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What Does It Take to Teach Online

What Does It Take to Teach Online

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Published by Mourad Diouri

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Published by: Mourad Diouri on Apr 30, 2009
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 Mirjam Hauck and Uschi Stickler
CALICO Journal, 23
(3), p-p 463-475. © 2006
CALICO Journal 
What Does It Take to Teach Online?
The Open University, UK 
Increasingly, fundamental questions are being asked of online language learning:In what ways can online teaching benefit the language learner most? How canonline environments be designed, or redesigned, to suit the purposes of languagelearners? Finally, what does the language teacher need to know to become a suc-cessful online tutor? In other words, questions of pedagogy for online languageteaching are coming to the fore. They will need to assume even greater—andmore sustained—importance, if online language learning is ever going to shedthe image of being “second best” to face-to-face teaching and lose the peripheralstatus which it still seems to have for many researchers (Coleman, 2005).Conferences devoted to the topic of pedagogy such as EuroCALL 2004 (seeHolzmann, Koleff, & Peters, 2005) and a number of seminal articles (see, e.g.,Kern, Ware, & Warschauer, 2004; Felix, 2005; Thorne, 2005) all ask for an ap-propriate online pedagogy, whether in collaborative settings, from a constructivistperspective, or in the context of intercultural communication. Kern et al. (2004)offer an overview of recent trends in online language-learning pedagogy and re-search, identifying linguistic interaction, intercultural learning, and literacy andidentity as three key areas of dynamic development. In all three areas, networkedcomputing and the ready availability of opportunities for communication outsidethe traditional language classroom have offered new potential and, thus, new chal-lenges to research and pedagogy. The focus of research has shifted from quantita-tive to qualitative methods, from inside the classroom to online settings, and fromthe learning of language(s) to the learning of culture(s).Scrutinizing in detail developments in one of these areas, Thorne (2005) outlinesdifferent models of “internet-mediated intercultural foreign language education.”Telecollaboration and e-tandem are just two ways in which computer-mediated-communication (CMC) can be used to further intercultural competence throughmeaningful dialogue. As Thorne acknowledges, teacher intervention, planning,and organization clearly play a crucial role in the success of these collaborativelearning endeavors, yet a pedagogic framework for them is still to be created:“[T]he outstanding problem is how conditions for developing a capacity, and per-haps even hunger, for the challenges presented by intercultural communicationcan be inculcated in instructed FL settings” (p. 4).
CALICO Journal 
, Vol. 23, No. 3Rather than providing an overview of current research, Felix (2005) suggests afuture pathway to make e-learning pedagogy fit for the third millennium by identi-fying the shift from instruction to construction of knowledge as the major tenet of online pedagogy—a sea change noticeable in the wider context of education thathas led to calls for “unlearning pedagogy” (McWilliam, 2005). At the same time,Felix underlines the constraints of time and circumstance that make truly con-structivist teaching in the everyday (language) classroom all but impossible. Thesolution she offers is to combine high-maintenance collaborative tasks of socialconstructivist teaching with automated activities for the cognitive construction of knowledge, thus placing intelligent CALL firmly back on the agenda for onlinepedagogy. This suggested combination “would on the one hand expose learners tosophisticated automated activities, engaging them in autonomous, predominantlycognitive and metacognitive processes; on the other, with the help of networkedsystems, it would involve them in collaborative, process-oriented real-life activi-ties fostering psycho-social processes” (Felix, 2005, p. 96).
One could argue in this context that language teachers have been faced with thenecessity to “unlearn” pedagogy before. The tutor role in language educationunderwent considerable changes when approaches based on authentic commu-nication and learner autonomy became pedagogical desiderata, if not outrightdemands (see, e.g., Holec, 1979; Rogers, 1969; Rogers & Freiberg, 1994). Theadvent of generally available
and reliable information and communication tech-nology (ICT) tools such as email, internet relay chat, or, more recently, instantmessaging and audioconferencing has added to these trends, not a new dimension,but rather new attributes (ease and speed of access) and new quantities (number of Internet-based exchanges among people, the sheer mass of information availableon the World Wide Web, access to native speakers and cultural informants virtu-ally across the globe). In his “bibliometrical” research of CALL publications Jung(2005, p. 12) cites 61 instances of the descriptor “authenticity,” 98% of whichare post-1992. The figures for “autonomy” are similar: 115 instances of which 83(72%) belong in the post-1993 period.CALL itself has undergone quite dramatic changes in pedagogical paradigmsin the wake of technological advancements. Since its beginnings in the 1960s,the use of computers in language teaching has moved from the initial computer-as-tutor approach—based on a behaviorist learning model and reflected in re-petitive drills—to communication and interaction via the computer, that is, CMC.Ubiquitous connectivity among learners has allowed the move from this cogni-tive approach to learning to an integrative, sociocognitive approach combiningtraditional language skills such as listening, speaking, reading, and writing withelectronic literacy skills such as learning to interact with others through the useof a variety of technological tools as an integral part of language teaching (for amore detailed overview of the history of CALL, see Warschauer & Healey, 1998;or the more recent article by Bax, 2003).
 Mirjam Hauck and Uschi Stickler
465There is little doubt, that CALL and, more important, networked language-learn-ing environments offering a variety of modes for communication and interactionhave changed the face of the language classroom. These changes have had a pro-found and irreversible impact on language tutors and their perceived role(s)—inthe classroom and beyond. The initial enthusiasm for increased opportunities forexposure to the L2 via online or ICT-supported interaction is reflected in a vastarray of experimental, if often uncoordinated, uses of computers for languageteaching (see Salmon, 2005). While we continue to discover the possibilities andconstraints of CMC, a trial-and-error approach to pedagogy still seems to be theorder of the day. This is partly due to the fact that “[n]etworked environmentsthat allow learners to communicate using the full range of multimodal forms arerelatively new” (Chun & Plass, 2000, p. 165), but it is also a result of the on-go-ing, fast-moving development of technologies and the ensuing multiplicity of themodes they afford.It has become apparent that enthusiasm alone will not necessarily lead to suc-cessful learning experiences; “it is the tutors skill in managing learning activitieswhich results in the success or failure of the learning event” (Shield, Hauck, &Hewer, 2001, n. p.), a factor also stressed by Jung (2005, p.15),Information technology may provide us with the means of overstepping theboundaries between classroom and real life, making experiential learning apossibility. It is true, we can allow nature to run its course nowadays. Nature,however, can be very unsympathetic on occasion to the cause of foreign-lan-guage learning. That is why we need teachers who can adapt or modify theirstudents’ language acquisition devices when necessary.There is, in other words, a growing consensus on the potential of developing ane-pedagogy for language learning. In common with some of the contributors tothis special issue of the
CALICO Journal 
, we would even go a step further andadvocate that successful online tutors should know how to create a need in learn-ers to adapt, stretch, and modify the means for communication and interactionavailable to them (see also Hampel & Hauck, in press).
The successful online tutor needs to1. combine and adapt different roles, including those of teacher, administra-tor, trouble shooter, and colearner (Shield et al., 2001);2. have recourse to different styles of teaching (e.g., cognitive, social, etc.);and3. develop new e-teaching skills.That online teaching skills differ from face-to-face or traditional classroomteaching skills has been consistently argued by Salmon (2004). That online lan-guage teaching offers yet another challenge is the central thread of a recent pa-per entitled “New Skills for New Classrooms,” based on work done at the OpenUniversity’s Department of Languages (Hampel & Stickler, 2005). The authors

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