PROGRESSIO 28 (1 & 2) 2006 ISSN 0256-8853 # pp. 111-126
English as a foreign language: teachers' professional development via the Internet
Saad Sayed Saleh
Royal Commission, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
F. J. Pretorius
University of South Africa
Cite this paper as:
Saleh, S. & Pretorius, F. 2006. English as a Foreign Language: Teachers' Professional Development via the Internet. Progressio, 28, (1&2) 111-126.
Teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) are required to enhance their teaching strategies and skills so as to cope with the recent trends in the educational field of learning and teaching such as the use of Internet material. Compute- mediated communications that utilise online teacher communities can help teachers develop professionally in the areas of adult learning and language acquisition, and so enhance their teaching practice. However, there are different challenges that teachers might face while seeking their professional development, for example, theories of adult learning, computer-mediated communication, principles of effective online professional development and the EFL teachers' online community. Professional development activities via the Internet should be well planned, designed and evaluated to ensure teaching strategies and skills.
Keywords: professional development of teachers, foreign languages, Internet, online communities.
The use of the Internet for teacher professional development is a fairly recent innovation. It is explored here for a variety of reasons, including the use of the Internet to establish ongoing professional development opportunities which help English as a foreign language/English as a second language (EFL/ESL) teachers enhance their teaching practice. Changes in EFL teaching have been happening at ever-increasing rates and in ever-increasing complexity (Goker 2005). From an African perspective, distance education opportunities for training and skills development mean that more people can participate in the development of the economy and can thus improve their life circumstances (Pityana 2004). The demand for qualified personnel to work with English language learners has greatly increased in recent years, as a result of ever-increasing demands for classes (Florez and Burt 2001; Smith, Hofer and Gillespie 2000). Professional development is crucial for these teachers (TESOL 2000). Hawk (2000) points out that English language teachers need more professional development on adult learning and language acquisition, ESL content, and multicultural instruction. In recent years, more teachers have turned to the Internet to pool expertise and to sample lesson plans tried and tested by other teachers (Jacobs 2004). Online professional development should adopt a trainee-centred approach to teacher development, which means that the major input comes from the trainees themselves as a result of their individual, pair and group activities. However, there are many challenges that teachers face when they seek to promote their professional development.
IN-SERVICE TEACHER TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Sometimes `in-service training' and `professional development' are used interchangeably; however, there is a slight difference in meaning between these two terms. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD (cited in Aitken 2000, 2):
In-service education and training refers more specifically to identifiable learning activities in which practising teachers participate. Professional development signifies any activity that develops an individual's skills, knowledge, expertise and other characteristics as a teacher. These include personal study and reflection as well as formal courses.
Kosmoski (2000, 297) defines professional development as: `a planned programme of activities designed to promote personal and professional growth or remediation of staff members. In-service education is one vehicle for accomplishing the goal or purpose of staff development.'
The widespread use of the term professional development, when referring to training activities, reflects the fact that most teachers see themselves as members of a profession. Like all members of professions, teachers need to be involved in a process of learning and reflection to improve their professional practice (Aitken 2000). Furthermore, teachers need guidance in group dynamics practices and communication skills, and have to work as team members to embrace change. To remain effective, the EFL teacher must continually upgrade and expand his/her knowledge in the areas of recent teaching approaches, learners' needs and challenges that technology brings to education.
Loucks-Horsely (1998, 4) points out that teacher professional development is critical to educational change:
Although professional development is not a panacea, it can support change in such areas as standards, assessment, and curriculum, creating the culture and capacity for continuous improvement that is so critical for educators facing current and future challenges.
However, it is important to take into account that change begins with the teacher as the hub of professional development experience. Before change can take place, there must be a mutual sense of need for change among the educational members, for example, the teacher, the principal and the supervisor. Change can occur when the teacher comes to an awareness of his/her situation and is involved in a sustained series of professional growth programmes.
