Inclusive online course design: Lessons from a pandemic

Carter, A. & Seoudi, S. Inclusive online course design: Lessons from a pandemic. TESL Ontario Contact, 48(1),19-27.

This article describes the planning and process of adapting a lively and engaging in-person ESL foundation program at Ryerson University in Toronto to an inclusive virtual learning environment during COVID-19.  To support the development of an inclusive online learning environment that would create a sense of community, developers were guided by these four guiding principles that governed the design process:  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in which students were offered multiple means of engagement including choices of assignment and opportunities to work individually and in groups. Classes were offered synchronously and asynchronously.

Flexibility whereby classes were offered at two different times to accommodate schedules and students who were located in different time zones. Office hours offered by instructors were flexible and students were offered options as to the digital tools they could use to complete assignments.

 Digital tools to enhance community A wide range of digital tools were used to support learning and to enable students to connect with one another online and to work collaboratively.

 Demonstrating personal interest in students Instructors purposely chose assignments and topics that were relevant to the lives of students. Instructors connected with students as individuals with different interests and learning needs.

Overall, students and instructors responded positively to the virtual learning environment; students reported their satisfaction with the program in general and in particular with the opportunities to remain engaged with learning and to connect with each other online. Instructors noted an increased use of English through the variety of digital tools offered.

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Learning Technology in LINC – Beyond the Pandemic

Van Dorp, N. & McBride, R. Learning Technology in LINC- Beyond the Pandemic. TESL Ontario Contact, 48(1),27-34.

This short, timely article draws on discussions which took place at a virtual workshop presented by Avenue-LearnIT2teach Project at the annual TESL Ontario conference in 2021. Presenters at the workshop explored what was learned about the use of technology in LINC programming as programs and instructors had to make rapid adjustments to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Four key findings emerged:

1. the importance of a mentor/mentee relationship during COVID-19;
2. the difference between Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) and online teaching;
3. blended learning as an ideal delivery mode of ESL learning post-COVID-19;
4. digital learning is not enough; digital fluency should be the new benchmark.

Each of these four findings is described, with a focus on how instructors can be effectively supported to deploy technology for teaching and learning, the benefits and opportunities afforded in a blended learning environment and the critical importance of incorporating digital skills to support the development of digital fluency in order to extend and improve teaching and learning in LINC programming.

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“Google and me together can read anything.” Online reading strategies to build independent readers in the ESL classroom.

Jose, K. (2021). “Google and me together can read anything.” Online reading strategies to build independent readers in the ESL classroom. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 17(2), 896-914.

This article provides the findings of a research study investigating the potential of reading using online texts or hypertexts in addition to print textbooks in the ESL reading classroom. The research examined and described the reading and navigation strategies used by students in reading online texts.

 It was found that readers demonstrated higher levels of comprehension in tests based on online texts. Given that in this digital age, and given the ubiquity of digital devices, many of us look to the internet as a primary source of information, the author argues the use of online texts in the reading classroom is a more authentic activity for students, one that they are more comfortable with in their daily lives. He further argues that the use of digital texts in developing online reading comprehension will support students in the development of their critical information literacy skills and foster lifelong reading habits.

The author concludes that ESL reading instructors should engage in strategy training to support students in the use of online texts to enhance reading comprehension, and to help to build lifelong, independent reading habits in ESL readers.  

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Google Translate as a Tool for Self-Directed Language Learning

van Lieshout, C., & Cardoso, W. (2022). Google Translate as a tool for self-directed language learning. Language Learning & Technology, 26(1), 1–19.

Many language learners have to overcome obstacles when they want to learn a new language. This may result in them making attempts to learn the language on their own. This study looks at three features that define successful self-directed learners: self-motivation, use of independent learning strategies and an ability to self-assess whether those strategies are effective. The authors look to affordances of Google Translate that can help to enable self-directed learning.

The study provides background on both self-directed learning and self-directed language learning and examines the impact of Google Translate on the latter in the areas of vocabulary and pronunciation.

The study explored these two questions:

To what extent can learners acquire phrases and their pronunciations after using Google Translate in a self-directed language learning environment?

How do learners interact with Google Translate to learn an L2?

Although the study looked at learners of Dutch as a foreign language, because Google Translate is widely available, the findings will be of interest for many learners who want to learn and continue to learn on their own and to teachers who would like to include some of these self-directed tools for use beyond the classroom.

