7 Free Online Courses in March

Starting- and finishing -an online course

I find March a perfect month for online learning – long, rainy days, still cold and grey just made to stay in and study. I have a ton of books to read, but I simply cannot resist a good online course (like Language Testing During Awake Brain Surgery, awesome stuff!), so here we are with a set of seven fresh online courses:

1 An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study by the University of Reading

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: students of EFL interested in developing their academic writing skills

Being a long-time learner of English I know that writing skills are more important than most of our students realise. Some of them believe it easy to write an opinion essay or a short business mail – well, we, the teachers, have been there, done that and know now that learning writing may be quite a challenge. This course is designed to make our lives easier, as here you’ll get an introduction to research tools, writing critically and referencing, as well as learning more about the fundamentals like essay structure, proofreading and avoiding plagiarism.

2 Sign Language Structure, Learning, and Change by Georgetown University

Start: self-paced

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in American Sign Language

Being a teacher of a language means learning about various versions of a language one teaches. We study accents and jargons, but maybe we should spend some time on the sign version of English? This course will provide you with historical origins,  types of structural variation within ASL, role of visual analogy in learning ASL, and ways in which language specific variation and historical change for signed languages may compare and contrast to those for spoken languages.

3 Introduction to Multilingual and Multicultural Education by National Research University Higher School of Economics

Start: 5th March

Duration: 8 weeks

For whom: educators aware of school-related issues connected with multiculturalism

Offering equal educational opportunities in more and more multicultural world seems to be yet another challenge. This course will help you evaluate various teaching practices in multilingual and multicultural settings, evaluate various language policies, get insights to better understand the learning needs of students of various backgrounds and apply this knowledge in your own classroom. I believe this course may be useful for everyone, especially big city teachers.

4 Think Again I: How to Understand Arguments by  Duke University

Start: 12th March

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: students and people who want to work on their communicative skills

What are arguments made of? What forms do they take? Well, this course will help you learn what an argument is. You will also learn how to break an argument into its essential parts, how to put them in order to reveal their connections, and how to fill in gaps in an argument. I think this course may turn out to be a perfect choice for younger people, often striving to communicate properly.

5 Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative by Vanderbilt University

Start: 12th March

Duration: 6 weeks

For whom: gamers and people interested in video games

Today learning takes place anytime, anyplace and with anyone we want – and the world of online games is one of the most common environments where non-native users of English actually communicate, practise and learn (both the good and the bad things, that’s true). As teachers, we cannot ignore this, on the contrary – we should embrace this opportunity for our students to develop and encourage them to do so. I myself have learnt English playing computer games, but if you weren’t so lucky and still need some research on gaming – that’s the course for you.

6 Designing Your Personal Weight Loss Plan by Case Western Reserve University

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: people interested in improving their diet, teachers spending too much time sitting down and grading papers

The course will help you set a realistic goal weight with an equally specified plan, strategies for food shopping, sets of exercises, continuing evaluation of progress… Well everything we believe we already know, but have troubles with maintaining. The course, unfortunately, doesn’t guarantee weight loss, however it may prove quite useful if you’re a teacher thinking of getting a proper beach body (although I deeply believe every body you take to the beach is a beach body).

7 Irish 101: An Introduction to Irish Language and Culture by Dublin City University

Start: 26th March

Duration: 4 weeks

For whom: people interested in Irish or all those who want to celebrate St Paddy’s Day BIG STYLE

I tried to learn Irish and then I moved to Ireland only to realise Irish people in Dublin don’t really use it, which was slightly sad. However, if you feel like learning the beautiful language mostly for the sake of it, you may pick this course. Also, they course description mentions learning Irish curses and those may be something to use in the classroom…

Long March days require some support, hence a bonus course:

Wine Tasting: Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis by University of California, Davis

Start: 5th March

Duration: 5 weeks

For whom: teachers. Honestly, am I supposed to say why we need this course? 🙂

Let me quote something from the course description: ” At the conclusion, you will write a descriptive analysis of the aroma attributes you identify in a particular wine.”

