Monday, 17 October 2011

On-line Courses - the sublime to ridiculous?

I have just finished my second on-line course. The first I really enjoyed, I found it a very valuable, pleasing experience and I would happily repeat the same course any time, so when a very sudden change of career
opportunity arose I had no hesitation in signing up for a second on-line course to acquire a bit of paper necessary for the job. I found a course, signed up, paid up and got stuck in.

I have just completed it, I have spent 18 days, almost non-stop, working on an advanced TEFL certificate course.  I have now received my certificate, I passed by a wide margin thank goodness, after being a teacher for most of my life, the bit that was new was teaching English as a foreign language rather than to native speakers.

What struck me as very strange though, was how difficult it was to try to guess what the required answers were. A huge proportion of the course dealt with the sequence of teaching all four language disciplines for various different types of English learners.

A typical sequencing task

Sometimes course recommendations were clear and sometimes not.  For all the teaching sequences, whether there were any hints of the expected order or not,  I could imagine situations where I would have done things in a different order to meet the needs of learners. I often changed the order several times having no idea if what I was doing was right or wrong and if I got one wrong then it is likely that the whole sequence and subsequent set of marks would be wrong.

In the following screen shots, apart from the unnatural language for example in the first sentence, two options are almost equally valid. Maybe there is a hint that three and four are the wrong way round with the repeat of the word individually and individual but in the light of the unnatural language I encountered in many questions I was not positive that would hold true.

There were things like this true or false set of questions:

Though I did not go back and check I am pretty sure that the last sample, "Walkie-talkies can be used in dialogue practice to mimic the sound of aviation equipment,” is “True” though trying to imagine a mobile phone producing the noise of a jet engine and many more aviation equipment sounds stretches the imagination somewhat.

Then there were things that I simply did not understand, I spent quite a lot of time in one exercise trying to work out how the word ‘assage” fitted in, it did, but it seemed so far removed from what I was studying it had me puzzled – suddenly I realized the p was missing and it was passage and the context and content of the question became clear.

I did not work out what the following actually meant and guessed it was right or wrong, true or false on a whim…

“Listening sections can have students write specific information they hear.”

Almost every time the word “example” appeared on screen it had a capital E – interesting…

Many, many screens told me that I would be marked on the answers I offered on this page – but there were no questions…

I was about half way through the course and had felt several times there was lots of missing information. Suddenly I found out that in some, though not all explanation pages, some words were hyperlinks to glossary type of entries, but there was no way of guessing, they were black typeface, the same size, not underlined... there was nothing to hint at a link! It was only when I ran my mouse over a couple of statements trying to decide something about the answer to a question that I found them. 

I came across many questions such as:

“Whereas uninterested students usually respond well to general chat at the beginning of class, students who are actively trying to avoid course material should probably not be asked such questions at the beginning of the lesson.” 

In light of that is the following true or false?

“It is best to avoid general chat at the beginning of class with students who are uninterested in studying English, because they will become even less motivated as the class goes on. “

That bit was fun – I chose true but was I right or wrong? I am still not sure! They make the case for both starting with general chat and not starting with general chat, I changed my decision from true to false several times, knowing that once I could get a student talking I am pretty confident that I could inspire something constructive in the learning field but decided eventually that the course writers decided it was best not to start in this way J

During this totally on-line course I encountered missing words, wrong punctuation, missing letters, instructions to do something that was not there, subjective answer sequences to guess and ambiguous statements.  Before anyone points it out – I am completely capable of committing any and all of those crimes in everyday texting, chat etc, often when I am mindlessly chattering, mutli-tasking and the like but I do know the difference and if I am writing for public use I would expect to proof read it and hopefully get someone else to too after I have finished proof reading! If I was the only proof reader I would leave it a week between proof reads so that I did not read what I had just meant to write instead of what I had actually written – there is a difference!

This was an English course leading to a professional qualification, not necessarily for native speakers; I paid for it! I can’t help but feel that it should have been better!

And guess what,  there was no opportunity for feedback , maybe that says it all J