Some practice

English sub-department 2021 FD

Chad Nilep

March 2020 was a difficult time for all of us as the pandemic settled over society and we scrambled to adapt teaching, and everything else. We were first advised to split our classes into smaller groups, and to increase homework to make up for the shortened face time. Then we were advised to suspend face-to-face teaching altogether and to put our classes online.

I opted for an asynchronous class, where students could work in their own time, as long as they finished major assignments by the due date. I made a series of video lectures for students to watch online, and supplemented these with readings, exercises, and quizzes on NUCT. (See "Idiot’s Guide to Teaching Videos" in the Links box.)

This approach worked OK, but it had a number of drawbacks. Some students stayed in touch through online messages or "virtual" video office hours. For most, though, our only contact was through comments on graded work. A few students who did not submit any assignments had no contact at all.

Also, some first year students complained that they did not "feel like a college student", since they had little contact with classmates or instructors.

Therefore, from this year I am planning "mixed" courses, with some face-to-face meetings as well as some online learning. I can’t promise that this is "good practice", but it is what I plan to practice in the coming term.

Academic English Advanced (英語上級) : online in principle

I am teaching two types of classes this term: Academic English Basic (英語基礎) for first year students, and Academic English Advanced (英語上級) for second year students. The Advanced class is online in principle, similar to the course I offered last year, but with some face-to-face meetings for presentations.

Advanced class is offered mainly online, using Microsoft Teams and NUCT, the university’s online Course Tools site. It also has a textbook, which has a number of online videos supplied by the publisher.

Each week before class, students will be required to do certain homework. The homework is spelled out in a schedule on NUCT, and the schedule includes links to online materials such as the videos. Weekly homework consists of reading and exercises in the textbook, and watching the online videos that accompany the textbook exercises.

After they finish the textbook exercises, students are required to take a short quiz that I wrote using the "Tests & Quizzes" (小テスト) function on NUCT. NUCT allows you to make tests with multiple choice, true or false, matching, or other common question types. I turned some of the textbook exercises into quiz questions. Each quiz is due at the moment when class starts, so that students need to finish the homework before class. This requires students to do the textbook exercises, and it also allows them to check for the correct answer.

Most weekly meetings for Advanced are online meetings using MS Teams. I haven’t actually led a meeting on Teams, so please see the links above to Nagoya University ICTS, as well as Microsoft’s online support for information. During the video meeting, I provide a short summary of what I think are the important points in that week’s reading, and then break students into groups. I set a task for them to accomplish in the group, and let them know what I want them to share with the whole class when they come back. This requires them to work together on something that they know I, and everyone else, will see.

The class is mainly online, but presentations are mostly face-to-face. Since a goal of the class is to "help students acquire skills for making effective presentations", I have them deliver several presentations during the term. Most of these are face-to-face. Half of the students will come to the classroom to deliver their presentations. The other half will watch the presentations live streamed on Teams. In order to do this, I have purchased a web camera, which I will set up on a tripod and attach to my laptop computer.

Photo of an anonymous presenter. A video camera on a tripod points at the presenter, and is attached to a laptop with a cable.

After each "presentations" day, all students are required to give feedback to the presenters using NUCT Forums. I have set up a Forum for each day. In the Forum settings, I require students to post before they can read other students’ comments. I hope that this allows them to answer honestly, without influence from other students’ feedback. At the end of the term, I can check how many comments each student wrote on the Forum, and how many they read. I use this as part of the participation grade for each student.

I have decided to make the last presentation of the term an online meeting. As last year taught us, being able to present on Teams or Zoom is a valuable, and prior to 2020 perhaps not a very common skill. Therefore, one of the presentations that students deliver in this course is an online presentation. I will give students the option to either use PowerPoint slides, speak directly to their web camera, or do both.

Academic English English Basic (英語基礎) : face-to-face in principle

Unlike the Advanced class, which is mainly online with just a few face-to-face meetings for presentations, Academic English Basic is mainly face-to-face, with just a few "virtual classes" online. Several first year students complained about the lack of face-to-face meetings last year, but that was not true of second year students. I’m hoping that ten face-to-face meetings in my class, together with their other classes, will satisfy their expectations for a college experience.

One of the early plans suggested in 2020 was to have half of the students come to class each week, to allow for social distancing. This would also require additional assignments outside of class. I am very much in favor of additional learning outside the classroom, because I do not believe that 22.5 hours, mostly spent listening, is sufficient to improve one’s language ability in a meaningful way.

Instead of offering 90 minutes to half the students one week, then zero minutes the following week as their peers come to class, I’ve decided to have half the students come for 40 minutes, then allow 10 minutes for turn over, and 40 minutes for the remaining students every week. During that 40 minutes, I will deliver a short lecture about paragraph writing, and then have students ask questions about their homework.

Each week’s class consists of 40 minutes in the classroom, plus an hour or so outside of it. On their own, students are required to complete a timed writing exercise each week. This consists of 15 minutes spent brainstorming, then outlining, writing, and finally reading a paragraph. After they finish writing their 15-minute paragraphs, students will upload them to the Forum on NUCT. Then they will read another student’s paragraph and offer comments on it. I really do think that offering peer comments helps students with their writing. In addition to receiving comments, giving comments requires them to think about what makes good writing good, or makes poor writing less effective.

In addition to writing, students are required to read English every week. They are given the choice to select graded readers, or to try authentic materials. Many choose from the extensive reading books in the Central Library. During the pandemic I have also found a few sources for online graded readers, which I share here.

The Basic course also includes regular homework: readings and exercises in a textbook; sometimes additional practice exercises, which are not graded; and short quizzes on NUCT. As with the Advanced class, the quizzes are based on the textbook exercises. I also include two questions about the previous week’s writing lesson in each quiz, and survey questions reminding students to do the eLearning, timed writing, and reading that is required. For example, each week one of the questions is, "Did you work on Academic Express 3 this week?" for which student can select "Yes" or "No". No matter what they select, the receive feedback on submission encouraging them to finish and reminding them of the next due date.

About five times during the term, when the Advanced class is giving their presentations, the Basic class will be "virtual". I still have the videos that I made last year, so I will use five of them in place of a lecture. The outside activities – timed writing, peer review on NUCT, quizzes – will work just as in the other, face-to-face weeks. Since they won’t be able to ask questions face-to-face, they can do that using NUCT.

Some practice: More needed

As I said, I can’t guarantee that what I have described is "good practice". It is just my practice – or really, my plan. I would be happy to hear your ideas for good practice in teaching.

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