2:30-5:00 p.m., April 19, 2005
Mary Gates Commons
I have been teaching the distance-learning program, Business Japanese Online since fall in 2004 at Technical Japanese Program of Technical Communication Department. This language course is taught entirely online and half of the participants are college students and the other half are businesspeople. Students independently study lesson materials and multimedia grammar drills that are delivered online. But the rather unique part of this course are Language Partner and Conversation Partner. These software programs enable students to engage in interactive communication with other students and the instructor online.
The Technical Japanese Program developed Language Partner, an interactive language-learning soft ware, with which students can watch short videos of conversations in Japanese and later practice the conversation with a digital partner. TJP also developed Conversation Partner which enables students to practice on the Internet in real time. Using a computer, a webcam, and a headset, students can meet in a virtual classroom and practice with another student or an instructor.
With these innovative software programs, I tried to find out how I could encourage students to interact as much as possible in online language learning. In an online course, students have more flexibility and freedom, and the teacher doesnt supervise their progress on a daily basis. However, BJO has a more rigid schedule than an ordinary online course. There are weekly assignments where students have to send me their recorded performance by using Language Partner and Conversation Partner. They first have an opportunity to practice together and give feedback to one another.
I thought our students shouldnt be faceless participants. They surely werent, but at the end of the first quarter, I realized that I had became the faceless teacher in spite of frequent e-mail communication and at least 15 audio feedbacks about their performances. I evaluated what I did to encourage students to interact with me. I had online office hours using Conversation Partner and voluntary tutoring sessions. I always reminded them of my availability for extra help. Though e-mail becomes the most convenient method of communication, I realized that it isnt always interactive. Students tend to wait until the last minute to consult with me about their concerns before sending an e-mail. The online environment seems to create more formality and distance between students and instructor because there is no accidental opportunity to chat with the student about concerns or progress, as in a class environment.
From my experience teaching in a classroom environment, I strongly believe that the students confidence in the teachers knowledge and sense of belonging to the learning community greatly affect their learning. It is also true in an online class environment. In the first quarter of BJO, they had a chance to interact among themselves, but I was not quite a part of their learning community. This quarter, I set up mandatory tutoring sessions. At the beginning, both students and I felt awkward having mandatory meeting online, but once we finished the first session, everyone agreed that we should meet every week. Through these sessions, I can check their progress and encourage them to engage in more interaction among themselves. They can ask a question directly to me and talk about their concerns at an early stage. I found out that although they keep a busy schedule, they dont mind sparing extra time to meet me online because they feel encouraged to keep up their good work.
I would like to share with the other teachers at Showcase my first experience teaching an online class and how I am changing my methods in the course.