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Jumping onto online platforms

There’s so much available online for students and teachers it can be hard to know where to begin. Here are a few suggestions

There are a vast number of online platforms out there, with a huge range of different purposes. Some provide information, offer services or house educational resources; some offer training courses, others teach languages; some form part of a blended course. The importance of online platforms in the world of education has been dramatically highlighted in the current pandemic, with more teaching moving online than ever before. Here we look at those platforms with a range of purposes, including some which help students gain university places abroad, platforms which provide potential teachers with initial TEFL training and platforms created by ELT publishers.

Student information platforms

Two websites which help students find a place at a university abroad are Studee Ltd and TC Global.

Studee Ltd

studee.com

Studee Ltd aims to ‘match students with universities all over the world’. Students first fill out an enquiry form. The response from the admissions centre, within 24 hours, provides personal advice and guidance to help reach a decision about where to study. Studee then liaises with the university to help get students enrolled. Advice is offered on visas, travel, working out a budget and sorting out English tests.

Particularly helpful are the descriptions of universities with useful information such as global ranking number, type (eg, public/ private), number of international students,

“Get a feel for some of the online schools out there”

number of courses, number of nationalities and acceptance rate. Also useful are real student reviews and articles, such as the aptly titled ‘Culture shock for international students’.

HQ is in Gloucestershire, UK. Services are free for students. The company itself is funded by universities.

TC Global

tcglobal.com

‘Study anywhere in the world in just a few steps’ announces the TC Global website, making it very similar in intent to Studee Ltd. The main reason to visit the site is for the search engine, which allows users to look for a university place based on a number of parameters: location, which level of study (undergraduate, postgraduate and research), area of study and subsequent specialisations. Users can apply filters to refine their search by preferred date of entry and whether full time, part-time or online and, of course, preferred fee range.

Insights are provided into a range of related topics through articles on areas such as personalised learning, online learning and digital citizenship. Founded in 1995, TC Global operates in 40 countries.

Teacher training courses

The rise of interest in online teaching, accelerated by the pandemic, has led to an interest in training courses in online teaching, as well as introductory TEFL courses. Well- known and well-established CELTA courses sit alongside newer options. Here are three organisations of interest to those wishing to break into the profession.

Bridge®

bridge.edu/tefl

Bridge Education Group was founded in 1986. Based in Denver, Colorado, it offers a range of online TEFL/TESOL courses. Its flagship courses are the 120-hour Master Certificate and the 150-hour IDELT onlineTM, which culminates in the 150-Hour Bridge International Diploma in English Language Teaching. There is a useful course outline on the website. Participants must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Bridge also offers short development courses specialising in, for example, teaching business English and teaching teenagers.

One reason to consider this provider is to take advantage of any help it may offer in obtaining that all-important first job. You can download the Teaching English Online eBook and various country guides here, including Brazil, Spain, China, Japan and Thailand.

The TEFL org

tefl.org/teach-english-online

The TEFL org may be of interest to teachers wishing to enhance their online teaching skills. This organisation now offers a Virtual Classroom Course as an alternative to its 20- and 30-hour classroom TEFL courses. Courses are delivered online over Zoom and cover how to plan, prepare and deliver lessons for all learner levels and age groups.

Its TEFL Jobs Centre is updated every week and advertises teaching vacancies on behalf of schools. There is a useful a table which lists 20 popular online teaching companies and platforms. This is good place to visit to get a feel for some of the online schools out there. Further, the company has just launched a new 40-hour TEFL teaching exam preparation class.

The 120-hour TEFL course normally costs £319. A half-price promotion (£159.50) with a special code on the website was available at the time of writing.

i-to-i® TEFL

I-to-i.com

i-to-i® TEFL offers initial training courses of three lengths: 120 hours, 180 hours and 300 hours. This is a fun, upbeat site with direct appeal to those beginning in the profession. It may be for you if you’re considering an internship, as support is offered in finding a placement. Packages comprise free accommodation, in-country support, orientation and visa guidance. Some paid positions are available.

The personal stories, such as what it’s like teaching in China, are worth reading. Covering areas such as what to pack, these are enthusiastically written by teachers who mention some of the mundane realities of living and working abroad.

