On 27th April, about a month after the lockdown due to Covid-19 in Greece, I posted a questionnaire about the near future of English Language Teaching in Greece. As a teacher of English, as a Foreign Language myself, but also as a teacher trainer working for an ELT publisher (National Geographic Learning) I had a burning desire to find out what my colleagues felt the future of our profession would be.
Of course, I did start with some assumptions. Being a TESOL Greece member for more than 15 years and a Learning Technologies SIG coordinator for a few years as well, I could feel colleagues in my “network” would probably embrace the use of technology in a flash. Therefore, I knew I needed to expand beyond my immediate Professional Network. After all, feeling is one thing and knowing is another. Just like you should not bring a knife to a gun fight, you shouldn’t just bring a “sentiment” to a fact fight. And this looks more than just a fight. It looks like a full-blown war!
I posted this questionnaire on my personal Facebook page and shared it with various PALSO groups and Foreign Language Teacher groups. I did not know what to expect in terms of participation. The results surprised me! It got more than 300 responses in the first 3 days! What is more 164 PLS (Private Language School) owners filled it in. The number is significant because it represents 2.5% of the total population of the PLS owners in Greece. 1 in 40 of you answered that. The final number reached 337 responses and it consisted of about an equal number of PLS owners and other ELT professionals. Obviously EFL teachers needed to talk!
Today I would like to share some of the findings of this mini survey and see if we can draw some conclusions about the future of ELT in Greece.
How long have you been teaching English?
First, I was amazed by the amount of experience gathered in the survey. Almost 70% had experience of over 15 years of ELT. This was not going to be just new teachers who want to change the world. This is a survey answered by people who have seen a lot in ELT in the past decade and a half.
What do you think your teaching situation will be in September 2020?
The first question I wanted answered was about what ELT professionals felt their teaching situation would be, come September 2020. I put in 4 options which I thought were the most probable:
- I will go back to teaching face-to-face. This was a one-time crisis.
- Teach face-to-face but be ready to change to online learning if need be.
- Blended Learning. Will teach mainly face-to-face but will incorporate online teaching as well.
- I am moving to completely teaching online. I will do limited face-to-face teaching.
In reality I wanted to see if people believed that this change in situation was here to stay or they were planning to go back to how things were before Covid-19. And if they believed that they would need to change, what sort of changes would they be willing to embrace?
I am not sure if I was surprised by the fact that ONLY 1.8% (6 people out of 337) stated that they believed this was a one-time crisis and they were planning to go back to business as usual.
More than half said they would teach face-to-face but be ready to change to online learning when that was needed. Evidently, teachers know that they need to have a depository of material at the ready so as to use it outside the classroom.
The number that did strike me was that of the almost 40% who said they were willing to move to (or maybe some of them just continue) Blending Learning, incorporating online teaching as well. I have been in the profession long enough to know that in the past this number was much lower.
And I did not expect as many as 7.1% of the teachers to actually be willing to move completely to teaching online from now on, maybe incorporating some limited face-to-face teaching.
For me online lessons are
At the beginning of the lockdown there were two distinct schools of thought on what qualifies as Online Lessons. There were those who believed they should just focus on revisions and send worksheets to their students via email or some platforms, and mainly wait it all out. There were also those who believed they should proceed with their lessons and teach on the syllabus through distant teaching. Whether teachers should move on with their syllabus or not, was a hot topic to discuss. There were even strong arguments made against any type of synchronous teaching.
So, this question aimed at clarifying what teachers thought almost a month after schools had closed. For me it was not surprising that only 8% of the participating teachers believed online lessons were only for revision and 2.4% felt that it was just for fun activities.
3 quarters of the subjects asked agree that online lessons are really just like regular lessons, moving on with the syllabus. I think it is safe to say that the majority of Greek ELT now believes teaching online is not just some emergency patchwork solution but has to be taken seriously as “proper” classroom lessons. As for the 13.6% that chose some "Other" option, they wrote at an open text field and their answers were a mixture of “all the above” or comments on the real difficulties they are facing with the online teaching.
For me synchronous lessons mean a video conference lesson
But after having established that most teachers consider Online Lessons as “actual lessons” and not something to help pass the time till we get back to class, I needed to know what the Greek ELT does perceive as “Online Lessons”.
The first question on this referred to the synchronous lessons. For me it makes sense that teachers would consider this as the equivalent of actual teaching time in a physical classroom. My feeling was that for this reason it would be easier to accept. It involves more or less the same stakeholders (teachers, students, books, IWB software) and only a (significant) difference in the medium of delivery; Zoom or any other video conference programme instead of the face-to-face delivery in class. Therefore, the teachers would be more motivated to learn how to use it and have clearer expectations as to what they will do with it.
I wanted to know if teachers would need digital versions of the Coursebooks for the student to work on or just need them to have the regular printed copies. Would sharing the material of the Interactive Whiteboard Software or an Interactive ebook be enough or do they need more? Teachers could choose more than one of the four options given.
