ELI Insights: Engaging Students Remotely

Article by Rachel Lapp, ADS Instructor | July 29, 2020

This graphic features a head shot of ADS Instructor, Rachel Lapp. To Lapp's right is text that reads, "ELI Insights With ADS Instructor Rachel Lapp."."

The transition to online classrooms has not been easy for students and teachers. Social media is full of examples of student and teacher exhaustion from being online for meetings and classes, and also of embarrassing mishaps from being online in pajamas, falling asleep in class, or accidentally sharing the wrong screen. 

Is this the new norm for the classroom experience? Disengaged and burnt out students and teachers? At the English Language Institute (ELI) at the University of Delaware, we have been working to design solutions to improve the e-learning environment for our English Language Learners to not only promote mastery of skills in our courses, but also to maintain student engagement as we continue remote teaching. 

Here’s how the ELI is engaging students online:

Building and maintaining relationships

The ELI is known for its commitment to building a community of support around its language learners. Teachers have small classes, and get to know students personally. The degree to which our teachers have supported and gotten to know our students has only increased during the transition to online instruction. One of my favorite times in Zoom class has been “Morning Updates” time in which students share good and bad news from their lives. I was so touched by a student who had told our class about a family member’s health condition, and her classmates made sure to follow up and ask her weeks later, and even after the class was over, how her father was doing. Students and I have been able to continue checking in with each other beyond the class by using the Whatsapp chat we created to communicate about any technology issues. 

Developing engaging content with intelligent online tools

Online teaching has not only required stronger relationships between students and teachers, but has also required more technology. In face to face classes, my students have reviewed vocabulary by playing “Heads Up” games, but games that require physical materials and pairs of students are challenging on Zoom. Instead, my students have had even more fun challenging each other in Kahoot! games, an online tool that allows students to review content in interactive quizzes that award points for accuracy and speed. We have also used Nearpod, an interactive learning tool that allows me to present my content on my screen and on my students’ screens–on which students can type, draw, take quizzes, and again, race in competitive games. There is nothing like the sound of cheering, laughing, joking, and even yelling students as they race toward learning in online learning games! 

Promoting professional development for high quality online instruction

Through a professional development initiative in partnership with the University of Delaware’s Academic Technology Services (ATS) and the English Language Institute, we have developed a short-term training course to instruct teachers on best practices in online learning. The topics broadly include using the ADDIE design model for online course development, employing best practices in communicating with and engaging students online, developing literacy and mastery with technology tools to support learners through any challenges in accessing learning opportunities, and teaching with fun, engaging, and effective online tools. Through this training course, we have been able to provide self-guided learning for teachers to see a model of effective online instruction, weekly synchronous classes to support teachers and to provide models of effective facilitation of synchronous classes, and one-on-one support through ATS and ELI to support teachers in creating the best online learning experiences for their students. 

Many schools have made the switch to online learning, but at the English Language Institute, we have taken extraordinary steps to think of our online classes not as emergency or temporary measures to “hold students over” until we can meet face to face. Instead, we intend to be leaders in the field of online ESL teaching so that anytime a student takes an ELI class, online or in person, they receive the highest quality of instruction.

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