Anderson et al., (2002, 12) suggested seven principles of highly effective professional learning. The seven principles are designed to underpin the delivery of high-quality professional learning to improve student outcomes, and apply to all levels of the system-school, network, region and centre.
Table 1: Effective professional learning (Anderson et al. 2002, 19)
Principles of highly effective professional learning
Teacher knowledge and skills
Effective professional learning schools
Professional learning teams (learning area, year level, cross-curricula)
Pedagogical content knowledge
Table 1 illustrates Anderson's (2004, 239) suggestion that `developing [a] quality education systems requires that educators have a deep understanding of how individuals and groups of students learn'. As we examine teachers as adult learners, we begin to view professional and staff development not just as an institutional requirement, but as an opportunity to transform practice (King 2000). Professional development programmes for EFL teachers should concentrate not only on linguistic proficiency, but also on teaching skills. EFL teachers have to master the communicative language tasks that help them to transmit the content to their students. They have to enhance the necessary teaching skills so as to create a successful learning environment.
THEORIES OF ADULT LEARNING
Knowles (1984), who is well known for `andragogy', the art of adult learning theory, argues that adults learn best when their learning is facilitated and self-directed, rather than strictly prescribed. There are different assumptions that take into account adult learning. These assumptions (based on Knowles 1990, 57; Drapper 1993, 255) include
- The need to know: adult learners need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it. It is important for them to adopt an outcomes-based approach. This can give them opportunity to develop interactive learning solutions that are consistent to their needs and goals.
- Learner self-concept: adults have a psychological need to be self-directed. They need to be responsible for their own decisions and to be treated as capable of self-direction. Self-directed learning is a learning that adults engage in with regards to everyday life and without the use of someone to guide them.
- Role of learners' experience: adult learners bring with them an extensive reservoir of experience. They have a variety of life experiences which represent the richest resource for learning. These experiences are, however, imbued with bias and presupposition. Adults learn from past experiences and from watching others; these experiences influence their beliefs, opinions and actions.
- Readiness to learn: adults are ready to learn those things they need to know in order to cope effectively with life situations. Their readiness to learn is influenced by a need to solve real-life problems. Adults are performance centred in learning.
- Orientation to learning: adults' learning is primarily intrinsically motivated. Adults are motivated to learn to the extent that they perceive that it will help them perform tasks they confront in their life situations.
The andragogic model, as Conner (1997-2004) points out, presents five issues to be considered. These include (1) letting learners know why it is important to learn something, (2) showing learners how to direct themselves through information, and (3) relating the topic to the learners' experiences. In addition, (4) people will not learn until they are ready and motivated to learn. Often this requires (5) helping them overcome inhibitions, behaviours and beliefs about learning. For EFL teachers, however, distance learning can be the road to career advancement (Nixon 2004). Training experts agree that professional development should be ongoing, outcomes-based and foster continuous improvement (Hirsh 2000; Guskey 2000). The Internet, as a learning tool, can provide ways for EFL teachers to connect with each other so that they are prepared to incorporate what they have learned effectively in their own teaching practice (e.g. IATEFL).
COMPUTER-MEDIATED COMMUNICATION (CMC)
There are two types of computer-mediated communications that teachers can make use of for enhancing their professional development: (1) asynchronous, and (2) synchronous:
- Asynchronous: this type of communication has different advantages, including independence of specific time and place requirements. Teachers can easily communicate together (teacher-teacher communication), promote thoughtful discussions, English as a foreign language: teachers' professional development via the Internet share learning files and collaborate in teaching/learning projects. However, there might be a few disadvantages, including the inappropriateness of individuals' comments and the slowness of the discussion.
Asynchronous communication tools include
- archived messaging (e.g. (special interest groups (SIGS)), such as Business English, ELT management, ESP, and pronunciation.)
- Message board
- Synchronous: this type of communication has the advantage of immediacy and spontaneity of real-time communication. Participants can brainstorm and get immediate responses. It would not cost much when participants use text-based conferencing. In case of video-conferencing, participants can utilise the availability of role-play (for example, micro-teaching and language game demos). However, it is sometimes difficult to set one schedule for all participants to follow. Synchronous tools work best with relatively small numbers of participants at a time.
