Certificate in Using Zoom With Speakers of Other Languages?
Unusual times calls for unusual measures and with lots of educational establishments being closed due to COVID-19, Cambridge English has temporarily allowed all components of the CELTA to be delivered online until the end of 2020. This is something that has never been done before; previously the input could be done online but the teaching practice (TP) had to be done in a physical classroom. Allowing online TP was a good thing for the trainees on the CELTA course I have just finished working on because we were half way through the teaching practice when the lockdown happened and this meant that the remainder of the teaching practice could be completed online and the trainees could finish the course and get their qualification, rather than being left in limbo. In a way, this particular cohort got the best of both worlds; experience of teaching both in the classroom and online.
However, I can’t help but feel that language schools are jumping on the online bandwagon when I see them aggressively promoting 100% online CELTA courses. I understand that it is desperate times and many organisations are simply trying to stay afloat. However, they are not giving prospective candidates a true account of the differences between doing a course 100% online versus a course which at the very least had the teaching practice component in a physical classroom.
Take International House as an example. They were the organisation that offered a qualification in teaching English, which later became the CELTA and are one of the most well-known and highly respected English language schools. Even they have resorted to promoting the 100% online CELTA course as being the same as a classroom based CELTA, with the headline: ‘same course, same benefits‘. They go on to say that you get the same qualfication, the same content, same teaching practice but done online (so clearly it’s not the same) and the added bonus of learning to teach online while saving money on things such as accommodation and travel at the same time! What’s not to like?
Well, plenty as it goes. Actually, it depends whether you think you will ever step foot into a physical classroom in your future teaching career. If you are planning to only ever teach classes online, then I guess the 100% online CELTA is perfect. Well, not quite, as I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of places offering online CELTAs will lead you to think that online teaching is all about using Zoom. It’s not. If you want to find out more, then I highly recommend FutureLearn’s free course on Teaching English Online which, incidentally, was created by none other than Cambridge Assessment English, the same guys behind the CELTA.
Do you really need to spend £1,500 to get a Certificate in Using Zoom With Speakers of Other Languages? Forget PPP, TTT and MFP. The new acronym is MSB – Mute, Share, Breakout! Show how good your classroom management skills are by using the mute all button so only you can be heard, present new language by using the share button to display a pre prepared grammar substitution table and demonstrate that you can deliver student centered lessons by putting the learners into breakout rooms (do it once will get you a Pass, 2 times a Pass B, three or more times a Pass A!). At this point, I’m getting a sense of dejavu, the same feeling when animated PowerPoint presentations were all the rage.
Zoom fatigue (and more generally fatigue from being online) appears to be very real and I wonder how many students will willingly choose online classes if the current situation becomes the new normal. Many of my English students were in my class before the lockdown started and continuing online provided them with the opportunity to stay in touch with each other. However, a lot of them said that they would not re-enrol if the subsequent course is 100% online. There is a similar thing happening with CELTA candidates. The 100% online option is attracting a new group of people who see it as an easy and convenient way to get an English teaching qualification without ever having to step into a classroom. However, there is also a sizable group of candidates who would prefer to do the course face-to-face because it suits their learning preferences more and they don’t see the online CELTA as being equivalent to a CELTA done in a classroom setting.
So if you’re contemplating signing up for an online CELTA, take the marketing with a pinch of salt. Even though Cambridge English says that the assessment criteria remains unchanged for 100% onine courses, doing TP online does not equip you with the skills required to teach in a physical classroom environment. When you are in a real classroom, you will realise that there is more to setting up group activites than assigning a list of names to breakout rooms. In a physical classroom, students often don’t listen or hear your instructions, they forget which group they have been assigned to and where their particular group are supposed to be sitting. When you are in a real classroom, you will realise that there isn’t a mute button that magically stops everyone from talking. Classroom management actually involves more than a click of a mouse!
Tutors may not be willing to admit this (some might not even know it happens), but many trainees are not fully engaging during online TP. They are having private chats with each other on WhatsApp, or maybe they are even doing it on Zoom without realising how dodgy it is. Why is it dodgy? Because Zoom seems to randomly switch the recipient of messages to ‘everyone’, so a private message with a rude comment about a trainee is inadvertently sent to everyone (it happened on the course I just finished and the trainee they were talking about was not pleased).
Furthermore, you can bet that the English students attending the TP classes are similarly distracted during their lessons. Some of them are probably checking their messages on WhatsApp or surfing the net. There’s no way you can tell, becuase when you look at their picture on Zoom they appear to be looking at the screen (or they might even have their video turned off). Now, I’m not saying there should be an expectation that trainees and learners be focused on the lesson 100% of the time – that’s simply unrealistic – but all this is perhaps symptomatic of video apps being poor at enabling meaningful communication. The CELTA course is heavily focused on communication to learn a language and the absence of direct eye contact when communicating online (participants are usually either looking at the camera or at themselves) combined with delays, pixelated video and frozen pictures means that participants cannot easily read facial expressions. In fact, Zoom is terrible as a tool for replicating a meaningful face-to-face conversation.
Leaving aside the fact that Zoom is only useful for delivering synchronous online lessons, which is only one part of online teaching, how many CELTA courses cover asynchronous learning and creating activities using platforms such as edpuzzle or quizlet, for example? See previous link to FutureLearn’s free course on Teaching English Online.
There is no doubt an element of novelty with something that is new and there are some CELTA tutors that think that the online course is very positive. This is certainly not my experience or the experience of my colleagues and this piece is partly to counter the view that everything is all shiny and wonderful. As a CELTA tutor, I found observing online TP to be an almost impossible exercise in multitasking involving watching a trainee teach their lesson on Zoom, typing their observation feedback on Word, looking at their lesson plan on the screen and trying to get the trainees who were no teaching to have a discussion about the lessson they were observing (we were using Microsoft Teams for this, but there are many other platforms available, such as Slack or WhatsApp).
So, what is the answer? Perhaps Cambridge should differentiate between CELTA courses that have been done completely online with those that have had TP in a physical classroom, especially if they plan to extend allowing 100% online courses beyond 2020 (which they have done). The place where I work is planning to resume physical English classes, so it is hard to argue that the temporary shift to online learning will result in a permanent shift in education. There will always be learners that perfer to learn in a physical classroom, just as there are those who prefer online classes. Perhaps they should have a separate qualification – Certificate in Using Zoom With Speakers of Other Languages.