Let’s Create a Module, Shall We?

I’ve created Module 1 for my “Gabby Online: Muscle Memory Training for Speedy English Speaking” course. There’s a lot of content here, so in the interests of being super organized and brief, here’s a handy bullet-pointed list.

  • A friendly Module 1 Introduction video.
  • A detailed lesson plan, with learning outcomes clearly (I hope) delineated.
  • A rubric for scoring students’ responses when conducting Gabby Drills and Sprints. (Helpful for both teachers and students.)
  • A rubric that explains the grammar breakdown of each Level of the Gabby software.
  • An online forum for submitting homework questions, and receiving grades there.
  • Do you think that’s enough? I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.  🙂


Every Good Online Lecture Starts with a Bad Online Video

Well, maybe it’s not THAT bad, but it’s my first. Please show mercy. I tried to be friendly and upbeat when describing the Gabby Muscle Memory Training course, and welcoming new students, but somehow it feels a little scripted. Thoughts? Did I leave anything out? Does this sound like a course you’re just dying to take? Seriously, I welcome your feedback.

Every Online Course Needs a Good Syllabus

Now, whether this one is good or not…..you be the judge. And seriously, let me know what you think.

By the way, I have revised my course for this project. The new title is “Gabby: Muscle Memory Training for Speedy English Speaking” and it uses a web tool my company is creating to help English learners speak more automatically. More about that later. This syllabus involves a lot of in-class practice as well as self-study assignments and some minor homework. The class itself is taught synchronously online, using GoToTraining.


(Syllabus revised slightly on 7/20/2015)

How Can You Practice Speaking English in an Online Course?

I’ll show you. By taking the online course I am currently developing, called American English: Scenario Practice.

Here’s a description of the Scenario Practice course. The course exposes English learners to typical realistic business and social situations where a swift command of English will aid communication and social fluency. Scenarios in this course are chosen because they are known to be substantially different from other countries’ styles of interaction. This class is meant to be highly interactive, while at the same time hugely informative and easily applicable to common business and social functions. 

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be expected to:

  1. Know how how to conduct him/herself in the business and social situations addressed in this course
  2. Be more comfortable with speaking to Americans they do not know
  3. Be more conversationally versatile and less timid in social and business circumstances

Scenario Practice was originally designed as an in-person role play course, but I am adapting it for online instruction, using videos and audio/video discussion boards in lieu of face-to-face practice. I’ll post a link to it when there’s more to show, so, have patience! It’ll be great fun, and you’ll all want to enroll, I just know it.

Using Social Media in an Online Course

This blog post was written in conjunction with my esteemed colleague, Changying “Z” Zhang. You can follow her informative and elegant blog here.

Because of the rise of social media usage in work and daily life, there has also been an increase in the use of social media in higher education, both on campus and in virtual classrooms. Many educators have incorporated social media in their teaching, especially in the most recent years. Either they believe social media can be an effective tool, or they believe it is the newest trend worth exploring. Nonetheless, the use of social media in higher education is still in its infancy.

Tools Suggested

The definition of social media is rather loose. If we consider Instagram, Flickr, Vimeo, Meetup, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blog websites and wikis, all as part of social media, then many educators and students would agree that they are effective tools in teaching and learning. Especially video sites such as YouTube have been proven to be the most useful tools. Both educators and students agree that using social media as a supplemental tool to a learning management system can create a sense of community. For online courses, video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo can definitely contribute to the effectiveness of content delivery. Flickr and Pinterest can also enhance visual aids in online courses.

When could social media be used in an online course?

Social media tools should be introduced only as the supplemental tools to an effective learning management system (LMS). Students like the fact that they can anchor to the LMS to find information in one place rather than scattered across different social media sites. I believe the LMS should be the main portal for students to interact with each other within the course. Any social media tools we introduce to the course should be linked within the LMS. With an effective LMS, students are able to build the personal connection and participate in active discussions within the LMS. Plus, the LMS provides a much more secure and private environment for students’ interaction.

What value can be added?

Since the definition of social networking tools is so broad, the value of these tools really depends on the tool itself. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo definitely make online courses more human and engaging.

As with any new tools that are being introduced to educators, concerns arise as a result of using social media in higher education. The biggest question is, does its use in the classroom contribute to teaching and learning?

Despite the growing number of educators who are using social media in the  classroom, educators should not overlook the fact indicated in Mathieson and Leafman’s (2014) study that over one third of both students and faculty members felt uncertain about their willingness to use social networking tools in teaching and learning. This finding suggests that when incorporating social media into classroom teaching, more information is needed about which specific social networking tool would be used, if the tool provides the user easy access, and what perceived value would be presented to the users before implementation.

In an online ESL education scenario, social media can become the lesson itself. Facebook and Twitter, and other sites like Yelp, all employ written communication, and instructors can guide students to practice their communicative competence in reading and writing English for these specific social media purposes. In this case, the lesson can be realistic and practical, and therefore, engaging. What’s more, students have online proof of their learning outcomes that they can point to and share — a Yelp review of a restaurant they like, for example.