Synchronous communication tools include
- Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
- Multi-User Domain Object-Oriented (MOOs), Multi-User Duneons (MUDs)
- Audio-conferencing, video-conferencing, audio/video-conferencing. (See the Appendix for some Internet resources for EFL teachers.)
McDonald (2002, 2) claims that `distance education can be a frontier for new methods of communication giving rise to innovative teaching and learning practices that may not be possible in traditional, place-bound education'. Most teachers who have ventured into cyberspace are enthusiastic about the wonderful learning opportunities offered to ESL/EFL students, as well as the valuable resources for teachers. They are encouraging their colleagues to jump onto the bandwagon (Meloni 2004).
Cavage (2005) discusses a teacher training Website that was designed to help train EFL teachers in current teaching methodologies as Website participants can view digitized videos of authentic classroom lessons. Trainees can communicate with other teachers through a discussion board and private e-mail. The greatest strength of the Website is the footage of real language classrooms on video. This allows the participants to see the methodologies in practice.
Online learning promises to bring teachers out of isolation more so than face-to-face learning because it is sustained over distance and time. Research carried out in Namibia in March 2004 suggests that an online platform provided teachers with new opportunities to be involved in conversations about teaching and learning that they would not otherwise have had with colleagues. In Namibia and Uganda the iNET and Connect-ED projects established a local facilitator role to help support educators before, during, and after their online learning experience (Soule 2005).
Recent studies showed that teachers were willing to accept change as long as they were convinced that it would allow them to see a benefit for their students as well as for their own instructional practices (McGrail 2005). Changes in teachers' beliefs are more likely to occur in settings in which teachers consider learning a communal activity (Joyce and Showers 2002). It is possible, through an Internet connection, both to distribute material to learners electronically rather than physically, and to teach them by means of a computer program, or engage in dialogue with them by email or computer conferencing (Perraton, Creed and Robinson 2002, 45).
When teachers take time to interact, study together, discuss teaching, and help one another put into practice new skills and strategies, they grow and their students' behaviours improve accordingly.
PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE ONLINE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Kleiman et al. (2000, 7-8) point out that effective online professional development must adhere to principles that underlie all effective professional development, and also take advantage of the particular strengths of the online medium. Kleiman et al. (p. 7-8) reviewed different studies and gleaned the key principles of effective professional development for educators, which include the following:
- Focus on improving classroom practices as a means of increasing student achievement
- Provide a balance of academic content, the study of curriculum and instructional strategies, and the process of school improvement
- Engage teachers actively in their own development, rather than `transmitting' knowledge and skills `to' them
- Relate professional development activities to participants' work, using classroom experiments and action research as integral parts of training workshops
- Provide sufficient time for inquiry, reflection, and mentoring on an ongoing basis.
- Support the development of collaborative teams and collegial communities of learners, to help educators be more effective in their roles
- Foster a deepening of subject-matter knowledge, a greater understanding of the learning process, and a greater appreciation of students' needs.
EFL TEACHERS' ONLINE COMMUNITY
The online community allows teachers to connect and learn from one another in a way that was not possible before the introduction of the Internet. Teachers now have the advantage of: Easy access. While computers and the Internet play a growing role in adult (English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)) learners' and teachers' lives at work and at home, there are still segments of both populations who would benefit from easier access to this type of technology and the information it conveys (National Center for ESL Literacy Education 2003, 26; cf. Children's Partnership 2000; Terrill 2000a).
- Sharing and reflecting: within the online community, teachers can promote continuous inquiry and reflection through active learning. Crandall (2000, 40) notes:, `Long ignored, teacher inquiry and reflection are now viewed as important to the development of language teaching theory and appropriate language teacher education.' Through Internet connections, teachers will be able to share and reflect on practice with colleagues in meaningful ways that have the potential to produce real changes in classroom practice (Barab et al. 2001, 93). Reflection means taking the time to think and revise one's own thinking. Reflecting on learning/teaching experiences and incorporating the teaching strategies and skills into the classroom context can lead to growth and development.