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Here are two quite different studies of Google Translate in second language learning:

A “Hands-On” Approach to Raise Awareness of Technologies: A Pilot Class and its Lessons

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Using an ADAPT Approach to Integrate Google Translate into the Second Language Classroom

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Innovative language pedagogy report

Beaven, T. & Rosell-Aguilar, F. (eds.) Innovative language pedagogy report. Open University. 2021 2021.doi:org/10.14705/rpnet.2021.50.9782490057863.

The wide range of topics in this ninth edition of the annual report were chosen after surveying language teaching practitioners. The results focus on language teaching, learning and assessment. The editors narrowed down a list of both established and emerging pedagogies, approaches and tools. The resulting topics are presented with an example of each in practice, its potential impact, benefits and issues, time frames for implementation and keywords. Each topic also includes a list of references and resources.

Here are a few topics from the report:

Technology-facilitated oral homework leveraging technology to get students speaking outside the classroom. p.69

Gamification motivating language learning with gameful elements. p.109

Augmented reality learning education in real-world contexts. p.115

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Mobile and blended, please! Migrants and refugees’ learning choices in a language MOOC

Read, R. & Martín-Monje, E. Mobile and blended, please! Migrants and refugees learning choices in a language MOOC. The JALT CALL Journal, 17,3(2021): 256-276

This article reports on a study of 2 language MOOCs for refugees and migrants to Spain as part of the European Commission’s MOONLITE project.  The MOOCs were designed and developed in consultation with refugee support groups and language instructors who participated in the design, piloting, and delivery of the courses. The courses were designed to address the functional needs of the participants, e.g. looking for housing, training and employment, civil rights.

Although the context of this study is European, it offers a relevant and useful model of functional language training  that may have potential in the field  of language instruction for newcomers to Canada.

The study examined the types of digital devices that participants preferred to use for the courses, whether the choice of device affected course completion, and how teaching practice affected the outcomes for participants. Based on quantitative and qualitative data, the study indicated that participants preferred to use mobile devices, such as smartphones which enabled “anytime anywhere” learning and that the use of mobile devices contributed to the successful completion of the courses by most of the participants. The study indicated that this preference is because, for the majority of participants, smartphones were the only technology they had regular access to and were accustomed to using them in their daily lives. Most participants who successfully completed the course were also enrolled in F2F language classes and used the LMOOCS to complement their classroom learning. The study concluded that the use of a blended learning model contributed to the successful completion of the courses.

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Pedagogical lessons for Remote/Blended Online Classrooms

Englander, K. & Russell, B. TESL Ontario Contact November 28, 2021.

This article reports on insights gained during a COVID-19 pivot to remote teaching and learning in a university language program. Five key practices emerged from how learners and instructors handled the new technology-mediated curriculum. The article references the Community of Inquiry framework and its origins at Athabasca University in Alberta two decades ago. The framework was used to inform curriculum design and a research study on remote teaching and learning in the 2020-21 year, during COVID-19. The report discusses the three presences from the framework: cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence. These three presences are identified as central to learners’ experience in online teaching and learning. The research from this program indicated that the most important presence for learner satisfaction was teaching presence. Social presence during the phase reported on, was the least satisfactory in that learners did not feel they met other “real” students, that they were not able to build connections with either the class or the school.

As a result of the data collected, the program put together these five best practices that aim to maximize already positive teaching presence and enhance social presence.

  1. Your presence makes the difference.
  2. Keep cameras on.
  3. Create lecturettes.
  4. Make learning affordances explicit.
  5. Reconsider assessment.

Here are two examples of the five best practices:

When using a platform that allows cameras, keep all cameras on. Students said that seeing each other was much more satisfying during synchronous sessions. Despite valid concerns about privacy, students could be disengaged if they could not see their classmates; occasionally students were not physically online when there was no camera; and in break out rooms, when faces were represented by a shaded thumbnail, it was difficult to have discussions. Faces and voices were important for intellectual interaction with course content and other learners.

Create “lecturettes”. Classes in this program were normally three hours long, twice a week, in a classroom. When this was rethought for online delivery, one of the new components was a one-hour pre-recorded lecture to be watched before a synchronous class. After learners reacted negatively to these hour-long lectures, instructors experimented with breaking the content into more manageable 5-, 10- or 20-minute lecturettes. This type of content was managed by numbering the segments so the order was obvious. Learners could take advantage of these shorter content bursts using pause, rewind and replay as desired.