This use of social media tools in ESL education employs the constructivist “problem-based learning” theory. By putting students in a real-life situations, such as a live social media platform. we can also teach them so solve real-life problems.

Students’ perceptions of using social media in higher education

From our own personal research, students are only using social media in their studies because it is required. Most of my students believe an effective LMS can create the learning community needed for the course. They feel that social media should be reserved for their personal lives, rather than their professional lives.

The students’ perceptions are also an indicator of if social media can be successful in teaching and learning. The above research definitely challenges us educators to use social media more effectively and creatively, so that when used, it is not a burden but an enrichment for students’ learning experience.


The social networking landscape is changing rapidly. Educators like to explore emerging technologies as tools to facilitate teaching and learning. Social networking sites have proven to be effective social communication platforms, yet they are still very new to the educational field. Educators have just begun to research the validity of using social media in the classroom. Much research conducted in the past five years showed encouraging signs of using social media as a supplemental tool for pedagogical purposes. Yet, there are still very many unknowns as to the effectiveness of social networking sites to be used to scaffold learning objectives and what legal challenges social media presents to educators. Can social networking sites be an efficient, effective tool for higher education in the classroom? Can social networking sites be a formal pedagogical tool to help students access Licklider and Taylor’s richness of living information (as cited in Kent, 2013, p. 664)? Educators are still searching for the answer. The bigger question is whether social media is simply a new technology in teaching and learning or if it has truly shifted the classroom from a teaching environment to a learning environment, by providing a platform, an environment and a community for students to communicate and collaborate.

Social Media in Education- Infographic


Kent, M. (2013). Changing the conversation: Facebook as a venue for online class discussion in higher education. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(4), 546–565.

Mathieson, K., & Leafman, J. S. (2014). Comparison of student and instructor perceptions of social presence. Journal of Educators Online, 11(2), 1–27.



ZOOM: Online Community Creation Tool?

I’ve been exploring online teleconferencing tools that can be used in the virtual TESOL classroom. There are many, many options, and many price points too. From free (Skype) to oh-my-gosh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me (ridiculously overpriced company to rename nameless).

Here’s some info about one tool called Zoom. I’ve created this nifty amateur recording of a presentation about Zoom, using Zoom as the recording tool. Check it out.


So, What’s So Different About Online Education?

There are those who think that social media is just a fad. They’re wrong. It is increasingly digging its tendrils into more and more of our daily life activities, including shopping, getting the news, making appointments, and finding jobs. To remain relevant, eduction needs to be there too. But how?

The category of “online education” is somewhat broad. It encompasses everything from a traditionally-structured college course with its lectures delivered online rather than in person, to a gamified language learning app like Duolingo, where you can compete with your friends on Facebook as you learn (so yes, mobile social media). And then there’s everything in between.

These various forms of online education are different by nature from the traditional face-to-face teaching paradigm. In Boettcher and Conrad’s The Online Teaching Survival Guide, five major differences are spelled out. The one that resonated with me the most is that the role of the teacher has shifted from lecturing and instructing “to coaching and mentoring” (p. 7). Rather than one-way knowledge transfer, teachers become facilitators and guides to aid the students in their knowledge acquisition. In my opinion, this key shift becomes the basis for the design of effective online learning programs. For example, as the authors note, students are more active and engaged, working together more on collaborative projects. And it follows that classroom resources are not limited to one book; the virtual world is literally at students’ fingertips.

Here’s another difference. As a student myself, returning to academia after a long (long!) gap, the first thing that struck me about the web-facilitated courses at USF is a little thing called a Learning Management System. In this case, Canvas. This amazing online tool has been a revelation to me, simplifying and organizing — and digitizing — so many academic activities: course information distribution, communication with instructors and other students, assignment turn-in and grading, readings, video lectures, etc., all in one place. And since that place is in The Cloud, I can work from a variety of devices and locations. Even if this is the only online element of a face-to-face course, it’s still a big shift into the digital realm, and I love it. In fact, I am now conducting research to implement a cost-effective LMS at my own company, as a result of my experience at USF.


Reference: Boettcher, J.V., & Conrad R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

First Steps into Online Course-dom

As part of my Cyberculture class, I’m creating a working draft of an actual online course. Cool, right? It’s still being fleshed out now, but if you just can’t wait for the finished product and would like to monitor its growth and progress, the access details are below. I’m using Schoology as the LMS.

This class is called American English: Scenario Practice. It is designed for Japanese speakers of English at the Intermediate or above level, who are professionals working and/or living in the U.S. Each scenario was designed based on a situation a real Japanese businessperson encountered, when they did not know what to do or how to react, and their communicative competence in English completely broke down. So the class involves a lot of role playing, and even some key American English phrases and idioms are discussed. It’s a fun class, and very practical, too. It’s taught either in person, or online live via Skype or GoToMeeting.



Schoology access code for this course: 6MB59-245JJ

(Schoology does require free registration to use their site, so if you’re afraid of giving out your email address to educational institutions…..avoid. But, it’s safe. Don’t worry.)


Super Helpful Resource for Online Learning Info

The Online Learning Consortium seems to be the go-to authority in all things online learning, and it’s my new best friend.


