to learn. There is no course certificate specified, so I will have to think about some other incentive. In the meantime, I am developing a loose outline of a project that will follow-on to this course.
The first thing I plan to do is give my students a mock TOEFL or TOEIC exam to ascertain their level. Their scores will be used to measure their achievement, if any, after completion of the course, and again at the end of the semester. Students will then given a short, but intensive block of basic writing instruction. According to the course description, there will be short stand-alone assignments. Based on my past experience, this means writing. I will also be collecting vocabulary and providing additional support there. Finally, as the course progresses, I will be able to tailor a follow-on project to my students needs.
The course will start two weeks after the semester starts, so I should have plenty of time to prepare my students for the experience. The course will go into a second partial (We have exams every six weeks), so I will need to work out grading for the first partial, and have the students complete a project in time for the second six weeks exam period. The final six week period could be used for another project, or a completely different subject.
More on that later. In the meantime, I hope this missive was of some help. I will share my plans and thoughts about the course as the new year starts.