For science!!!

 

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5 Tips on How to Start a Course without a Coursebook

Starting is easy...But how can you finish your online course_

I like coursebooks, and after years of using them I’ve grown on some of them, but also I’ve never stopped looking for the perfect coursebook for me (alas! to no avail!). There are coursebooks that are decent enough to recommend to anyone, there are some that have some strong points, but require heavy supplementation in other areas, there are those that I find useless..

Apparently if I want to have a coursebook perfect for me, I’ll have to write it myself.

Quite often I find myself in a situation where books are not the issue. Some of my students want to pass an exam or take IELTS (I don’t need much choice when it comes to exam-oriented coursebooks). Most of my students, however, want to talk, to “keep using English, no grammar, you know, just talking”. Surprisingly, asking them “what do you want to talk about” results in a meaningful shrug, leaving you with a task of planning a course with speaking, virtually no grammar, probably some vocabulary and a lot of wishful thinking.

Fortunately, after years of dealing with students who are interested in classes but not really with coursebooks, I came up with five steps that will help you in case you’re stuck with covering for a teacher who’s forgotten to leave the teacher’s book, creating a very short course or managing a course that isn’t supplemented with students’ copies.

1 Analyse students’ needs

Seriously, this is the most important step whenever you start a new course – book or no book. If you ask your students about their needs, if you listen to their expectations and make notes, you’ll show yourself as more than a typical teacher – you’ll show yourself as a partner who’s willing to cooperate, not only preach.

Naturally, you will have to explain that sometimes it’s impossible to fulfil all expectations in one course (e.g. passing FCE on A2 level).

2 Define the goal of the course

Without the goal of the course it’s impossible to give full feedback. What do you want to achieve with your students? Do you want them to cover particular areas of grammar? Maybe you want them to communicate more fluently? Focus on pronunciation? Whatever it is, define it – as well as marking criteria, assessment methods and forms of feedback.

The most important question by students, the one they never ask, is “what am I going to know after this course?”. Take your time and give them a good answer.

3 Collect your favourite books and coursebooks

The course doesn’t have to be covered with a particular coursebook, but still, you will need some stimuli. Often have I seen students who expected a course without a book, only to find it tiresome and somewhat demotivating. The truth is simple: students need something to prove that they’re actually learning. Reading exercises, wordlists – doesn’t matter as long as they have a solid copy to ease their mind.

The sad truth is, most of them won’t even look at the copies, so if you don’t feel like wasting your time on preparing something special, use your favourite coursebook to make a copy of an exercise you know your students will like.

In my school, we’re focusing on communication, so my favourite book is definitely 700 Classroom Activities.

4 Open your favourite websites

When you’re in need there’s always someone online who will help you! I already made two lists of useful websites that may save your day (here and here), but I’m sure you’ll find more. Lesson plans galore (perfect for a short period when covering for an absent colleague), ideas, exercises, films and songs.

You may choose TEDed videos or pick one of the great YouTube channels – your students will certainly enjoy visual material which is not only educational, but also gives a great opportunity for discussion.

5 Create a short syllabus

This is my first year when I created self-made syllabuses for all my courses and I shared them with my students on our first meeting – and I believe this is a great idea, because now my students know exactly which lesson covers which part of the material and what they will  have to work on in case they skip the class.

Certainly, you probably won’t plan everything, and not everything will go according to plan, but a course without coursebooks tends to be more improvised and when your students expect proper classes, it’s better to offer them improvisation within a safe framework of a self-made syllabus.

That’s it – you’re ready to roll. However, as a bonus, take this hint:

Make a compilation of materials

You may create a neat file of printouts and copies, you may create a lovely e-book, or simply – which is my favourite option – make a padlet with your syllabus, ideas and materials. You will have everything organised for another course, all you will need are some minor changes.