The remaining three best practices, Your presence makes the difference, Make affordances explicit and Reconsider assessment also provide excellent examples of how to help instructors make research-informed decisions about their own teaching in an online environment.

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How to Manage Expectations in Online Classes: Guidelines and Requirement

Hasiri, F. TESL Ontario Contact. August 25, 2021.

This very practical article details many examples of how teachers who have to teach in an online environment during COVID can be more effective meeting learners’ expectations. Since many teachers and learners were not prepared ahead of time for this kind of learning, the author presents guidelines to consider before starting a period of teaching. The guidelines address planning and preparation, delivery, learner engagement and interaction. She gives suggestions for being explicit with learners around expectations for participation in discussion fora. Her suggestions for course assessment may appear to be related to credit courses only, but they are also relevant for continuous intake or non-credit classes. The article concludes with a downloadable check list for instructors to zero in on both the planning stage and a reflection period afterwards with the intention of managing learner expectations and helping them succeed in the online language learning environment.

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Twenty-five years of digital literacies in CALL

Kern, R., Twenty-five years of digital literacies in CALL. Language Learning & Technology, 25,3 (2021):132-50.

This article offers a comprehensive review of the evolving importance of digital literacies, in the context of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) over the past 25 years. The article also discusses the three major areas in which digital literacies have contributed to CALL, (a) agency, autonomy, and identity; (b) creativity; and (c) new sociality and communities.

Beginning with the early days of the Internet the author describes our early use as being consultative rather than creative, and digital literacy in that context consisted primarily of how to access web sites and follow hyperlinks. With the development Web 2.0 our use of the internet evolved, moving to more and more online social interaction particularly in relation to social media. The impact of these developments provided language learners multiple opportunities to independently access learning resources on the internet, to engage with other learners and speakers of the target language. Language learners also have the means to create content themselves, and many opportunities to practice language skills through gaming and in online communities.

In the face of these exciting independent learning opportunities there are ongoing challenges relating to better understanding the role of the instructor in this new learning environment, in particular its impact on assessment and in supporting learners to productively navigate informal and formal online learning activities. Finally, the authors discuss how language educators can develop and deliver sound digital literacies programming to help language learners acquire and develop these critical skills.

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Technology, Motivation and Autonomy, and Teacher Psychology in Language Learning: Exploring the Myths and Possibilities

Glenn Stockwell and Hayo Reinders. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2019) 39, 40-51.

This article explores why the expectations of technology use in language teaching and learning might exceed the results and looks at some of the myths about using technology for language learning and teaching. The authors reference Stephen Bax‘ points about certain fallacies that inhibit the normalization of technology use. They discuss the kinds of pedagogy that need to be applied to ensure learner motivation and autonomy. They also discuss the role of teachers and their attitudes that often underestimate their own abilities to teach effectively with technology and overestimate learners’ capability to learn with tech tools without teacher intervention. The article concludes with five pedagogical principles for using technology in the classroom.

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Intelligent assistants in language learning: an analysis of features and limitations

Kukulska-Hulme, A. & Lee, H. “Intelligent assistants in language learning: an analysis of features and limitations.” In CALL for widening participation: short papers from EUROCALL 2020, edited by Karen-Margrete Frederiksen, Sanne Larsen, Linda Bradley and Sylvie Thouësny, 172-176 .2020

This short article presents the findings of a multidisciplinary literature review of research studies conducted over the past 10 years examining the development and potential applications of Intelligent Assistants, including chatbots, avatars and conversational agents such as Siri and Alexa, in the field of education.

The article focusses on the features and limitations of Intelligent Assistants to support language learning. Based on their analysis of over 170 studies the authors find that Intelligent Assistants have the potential to support language learners, at all learning levels. Using an Intelligent Assistant provides learners with opportunities for extensive simple conversation and pronunciation practice, anytime and place, and, since the conversation is taking place privately, can help reduce the anxiety that many learners experience when attempting to speak in a new language.

The authors note that research is needed to learn more about how Intelligent Assistants can be effectively deployed in the language classroom and what the role of the instructor could be in supporting learners to make best use of these tools.

To see a chatbot in action visit:  and click on the icon at the bottom right.  The Orientation to Ontario chatbot provides basic information about living and working in Ontario. The chatbot allows users to chat in text, and to input questions verbally.

