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After living abroad and working online for the past three years, I finally moved back to the United States and the classroom, this time as a student in the Master of Education in International Education Policy program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. (You can read about the first step of my journey here) While I’ve had to cut back on my teaching hours, I have had a lot of opportunities to share my teaching experiences and my ideas for the future of education, especially in international contexts. I have been fortunate to meet people from around the world who have been interested in learning more about my time teaching online as much as I have been in learning from them. Now that 2020 is in full swing, and since I am already halfway done with my degree, I’m taking some time to reflect on what I’ve learned this year.

International Education Program Harvard

How Teaching ESL Online Influences My International Policy Program Studies

Working with ALO7 and teaching online definitely influenced the courses I was interested in taking this semester. One class I found especially relevant to working with Chinese students was a course I took about inequality and education in China. The focus of the class was on inequality between rural and urban settings. This is an issue I am familiar with within the US and other countries I have lived in but not China specifically. Although China was ranked among the top countries in the 2018 PISA results, which measure math, reading, and science competencies of 15-year olds across countries, there are still a lot of challenges to help disadvantaged students have the same opportunities as their peers.

Through the readings of this course, I was able to get the perspective of parents and local teachers. This was interesting to me because, as online teachers, we often wonder why parents enroll their children into many after school classes and activities. However, Chinese parents have many difficult choices to make between curriculum, schools, and teaching methods. There are also social pressures they feel or future aspirations they have for their children, which influences their decisions. Only a small percentage of students get to take the Gaokao, the college entrance exam. While over 9 million high school students take the Gaokao, there are almost 170 million children between 15 to 19 years old in China. There is a lot more pressure than I realized for students to study hard from an early age so they can even take the test and continue onto higher education.

The other course that influenced the way I think about education is a course I took about using emerging technologies like AR/VR or educational games to transform educational experiences. While the course sounds tech-intensive, my biggest takeaway from the course was that these tools are useless if we do not change teaching methods or pedagogy. An iPad is just a glorified textbook if all the teacher asks students to do is follow along with the lecture on it. Rather than assuming that the new technology is going to take over teaching, we should think about how technology can help teachers be more effective, whether that’s through identifying struggling students or facilitating teacher training and development. This is why I like ALO7’s blended learning method since technology is used to add to students’ learning experience, which they can’t always have in their regular classroom.

As I mentioned, one of the greatest benefits this semester has been learning from my fellow classmates. I’ve met many people who are interested in using online teaching, especially for language learning. One of my classmates from China shared with us her dream to start a company to teach English and make it more accessible to rural students by using mobile phone apps. I was able to tell her about my experiences teaching English online and give her things to think about as she developed her ideas. I’ve also had discussions with students from Mexico, Nigeria, Singapore, and others where we have debated and proposed ideas that promote 21st-century learning in more classrooms.

For my next semester, I will be focusing more on the “hard” skills I will need for my job search. But I’ve really enjoyed this first half of the year because I was able to do a deep dive into issues I became interested in during my time abroad. I have encountered more questions than answers, but that has been motivating for me as I think about what my part will be in changing the face of education for future students.

Featured image of Harvard courtesy of © Erix2005 |
Header image of Harvard courtesy of © Kevin Ruck |

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