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We’re all instructional designers now

A few weeks before the summer holidays started, my son’s secondary school decided they wanted to deliver some of their lessons ‘live’ online. It was a slightly odd decision given that they hadn’t done that for the previous three months, but still, a step in the right direction. I was intrigued to find out how it would go.

As it turned out, not great. The problem was that hardly any of the lessons ever actually happened. My son would get in front of the computer shortly before the lesson was supposed to begin and wait for the information needed to join the class, which should have been a link to a Google Meet lesson.

As the starting time approached, there would normally be a frantic flurry of exchanges between teacher and students via email and their learning platform, Google Classroom, before the whole thing was abandoned as it was clear that the teacher didn’t really know how to set up the Google Meet link to send to the students.

It’s easy to blame the teachers in this situation, and mutterings from my son and his friends about how technologically out of date some of them were seemed to place the blame squarely on their shoulders.

But how can they be blamed when it was obvious that none of them had been given the right training?

Over the last few months teachers have been expected to adapt to a whole new approach to delivering lessons and the terminology connected to it. Suddenly, we’re all supposed to be experts in blended learning and remote teaching, effortless at handling ‘live’ lessons in Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meet. We’re all supposed to know how to create asynchronous content and guided study experiences and how to manage that within Google Classroom or Moodle or Edmodo or Blackboard or Canvas. We’re expected to know how to record ourselves delivering video lessons and then upload for the students to watch. And yet many teachers don’t..

I work at the English Language Centre in the University of Sheffield and my job mainly involves helping teachers adapt to using technology in their teaching. The last few months have been a massive shift for all of us but for those teachers who don’t feel confident around technology, it has been a very stressful period and even with support and training, many feel out of their depth.

And things don’t look like they will be back to normal for a while – if indeed ever – and our jobs are going to be different. Actual class hours are likely to drop and there will be the expectation that we will provide additional online materials and content for our students to make up the shortfall. The job of instructional designer – someone who creates and delivers online content for students – is something we’ll all be asked to get involved with to a greater or lesser degree.

And that’s why I started this blog. I wanted to help reassure EFL teachers that it’s ok to feel a little lost in this new landscape but there are practical steps that you can take to adapt and design digital content for your students. There are easy to use tools and websites that you can use to give students clear and well designed English language materials. There are techniques for making ‘live’ lessons using Zoom or Meet or Teams more engaging. And by learning these, teachers can feel less anxious about adapting to this new teaching reality.

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