- Collaboration: according to research by Palloff and Pratt (2000, 6), `collaborative learning processes assist [learners] to achieve deeper levels of knowledge generation through the creation of shared goals, shared exploration, and a shared process of meaning making.' Active learning `encourages teachers to become engaged in meaningful discussion, planning, and practice as part of the professional development activity' (Birman, Desimone, Garet and Porter 2000, 30-31). Teacher learning is most likely when `teachers collaborate with professional peers, both within and outside of their schools, and when they gain further expertise through access to external researchers and program developers' (King and Newmann 2000, 576). Research shows that one of the most effective forms of professional development takes place when teachers have opportunities to work together and learn from one another throughout the day (Sparks and Hirsh 2000). It is up to the trainer/supervisor to be aware of this type of distance learning environment and to encourage collaborative learning and a sense of community among the teachers as learners.
- Gaining confidence: with regard to online learning, Macdonald (2003, 378) emphasizes the `interplay between competence and affective factors such as growing confidence, motivation and group dynamics' and `the importance of the affective aspects of collaborative working ± group cohesion and the evolution of mutual trust'.
- Receiving modelling and advice: Diaz Maggioli (2003, 5) observes that `the true impact of professional development comes about when efforts are sustained over time, and when support structures exist that allow participants to receive modeling and advice from more experienced peers'.
Through the Internet or Web-based instruction, consistent and up-to-date linguistic teaching methods and practical, applicable information can be delivered to large numbers of EFL teachers. The EFL teachers' online community paves the way for participants to adopt and adapt varied teaching methods and techniques that take into account the learner as the core of the teaching-learning context.
CHALLENGES OF THE ONLINE COMMUNITY
While there are a number of different advantages for teachers who develop their learning/teaching skills online, a number of challenges will need to be overcome:
Education institutions: economic, social and cultural issues need to be considered when adopting online training/learning. `The challenges are particularly prominent when the institution operates in a predominantly developing country` (Mashile andPretorius 2003).
- Technology use: many teachers are not familiar with technology and may not be willing to learn it well enough to be comfortable using it (Capper 2002, 19). Prior experience and success in the use of computer-based applications is important for success in technologically mediated learning environments (Hannafin et al. 2003). On the one hand, language teachers need to be computer literate, or e-literate, and should learn to make the most of Web tools available (this resource needs to become a component of teacher training courses) and apply this knowledge to their educational contexts, which is generally not an easy task (Gonzalez 2003). On the other hand, online supervisors, mediators and trainers need to be trained 'not only to use technology, but also to shift the way in which they organise and deliver material' (Palloff and Pratt 2000, 3). Teachers also need to develop the new strategies and skills required in the use of information and communication technology for their learning and teaching.
- Content density: high-density content may be better delivered via recorded media such as printed text, video tape or on a web site ± all of which can be revisited by the learner at his/her convenience and individual pace (Berge 2001).
- Scaffolding: Harris (2003, 14) points out that the absence of tutor mediation to scaffold learner self-management can be problematic. Her findings indicate that initial support and scaffolding is indispensable.
- Evaluation: evaluation is critical to any assertion that the training program is achieving its objectives. Professional development programs via the Internet can be difficult, partly because the impact of training on teacher achievement is hard to separate from other factors, and partly because of the availability of evaluation tools and techniques which can be used in such training. Despite the challenges faced in terms of time, resources and commitment, it is important that educators persevere in providing quality professional development for teachers (Gold and Powe 2001). The online program material and procedures should be tailored to teachers' needs. Supervisors, coaches, mentors or moderators can provide support and encouragement for teachers as a group.
