On 3 and 4 October, I attended the first online BALEAP TEL SIG conference. The theme was Technology-enhanced learning and EAP in the post COVID-19 era. It was two days with 15 sessions and 2 keynote speakers, Nik Peachey, who I first met in Riyadh in October 2010 – so ten years ago this month – and David Read, who I first met in Glasgow, 2017 at the IATEFL conference, and who is the director of technology at the English Language Teaching Centre, University of Sheffield, where I worked this summer. The TEL SIG team were great at organising this varied line-up which took place in Zoom, where there were no ‘Zoombombers’!

Promotional Poster for the Conference

It was a wonderful exploration of all things EAP in the online classroom. The presentations were high in quality and varied in topic. Nik Peachey’s plenary session on ‘Creating Rapport in the Remote classroom‘ kicked things off and it was a whirlwind trip through all the key considerations needed for online or remote teaching. It was expertly done, with fabulous slides, as you would expect from Nik. He presented from a standing position, which made me think a lot about delivery and ‘performance’ of teachers. It included a lot of food for thought on aspects of teaching online and how to engage learners. He left no stone unturned and made the whole thing very interactive with reactions to the chat box and the use of polling tools. His slides are available here and via the BALEAP TEL SIG website.

My session immediately followed Nik’s and was entitled ‘A Breakout Summer: First-hand Experience in using Breakout Rooms Effectively on a Summer Pre-sessional 2020‘. You can watch the recording below. Most of the sessions were recorded and uploaded onto the BALEAP TEL SIG YouTube channel.

I attended Martin Sketchley‘s presentation on ‘Investigating the Challenges of Teaching EAP Remotely‘. This session explored action research carried out on an 8-week online summer pre-sessional course. Zoom was used for synchronous catch-up sessions, individual tutorials, seminar discussions and live assessments. In addition, Canvas used for asynchronous self-study activities, assessments, and class announcements. Furthermore, MS Teams was utilised for staff communication. Four open ended questions were sent to the pre-sessional tutors at the beginning of the course:

• What three challenges did you encounter during the eight-week pre-sessional course?
• What strategies did you implement to tackle those three challenges?
• What skills are required to be an online EAP tutor post- COVID19?
• What advice would you have given yourself at the beginning of the course?

Martin included an overview and results of the research as well as practical tips for teaching different skills or functions remotely. He went through some of the responses to his survey. Some of the skills featured included that of giving confidence to speak in an online class and answer questions in front of others. Adaptability, empathy and compassion were also highlighted. There was a greater emphasis on making use of initiative in ways of presenting material, too. Also, motivation, imagination and organisation and planning were mentioned by respondents.

You can watch the full presentation here on the BALEAP TEL SIG YouTube channel.

One particularly impressive presentation was that by Julie Hartill, Liz Chiu and Rebecca White. This was entitled ‘People are more likely to speak behind the screen: Exploring the hidden affordances of running a large-scale interactive event online.’ It began with a Mentimeter poll which asked whether attendees had done any interactive events online. This session demonstrated the use of Microsoft tools on an EAP course for future science students at Imperial College, London involving a poster event with 130 participants and a research festival with 150 participants. The events consisted of 12 simultaneous presentations in 12 online rooms, with students moving between these. Speaking skills was a particular focus. Two points about this were highlighted by Liz: “EAP for STEMM raised: Explaining complex science takes a lot of processing. It is hard to be fluent (with limited language). Students’ topics are not understood by teachers. They need experience of science interaction.” As preparation for their Viva assessment, students were given chances to interact with Imperial College researchers and to speak like one.

This presentation was particularly interesting and useful for me as my current employer uses MS Teams as its VLE and I now have to train new learners to use the platform. Again, the recording is available on the YouTube channel.

David Read‘s plenary session on day two was about building a Technology Enhanced Learning team at the University of Sheffield. I worked with this team over the summer, including Nicholas Murgatroyd and Laurence Wilson. I had previously published a post on the LTSIG website written by Claire Basarich and David about flipping the pre-sessional course. Unfortunately their presentation in Manchester never went ahead, because the IATEFL conference got deferred until next year. David’s presentation demonstrated some of the tools used by the team, including Articulate Storyline / Rise 360. I hope to get the opportunity for a second summer in Sheffield.

At the time of publication, there are two public Padlets from the event, with comments and questions, as well as slides. Day one and Day two.

There is full information with all the slides and links on the BALEAP TEL SIG website, while all the recordings can be found on their YouTube channel. Investigate more about each of the sessions further if you are interested or watch the recordings.

TEL SIG YouTube channel as of 13 October.
Teams message and comments

My next presentation is on 22 October for the Eaquals association and will be based on some new research and takes stock of the mental health of teachers during and post Covid-19. It will also look at the future of working environments. I will be following a plenary by Sarah Mercer.

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