19 upcoming MOOCs for educators

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may have dwindled to a trickle over the Christmas-New Year period but they’re back with a vengeance. Here are 19 courses that are relevant to educators and ELT professionals. All 19 are free and many offer a signature track with a verified certificate for a fee that’s usually less than $50. Several of these courses started last week but I reckon it’s not too late to join.



1. English for teaching purposes | Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona – Coursera | Starts February 2 – 4 weeks

2. Introduction to Communication Science | University of Amsterdam – Coursera | February 4 – 7 weeks

3. Shaping the Way We Teach English, 2: Paths to Success in ELT | Univ. of Oregon – Coursera | Starts February 9 – 5 weeks (This is part 2 of the course they ran in January and has a different syllabus)


What is character? Virtue ethics in education | Univ. of Birmingham – FutureLearn | Starts January 19 – 2 weeks

5. Personalized and student centred learning | ISTE – Canvas | February 9 – 5 weeks

6. .Foundations of Teaching for Learning 6: Introduction to Student Assessment | Commonwealth Education Trust – Coursera | Starts January 26 – 6 weeks

7. Foundations of Teaching for Learning 4: Curriculum |  Commonwealth Education Trust – Coursera | Starts February 23 – 7 weeks

8. Reflective Practice for Adult Educators | Inst. for Adult Learning – Canvas | Starts February 23 – 5 weeks


9. Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 Tools | Univ. of Houston System – Coursera | Starts Feb 1 – 5 weeks

10. Emerging Trends & Technologies in the Virtual K-12 Classroom | Univ. of California Irvine – Coursera | Starts Feb 23 – 5 weeks

Elearning & Instructional design 

11. e-Learning Ecologies | Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Coursera | Starts January 26 – 8 weeks

12. Becoming a blended learning designer | UCF – Canvas | Starts February 23 – 12 weeks

13. Minecraft for Educators | Canvas | Starts January 26 – 6 weeks

Leadership & Behavioural

14. Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence | Case Western Preserve Univ. – Coursera | Starts February 2 –  8 weeks

15. Better Leader, Richer Life | Wharton, Univ. of Pennsylvania – Coursera | Starts February 8 – 10 weeks

16. Positive Psychology | Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – Coursera | Starts February 9 – 6 weeks

17. Ignite Your Everyday Creativity | State Univ. of New York – Coursera | Starts February 16 – 6 weeks

For our learners

18. Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade (Fundamental English Writing) | Mt. San Jacinto College – Coursera | Starts January 30 – 5 weeks

19. Academic integrity – values, skills & actions | Univ. of Auckland – FutureLearn | Starts Feb 2 – 4 weeks

I hope to meet you virtually in some of these courses. Happy learning! 


Image attribution: Flickr | Danger Men Working Online by Cory Doctorow (yup the famous SF writer) | CC by SA 2.0

Two tips on ‘psychological preparation’ from Adrian Doff

Last night’s webinar ‘More than just speaking’ by the venerable Adrian Doff covered a lot of familiar territory – natural speech, interactional strategies etc. He categorized these concepts under language preparation. However, towards the end of his talk, he shared a couple of tips he termed ‘psychological preparation’ i.e., allowing Ss an opportunity to prepare their thoughts and giving them thinking time before they start speaking with a partner or in a group. I suspect most of us get our Ss to make notes before they start talking but I thought Doff’s tips provide an interesting variation.

Tip 1

Give Ss a question to mull over like this one on privacy. However, instead of getting them to write notes – ask them to rate their perspective on a Likert scale. Allow them time to think about their selection before sharing their opinions with a partner.

Adrian Doff speaking


Tip 2

When using a picture prompt to facilitate speaking, allow time to individually reflect on the picture. Display or distribute the image. Then ask a series of questions to get the cognitive juices flowing (no responses necessary at this stage).

  • Take a look at this house, where is it?
  • Why is it in this place?
  • What is it used for?
  • Does someone live there?
  • You go up into the house, what do you see?
  • What sort of atmosphere does the house have?
  • Are there people? What are they doing?
  • Is it a beautiful house? Or is it not a nice place to live?

Then turn to the person next to you and share.

Adrian doff speaking 2

The bottom line according to Doff is that having thought about it, Ss are more likely to have something to say. I concur.

Image attribution: Both these images are sourced from Cambridge ELT’s (@CambridgeUPELT) Twitterfeed.

