Teaching ESL in an online or offline classroom presents positive benefits and unique challenges. I have been a teacher in brick-and-mortar schools for more than 25 years. Recently, I made the leap into online ESL education for Chinese children with ALO7, and it has been an exciting and enlightening experience. What follows are my observations and comparisons of online and offline education in the areas I have found to be most important to my teaching.

PLANNING & PREPARATION TIME

Pros – Virtual Classroom

One pleasant thing in online teaching is the lack of preparation and planning time necessary. ALO7 is a fantastic company with an incredible curriculum. My lesson plans are laid out perfectly for me. At the beginning of my online experience, I would go through every slide and make sure to know it in detail. Over time, I have learned to identify the core objectives of the lesson quickly and to prepare efficiently. I teach many of the lessons repeatedly and keep notes on each of what works with particular students as well as what extra songs and photos from our resources are applicable. With experience, my planning time has been cut down to about five minutes for each lesson, sometimes less. I typically spend around two minutes at the end of each 25-minute class to send a note to each student’s parents about progress or an area that needs improvement.

“My lesson plans are laid out perfectly for me.”

Another significant advantage to the virtual classroom is that the responsibility for the children’s English education is shared with the offline teacher. I reinforce what they learn in their offline classes: tutoring them and reminding them what they have already seen while exposing them to native pronunciation and culture. This model helps me to trust the material provided to me, knowing that the students have been prepared well and are ready for the online session.

Cons – Virtual Classroom

As an independent contractor, I am not paid a salary. I receive a per-class wage, which means my planning and prep time is unpaid.

With 25-minute classes, I have limited time to cover one lesson, and I must be sure to go over all the material. (Note: Some ALO7 tutors also teach 50-minute classes) If I do not complete the lesson, I cannot go back to it during the next class. I observe the clock, pace myself, and plan carefully.

Pros – Offline Classroom

In my regular school, I always have at least one planning period in my day to plan, stretch, use the restroom, and have a much-needed brain break. Those times are also covered by my salary, though many teachers I know bring their schoolwork home and work in the evenings and on weekends.

An offline school usually involves having students for an entire school year, and we can become familiar with the students: their needs, and their cognitive levels. I enjoy spending nine months with a group of students, seeing them every academic day and watching their progress in person. My planning changes throughout the school year as I become more familiar with their needs, their learning styles, and their personalities.

Cons – Offline Classroom

My offline classes require much more time for planning and preparation, in comparison with my online job. I must set up lesson with a review of past courses, my objective statement, activities, content, classwork, teamwork, and homework. Also, I must grade papers and homework, keep attendance records, make examinations and fill out evaluation forms.

DISCIPLINE AND CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT

Pros – Virtual Classroom

For some teachers, the thought of having a parent hovering next to their student during a lesson could be daunting. I would say, however, that it has been a positive experience for me to have the parents monitor their child during class. I usually cannot see the parents, but I can hear them speak sternly if a child is being loud or leaving the desk.

In my online ESL classrooms with up to three students, sometimes there is one student who is enthusiastic in answering the questions. There can also be noise or distractions in the home. Some tutors mute individual students in those situations. I have disabled student’s abilities to annotate or doodle on the screen during class when their inner Van Gogh has wanted to manifest.

The students are usually in their own homes, allowing them to be comfortable and relaxed most of the time. I am sure that for a student who has been sitting in a plastic chair or at a wooden desk all day, the sofa or living-room floor is much more comfortable and allows them to have a positive ESL learning experience.

“The students are usually in their homes, allowing them to be comfortable.”

Cons – Virtual Classroom

Of course, being in the home has its problems as well. Siblings, television shows, pets, and interesting family discussions can compete with English class time. Often a delicious snack or dinner will take priority over an online class as well. These distractions don’t affect only one student, but all participants.

Students can refuse to appear on camera or can turn off their microphones. In a regular classroom, students have nowhere to hide and don’t have much of an option to not answer questions.

At times, parents may choose to help a child so much that the student isn’t able to answer for himself. Parents may not have the same standard of discipline I have and may allow their child to run around and be a distraction to the other students.

Pros – Offline Classroom

I enjoy moving around my classroom, wandering down the aisle, checking on students’ work and keeping them on task. When they know I am nearby they are more focused on the objective at hand and less likely to work on other class materials.

