The tools of our digital age have meant that students and educators alike are no longer restricted to traditional avenues of education. The rise of online teaching platforms has represented a democratization of teaching, making opportunities to pass on valuable skills more accessible. Not to mention that these tools have been instrumental in keeping teachers connected with students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Digital tools have been particularly beneficial for language teachers. Remote platforms ensure that native speaking teachers can help students in other countries or underserved communities to gain vital cultural skills. It also means that educators can better accommodate their students’ scheduling needs, like giving a session just before bedtime when it is scientifically proven to be effective. With a growing market, there are also several platforms and tools for teachers to take advantage of.
That said, all this choice often means it can be challenging to know the best way forward. We’re going to take a look at some of the tools that teachers can use to make a difference in their language students’ journey. We’ll also consider what supplementary tools and strategies can be helpful along the way.
The Right Platform for Your Goals
Just as with students, choosing the right remote teaching platform really depends on what your goals are. 2021 sees a lot of language teaching platforms on the market in particular, and the key to getting the most for everyone involved is understanding each approach can serve your preferred approach.
BRIC Language Systems
For teachers who want to specialize specifically in native Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Brazillian Portuguese, BRIC is often the most appropriate platform. It attracts students who are not just committed to learning, but often also have aspirations to take international internships. There is a strong emphasis not just on high-quality technical language skills, but also cultural competency. BRIC, therefore, suits teachers whose goals are to provide an education that goes further than simple academics and makes a genuine impact. There is also the use of video teaching methods to lean into the human connections that students are prioritizing in their higher education this year.
There are multiple approaches to teaching, and many educators’ goals revolve around putting their own stamp on pedagogy. Teachable provides remote educators with full autonomy over their courses — branding, curriculum content, pricing. It’s much like an eCommerce approach, giving teachers access to their own homepages. Therefore this is best suited to educators who have an entrepreneurial bent, and take full control over learning.
English is currently the lingua franca of most business fields. As such there are a lot of opportunities for those with goals to teach English as a second language (ESL). Cambly is aimed at those just starting on their teaching journeys, with no formal certification required (though it is preferred). All course materials are provided by the platform, and the approach is structured around having conversations via video. This is a good stepping stone toward in-person language teaching, or gaining experience before moving on to another platform.
The success of remote teaching is not only dependent upon choosing the right platform. It is well known in educational circles that teachers often spend some of their own salaries on basic equipment and resources that their students need to thrive. While the needs in online spaces may be different from traditional classrooms, there is no less an expectation that teachers must invest in resources.
It’s important therefore that remote teachers make use of avenues that can support them financially or with resources. Technology is often the most expensive part of online teaching, and some of the prominent hardware and software companies offer discounts to educators. Apple, Microsoft, and HP cut prices up to 20% on devices, while Adobe cuts its Creative Cloud subscription by up to 60%. It’s also worth reviewing what professional teaching organizations you can join. Many — the American Federation of Teachers, and the Association of American Educators among them — have arranged discounts for members on essential personal items as well as teaching aids.
Some remote teachers will also be designing elements of curriculum, educational games, and activities themselves. This results in additional hours and resources dedicated to producing materials. Grants can be a useful tool here. It can take some time to research and submit applications, but they can help take care of costs of language books, or seed grants to help fund a new program. The U.S. Department of Education also provides an annual round of funding, including programs directed specifically toward language education, and even professional development of language teachers.
Remote teachers don’t just have the responsibility to choose an educational platform. They also need to make sure that both they and their students continue to use it safely and securely. The first step is to ensure that the platform has sufficient student and teacher data security protocols in place. This is particularly important for those that take payments from students and issue salaries to teachers.
Educators must also take precautions concerning their online behavior. Using a password manager on the remote teaching platform, preferably with two-factor authentication, can minimize the risk of breaches. Similarly, while it can be convenient to teach wherever in the world you happen to be, public networks can be targets for cybercriminals. If you’re undertaking any lessons or reviews while in a cafe, restaurant, or library, be sure to utilize a virtual private network (VPN).
Care for students’ welfare is also critical, and can help improve bonds between learner and educator. Remote teachers should assist their charges in maintaining their wellness while learning online. Remind them that staring for too long at screens can cause eye strain; in fact, among computer users, the prevalence of eye strain is 50% or higher. Offer advice regarding adopting blue light blockers, screen contrast adjustments, and the importance of taking regular breaks. Be vigilant about both their physical and mental health and encourage them to talk to you if they find themselves struggling.
Remote education has an increasing presence in our education system, particularly in language learning. In 2021 and beyond, teachers should adopt platforms that best suit their goals and those of their students. Utilizing resources that can help support the practicalities of remote teaching can help ease financial burdens. Emphasis should also be placed on ensuring the ongoing safety of everyone using the platform teachers adopt.