Leo Selivan’s webinar on Quizlet | A quick summary

Leo Selivan

Leo Selivan is famous among ELT PLNs for advocating the lexical approach through his insightful and aptly named blog – Leoxicon. His webinar from IATEFL last night was on using Quizlet, an online study tool that uses flashcards and associated activities to review content. I have used Quizlet before to study for the Delta Module 1 exam and the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, a Chinese proficiency exam, but I’ve never used it for my learners.

quizlet 1Leo’s talk was essentially on using Quizlet to generate lexical practice exercises like this on words that collocate with ‘look’.  He suggested that lexical notebooks and flashcards which we encourage learners to maintain have many disadvantages including a lack of organization, teacher and student notes not being in sync, and not providing active recall and practice. Leo goes on to quote some research as the rationale for using Quizlet.

Incidental learning is not sufficient. Both contextualized and contextualized practice are needed. Treating vocabulary as an object of study rather than tools for communication is effective as a teaching method.

Laufer, B. (2005). Focus on form in second language learning. EUROSLA Yearbook, 5, 223-250

He goes on to cite that teachers/learners need

frequent encounters with new items.

breadth of vocabulary as well as depth of vocabulary

focus on the word form (e.g., adopt – adapt)

exploit L1 when advantageous

engagement with new items (attention, manipulation, time spent, being tested)

Schmitt, N. (2008). Instructed second language vocabulary learning. Language Teaching Research, 12(3), 329-363

Quizlet offers the following types of activities which go from receptive to somewhat productive, and easy to challenging.

  • Scatter – matching
  • Speller – type in words as they are spoken
  • Learn – type in words
  • Space race – type in words as definitions fly across the screen
  • Test – generates a graded quiz (open-ended, MCQ, T/F)

The workhorse of the Quizlet system is the flashcard. Interestingly, Leo avoids providing definitions on the flashcards, instead providing co-text.

Side 1: The video for Gangnam style went v_______l.

Side 2: Viral


Side 1: Why did you buy so many?  – They were _____ special offer.

Side 2: On

He explains the reason for this using conventional approaches to familiarizing Ss with a word. For example, which of the following definitions is better?

a willingness to accept an obligation and be accountable or an action or a situation.

blame for something that has happened

if you say that something that’s happened is your mistake, you take ________ for it.

Leo discourages using Dictionary.com which he says is inappropriate for learners, instead recommending Macmillan and Cambridge Dictionaries Online. The first of these definitions is in fact from Dictionary.com and would really not make much sense to learners. The other way we define words for learners is through synonyms. This too could be fallacy because for instance happen and occur are synonyms and yet cannot be interchangeably used in many situations. Similarly, vast’s synonyms, enormous and immense, may also end up being unfamiliar to learners.

There are nine different aspects of knowing a word:

Form: spoken, written, word parts

Meaning: form-concept, concept & referents, associations

Use: collocations, grammatical pattern, constraints on use

Nation, P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. CUP.

Course books tend to focus on the form-meaning link and teachers tend to focus mostly on meaning (70% of classroom vocab teaching segments).

much of what has passed for vocabulary teaching […] addresses only the tip of the lexical iceberg

David Singleton in Exploring the second language mental lexicon. CUP. 1999. p.227

I think I have gone a bit overboard with this summary 🙂 but hopefully you get Leo’s point about why teaching vocabulary as we normally do could be problematic. So, how does Quizlet fit into all of this? Leo suggests some tweaks to definition-based exercises which emphasize co-text (not context!), which is essential for successful vocabulary learning.

Here are his suggested alternatives. In some cases, it wasn’t clear which Quizlet feature he used to create the exercise. With some of them, it might be a good idea to explore his sets to see how he has created these exercises.

1. Example sentence + (definition)


It’s a bit out of town but it’s a popular ______ for wedding receptions.

(the place where an event is held)

2. Collocations (+ definition) 

_________ with a doctor

make an __________ with

I had to cancel my ___________

(formal meeting)

3. Collocations flashcards 

right/wrong… / find an … to his question / give an …

4. Collocation chains (I think this one’s done with scatter)

dish                                   traditional… /vegetarian … /side … /my favourite

5. Collocations scatter 

quizlet 2

6. Collocations – learn mode 

quizlet 3


7. Prepositions – scatter 

I’ve got a really bad cough. I’ve had it _______ days.                                                for

8. Phrase + translation 

all over the world                                                                              partout dans le monde

9. Phrase in a conversation

“———————–?” “Fine, thanks.”                                         How’s it going

(How are you? How are things?)

10 First letter clue 

They conducted a t__________ i__________ but they couldn’t find the cause of the fire.