I hope these short and simple steps will help you next time you face students who don’t feel like having to own coursebooks.

Enjoy!

Role-Playing Teaching (Part 5: Character Creation)

role-playing teaching

It’s the fifth part of my Role-Playing Teaching series of articles and I can proudly say that we’re done with theory – today we’re going to start working on a proper RPG. Before we go on an adventure we need to create Players’ Characters. Since we’re going to talk on various topics during character creation, the minimum level required is A2+.

We already have the world where the adventures will take place – since I’ve mentioned my favourite environment (at least for educational purposes) would be urban fantasy, let’s assume the world is similar to the real world (doesn’t have to be identical, though). The place where I’ll start our adventure will be Dublin because I want my players to feel naturally with their English, and besides, I really like this city.

We won’t need game mechanics yet, not at this stage of character creation, but sooner or later we will need a proper RPG system. You will see that game rules are really important to keep storytelling within some framework. For demonstration purposes I will use Monster of the Week as an example of an urban fantasy world. Don’t worry, there will be no monsters.

Yet.

Before creating the characters, I need to come up with a rough idea of a story. Let’s say, the main heroes of my story will be a group of working adults who live in the same area of Dublin. This will enable me to create adventures in the city, but also in other places (they’re working, so they may be travelling). Sounds good? Great, let’s get to work… or, rather – let’s make our students work!

Creating heroes

By now, we know time and place (Dublin now, in my case). All I need to do is to ask my students to come up with new characters and make them speak, talk, interact. Simple? Naturally!

The good thing about character creation is that it can be done as an individual or the whole group activity (which is a good idea if students decide to play a group of friends straightaway). We simply give them sets of “getting to know one another” questions typical for first classes, but ask them to answer as their character. Ask them to come up with a new name, age, place to live (Google Street View may be a great help here!), family, friends etc. Ask them to write down their ideas, because they will need to refer to their “history” during various points of the game.

This is the point where you may use a fake name generator – you can seriously use the email address to improve character immersion (if you want to read about other useful applications of fake name generator click here!).

I strongly suggest giving homework after PC creation classes: writing down a character’s history and personal details will help not only the players, but also you, as a GM (just remember to make a copy or ask students to email you their stories).

Language learning

Naturally, the higher their proficiency level, the more complex questions you may ask, because this part helps you assess your students’/players’ linguistic skills. Starting with basic “daily routine” questions, moving through “tell me about your childhood” you may end up with the passive (“Have you ever been snatched?”) or reported speech (“How did your parents react when you moved out?”). Something that is essentially a grammar revision and a vocabulary assessment turns out to be a completely new exercise. For this reason, character creation may take more that one lesson, but as long as you’re having fun, enjoy.

Communication

During character creation it’s important to create not only a character itself, but also relationships between all players (sure, you may start with everyone creating their own PC and then trying to build up a team, but it’s way easier to start as a bunch of friends). This requires pairwork and work in smaller groups to settle the relationships and common areas.

Relationships may be varied: some people may want to play siblings, couples, best friends, colleagues, neighbours, old flames etc. The more the merrier, as various levels of friendship will allow students to practise communication using various registers (you don’t talk to your brother the same way you chat with your neighbour after all, right?).

When you’re done with the character creation, you may suggest practising fresh characters. Don’t forget to remind your players that the true personality of their characters doesn’t have to be determined at this stage and it’s OK if they decide they want to change some aspects. Below are three typical situations you may use as activities.

Short role-plays:

  • Typical situation

A casual situation between two or three players.

Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon and discuss how the day was and what to do next.

Player A: you’ve had a really terrible day at work

Player B: your child/pet got ill and you’ll have to take him/her to the doctor

Player C: you broke your tooth. Ouch!

  • Problem solving

Very often a problem emerges that needs to be solved by talking it through. This situation implies all characters trying to solve a simple issue.

Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon and want to make plans for Friday evening.