I will be spending hours perusing the timely on-demand webinars, reading the Online Learning journal (online, not on paper of course), and contemplating acquiring an Online Teaching Certificate, because, like pairs of good shoes, you can never have enough professional qualifications. Many of my colleagues have already written at length about the strengths of this website, and I doubt I can describe the nuggets of information gold to be found here as well as they have, so I won’t bore you, dear reader. To top it all off, the site is gorgeous and super easy to navigate.

However. The Consortium seems to be very US-focused. I can’t find anything about using online technologies to engage ESL learners, which is my gig. I can only find resources for online teaching and collaboration of TESOL instructors, which is helpful in itself, but still. I am just the tiniest bit disappointed. This whole marriage of ESL communicative competence instruction and web-based technology is still a new thing, I guess. Perhaps this is actually an opportunity, not a disappointment? Let’s go with that.

The Consortium is definitely a great repository of academic research in online learning. One interesting paper I saw discusses implicit bias in online communities based on a person’s name. Since you’re not meeting face to face, people often assume that online life is totally anonymous; however, just a person’s name can carry some weight and preconceived notions of ability or competence, and two professors from Ashford University, Wendy Conaway and Sonja Bethune, have done peer-reviewed research on that. Sounds like the kind of work we would do here at USF. Here’s the link to the .pdf, in case you’re interested.

Implicit Bias & First Name Stereotypes: Implications for Online Instruction

So, dig in. So much to read and watch and learn on this site. Membership is free! Gotta love that.


Didn’t This Used to Be Called “Distance Learning”?


Greetings, blog readers and fellow students!

My name is Brennan, and I’ve just graduated with an MA in TESOL. I also have a BA in English, and an MBA in International Marketing, focusing on Japan and East Asia. I’m taking a couple of extra post-grad classes in DTTL so I can append a concentration onto my degree, which will hopefully make me a more valuable and useful employee. In addition to being a perma-student, I am Lead Instructor and Product Manager at Global Vision Training in Burlingame (www.globalvisiontraining.com), where we help international business professionals refine their English skills in the business situations they require — such as networking, presentation skills, cross-cultural collaboration, etc etc.

My company is just beginning to dabble in online education, so my current Cyberculture: Building Online Learning Communities class with John Bansavich is timely and intriguing. In all my years (and years and years) of education, I’ve personally only taken two online classes, neither of them for credit towards a degree.

About 15 years ago, the bookseller Barnes & Noble experimented with a rudimentary online discussion class that was led by a university literature professor. Basically, it was an asynchronous “online bulletin board”-style book club; for about $30, you got a copy of a classic book republished in swank Barnes & Noble branding, and access to the class, with its weekly discussion questions. I was underwhelmed. In fact, I can’t even remember which book I read. That’s how engaging it was.

Trying to think about what was wrong with that style of class, turn the clock forward a dozen years or so, and I took a free Coursera course on the History of the Internet. This was a series of prerecorded lectures from a University of Michigan professor, interspersed with an occasional super easy quiz, just to make sure you were awake. Watching a video of a person talk directly to you from their desk in Ann Arbor was a lot more engaging than reading blog posts and replies. This professor had personality, and was telling a story; I was hooked. He had mastered the right communication technologies so he could write on his tablet onscreen while talking to the camera, cut to relevant images, charts, graphs, timelines, etc; it was smooth and very well-executed. As with most things, this must come with practice. I hope to be there some day soon.

What about this “distance learning” thing? That was a popular phrase when I was in college, back in the late 1980s-early 1990s (yes, I’m old…..but lifetime learning keeps you young, right? right??). As an English Major, I took a Shakespeare class one summer. On the first day, I walked into a classroom that was not a classroom — it was a television studio. There were spotlights and cameras and an overdressed professor getting make-up applied before a well-lit mirror. I thought I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. Turns out, this “distance learning” class was being broadcast live to all the University’s other campuses around the state. These were the days before easy teleconferencing equipment. If we wanted to ask a question, we had to push the red button on a NASA-era microphone to speak, and since the other campuses did not have TV cameras to broadcast from their locations, students there could still ask questions of the professor that arrived in a cloud of disembodied speakers above our heads. The whole thing was a bit surreal, and actually a bit of a distraction from the learning process. So even though it was synchronous “distance learning”, I was learning onsite instead of from afar.

My takeaway from these three technology-enhanced learning experiences is that the students who will get the most out of an online education are the self-starters, the ones who are driven to seek and explore and collaborate and communicate. The ones who aren’t just sponges soaking up one-way lectured knowledge; the ones who want to take that knowledge and do something with it, within their online community, for starters. I did not get that experience from any of the aforementioned classes, and I am hoping that this Cyberculture class will model this behavior for me. The whole idea of an online collaborative community of learners is especially germane to ESL students, because it offers more practice in English communication; of course, it would work best if that communication were oral real-time, and not just written and asynchronous. But technology advances quickly and all things are possible, pretty much, so I want to start learning about all this now and get a head start on the industry.

Thanks, everybody, and I look forward to working together during this short, intense DTTL class!