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Technology and Second Language Listening

Gruba, P. & Suvorov, R. (2020). Technology and Second Language Listening. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

This article examines how technology affects second language listening – how it is practised, taught, assessed and researched. The authors note a stronger emphasis on social interaction, augmented and virtual reality, and the use of global resources. The authors explore how instructors use features like play, pause, replay and distribute that are readily available on YouTube or Vimeo, sources of authentic classroom materials; they briefly discuss instructors’ use of technology to publish their own listening resources considering a range of factors that will help learners develop their skills in different situations. They identify how using technology in assessment situations demands consideration of factors that will impact test results, e.g., quality of recordings, scripted or unscripted texts, rate of speech, choice of topics, compliance with standards and security. As far as using technology for research goes, after discussing some of the research that is being done with and about using technology, e.g., the extent that listener performance is affected by presence or absence of captions, subtitles, transcripts, they present the activities researchers go through in the phases of a research project.

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Evaluation of Language Training Services

Research and Evaluation Branch. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. December 2020.

This article cited below from the Toronto Star about learners’ and instructors’ perceptions of Portfolio based language assessment (PBLA) used in LINC classes led us to the latest evaluation of the Federal government’s Evaluation of Language Training Services (December 2020) . The evaluation report provides a number of recommendations and responses from IRCC. PBLA is examined in detail in Theme 2, Program Improvements for Fostering Success.

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Taking Teaching beyond the Classroom

Davila, S., Taking Teaching beyond the Classroom, “Language Teaching” (blog), 21 May, 2021.

This short article provides a very useful description of immersive Virtual Reality (VR)) in the language classroom. Virtual reality (VR) is a new technological frontier for many language instructors, however it is one that holds promise for enhancing and extending language learning. There are early indications, in recent research, that VR can be an engaging and helpful tool for language learners, particularly in building confidence and in supporting retention and motivation.

The article offers an accessible overview of VR devices and possible applications in the language classroom, as well as introductory guidance on how to plan for the use of VR; choosing appropriate applications for the language classroom; managing the VR classroom, and the following set of questions for language instructors to consider as they begin to explore VR.

  • What does this application do that I cannot currently do with my online classroom?
  • How does this application improve or enhance the teaching and learning experience?
  • What changes and adjustments will I need to make to my lesson to ensure it is a productive learning experience?
  • How will the application provide new and exciting extensions of my current learning experiences?

Following this review of VR, the author concludes,

Using VR provides numerous opportunities for language educators to support all the needs of language learners. From initial introduction to concepts to creative fluent production with peers, the VR classroom is perfect for language learning.”

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From Silos to Solutions: Toward Sustainable and Equitable Hybrid Service Delivery in the Immigrant & Refugee-Serving Sector in Canada

Liu,J., Cansu, E. D., Campana, M. Coordinated by AMSSA. Funded by IRCC. April 2021.

This report looks at the Settlement sector’s needs in the area of digital services, as a whole. COVID-19 resulted in the sector having to move to fully digital and remote service. The themes included in the report were identified through consultation within the sector and beyond from October 2020 though March 2021. The report makes a number of ambitious recommendations to IRCC using a “Now, Next, Later” framework. One of the examples of these is particularly relevant for language training as follows:

● There is also a need for consistent and ongoing training for staff, not only focused on how best they can use technology, but also how to train clients to use it in a service context.
● The sector and IRCC should develop guidelines on how to develop and implement digital literacy tools to assess clients’ digital skills. This guidance should include the provision of training materials, tools, and recommendations for agencies to support clients’ digital literacy skills.
● The sector and IRCC should develop a digital literacy competence framework conducive to the needs of the immigrant settlement sector.
● Consider a Digital Literacy Benchmark (DLB) as a complement to Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) to allow for Service Providing Organizations (SPOs) to quickly and accurately assess the digital literacy levels of newcomers to guide and support them accordingly.

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In the section of the report on Change Management Tools & Practice, there are four tools listed that organizations can use to identify strengths and services, including The European Framework for Educators’ Digital Competence (DigCompEdu).

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Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu) | EU Science Hub (

Technology-Mediated Language Training: Developing and Assessing a Module for a Blended Curriculum for Newcomers

McLellan, G., Kartchava, E., & Rodgers, M. (2021). Technology-Mediated Language Training: Developing and Assessing a Module for a Blended Curriculum for Newcomers. Canadian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 24(2), 177–202.