Player A: you want to go to a pub and relax

Player B: you really feel like disco is the best option for Friday!

Player C: there’s a new exhibition in the art gallery and you’d love to see it with your friends

  • Conflict resolution

Situation: You meet up on Wednesday afternoon in your favourite café and enjoy coffee and cakes.

Player A: you realise you’ve forgotten your money… again. Ah well, Player B will probably help you.

Player B: Player A seems to have forgotten money… again. It riles you up because somehow it’s you who usually pays for both of you and A doesn’t usually remember to give it back to you.

Player C: You hate public arguments. Player A seems to be rather forgetful when it comes to money, but there’s no need of Player B to make a scene. You don’t like it, but you don’t want to pay for Player A as well.

You will probably notice that the conflict resolution activity takes more time that other scenes, and this is a very good beginning to introducing game mechanics and a character’s sheet, but this is something I’ll write about next time.

Enjoy!

 

How to complete an online course?

How can you complete an online course_

For a while now I’ve been sharing ideas on free online courses you can take up every month – hopefully you find them inspiring at least as much as I do. One of the comments I get is that while it’s easy to find a nice course and sign in, it’s far more difficult to complete it. Some people say that’s why paid courses are a better option as you feel the pressure on finishing something you paid for.

It’s like with season tickets to the gym – you wait until the season finishes to leave the dreadful place for ever…

Today I want to share some tips that should be really helpful to make your online courses noticeably easier to complete (and to do it on time!). So let’s start with the first step:

1 Pick your course carefully

Don’t go for a full 8 week long specialisation on Coursera as your first course. Pick something lighter, like Get Started with Online Learning on Futurelearn. You should pay attention to grading policy (if you know you won’t have much time for assignments, pick the course with in-course tests). Check the duration of the course (start with 2 or 3 weeks long ones) and the amount of time estimated for your work (2 hours a week sounds rather ok). You don’t have to choose the area connected with your work – one of the nicest courses I’ve taken was on witness investigation (I’ve learned a lot about how the brain works, I must admit).

2 Plan your learning

I mentioned that I might be slightly overly organised, but when it comes to online learning, it’s a serious advantage. Remember, that you can rely only on your inner motivation, and this may tempt you to complete most of the course at once and then stop, take a break… and forget about the course altogether. So the main rule is: hold your horses! Don’t do everything at once. The courses are divided into modules and after each module you should have a break. Like with learning a language you should spend 15-20 minutes a day learning (it’s a great opportunity for you to find yourself in your students’ shoes, teacher!). Remember about your homework, but…

3 Leave time for reflection

Don’t go with your homework activities immediately after you finish watching videos and reading articles. Give yourself some time to digest the knowledge. It’s a good idea to have a little reflective log or journal before you start learning online. You may take notes not only of the topics you learn, but also questions that arise. Like every student, you are not expected to grasp everything at once, and sometimes great help can be given by your fellow students in course chats or forums – you will get inspired and some of the people are guaranteed to change your perspective. In most courses, educators also take part in discussions, so you’ll have a chance to discuss your ideas before you send in your homework.

4 Think about a support group

You must gather your party before venturing forth.

Sometimes inner motivation is not enough – then we can count on other people! It’s always nice to have a learning buddy to support you if you don’t feel like studying or have a sudden motivation drop (happens every other day, I know). Sometimes having a learning buddy may result in some kind of competition and that’s also very useful: who doesn’t finish Module 3 by tomorrow gets us both coffee! Don’t forget that chatting online with your course colleagues is one of the ways to find new friends – and as every brony knows, friendship is magic.

5 Don’t give up!

Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better. Maybe it’s not the most optimistic attitude, but don’t let one failure cast shadow over your future. Just try next time, remember the moment you gave up and try to eradicate it. Find a teaching buddy to support you, plan everything better – and don’t give up!

It’s not too late to take up one of the courses starting in February!

Enjoy!