11. First letter, last letter 

Armstrong was b_______d from cycling for life.

12. Enhanced input

I’ve ______ for a job.                                                                        applied

I ________ to three universities and was accepted by two.

Useful links:

Image attribution: Flickr | TTed SIG PCE Leo Selivan … by Mike H | CC by NC 2.0)

Lesson aims & business outcomes

Lesson aims and objectives

I recently saw this lesson aim in a Business English lesson plan that someone had created for a demo lesson as part of an interview.

To clarify the use of the past perfect in written business communication.

It identifies the target language and the use of the verb ‘clarify’ suggests that the Ss may be familiar with this form but are perhaps using it inaccurately. It also identifies the context for the language use. A fairly well-articulated aim, right? Well maybe in the world of ELT but not in business. After all, who are the consumers of lesson aims in corporate and business training? Sponsors, managers, HR folks and training heads. And what do the aims written in this way mean to them? Absolutely nothing.

Here are some aims from lessons plans that have come out of the business and ESP section of Onestopenglish, a couple are in fact by big names like Adrian Doff. If you were a delivery manager in a software company or an operations manager in a manufacturing firm  or an HR person in a consulting organization, what would these aims mean to you?

Rate the lesson aims on a scale between 1 to 5 where 5 describes a business performance outcome and 1 essentially describes what the teacher will cover or what Ss will learn in the lesson. But, rate them not as a teacher/trainer but a business sponsor.

A. To review important elements of good business writing in English, especially for letters and emails

B. Match a selection of functional questions and responses

C. To produce a description of the production process or the part of the production process they are responsible for or familiar with.

D. To use common expressions for talking about problems and difficulties.

E. Reviewing and extending positive adjectives, giving and receiving compliments.

F. Help medical students to write a case report.

G. To practise and expand vocabulary and phrases associated with fundamental market concepts
and activities.

H. To practise polite language used when taking customer orders

I. To talk about scope for doing things.

You probably feel that these are relatively better than that initial past perfect one. I’m afraid most of them are in fact meaningless to business managers. The two that are somewhat better and would probably get a 4 are F and H. Both talk about things the Ss will do on the job. On the other hand, E is clearly a 1. Even aims that seem ostensibly businessy may in fact not strike a chord with managers such as A and G because they don’t define business performance outcomes or what the employee will do back on the job with this newly honed skill.  You may have assigned C a score of 4 or 5 but this aim, albeit extremely job specific, does not describe the context and criteria under which the employee might do this and therefore is not a business outcome.

My perspective on this comes from many years of working closely with corporate entities on language training. Most organizations use some sort of competency framework to manage learning, drive performance, and ensure role readiness. The workhorse of competency frameworks is the performance outcome that describes what people do or should do back on the job. When sponsors are reviewing course outlines and design documents, they are always trying to fit the aims and objectives they read back into their existing competency frameworks.

I’ve actually taught a course along the lines of lesson aim C. It was for assembly plant workers at a pharmaceutical company and one of the situations they needed to speak in English was with USFDA auditors who would ask them general questions about their work before specific ones about SOPs that needed to be followed. Here’s a simple lesson aim that speaks directly to the managers of these assembly plant workers who worry about their employees fumbling when interrogated by these auditors.

Describe the drug manufacturing process they are responsible for with minimal hesitation to USFDA auditors during a formal plant review.

When the whole point of Business English or ESP  in corporate settings is addressing performance gaps, we can’t keep churning out lesson aims that make sense only to us. Moreover, articulating aims as business outcomes makes business sense as well . When program sponsors see clearly defined business performance outcomes, they are more likely to be receptive to the solution you’ve designed. I know it’s difficult to let go off the ingrained language and style of lesson aims that we are conditioned to write as a result of teacher-training courses but in the context of business, it’s something that’s well worth doing.

Image attribution: Darts by Richard Matthews  | CC by 2.0 

9 Upcoming webinars for educators

Upcoming webinars for the next month or so. My money’s on Leo Selivan’s talk next weekend. He never disappoints. John Hughes, of critical thinking in ELT fame, will also be very interesting.