This organisation is based in Leeds, UK, and was established in 1994. The cost of the 120-hour initial course is £245. The 300-hour course costs £855. At the time of writing, these were heavily discounted in a sale.

Richmond Learning Platform

Online learning

You can take an online course in pretty well anything nowadays. Slogans include ‘Study any topic, anytime’ and this flexibility is the main selling point. Udemy offers 130,000 courses. Unsurprisingly, courses vary widely

“Digital learning is here to stay”

in terms of cost, academic rigour, final qualification and course-type. Key to this explosion in online education opportunities is the concept of ‘self-paced’. A MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) means you study with a cohort of thousands. Here we loo at well-known platform FutureLearn.

FutureLearn

futurelearn.com/partners/british-council FutureLearn is a commercial, digital edu- cation platform which has partnered with international universities and specialist organisations to offer online courses and degrees. Launched in 2013, it has grown in popularity and renown. Courses are designed as MOOCs and cover a diverse range of topics.

To get a flavour of these, you could try an online language course, such as Chinese, English, Irish and Norwegian. Related topics are IELTS and linguistics. I dabbled in a couple of courses and was impressed. I learned about EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics) from the University of Southampton and did the Understanding English Dictionaries from Coventry University, which covered dictionary compilation, types of dictionary and the latest lexicographic research. Other areas include inter-cultural knowledge and artificial intelligence.

You can download a 74-page report called The Future of Learning on how, what and why people are continuing their education. Some of the trends identified are unsurprising, such as online learning is becoming the norm; digital learning is here to stay; younger generations show the most interest in online learning.

Prices vary. Some courses offer a free trial and then you pay £36 per month to keep learning online. You can upgrade specific courses, paying £52 for permanent access as long as it’s on FutureLearn. You can opt for ‘Unlimited’ which is usually £199.99 (on offer at £139 at the time of writing), with access to many short courses.

Publisher platforms

One of the best-known online platforms, Moodle, is highly customisable and designed to be populated with text, audio, video and interactive content for the courses offered by a particular institution or training provider. This contrasts with publisher-produced platforms, which house digital materials that are generally written by established ELT authors and accompany a print course book. Classroom teachers suddenly finding themselves teaching online due to the pandemic have certainly appreciated the wealth of digital language-teaching material available on publisher platforms.

The typical grammar-practice exercise types found on a publisher-produced platform will be familiar to teachers and students alike, and include multiple-choice exercises, type-in gap fill exercises, and reordering and matching activities. A constraint of such exercises is the need for clear, unambiguous answers which can be marked right or wrong, so grey areas of language are avoided. As such, these digital exercises have been criticised. Nevertheless, they do provide guided practice which often complements the freer, communicative teaching that occurs in a classroom.

Tracking tools provide useful data on individual students, displaying information such as their first attempt, their final score and the time spent on activities.

This data can be used by teachers in blended scenarios to inform their choice of (a) what to teach in class, either face-to-face or online, and (b) what to suggest to students to study between classes. Students can develop their own, personalised learning pathway.

Online learning involves synchronous and asynchronous elements. Live online classes are commonly delivered using Zoom, MS Teams, SkypeTM, Cisco Webex and other platforms devised initially for web meetings. The asynchronous learning on the platform consists of email exchanges and knowledge building through the discussion forums. In a recent interesting development on the Richmond Learning Platform, teachers can set up their online class from the publisher platform by selecting Zoom or MS Teams from a drop-down menu. 

To conclude….

In the past few years, there has been an explosion in the number of online platforms offering an infinite variety of services, subjects to learn and ways to study them. We’ve only had room to touch on a few examples, but the richness and variety of what’s out there for both students and teachers is set to increase.

 

Pete Sharma is a teacher trainer, consultant and author. He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic Purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete has a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT from Manchester University. petesharma.com

Images courtesy of WORDS BY PETE SHARMA. PHOTO BY SHUTTERSTOCK and Library
Pete Sharma
Pete Sharma
Pete is a teacher and teacher trainer with a Masters in Educational Technology and ELT from Manchester University, and a background in business English teaching. He is a lecturer in EAP at Warwick University, and an active consultant with many organisations. Pete's book reviews are provided courtesy of BEBC: www.bebc.co.uk.
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