My classroom environment is much more controlled because we are in a building centered around education.  For the most part, I can control what happens in my little room. Typically, I don’t compete with outside distractions such as fun technology, exciting games, cell phones, loud families, and entertaining cartoons.

Cons – Offline Classroom

A typical complaint we hear from offline teachers concerns the lack of parental support in our classrooms. We don’t have many parents who would be willing to come and sit alongside their child during a class period, let alone for the whole day.

Also, I sure do wish I could mute different students from time to time. Instead, I must stop everything I am doing to address a disciplinary issue, or I will lose my class focus and objective as well as valuable time.

TECHNOLOGY

Pros – Virtual Classroom

Most children these days are accustomed to technology. They are not, however, used to meeting and having conversations with people from across the world. Not only the students, but whole families are fascinated with the ability to talk in real time with someone thousands of miles away.

Technology allows us to change our virtual classrooms each day with virtual backgrounds, online photos, music videos, drawings, and objects that would be very difficult to incorporate into a physical classroom. I enjoy my newfound creativity with virtual backgrounds and bulletin boards that require minimal effort to install but reap learning benefits many times over.

“Whole families are fascinated with the ability to talk in real time
with someone thousands of miles away.”

I have also discovered courage that comes with being behind a screen. I find myself being silly, singing crazy songs, and acting differently due to the once-removed feeling of teaching through a webcam. (Not to mention that the students only see me from the waist up, so teaching in yoga pants and cozy socks is perfectly acceptable.)

Cons – Virtual Classroom

Pesky system updates can wreak havoc in an online classroom! There are few more frustrating things than being in the groove in a lesson and having the computer shut down or freeze up. Storms, power outages, Internet outages, faulty cables, and program glitches can throw a wrench into an online classroom but are rare in a brick-and-mortar school.

Pros – Offline Classroom

The few times I have been able to use technology in my classroom it is usually seen as an exciting event and a novelty for my students. There are also many online resource ideas and games to integrate into the classroom.

I do not rely on technology in my regular classroom so I can continue my lesson despite power outages or storms.

Cons – Offline Classroom

In today’s world, students are accustomed to constant entertainment through screens and technology. I admittedly am not as entertaining as the latest computer game or text messages from a student’s friends. This is a challenge to teachers all over the globe in this digital age.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS & FOLLOW UP

Pros – Virtual Classroom

I have discovered that for some of my students there is certain security they feel because they are on a webcam and behind a screen. They appear to be more comfortable to speak not only English but about things that they may be hesitant to chat about in real life. I am a weekly virtual guest in their homes, receiving tours of their kitchens, living rooms, and even at times meeting grandmothers who giggle and scold them for putting them on camera. These experiences have enabled me to have a distinct relationship with them compared to my offline students.

“For some of my students there is a certain security they feel because they are on a webcam.”

Cons – Virtual Classroom

My online students live on the other side of the planet. I have grieved the fact that I will most likely never know what happens to them after we close our course together. That is difficult, but also a reality I accept.  I’m thankful for the time I have in their lives to instruct them and hopefully provide something useful for their future.

Pros – Offline Classroom

I have been teaching for many years now in the same town. I have watched my former students become adults, get married and have children. I know their lives and can follow them on social media. There are times when I even get to hear a “thank you” from them for what I sowed into their lives.

Cons– Offline Classroom

Students also leave towns and physical locations and saying goodbye is tough no matter what.

I honestly do not have a preference for either online or offline teaching. Both have a place in modern education. I don’t believe the virtual world will ever entirely replace the physical classroom.  However, I feel privileged to be part of trailblazing this new frontier of online ESL teaching. The Internet has made the planet much smaller and accessible, and we are all richer for it.

Tutor Experiences
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Posted by ALO7.com on Sunday, December 10, 2017

Jan Millsaps has been an advocate for the improvement of education models in Latin America for the last fifteen years. She is making a difference one classroom at a time. Jan became an online tutor with ALO7 in late summer of 2017 to help pay off medical bills and to provide for future retirement, if there ever will be such a thing in her life.

Jan has a B.S. in Education, concentrating in Reading (K-12) and Math (6-9). However, she has taught every subject and grade level throughout her 25-year career. The last fifteen years have been dedicated to teaching ESL the majority of the time. She also continues to teach math and reading.

Jan believes education is the key to societal development and works hard to make a difference in the lives of her students both online and offline. She is passionate that her students reach their full potential and become world changers.

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