So, I offered 4 choices to complete this statement:
For me synchronous lessons mean a video conference lesson:
- where I share the IWB software on my screen.
- where everyone has their printed copies of the books.
- some students have the printed books and some have digital versions
- without printed books but with digital versions of them
It seems that for the majority, synchronous lessons mean a video conference lesson where they can share their computer screen with the Interactive Whiteboard on. Half of them also believe students should have the printed books in front of them. The whole concept of students having digital forms of the coursebooks during the synchronous lessons does not seem so appealing. As some teachers have told me, they want the students to have the printed books as well, as otherwise they would have to juggle different windows or even different devices.
For me asynchronous lessons mean
My next question was about asynchronous learning. This is even trickier than synchronous teaching. It involves different kinds of preparation and quite some time devoted to setting up or checking of homework. A lot of the work done there is invisible to the untrained eye therefore it needs to stand out in order to make a difference. It is also quite demanding in terms of technical awareness on the part of the teachers as well as the students and / or the parents.
To my knowledge, during the early days of the lockdown teachers were looking for PDF worksheets from any source to use for revision. They sent these to students via email. Others also used an LMS (Learning Management System) that they already had. Some ELT publishers have made their own platforms (LMS or other) available to their customers.
The material publishers offered was also of particular interest to me. For years I have been discussing different online practices with teachers. Do they want the students to do the material without the teachers checking (self-paced or as self-study)? Or do they want to have control over what the students are doing? Should student just do as much as they want when they want it, or should they do homework assigned to them? And what about other tools? Maybe outside an LMS. I mention Quizlet here, but I could have mentioned so many others, like Kahoot or Padlet e.t.c.
So, I offered 5 choices to complete this statement:
For me asynchronous lessons mean:
- sending students worksheets via email and receiving their answers
- using a Learning Management System (LMS) with resources I find or create
- students doing online practice provided by the publisher. I have to assign homework or check on them.
- students doing online practice provided by the publisher. I will not have to assign homework or check on them.
- using Apps I find such as Quizlet or other.
What became apparent is that sending students worksheets via email and receiving their answers is definitely not the “go to” solution for most teachers. Teachers now want a combination of tools. And a lot of them want to have control over what students are doing offline. The option of material for self-study, only attracted 16.9%, even though the material would be provided by the publisher. Not that they do not welcome the material from publishers, but they want to be able to control what students do with it and when.
For me, this shows quite some creativity from the teachers. Any teacher who would be too afraid to get their hands “dirty” with digital material would just go for the first option of emailing worksheets and expecting this to end some time soon so they can go back to “real” teaching. But a great number of teachers now want to use more digital material outside the classroom, in many cases creating said material themselves.
What kind of material will I use?
Now, this next question was key to my survey. What materials, including Coursebooks or Apps or LMS do teachers plan to use for the next year? I wanted to see if the word “change” would be used. It is a desired word, but it is also a scary word. They say, “everyone wants change, but no-ones wants to change”. Also, I wanted to see if anyone was considering moving to completely digital materials, giving up on the traditional printed published material.
So, the options here for materials that teachers will use from September were:
- Same as I have always used.
- Books that have some online resources (PDFs of worksheets)
- I need to change to books that offer options for online teaching, both synchronous and asynchronous.
- I will use only digital options. Digital Coursebook and online workbooks. No printed materials.
I was pleasantly surprised by the answers here. The most important finding was that as many as 57.6% of the teachers said they needed to change to books that offer options for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. That is a very big percentage of the Greek ELT population! 6.2% even said that they are willing to go completely digital!
14.8% say that some extra PDFs or worksheets would suffice. And 21.4% say they will use the same as they have always used.
Now, in retrospect, this last option was a rather ambiguous one. At first it may seem like 21.4% of the teachers will just go back to teaching printed books with physical and online classes, but it may very well mean that many of them had already been doing online classes one way or another, so they will go on doing the same as usual. But this unclarified aspect of the question only enhances the possibility that more teachers will be implementing online and offline tools in their teaching.
More to come!
There were more findings coming out of this survey, but they will have to wait for a second post. But even from what we have seen so far, I think it becomes clear the Greek ELT is willing to bite the bullet and make the change!
In the days after the survey, I have talked with people who want to move forward despite the lockdown. Also, there is a growing feeling that we will find ourselves in a similar lockdown situation maybe as early as October this year. Things might be even worse than they are now, but Greek ELT will be ready for it!
As I shared in the chat of one of the latest TESOL Greece webinars, prompted by the quote that "through difficulties we progress", WWII did wonders for technology in the 20th Century. It pushed the world to embrace advancements we had not dreamt of before. Maybe this is our war! Maybe this is our chance to shine!
Anyway, ELT can never bore you!
By Eftychis Kantarakis dip.RSA
This article was first published on my blog (ELT can never bore you!) on 11th May 2020