Online Training - The forgotten learner

A spontaneous text chat with Vance Stevens gave way to an opportunity to ask him, how he would have designed a train-the-trainer course similar to the one that is being developed in LANCELOT right now.

This was the questions I asked the old master of Call (Computer Assisted Language Learning)and co-founder of a global community of practise called Webhads. Imagine Vance, you were contracted to facilitate the move of a language institute from real to virtual classrooms. You are also asked to design a train-the-trainer program for the language teachers. These teachers usually teach face-to-face, they average mid 30, they are not very computer literate and above all: they arent webheads.

This was the task that I put to Vance, and he came up with an unusual approach, that I would like to share. But first of all, let me tell you who Vance Stevens is. There are very few people, who have spent more time in their life in the field of language learning and technology than Vance has. He taught English for 20 years in Houston, Hawaii, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and UAE, most often in CALL related positions. Then, in 1995 he shifted the focus towards computer related jobs, went back to the States designing ESL software only to return to the Arab world in CALL related consulting and coordinating positions. Currently he is lecturing in computing at Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Vance is the organiser of the WIAOC conference (WebHeads in Action Online Convergence) which due again next year in May 2007. He is also as usual coordination team member at the EVO (Electronic Village Online) sessions and this year will be helping to manage th EVO Moodle.

With more than three decades of language learning supported by technology, Vance understood the challenge at hand:

[13:28] vance_stevens: yes, teaching them to use elluminate is the easy part
[13:28] vance_stevens: to see the connections between that and how it can be used to teach language needs a foreign language to be present

So this is how Vance would go about:

[13:23] vance_stevens: best to send the students home, have them connect from there to a teacher who was nowhere nearby
[13:47] vance_stevens: i would use it to teach them how to use the tool at first
[13:47] HeikeP: so that we have a role model
[13:47] vance_stevens: actually i woudl get THEM to come up with ideas
[13:48] vance_stevens: and i would try to get someone to help me conduct a language lesson
[13:48] vance_stevens: so we would prepare some lesson in arabic and try to get them started with a few expressions
[13:48] vance_stevens: pictures of bread, lots of possiblities
[13:49] vance_stevens: this is very beginning so it would be more rosetta stone and silent way
[13:49] vance_stevens: i imagine their people are more advanced
[13:49] vance_stevens: so they have to come up with ideas how to teach at the level they anticipate using it
[13:49] vance_stevens: we would explore together
[13:50] vance_stevens: but i think it's important for CALL and any kind of planned training to include what is normally left out
[13:50] vance_stevens: what is so hard to picture
[13:50] vance_stevens: how does this work when YOU are the learner?
[13:50] vance_stevens: try getting in a chat where everyone is speaking another language
[13:50] vance_stevens: it's harder than most people realize
[13:50] vance_stevens: if you're interacting in your own language
[13:51] vance_stevens: so try it, what works, what breaks down the ie
[13:51] vance_stevens: ice
[13:51] vance_stevens: what gets people to interact, to comprehend what's happening
[13:51] vance_stevens: to avoid getting lost, overwhelmed
[13:52] vance_stevens: what makes it fun, stimulating
[13:52] vance_stevens: you've got to explore these things in a context both as a learner and in the sandbox with other teachers
[13:52] vance_stevens: that would be my plan

To summarize: the first thing Vance would do is put the language teachers into the learners' shoes and ask them to learn Arabic, or German, or French. A typical webhead approach?

[13:17] vance_stevens: practice with the tool
[13:17] vance_stevens: and exploration
[13:18] vance_stevens: see what they can do
[13:19] vance_stevens: dave winet had a web cam that would angle left right up down according to arrows on his screen
[13:19] vance_stevens: he shared his desk top
[13:19] vance_stevens: the virtual audience took turns pressing the arrows to operate dave's cam
[13:20] vance_stevens: it was amazing, but all play
[13:20] vance_stevens: that' the sort of thing where you learn the tools

A unique approach worth mentioning especially in the context that right now a train-the-trainer course is being developed as part of the European project LANCELOT.

The LANCELOT course will be about 120 hours in length. It includes methology, didactics, technology and intercultural competence. It lists Web 2.0 tools for language learning such as blogs and wikis, aggregate and podcasts, google and webquests.

More so, it adds dozens of (Web3.0?) tools for synchronous communication: instant messaging, whiteboards, co-browsing, presentation and the challenging fully-featured virtual classroom environments. It discusses the role of the teacher and involves planning and preparing a lesson live online.

Yet, why not simply ask the trainees of this course, to conduct a language class for each other and let THEM come up with ideas.

Sometimes it can be that simple.

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