For Large Virtual Classes, Divide and Rule

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Opposite to what a lot of people believe, the virtual classroom is not any more
static or passive than the real classroom. On the contrary, if handled right, it is
a better vehicle for many of the more modern language teaching techniques of
intensified interaction, student centered lessons and coaching students to
become responsible for their own learning. It can be defined then as an an active
and participatory form of learning.

Continuing with our series on teaching large online classes, we are going to
examine some of the fundaments of on-line teaching, and review how to take
advantage of them to achieve those results.

In the first place, we have to realize that the terms large classes or big groups
are very imprecise. Are we talking about 10, 100, 1,000? We know well that in
teaching English as a foreign language, or any foreign language for that matter,
the ideal is to have reduced groups. Language lessons should ideally be for 7 to
15 individuals, so there can be student interaction and individual teacher support
at the same time.

In the case of face-to-face learning, the first obvious constraint is the location
parameters, including classroom area, furniture, sitting arrangement, light
conditions, sound quality and reach, safety considerations and a few other
things. In terms of time, it limits the crowd to those who can attend at a specific
time. None of those elements constitutes a barrier for a good platform or LMS.
Even without considering asynchronous lessons, you always have the capability
to record the class so that students have the opportunity to review and those
who could not attend may catch up with it.

Traditionally, for large group teaching, lecturing has been considered the main
method to learn effectively. Not in e-learning. Unfortunately, as we have covered
in other articles, the pandemics forced many institutions to have their teachers
switch their classes from face to face to online without having knowledge or
experience in this way of teaching. Many of them resorted to lecturing in front
of a camera, using a whiteboard or flipchart as the whole resource.

You have to keep in mind that as well as face-to-face lesson studying is largely
based on class learning activities, e-activities are learning endeavors performed
on an electronic environment. Your e-activities can include a variety of resources
and tools that appeal to students with very diverse learning preferences. In fact,
with virtual education you are less limited than in a traditional classroom.


If the purely expository modality and memory repetition have already been
discarded by linguists and professors who are experts in language teaching, all
the more so in virtual teaching where it is more difficult to capture the full
attention of students.

Stanford University adopted early online learning which gave it a head start not
only with the classes per se but also with the information deriving from them. A
study from Stanford University’s Learning Analytics group acknowledged four
kinds of students: “auditors, who watched video throughout the course, but
took few quizzes or exams; completers, who viewed most lectures and took part
in most assessments; disengaged learners, who quickly dropped the course;
and sampling learners, who might only occasionally watch lectures.” They
emphasized the importance of interactivity and relevance of the course material
in order to encourage students to seek full benefit.

The process of breaking a classroom of students into small groups so they can
discover a new concept together and help each other learn was baptized as
Cooperative learning, and has been around for decades. This is the key to
large group virtual lessons. And you can do the division of the class into smaller
groups electronically, either randomly or by selecting the group members.

Some recommendations for your virtual lesson:
• Determine carefully what your learning objective is. When designing your
e-activity, the most important thing is that it must contribute to achieving
the learning objective.
• Get creative with the task title. Make it fun and attractive.
• Explain clearly the goal of the activity. Clarify what the student will be
able to achieve by completing the task. “At the end of the activity you will
understand …
• Explain to the student what their individual contribution is expected to be.
• Provide a brief summary of the assignment and clear instructions. Inform
your students when to deliver the e-activity, where to place it, how long
they have to complete it and how much time it will take.
• Relate the task to the content of the class.
• Promote frequent dialogue between students. Explain in detail where they
are expected to place any written contributions. Students should see who
participated online and read their input.
• You are the moderator of the activity, so you should recapitulate the
conclusions, provide feedback and indicate the end of the task.
• Recommend the students links to extend their learning if they so wish.

And remember that the aim of e-activities should be to give the student the
opportunity to put the acquired knowledge into practice, which is the basis of
learning

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Enrique Rojas
Enrique Rojas has pursued Master’s programs in Journalism, History, Literature, Education and Applied Linguistics at universities in Peru, the United States and Europe, has Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and University of Michigan, a Diploma as Expert in E-Learning and Tutoring and is Cambridge Speaking Examiner. He is a member of CIDUP Research Area.

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