Chris Farrell looks at what an educational institution needs to consider when moving into an online context. Chris refers to the respected accreditation criteria to highlight the key aspects in the day-to-day operation of an educational institution and how to maintain quality when moving to online learning.

There are lesson materials including a worksheet and teacher’s notes at the bottom of this article as well as a link to a webinar in which Chris discusses these ideas at length.

Introduction

For many years, there has been a steady increase in the number of teachers and classes going online. This online world has reduced the overhead costs for both the teacher and the learners, and made it easier to access a large amount of quality education. The process of moving online has helped to test and modify many online applications and now there is a huge range of digital tools available for the teacher in both synchronous (teacher and learners at the same time) and asynchronous (teacher and learners at different times) contexts.

Unfortunately, when teachers and classes moved online, they were often left isolated from the support structures of their educational institutions. Online contexts frequently don’t have a large number of key areas which are fundamental to the successful running of a physical language school. This article will look at what an educational institution needs to consider when completely moving the school online.

The considerations covered in this article have an origin in the accreditation process of the Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality Language Services (EAQUALS) and the Quality Assurance Framework of Aqueduto.

Considering our Practice

The core accreditation criteria mentioned above use categories which apply to a range of contexts and there are huge areas which are impacted very little by moving to an online context. For example, the area of management and administration, while needing some new tools for communication, will keep its basic structure.

Similarly, staff employment terms, internal communications, and external communications will all stay relatively similar with small adjustments where necessary.

When considering academic resources, it will be necessary to think differently about content but not about policy. Obviously, there are areas such as copyright and terms of use which change and need to be explained, but many academic publishers have online classroom content which makes this change relatively easy.

Finally, the policies and documentation for the staff profile and development will remain quite similar, with the necessary attention to extra requirements for staff training.

However, there are three key areas which need to be very carefully reviewed when taking a school online:

  1. Teaching and Learning
  2. Assessment and Certification
  3. Quality Assurance

It is also important to consider how to redefine practice in the learning environment, course design and support systems, client services, and safeguarding. 

Focusing on Teaching and Learning

The central focus of any successful language school should be on the quality of the teaching and learning process. In a face-to-face context, a larger number of schools have long had procedures for:

  • The creation and explanation of models of best practice
  • The observation and assessment of success in the lesson
  • The utilisation of appropriate resources in the learning process
  • The monitoring of the learning experience from a student’s perspective

However, in the move to online learning, the school will have to reconsider some of its main principles and practices. One of the biggest challenges in this process is the lack of experience in teaching in the online context within both the teaching staff and the management of many language institutions. This can make change difficult and slow. To help guide this change, a school needs an appropriate reflective process. In terms of teaching and learning, the managers need to ask and answer the following questions:

  • Does the move to online learning change the school’s core pedagogical principles in any way?
  • What is the most effective way of arranging the observation process?
  • What are the models of best practice for the observation process?
  • How does the teacher or the school monitor the learning journey and the student experience?
  • What type of teaching and learning resources do the teachers and the learners have access to?

Focusing on Assessment and Certification

There are a number of different types of assessment fundamental to both the student’s learning journey and the administration of a language institute. As well as centrally administered tests for placement, progress, level, and exit, there is also a need to create and use in-class tests to make sure learners successfully achieve each learning outcome. Each school has a policy and a procedure around testing. These are often based around the physical organisation and grading of the examinations and the communication of the results to learners.

However, in an online context, some of the central conditions which are seen as normal in a face-to-face context are removed, and there is a need to rethink how the school will ‘do’ assessment. The school needs to rethink:

  • Tools for administering placement tests
  • Considerations of validity and reliability of these tests
  • Efficient ways of assessing spoken and written production as part of the levelling process
  • Training teachers in the creation and delivery of in-class assessment
  • Record keeping to demonstrate learner progress
  • Clear lines of communication between the school and the learners in terms of progress and assessment

Focusing on Quality Assurance

The quality standards for educational institutes are often set and structured by the relevant accreditation bodies but must be maintained and monitored by the institution itself. More importantly, it is necessary to routinely adapt the levels of excellence to the context of the school so that the school can operate in the best interests of all of the key stakeholders. Also, the school must be sensitive to any changes in that context. While an institute may have several decades of delivering quality education in a face-to-face context, there will need to be a drastic rethink of what quality actually means in an online context.

There are a number of areas which can immediately transfer quality to the virtual world with little change to the standards achieved. The processes involved in marketing, communication with external clients, handbooks and curriculum documentation among others change very little online. However, areas like teaching and learning, assessment, and teacher training and development require considerable revision. The school needs to create a clear policy of best practice and an effective way to monitor whether or not best practice is achieved. Also, the school will have to look at the external support network for the teaching process, and possibly create clear written evidence of systems for reviewing the quality of course content, materials and delivery..

Focusing on Redefining Practice

The final area of consideration when moving a school online involves the redefining of practice across a number of areas. The key areas are the learning environment, course design and support systems, client services, and safeguarding. Schools which only operate in a face-to-face context will need to consider their practices in these areas and then adapt them to whatever online context they are moving into.

In terms of the learning environment, learners will need support with understanding how to learn online, but also with the ‘non-curricular’ environment, and the creation of collaborative online spaces which may naturally exist in the face-to-face context.

The courses the institution offers may have to be redesigned. Many institutions find they need to have both synchronous and asynchronous content to achieve and assess learning outcomes as effectively in both the face-to-face and virtual contexts.

Finally, client services and safeguarding in an online environment are potentially areas for which language institutes may need considerable redefining of practice.  It is essential to make sure the school has taken all measures appropriate to protect and support the learners and provide the teachers with appropriate training in these areas.

Conclusion

The first step that a language school must take when deciding to move into an online context is to involve all staff members and consider their practice in each core area. They then need to look at which areas will need relatively few changes and which areas will need considerable changes. There then must be input from the relative stakeholders on the area being considered and a ‘transition plan’ should be created. The school must identify the needs in each area and begin to explore the best way to use the necessary online tools in order to successfully become an online educational institute.

This process can be relatively challenging but it is worth considering that there are a number of online tools specifically created to help schools make this change. There is a growing world of online education applications and tools aimed at both the synchronous teaching space, and also asynchronous support for learners, as well as the successful installation of the complete school online.

Downloads

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