As a Professor in the Department of English Langauge and Communication, I could define my job as one of teaching students. I don’t. I consider it an impossible task to teach students a language in the context of the university classroom. (I can post the numbers showing this if anyone is interested.) Thus, a move to restructure the class, which means a restructuring of the interaction, and as we get more meta, a restructuring of the way I think about my job.

I facilitate student discovery of new tools to develop thinking and learning with the goal to use new languages to get things done. (OK, that last part still needs work…)

One of the toolboxes I use to develop those meta-skills is online activities. Where the most reliably researched correlation to language development is time using the language (time-on-task, if we only consider classroom activity), online allows (forces?) the students to spend more time, at different times, and keep the interval between exposure to the material short enough so that skills don’t get ossified between weekly classes.

Developing courses to include an online component is a process that can be like entering a pool. You walk down the stairs, and hold your breath as the cold water reaches your crotch, or you jump in and surface sputtering from the shock, but completely immersed. Over the last 10 years, I have followed the first method, gradually adding more and more online components to my class. At this point, students are accessing the online component both inside the classroom and between classes. The crotch moment came when I required students to bring laptops to class. That was after getting wifi set up on campus. Now the only pain comes when a student complains about how heavy her laptop is. Otherwise, we are immersed.

But developing a course for this environment has been a long and arduous process, one that has left students cold about the technical side of the classroom (why can’t we just talk in class?), and others where it has lead to very high student evaluations (see for products of these classes.) They key for my students in Japan is to leverage the strenghts of online learning (infinite patience, intermediary in the communication, recursive support) while maintaining the excitement and fun in the classroom setting (I get to talk to that cute student in my new small group). The other key is making the online component a lynchpin to success in class. The students must NEED to access the information online to be successful in the classroom.

This is the paradigm I am working within.

This balancing of activities needs a structure, a grammar. Much like on a more granular (specific) level hypertext needs a grammar (when and how much to link), classes need a natural way to transition to and from F2F and online interaction.

In my #PotCert Class I rated myself a “9” with lower scores indicating more student autonomy in the learning process. There were a couple of times I would have liked to rank myself with a lower score (more student autonomy), but felt it just wasn’t realistic. I also think that like the process of language learning in the classroom you take a chunk of language (or knowledge) and work with it, initially with a lot of control, gradually realeasing control to the students. So like wheels within wheels, the students learn to deal with a small chunk by themselves, and then also learn how to deal with any new language (knowledge) they encounter by applying a structure they learn in class, on their own.

The online environment is a sandbox for language learners, one they can play in. When the want to want to wash off the sand, they can either gradually walk into the water, or dive in all at once.