This paper reports on a study done in partnership with a Canadian program that includes networking, employment and second language training. It investigates the development of a blended second language curriculum for high beginner learners employed in customer service, using a task-based framework. The study looked specifically at learners who cannot consistently attend face-to-face classes and therefore provided support on mobile devices for convenient access when needed. Newcomers in the program meet with a volunteer teacher weekly with a focus on workplace language, but there was a need for more occupation-specific language training needed in addition to these meetings with the understanding that it would build on the face-to-face meetings.

The paper includes a literature review of Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Mobile-Assisted Language Learning, Technology-Mediated Task-Based Language Teaching and Needs Analysis and Technology-Mediated TBLT. This is followed by a description of a module focused on greetings and requests used in customer service, with examples of questions, video examples and comments from learners and teachers.

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Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom: Practical Ideas

Bonner, E., Reinders, M. Augmented and Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom: Practical Ideas. Teaching English with Technology. (2018), 18,3 :33-53

This article provides a useful and accessible overview of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and the potential for these technologies to support and enhance language teaching and learning.  Many of us, perhaps without knowing it, are already using augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR), in applications such as Google Translate, filters in Snapchat and Instagram, and in virtual tours of museums and art galleries such as The British Museum and The Louvre.

The article serves as an introduction to technology that isn’t in widespread use in language learning. It includes some interesting examples from foreign language courses that have tried out some AR/VR techniques and tools. For example, the descriptions of the affordances of the tools used in one of the activities to help improve presentation skills gives insight into what is possible. In each of the examples the authors provide step by step guides on how to set up and use these learning activities with students. The article also provides guidance around specific privacy and security issues that may arise with AR/VR as well as financial ones.

Although language educators are in the early stages of the use of these technologies for language learning, and challenges particularly related to general availability in the realm of language teaching remain, they have significant and exciting potential to enhance student engagement, extend learning, and to bridge the gap between formal and informal language learning.

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Lotze, N. Goodbye to classroom teaching? Artificial Intelligence in Language Learning. (2018). Magazin Sprache. May.

This article offers a critical response to claims that are made about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can profoundly alter the ways in which languages can be taught and learned, i.e.,  without the necessity for classroom teaching and learning.

The author makes a succinct and quite compelling argument that such technological innovation actually provides quite a limited range of potential for language learning. For example digital exercises, although they may appear innovative, are actually replications of what can be found in traditional exercise books, the usefulness of learning language apps with a chatbot, (Duolingo for example) is limited, in that such systems depend on simple, defined interactions and predictable dialogues.

The author concludes that learning language systems based on AI are useful when it may be difficult or impossible for students to attend language classes, and are best suited for beginning language learners to supplement classroom learning with a human teacher.

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Teaching in Covid-19 Times: Challenges, innovations, solutions, and opportunities

Cummings,J., Sturm,M., Lawrence,G., Avram, A. & McBride, R. (2021).
Teaching in Covid-19 Times: Challenges, innovations, solutions, and opportunities. TESL Contact, 47,1(2021):21-35

This article from TESL Ontario’s Contact Magazine discusses the issues language teachers have faced globally and in Canada because of school closures and lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than presenting only challenges, the authors report on innovations, solutions and opportunities that have arisen during this time. A case study of a LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) educator showcases their principled approach to enhance student engagement in an online environment. The article ends with recommendations to leverage the benefits of teaching and learning online, including effective technology-mediated teacher education.

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Countering Digital Disinformation

Light, J., Auer, M. WebSafe: Tools for Newcomers to Counter Digital Disinformation. TESL Contact, 47,1(2021):13-20

The March 2021 issue of TESL Ontario Contact Magazine reports on a number of topics of interest to the bibliography. One of them, WebSafe: Tools for Newcomers to Counter Digital Disinformation, describes a set of practical learning resources, one 50 projects funded to counter online disinformation by the Government of Canada since January 2020. The other projects are listed here.

Another of the 50 projects, from United Cultures of Canada Association, is an educational booklet that looks at three kinds of information with examples from COVID-19: Disinformation, Misinformation and True Information.

The topic of digital disinformation is being explored worldwide, including this conceptual paper  that focuses on the context of asylum seekers. It contains a literature review on the information practices of asylum seekers and provides insight into the kinds of misinformation and inadequate information they encounter. The authors propose a Social Information Perception Model to show what people may identify as accurate information, misinformation or disinformation.

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