Part of the reason this blog slowed down last year was the Trinity Diploma course. Initially, I had expected the opposite effect as it was while doing my MA that I really got into blogging. Despite all the reading, study and assignments, I still found time to blog about my reflections from the course and how it applied to my everyday teaching.
But this was different... For reasons I'll get into later, it was more fast and furious something new always going on. That created a great buzz of ideas to apply in my lessons, which I did, and to blog about, which I didn't...
Digital Dips: Image via Pixabay.com: CC0 Public Domain
Anyway, as I discussed in a previous post, there were various reasons why I did an MA first and a Diploma later, the main one of which was the availability of online options at the time (2008) with the MA programmes streets ahead of the DELTA/Dip. However, fast forward six years and the two Ds were catching up, offering most of their programmes online with a compact face-to-face component.
So, for this post, I want to focus on the digital part of the Dip and also why I opted for OxfordTEFL. Being an OxfordTEFL Trinity Cert graduate (Barcelona, January 2000), this was my first port of call. I also checked out other courses (shout out to Marisa Constantinides and her very tempting DELTA course in Athens) but I was drawn in by the sense of familiarity and continuity it offered as well as the stellar cast of tutors (Ceri Jones, Lindsay Clandfield, Anthony Gaughan, Daniel Barber, and Nicola Medrum to name but a few).
There was also another reason for picking The Dip over the DELTA and that was the emphasis on pronunciation, something I had shunned previously and wanted to challenge myself to take a serious look at.
And so, in February last year, I logged into the OxfordTEFL Moodle for the first time hoping my so-slow-you'd-think-it-was-dial-up Gabonese internet connection wouldn't be an issue and I was off.
I said 'Moodle,' not... Nevermind... Image via Pixabay.com: CC0 Public Domain
It was obvious from the orientation week that this was a well-organised course. Almost everything we did was in the Moodle (with the exception of the technology unit, which encouraged use of some external sites) with all documents, videos and forums embedded. This was a great relief as I have seen many digital train wrecks of courses that have participants jumping about from one tool or app to the next with scant time to figure out what you're doing before it's time to switch again!
We also had weekly webinars to go into more depth on that week's topics and look at possible questions that might come up in the exam or points we would need to be aware of for the face-to-face assessed components. Each week finished off with an assignment, either a rationale when we were looking at teaching skills, a short essay when we were preparing for the exam, or a practical exercise for phonology.
The tutors changed each week with the topics (hence the extensive list of names given earlier) and we also had guest speakers in the shape of Nicky Hockly, and some fellow called Scott Thornbury also popped up. This had the advantage of a specialist voice taking the helm each week rather than one person trying to cover the entire syllabus content.
There was a small disadvantage, however, and that was the fast and furious pace I mentioned earlier. Each week a new topic and an assignment (voluntary, not assessed but worth spending the time on to do better further down the line) meant a constant cycle of work to do. We had rest weeks every so often and they were much needed!
The man behind the whole Oxford TEFL operation Duncan Foord was also a visible presence on the course, giving a webinar, popping up on YouTube videos and giving each participant one-to-one tutorials twice during the course.
We also had a great deal of individual support while working on the Unit 2 projects. After a couple of weeks spent examining what the projects were about and pitching initial ideas for our research, we pursued these away from the Moodle with a tutor offering feedback and support. Obviously, I can only give my point of view here but my tutor was a fantastic help and gave a lot of her time to discuss things on Skype and by mail, even when I piped up with questions and ideas after several weeks of silence. (Thank you Nicola!) Other course tutors also made themselves available to offer advice and informally take a look at my notes, which really was an appreciated gesture of going beyond the call of duty.
There were, naturally, a few things that could have gone better. One issue was that, as often happens in online courses, participation dropped off (or you could say 'dipped' :p ) as the course went on. I noticed this began around the time we started to look at the Unit 2 projects. With no webinars, discussions or assignments in those weeks, people may have lost the habit of logging on and making time to access the Moodle a few times a week.
Also, in terms of the course structure, I felt the teacher development unit could have been introduced earlier. Looking at the broader picture of the whole course and getting the most out of it as a professional development opportunity, this makes sense. Equipped with ideas about reflective practice, action research, and teacher training, candidates could then make more informed decisions about their project work and incorporating ideas from the course into their teaching.
But these are minor points. Overall, my experience on the online course was overwhelmingly positive. Saving the best until last, I was especially impressed with the effort and assistance put into the phonology modules. Before the course started, this was the assessed area I most concerned about but in the end it was the one I felt most comfortable about tackling. I went from a pronunciation skeptic who only did regular past simple verb endings to a teacher who was finding ways to slot pronunciation into every lesson. (Thank you Mark!)
Of course, I have not touched on the face-to-face part of the course yet nor advice for tackling each unit specifically but that is to come in the remainder of this block of ten. ;)