I was looking at my record of completed courses on Coursera (sadly, it’s only three: Gamification, Fiction of Relationship and Art & Inquiry) and I was instantly motivated to go on a MOOC binge. I have a strategy now to help me deal with MOOCs.
Flick through ones that seem novel
Audit (in that first week of uni sense of the word) ones that sound interesting but not useful
Focus and complete ones that are tied to professional and personal goals.
Additionally, I have some time on my hands and hope to be able to use it for gloriously free and flexible self-improvement. Here are some MOOCs that I think might be relevant to educators.
How many MOOCs can you successfully stuff into your cognitive pocket?
You might wonder how these are relevant to educators but they are both excellent courses and I wasn’t able to follow through on them the last time I enrolled. In fact, just yesterday, I watched Professor Rabkin in Fantasy & Science Fiction give us a lesson on phonology with voiced stops et al because the Grimm Brothers were also phonologists and we explored how the glass slipper in Cinderella is a mistranslation of the French word ‘vair’ (also an arcane English word) which means squirrel fur and not ‘verre’ which means glass. Fascinating if you’re a language nerd like me. I also like the structure of the course. You read the book prescribed for the week e.g., Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, share a reflective essay for peer feedback and then video-lectures on the book are released. So you get expert confirmation on what you’ve read and the elements you’ve reflected on.
I’d originally planned to keep a daily journal here of my journey with the Delta. It was motivated by a naive optimism which died as quickly as the assignments and reading tasks that piled up on my desk. The DELTA or Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages is a practical qualification offered by the University of Cambridge to experienced teachers as an intermediate step between the CELTA and a Masters. From what I hear anecdotally, it appears to be valued more by employers than a Masters specifically for its teaching component. The Delta can also contribute towards the credit requirements of a Masters programme so many who’ve done the Delta go on to do a Masters in ELT, TESOL or education. I’m not going to talk about the what and how of the Delta because Sandy Milin, on her blog, does an excellent job of providing a comprehensive analysis and suggestions for all aspects of the programme. Instead, I’d like to share my experiences with the Delta and what I found of value and what I found an utter waste of time.
A bit of context
The Delta is a modular program with three very different modules. You are not compelled to take all three although it’s required to attain the full qualification. One of my peers on the program who interviewed with a British university during the course was told by his prospective employers that they were only interested in proof that he’d passed Module 2. The course can be done as a distance, intensive or blended program. Doing a distance module 2 is theoretically possible in India but not practically so because you need to find a local accredited tutor and arrange to have a Delta assessor fly down to observe your final assessed lesson. It is possible to do Modules 1 and 3 through the Distance Delta program run by International House and the British Council. There are some other institutions that offer distance versions of these modules – I know someone from Poona who I think did Module 3 from some place in Poland. She adopted a blended approach doing 1 and 3 as distance programs and doing a six-week intensive Module 2 with International House, Dubai. I chose to do all three modules in the intensive format with a language school in Bangkok. This made sense to me for reasons related to cost, time, proximity and a culture (Thailand) that’s broadly familiar to me.
The actual program lasts eight weeks although I had a week off in the middle for Songkran – Thai New Year. This turned out to be a blessing because I needed some time off and was able to catch up on reading for upcoming assignments. These eight weeks include teaching practice, tutorials and input specific to Module 2 as well as input sessions for Module 1 and 3. Module 1 is basically an exam and Module 3 is an extended 4500 word assignment. The intensive Delta is generally done in the run up to the two annual submission dates to Cambridge (first Wednesday of June and December). When I came back from Bangkok, I had about three and a half weeks to prepare for the Module 1 exam and write the extended assignment. I chose to do the Module 1 exam at the British Council Delhi although in hindsight it might been easier just to go back to Bangkok than grapple with with the BC’s fumbling customer support, in addition to Delhi’s disgusting 47 degree heat. I submitted my Module 3 assignment last night to my tutor in Bangkok who will upload it to Cambridge today.
Early in my career, I yearned to teach EFL – something I could never manage to do because I come attached to a non-native speaker tag and a third world passport. I have also taught very little General English; it’s mostly been Business English and ESP. Module 2 gave me the opportunity to teach a multicultural group general English in an EFL setting. We taught lessons every other day and I couldn’t have asked for a more motivated bunch of students. Many of the learners were refugees from West Africa, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, and Vietnam – fleeing religious and political persecution. Others were the wives of Japanese expats as well as local students. I’ll really cherish my time with these learners. The lessons were initially observed by a tutor and three of my peers. So, you can imagine the amount of detailed feedback I received on my teaching. Gradually, the tutor withdrew and only observed assessed lessons which are called LSAs. However, save the last week, my teaching practice partner observed all my lessons. This developmental feedback was my biggest takeaway from the Delta. The last time I received any kind of substantial feedback on my teaching was back at the Celta.
The proof, of course, is in the performance. After returning to Bombay, I taught two demo lessons at a local Celta batch that was running here. The difference was particularly palpable in the pre-intermediate class. I’ve never been particularly strong with lower-level learners because I have limited experience with them. But I was in my element this time around. I’ve also become far more effective at exploiting content to its fullest potential. I can now walk into a class with a text that’s no longer than 25 words and run an hour long engaging lesson around it. I also think I am better at getting students to notice language features and addressing emerging needs.
