Here are the things I've learned in Vance Steven's weekly speed geek that took place last Sunday Oct 3 at 13:00 GMT in Adobe Connect, http://connect.pi.ac.ae/taedtech. This particular session was about the use of moodle and web 2.0 tools in the EFL e-learning course at a Casa Tomas in Brazilia, Brazil. The lead presenters were Carla Arena and Erika Cruvinel, both long-time webheads.
Being a webhead, I've have seen the many class projects that Carla and Erika have designed for their EFL courses. I have also worked with Carla in numerous online endeavors i.e. Electronic Village Online (http://evosessions.pbworks.com/) and she also presented for the EFL-NNEST Intersession in Boston early this year, http://eflnnest2010.pbworks.com/ So I knew that they'll be presenting effective practices of techology integration in traditional F2F classroom. What I wasn't expecting, and surely it was a very welcome surprise was the inclusion of teacher training which uses both traditional methods and online teacher training strategies. So this is what I'll be focusing on in today's entry.
The discussion on teacher training was raised almost at the very end of their session, and it was brought up by Wendy Arnold, IATEFL Young Learner Sig. She asked, "how long it takes online training teachers up to speed on how to use tools?" It was an interesting question and a valid one, too. Erika responded to this and she said that it (teacher training) is a process and the first thing they do as trainers is to teach the teachers how to use these tools. It's pretty common sense that to be able to use the tools effectively in the classroom, the teachers have got to be proficient and confident in using the tools themselves!
To support the teachers' training needs in Casa Tomas, they developed the 'Web tools course/E-tutoring course' which is patterned to the EVO style of mentoring and training. This I think is the best complement for EVO, which I believe is a testament to the benefits of doing free online professional development for language teachers who may not have access to TPD in their local teaching/learning environment. Carla also emphasized that it takes some time for teachers to get used to the different tools- since there are hundreds of them! She also pointed out that teachers have to experience how to be online students themselves so they could 1) familiarize themselves with the tools and the technical aspects of web tools application, and 2) realize the students' difficulties Again this is very important because having experienced the same trials and frustrations in using the tools in learning that students face, teachers would be able to provide better support and guidelines to make the students' learning experience a positive one. Sometimes when teachers get so used to using a tool it becomes second nature to them- they coud probably do a task with their eyes closed! For a digital-native teacher, technology integration comes with ease. But surely, before one becomes so good in something there's has got to be a point where they started off as totally ignoramus. So before becoming digital natives, they must have experienced how it was to be digital immigrants. I once was-- back in 2001- until I met Vance Stevens and joined his EVO-Webheads session; the rest is history. Carla and Erika also took the same path- through EVO and webheads they experienced informal mentoring from web-savvy webheads EFL teachers, and once they got the knack of it they started doing the same thing their informal mentors were doing- they were involved in informal teaching/mentoring/participating/sharing. This is a crucial point not only in the survival of a communty of practice (Webheads), but in the language profession as well. Teachers join online groups/networks/CoPs or whatever you want to call them because they feel there's a need to participate, to learn something, to update their skills, etc. and in most occassions, this kind of teacher-support and learning opportunities do not come handy in their workplace. A motivated teacher looks out for ways to improve her/his craft- and they sometimes find them online. It would be ideal if such learning/teaching support is provided by the employing institution, but with the economic setback that many countries are experiencing, even providing basic teacher training is not available just to cut cost. But not for Casa Tomas.
This is why I admire Isabel Villasboas, Carla's and Erika's head manager, because she makes it possible to blend theory and practice; she allows the use of social networking sites and other web 2.0 tools creating their own (Casa Tomas) personal learning networking which is shared with other teachers across the globe. Teacher training is not only done online but face-to-face as well- this I believe is the icing on the cake. The more local teachers are given access to teacher professional development the better it gets for the local ELT community. When you improve the kind of teacher quality in your own local network, particularly non-native English teachers, you also improve the quality of English learning students get. I wish there are Isabel Villasboas in Taiwan- but I still have yet to find one :-(