1. Picture This – Fiona Mauchline – Sundays with BELTA | January 18, 2015, 1600 CET

2. Quizlet: more than just flashcards – Leo Selivan –  IATEFL | January 24, 2015, 1500 GMT

3. Coming of age as a teacher – Anna Parisi – OUP | January 27 & 28, 2015, 1000 & 1530 GMT

4. Teacher talk in one-to-one business English training – Gareth Humphrey – BeSIG | February 1, 2015, 1500 GMT

5. Assessing Languages for Specific Purposes and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – Professor Tony Green – ESPSIG | February 7, 2015, 1500 GMT

6. Lesson flipping and creating video presentations – Thomas Healy – OUP | February 17 & 19, 2015, 1300 & 1200 GMT

7. Challenging students to think critically – Edmund Dudley – OUP | February 17 & 19, 2015, 1400 & 1600 GMT

8. The power of pronunciation in business – John Hughes – OUP | February 20, 1000 & 1500 GMT

9. Get Them Speaking & Learning with Digital Icebreakers – Shelly Terrell – IATEFL | February 28, 2015, 1500 GM

Plus some more! 

10. Getting them to talk in English (when they don’t want to) – Penny Ur – Cambridge | January 20, 2015, 2030 IST

11. Global Webinar – Shelly Terrell & Jason Levine – iTDi | January 25, 2015, 1200 GMT

12. Build the ELL brain – Scientific Learning | January 26, 2015, 4 PM EST

13. More than just speaking: developing speaking skills – Cambridge | January 27, 2015

14.  Discovering video: the role of visual stimulus in the secondary classroom – Ben Goldstein | February 3, 2015

15. Flip, Blend and Project: Technology for language teachers – Russell Stannard | February 15, 2015, 0900 GMT

16. Are your students playing or learning? Both! – Vicky Loras | January 30, 2015, 1800 UTC

Happy learning!

Image source: Boston Terrier Dating Online by Don Hankins licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Karen Eini’s BeSIG workshop | A quick summary

Karen EiniYesterday’s BeSIG weekend workshop was facilitated by a teacher from Israel named Karen Eini and was titled “Breaking out of your tech comfort zone”. Although a lot of the territory Karen traversed, would have been familiar to people who follow edtech trends, she was quite the “enthu cutlet” as we often say in Indian English and the session was very engaging.

Here’s a quick round-up of some of the links, tools & resources that I found interesting:

  1. Practice prepositions of time and place using Ss’ own personal fitness apps such as their Crossfit training schedule instead of the traditional Jill Hadfield style weekly schedule cut-ups.
  2. Use QR codes to capture and review vocabulary from a lesson by using the plain text option (check the screenshot)
  3. Get Ss to use their smartphones to record vocabulary in context to listen to later.
  4. Use Speech Analyzer from SIL for visualising and practising pronunciation (credit to Jennie Wright)
  5. Use Movenote – an instant video messaging service which allows side by side interfacing with documents such as PowerPoint presentations and integration into Google.
  6. Create a group space for your class for hosting content, resources and other stuff using Wiggio.
  7. Take shareable minutes of the meeting with Minutes.io
  8. Incorporate game based learning into your lessons with Kahoot.
  9. Collect and review vocabulary online with Lingua.ly

QR code

Whatsapped surveys | A structured sharing activity

Everyone and their uncle seem to be on Whatsapp these days and I’ve been attempting to use it for activities.  One of the advantages of Whatsapp is that it sends and loads images really quickly, even on networks with poor connectivity. Here’s a warmer/speaking activity using images shared on Whatsapp.

HBR survey


You will need survey results like this one from the Harvard Business Review. Your Ss will need smartphones. Onscreen timer.


You will need to take a picture of survey results with your phone. I prefer to use the Harvard Business Review’s HBR Survey which is a regular feature in their print edition but you could use any survey from a newspaper or magazine. You’ll need to have created a Whataspp group for your class. But, you might not have to because I find Ss usually create their own groups so could just send the image to one person and have them share it with the Whatsapp group.


  • Share the image of the survey results in the class Whatsapp group.
  • Pre-teach any blocking words (or don’t depending on which school of thought you belong to).
  • Ask Ss to individually make predictions about the results for the same parameters in their own class e.g., what percentage of their peers would strongly agree with the statement “I would prefer to be told bluntly if I’ve done poor work”.  Ask them to record these predictions in their notebooks.
  • Bring up the onscreen timer and set the countdown timer based on how many Ss you have.
  • Ask Ss to poll their peers and find out their response to this survey question. Have them record these responses as a tally under agree, disagree etc.
  • If someone says “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree”, they should find out why.
  • Call time and divide Ss into small groups. Ask them to analyse the results and discuss the reasons shared by their peers.
  • Debrief the activity by eliciting reasons for differing responses. Draw out the cultural dimension and how it might affect the way people would want to receive feedback and criticism.