The Delta provides some exposure to relatively unfamiliar and unexplored areas of ELT such as English as a Lingua Franca, discourse, pragmatics and phonology (although phonology has always been an area of focus for me) but this is largely a matter of individual initiative. The topic of the LSAs are left up to you and a lot of my peers chose the easy, well-worn routes of lexis, grammar and speaking that they’re comfortable with. I think it’s far more stimulating to select an area you’re not familiar with although your reading load will increase. I investigated vowel sound distinctions from an ELF perspective, deixis in blog posts, pragmatic aspects of spoken discourse and critical reading. Sure, it was challenging but it compelled me to read books and authors like Jennifer Jenkins, David Crystal and Brian Paltridge, who I would have never ventured to explore. My knowledge of ELT terminology was fairly decent before but on account of all the reading and studying, it’s far deeper and I can use specialised lexicon to describe aspects of ELT such as testing and conversation analysis.
There’s a lot of work and you only have 8 weeks (thankfully I had 9) to do it all, well less in reality since the deadlines are spread over this time so you end up with just a weekend to write your background essay and plan your assessed lesson. Writing the essay wasn’t as time consuming as doing the amount of reading required to support it. I suppose this is where the Distance Delta wins out because you get more time although the fact that you’re probably working at the same time partly cancels out this advantage. In her post on tips for the Module 1 exam, Sandy Milin recommends not doing the Module 1 and Module 3 submission at the same time. I would disagree – I think it’s entirely possible albeit challenging to study for the exam and write the extended assignment simultaneously particularly if like me you are not working full-time. In our group of eight, one person had already taken the exam, and of the seven others, one opted to defer both module 1 and 3 and and another decided to do only the exam in June. So, five of us ended up submitting both.
Tutors are given considerable flexibility in what content they choose to cover and how they decide to approach it. There is an inherent risk in this because tutors may select content based on their own preferences. For example, both my tutors seemed uncomfortable with technology and one was dismissive of edtech. As a result, we barely discussed tech trends in ELT at all – if it came up all, it was because my peers and I suggested it as a solution to a problem we might have been discussing. Other approaches such as the use of corpora and concordances were discussed peripherally as if they were accessible only to publishers – quite perplexing at a time when a range of tools make it possible for individual educators to construct and analyse their own corpus. I’m not sure how much of this is specific to just this centre and this batch. I hadn’t seen an OHP in years and while I can see the merits of being skilled in running a tech-free classroom, it’s completely divorced from my usual teaching context which is filled with gizmos. Nonetheless, these are still superficial, manageable aspects of the course – I think what’s far more serious is how the Delta is somewhat out of step with the times. I feel that my usual cocktail of professional development of MOOCs, webinars, blogs, eltchat and Twitter is far more powerful, relevant and directly useful in my work than the sort of PD offered by the Delta. The Professional Development Assignment (PDA) is a slightly crude form of action research – it’s really just an extended reflection exercise and the way the whole thing is set up nudges you into reporting on very banal aspects of your teaching. The experimental practice is only experimental if you decide not to play it safe. The course allows you to choose approaches such as task based learning and test-teach-test and deem these experimental. Half of my peers did TBL when our regular coursebook – Cutting Edge – had a task-based lesson in each unit – hardly experimental. My tutorial group was a little bit more unconventional in selecting suggestopedia, silent way and NLP.
A lot of the input sessions resembled exam prep classes because time constraints and the volume of material that needs to be covered compel tutors to go through things rapidly in a lecture format. They tried to incorporate some discussions, tasks and activities but this was not consistent. I found some of these sessions very disengaging. This sentiment was shared across our group and was a regular subject for a bit of a whinge over coffee. The Module 1 exam is the least practical and purposeless component of the course. The exam attempts to evaluate your ability to assess issues underlying ELT materials but I think the ability to complete some of those tasks is no indicator of a person’s skill in selecting or developing materials. The ostensible aim is to encourage the candidate to read widely but I hear that most people simply try to mug up Thornbury’s A to Z of ELT and regurgitate it in some form in the exam. The last comment I want to make is about the type of essays you are required to write. I believe the Delta handbook refers to it as a hybrid genre where you bring your own perspective into an academic essay. But it is not an essay at all; it’s merely a research report with a rigid structure. From the examples I see on Academia.edu and those of my peers, the Delta criteria seems to reinforce ‘let’s just check the box’ variety of writing. My perspective is limited to the examples I read but it appears as if you don’t require much insight into a topic to pass the essay and mediocre writing seems to do the job just fine.
My experience with the Delta is based on my own background and the specific course and centre that I attended. I know there are many out there who have found the three modules to be of value. My own experience, as you can see, has been mixed. I believe the course has less to offer to those who read extensively, regularly invest in their PD and are on top of developments in the field. I have come away with some insights but fewer implementable ideas than I’d imagined.
More information on the Delta is available at Cambridge’s site and Sandy Milin’s blog is an excellent guide to the Delta. Her exam tips were particularly useful. A suggestion that I can’t underscore enough – work your way through the prescribed reading before you land up at Module 2. Make notes and select areas that you want to explore for your LSAs – it will ease up your stress levels enormously.