Professional development activities via the Internet should be well planned, designed, carried out and evaluated to ensure that they really enhance teachers' interests, understandings, and teaching strategies and skills. Effective professional development through online communities expands teachers' repertoires in subject matter and pedagogy. Adopting professional development programs creates regular opportunities for enhancing the learning-teaching context, and connects teachers to other professionals within and beyond their schools. Online communities provide opportunities for EFL teachers to be active contributors and participants, directing and constructing the learning events for the group. However, participant teachers need to be encouraged to reflect explicitly on the online experience and be provided the appropriate feedback in different ways, whether via e-mails or/and online discussions.
Internet Resources for EFL Teachers
Here is a short list of the Internet addresses that can be useful to EFL/ESL teachers.
EFL/ESL Magazines and Journals
The Internet TESL Journal http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/.
Dave Sperling's ESL CafeÂhttp://www.eslcafe.com/.
ELT News & Views http://www.eltnewsandviews.com.ar/.
The Linguistic Funland http://www.linguistic-funland.com/.
The TEFL Professional Network http://www.tefl.com/.
Longman ELT http://www.awl-elt.com/.
The ESL Centre http://user.aol.com/eslkathy/teacher.htm.
Seryoga's English Language School http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/3537/langframe.htm.
Games & Songs http://eslgames.com/.
The Aardvark http://www.ilcgroup.com/aardvark/.
ESL Resources http://owl.english.purdue.edu/esl/ESLteacher.html.
Links and Resources for ESL http://www.educ.wsu.edu/esl/professionallink.html.Planet
T-Man's TESOL Page http://web.nwe.ufl.edu/~thompson/.
TESOL Publications http://www.tesol.org/s_tesol/alias.asp.
The Internet TESL Journal http://iteslj.org/.
TESL Electronic Journal http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/.
English Teaching Forum Online http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/.
English Teaching Professional http://www.etprofessional.com/.
Richmond Park http://www.richmondpark.net/.
ELT Newsletter http://www.eltnewsletter.com/.
ELT Journal http://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/.
ELT Spectrum http://www.elgazette.com/.
EL Gazette http://www.elgazette.com/.
The TEFL Farm http://www.teflfarm.com/.
U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. OFFICE OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE PROGRAMS http://exchanges.state.gov/education/engteaching/eal-res.htm.
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other languages (TESOL)
Ukraine TESOL http://www.ah.kiev.ua/efl/tesolhom.html.
Texas TESOL http://www.onr.com/user/ruswat/tt3.html.
Thai TESOL http://www.au.ac.th/~elcdrn/.
Washington State TESOL http://www.ialc.wsu.edu/waesol/waesol.html.
Tennessee TESOL http://www.people.memphis.edu/~english/tesol.html.
Spain TESOL http://www.eirelink.com/tesol-sp/.
Puerto Rico TESOL http://coqui.lce.org/human/prtesol.htm.
Ohio TESOL http://www.esl.ohio-state.edu/otesol/main.htm.
MidAmerica TESOL http://www.kcmo.com/MidTesol/.
New York State TESOL http://lang.syr.edu/NYSTESOL/index.html.
Arizona TESOL http://www.public.asu.edu/~idcdo/az-tesol.html.
Carolina TESOL http://www.epi.sc.edu/car_TESOL/carolina.html.
New Jersey TESOL http://www.union-city.k12.nj.us/njtesol/njtesol.htm.
Connecticut TESOL http://www.mindport.net/~goldstei/cttesol.html.
Michigan TESOL http://www.eli.wayne.edu/mitesol/.Korea TESOL
Indiana TESOL http://bsuvc.bsu.edu/~iei/intesol/intesol.html.
Colorado TESOL http://www.colorado.edu/iec/cotesol/.
Canada TESOL http://www.tesl.ca.
France TESOL http://www.wfi.fr/tesol/home.html.
The TESOL Net http://www.tesol.net/.
TESOL Arabia http://tesolarabia.org/.
Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) /Teachers of English as a Second Language (TESL)
Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages http://www.iupui.edu/~cscfl/
New Brunswick TESL http://www.nald.ca/teslnb.htm.
