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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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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Exploring blended learning experiences through the community of inquiry framework

Zhang, R. (2020). Exploring blended learning experiences through the community of inquiry framework. Language Learning & Technology, 24(1), 38–53.

The two research questions for this study are:

  1. What is the interrelationship among teaching, social and cognitive presences of Community of Inquiry (CoI) in the students’ blended learning experiences?
  2. How does blended learning impact the students’ learning experiences?

The study looks at a group of graduate students at a Chinese technical university who attended an innovative blended learning course in English for Agriculture and Forestry. The course is based on a Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework. The report provides an introduction to a CoI framework and demonstrates how it can help in the design of effective blended learning processes. It  goes on to report on aspects of teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence in the course. There are examples of student interviews and analysis of activities. Instructor’s participation and facilitation is highlighted as one of the factors influencing social presence and creating and maintaining a community throughout the learning process.

Professional development in CALL: a selection of papers

Goria, C., Konstantinidis, A., Kilvinski, B., & Dogan. B. E. (2019). Personal learning environments and personal learning networks for language teachers’ professional development. In C. N. Giannikas, E. Kakoulli Constantinou & S. Papadima-Sophocleous (Eds), Professional development in CALL: a selection of papers(pp. 87-99).

This collection of papers looks at the rise in encouragement to use technology tools in language teaching despite a lack of teacher training and support to integrate these tools in this language classroom. This annotation focuses on Chapter 6, Personal learning environments and personal learning networks for language teachers’ professional development. The specific context for the collection is foreign-language training, but is nonetheless relevant to the settlement language context.

The chapter presents background for, and two case studies that illustrate, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and Personal Learning Network (PLN). The chapter describes describes the impact  of the PLE and PLN on the work of participating teachers, their practice and their students’ learning and autonomy. In the first case study, the teacher seamlessly integrates good language teaching practice with mobile phones and instant messaging in the early stages of the learners’ PLEs. This case study also describes other changes that occurred during the evolution of these activities. Both case studies demonstrate how teachers continued to expand and enhance their learning beyond the teacher training program that introduced the PLE and PLN to them.


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