Online Learning: Effective Collaborative Tasks

EC English

EC has always aimed to be a leader in incorporating technology into the learning process, be it EC Online, Interactive Whiteboards, Microsoft Teams, live online English lessons or Virtual Reality. For us, it’s never just about the technology though. It’s about using the technology effectively to facilitate learning.

When we moved online due to COVID restrictions in March 2020, the question that drove us was not "how do we survive this?", it was "how do we ensure our students continue to progress as they did in the classroom?" and over the past 18 months, we have learnt a lot.

From the very beginning we were aware that zoom fatigue was going to be an issue for both our teachers and students. In a classroom, a teacher can change the energy or pace of a lesson by getting students to stand up, move seats, move room, go for a mini-excursion into the real world, mingle with other students or any number of other activities. But in the online classroom, a student is most likely seated in front of a computer screen for the entire lesson. It was this fatigue which led us to divide our lessons into two sections:

Synchronous lessons:

In these lessons our students were in an online class with their teachers and classmates, learning all of the language and skills they needed to achieve their learning goals.

Asynchronous Collaborative Tasks:

Students worked together with their peers on guided tasks set by their teachers, activating and consolidating the language and skills from their synchronous lessons.

Through reading, research and observation, we learnt a lot in those early months of 2020 and have continued to do so into 2021. Below are some key lessons we have learnt in the setting up of effective asynchronous collaborative tasks.

Lesson 1: Establish clear partners and guidance on how to chat

Online teaching and learning was not entirely new for many of us but for our learners it was a departure from what they knew and what they expected. Most were used to chatting online socially but doing so for educational purposes might not immediately feel natural. It is crucial to take our students’ feelings into account and make asynchronous learning as easy as possible. For this reason, our students are given clear guidance on who they should be working with, when they should be working with them and how they will know when they have completed their task.

Lesson 2: Collaborative tasks are not homework, they are an integral part of the lesson

Homework tends to take the form of language-based solo study. Asynchronous collaborative tasks should be another step in a cohesive lesson. It is important that they are more than just grammar or vocabulary exercises. They should include:

Reflection questions:
Our learners are given the tools they need to reflect on what they’ve learnt and how it is relevant for their lives. They are encouraged to consider and discuss what they have learnt and what else they need to know on this topic, skill or language point.

Practise of the language & skills:
After considering what has been learnt, our learners are given the opportunity to practise it in controlled tasks, helping each other to achieve their goal.

Guided Production tasks:
One of the advantages to learning online is the ability to create recordings quickly and easily. Having considered what they've learnt and then practised it, our learners can now produce a conversation which can then be sent to their teacher for feedback.

Lesson 3: Give clear success criteria for production tasks

One concern that learners might have with asynchronous collaborative tasks is that their teacher is not on hand to give feedback. How can their partners help them and give feedback? At EC, we have found that clear support and guidance is as important as teacher presence.

By providing clear success criteria, our students know exactly what to listen for in their partners’ production. Criteria are based on what’s been learnt in the lesson so it’s not new information but the criteria serve as a reminder of what to look for. An example of success criteria for a production task at a low level would be:

Task: Have a conversation with your partner about your plans for the weekend.

Success Criteria: A successful conversation will:

○ Begin with the present continuous (e.g. "what are you doing this weekend?")
○ Use "be going to" for plans
○ Use the natural pronunciation of "be going to"
○ Have natural replies (e.g. "oh that sounds nice")

The above ensures that our students can give each other effective feedback. It encourages autonomy as our learners personalize their learning by asking their partners to focus their feedback on a particular area they struggle with.

This also allows teachers to differentiate the lesson to meet individual students needs by encouraging students to personalize their success criteria to focus on their specific needs.

The above lessons have helped to shape our curriculum and our ongoing lessons on EC Virtual. Our student feedback reflects the success of this methodology.

"In post lesson tasks we can 'speak what we learn'"

"Post lesson tasks are a good opportunity to use phrases from the lesson"

"I love post lesson tasks because it really helps to practise the language and talk freely without the teacher"

"I really like the concept of post lesson tasks" 

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