Ontario TESL http://www.vaxxine.com/teslont.
TESL Canada http://www.tesl.ca.
TESL Manitoba - Canada http://www.teslmanitoba.ca.
Michigan Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (MITESOL)
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages:(TESOL) http://www.tesol.org.
TESOL CALL Interest Section http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~call/.
ACTFL (The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)
AECT (Association for Educational Communications and Technology)
The American Association of Intensive English Programs http://www.outfitters.com/com/aaiep/.
ACTJ (Association of Canadian Teachers in Japan) http://www.ritslab.ubc.ca/ritslab.html.
ALTE (The Association of Language Testers in Europe) http://www.edunet.com/alte/intro.html.
Ontario Modern Language Teachers' Association http://webhome.idirect.com/~omlta/.
Scottish Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language http://www.stir.ac.uk/epd/celt/satefl.htm.
JALT (Japan Association of Language Teaching) http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/jalt/.
BC (British Columbia Association of Teachers of English as an Additional Language)
NERALLD (The New England Regional Association of Language Laboratory Directors)
IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) http://www.man.ac.uk/IATEFL/.
The British Association for Applied Linguistics http://www.swan.ac.uk/cals/baal.html.
The British Council http://www.britcoun.org/.
CATESOL (California Association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) http://www.catesol.org/.
GWATFL (Greater Washington Association of Teachers of Foreign Languages) http://members.macconnect.com/users/m/mbarrueta/gwatfl/Travel%20the%
CALICO (The Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium) http://calico.org/.
ETAS (Switzerland English Teachers Association) http://educeth.ethz.ch/english/teachers/ETAS.html.
EUROCALL (European Association for Computer Assisted Language Learning) http://www.hull.ac.uk/cti/eurocall.htm.
FATEFL (Flemish Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) http://www.ehsal.be/vvle/.
NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) http://www.ncte.org/.
Internet Resources for ESL teachers
Computer-Assisted Language Learning on the Web http://edvista.com/claire/call.html.
The Internet for ESL Teachers http://edvista.com/claire/internet-esl.html.
Word Processing-based Activities for a Language Class http://edvista.com/claire/wp.html.
Using Software in the Adult ESL Classroom http://www.cal.org/ncle/digests/SwareQA.htm.
A Place to Start in Selecting Software http://ucs.orst.edu/~healeyd/cj_software_selection.html.
Using Technologies Effectively in Adult and Vocational Education http://ericacve.org/docs/pab00011.htm.
National Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy http://www.cal.org/ncle/.
Adult Education ESL Teachers Guide http://humanities.byu.edu/elc/Teacher/Teacher-GuideMain.
Overview of Text Reconstruction http://rkenner.concordia.ca/T430_98/Tr_lec98.html.
Athelstan: Source for text reconstruction and other software http://www.athel.com/.
The Puzzlemaker http://puzzlemaker.school.discovery.com/.Quia! http://www.quia.com/eng.html.
ESL Lesson Plans and Resources http://www.csun.edu/~hcedu013/eslplans.html.
Language learning with technology
IALL (International Association for Learning Laboratories) http://polyglot.lss.wisc.edu/IALL.
International Society for Technology in Education http://www.iste.org/.
ATELL (Australian Technology Enhanced Language Learning) http://www.arts.unimelb.edu.au:80/Horwood/ATELL/atell.html.
Language Laboratory Association of Japan http://langue.hyper.chubu.ac.jp/lla/.
Global Schoolnet Foundations http://www.gsn.org.
Writing and Computers Association http://www.cogs.susx.ac.uk/users/mike/wa/wricom.html.
TAPPED IN http://www.tappedin.org.
ESL in Canada Newsletters http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eslincanada2000.
ESL in Canada Teacher Tours Newsletter http://groups.yahoo.com/group/teachertours.
Teacher Discussion Forums
English for Science and Technology EST-SLlistserv@asuvm.inrc.asu.edu.
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