Mason professors conduct global webinars on how to teach English online to children and teens

With the coronavirus pandemic spreading throughout the world, schools in China, Europe and beyond have been forced to shut down. In many countries, primary school teachers have been told to move their education online, so that children can still learn while in quarantine or isolation.

Unfortunately, many teachers have little experience with remote learning. In an effort to assist teachers on a global level, Joan K. Shin and Jered Borup, associate professors in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development, created and are already conducting a series of free webinars aimed at helping English teachers around the world move to online education. The webinars are sponsored by National Geographic Learning, which reached out to Shin to help lead the series. 

“Teachers globally are being told they have to move their instruction online, and they have a week or two to prepare for it,” said Ian Martin, director of global marketing for National Geographic Learning. “So many of the teachers aren’t used to teaching online, and aren’t getting the training they need. We wanted to help give them skills to take their classes into the digital space.”

Mason professors Jered Borup and Joan K. Shin have created webinars to help teachers around the world engage online learners. Photo provided.

The first three-part webinar series, “Online Teaching for English Teachers,” was offered earlier this month to help teachers in China. Borup and Shin have started conducting more webinars for teachers in other countries. In the latest series, about 5,200 teachers from 40 countries registered for the initial classes, with more than 2,400 participating live. The series is focused on “breaking through the screen” so that students feel enthusiastic and part of a supportive learning community even though they are physically separated, according to Shin.

“When teachers shift from classroom instruction to online instruction, they just can’t do the same things they did in a classroom and meet the learning needs of students,” Shin said. “We came up with 13 practical tips that we thought would be helpful for teachers no matter where they are in their online teaching experience.”

Shin has worked with National Geographic Learning for years, helping create and edit a series of successful educational materials for teaching English to children. The learning programs use content from National Geographic to help engage students English as a tool to interact with the world.

When Shin was asked to help create the online English teaching webinars, she turned to Borup, with whom she had collaborated before.

Borup and Shin came up with ways to help teachers engage with students, such as creating a system for support and feedback, and providing engaging videos to maintain their interest.

One tip for teachers moving to online education is to ensure that directions are “crystal clear” because unlike in the classroom, it’s not as obvious when students don’t understand what to do, Borup said.

“When teachers are giving directions in classrooms or in person, they can see students’ faces and tell if they are confused,” Borup said. “But with online education, sometimes teachers don’t know that students didn’t understand until they start submitting work that is really off-base.”

In the webinars, Borup suggests using visuals to help with the clarity of instruction, such as a video or a series of pictures to take students through each step.

The webinars will be posted on the National Geographic Learning website. Shin added that they will follow up the webinars with blog posts to further explain the teaching tips and provide helpful examples.

“We hope the webinars encourage reflection on how each teacher has been engaging with students and how to change that for online education to meet learning objectives,” Shin said.