Role of instructor on a MOOC (Post 2)

From Maria Dolores Castrillo de Larreta-Azelain, “Chapter 5. Language Teaching in MOOCs: the Integral Role of the Instructor”. This chapter is also worth reading. Lots of very good advice.

Book available here:

I like this in the introduction:

MOOCs appeared quite disruptively in 2011 as a new model of online education evolving naturally from the learning based on the social network.

And then some agreement about what is in a MOOC:

These courses consist of brief bites of videotaped content, automated correction assessment and feedback questionnaires, peer assessment tasks, and tools for communication and collaborative work, such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis

But what does the Instructor do? I remember doing e-moderation courses where we went through Salmon’s Five Step Model (2003) – and I agree that makes sense in those types of courses. But does that work on a MOOC? I agree with Castrillo that a new model is required.

Teacher roles in a MOOC

So, the instructor has a much bigger role to play before the MOOC starts, and perhaps a smaller one during the running of the course?

Castrillo defines four ‘steps’ in the planning part of a MOOC:

1. Divide your course in meaningful units or modules, 1- or 2-week long. According to recent research, the optimal length of MOOCs lies between 6 and 12 weeks. Longer courses have lower engagement and completion rates.
2. Estimate the hours of study for each unit or module. It is preferable to overestimate the number of hours to avoid the feeling of frustration which an underestimate may cause to the student. The average of weekly hours of study in MOOCs lies between 4 and 8.
3. Set a mastery standard for each unit and, depending on that, discriminate among compulsory and optional learning targets by assigning explicitly distinct tasks. The student must be aware at all times of the compulsory or optional nature of each of the tasks.
4. Include a proposed timeline with the sequencing of contents. Past experience seems to advise making the different units or modules incrementally available, and keeping them open and accessible up to the end of the course. In this way, learning along the suggested scheduling is facilitated (‘guide on the side’) while flexibility is reinforced by allowing the student to enrol at a later time, to review
the contents, to delve into previous units, etc.

Our MOOC will be split into two, each of 4 weeks, so in total within the optimal length outlined above. Over-estimating the amount of hours needed (to avoid frustrating the student) is a good point. Also, having compulsory and optional activities is a good idea. And, allowing students to go back to earlier units also makes sense.

Re the short videos, I like this sentence:

The short videos resemble individualized tuition and allow students to control the delivery speed by stopping at certain passages, replaying others and reviewing contents.

And there needs to be:

a set of several questions and issues to be tackled by the student before, during and after
viewing the instructional videos.

Importance of both self and peer assessment.

Regarding peer assessment,

Some recent research suggests that the results of task revision by four peers would be just as appropriate as those provided by the revision conducted by a single instructor (Patchan, Charney, & Schunn, 2009 (pdf)).

Other points mentioned in the chapter – read it for more information – include:

Asynchronous and synchronous communication  tools. Be care about the design  – see How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it, 2013.

Chaos in the forums – I am still unsure how to prevent this.

New professional roles within MOOCs: curator and facilitator.

Language MOOCs. Providing Learning, Transcending Boundaries (Post 1)

Martín-Monje, Elena and Elena Bárcena (Eds.). 2015. Language MOOCs. Providing Learning, Transcending Boundaries. Berlin: De Gruyter Open.

Book available here:

Chapter 2 What Constitutes an Effective Language MOOC? by Maggie Sokolik

Maggie Sokolik, who has already had one successful MOOC (Principles of Written English on edX), has an early chapter in this online book. She is definitely worth paying attention to, and her concluding remarks in Chapter 2 are copied below:

Tips for a Successful LMOOC
To summarize the points made in this chapter, instructors and designers who are developing LMOOCs should consider the following suggestions:
1. Maximize engagement and interaction
Consider the ways in which students can participate on the MOOC platform. Students will be more engaged in using language if they can communicate among themselves. The focus of learning should be in interaction, and not just in absorbing course materials.
2. Facilitate, but do not manage, self-organized learning
Suggest ways that students might self-organize through social media or face-to face meetings when possible, but do not manage these groups. Students will, in fact, most likely organize these groups without instructor participation at all.
3. Create an instructor presence
Students need to know that there is a human instructor participating in the
LMOOC. Take time to comment on student discussions in the MOOC, make regular announcements, create a Facebook page or Twitter feed to support the class, etc.
4. Use video for engagement
Think about video as a source of authentic language materials, not just as a way to deliver a lecture. Use video as an opportunity for students to become engaged in culture as well as the language itself.
5. Define success
As you develop a Language MOOC, think about what success will mean in the course. Encourage students to think of their own goals, and how they will use the course to achieve them.
6. Match the goals of assessment with its form
As you think about the goals of the course, consider what type of assessment matches those goals. If the course focus is on writing, for example, then assessment types should evaluate writing in a meaningful way, such as through peer and self-assessment, rather than through multiple-choice questions.

All are very good advice, and something we need to try to incorporate in our MOOC.

Getting them to talk in English (when they don’t want to) – Penny Ur Webinar

Cambridge University Press ELT, Published on 22 Jan 2015

Getting learners to talk in English is one of the most difficult challenges facing the teacher. One of the major reasons for this is that speaking – unlike listening, reading and writing – can only normally take place directly in interaction with an audience, in real time: so if you express yourself badly, hesitate, make mistakes – such failings are immediately exposed to the listener(s). Many learners feel uncomfortable and stressed in such a situation, even within a supportive classroom, and often prefer to keep quiet or use their mother tongue.

In this webinar, Penny Ur, author of Discussions and More (, discusses these problems and suggests some practical ideas as to how we might get such reluctant students to speak in English and feel good about doing so.

Reasons why students do not talk

  • shyness
  • lack of confidence in English
  • afraid of making mistakes
  • losing face

Create situations where:

  • make sure everyone knows each other / is comfortable with one another
  • demands of the speaking task is not too difficult
  • vocabulary must not be too demanding
  • use language that they already know
  • students know they can do it – know they can succeed
  • achievable goal / clear and simple
  • short tasks
  • Give encouragement to students (but not effusive)
  • echo what students say
  • Don’t correct (during oral fluency)
  • Interesting and fun activity
  • opportunities for students to express their own ideas, opinions, experiences
  • game like challenges
  • visual materials
  • language play

Before you start:

(a) Set the stage

Introduction in L1? – explain why you are doing the activities – the importance of speaking practice

  • show awareness of the difficulty
  • explain that mistakes won’t be corrected by the teacher / each other
  • help each other

(b) teach some basic language

  • how do you say X in English
  • Sorry, what do you say / what do you mean?

Practical Activities

“Easing in”

  1. use standard vocabulary / grammar to move into oral fluency – rather than just matching vocabulary, you take out one column. Delete the prescribed choice of answers. Let students come up with their own answers; short and easy to complete structures. Opportunity for ‘modelling’ by the first responders; can be fun.
  2. oral fluency based on pre-learnt chunks – chants (rap) (jazz chants), performed in chorus, replicate the rhythm of normal speech; no possibility of making mistakes; shy students say them under the shelter of other students; dialogues – not the boring ones, but more adventurous, and then performed orally.
  3. oral fluency based on scaffolding – use a familiar pattern to construct variations – guessing games – yes/no questions / statements; conjecturing – no single right answer – doodles – draw on the board – what is it, or show a picture – guess about her; FSW
  4. oral fluency based on their own self-expression – no pre-set learnt text or scaffolding – reverse guessing – student stands with back to the board, rest of the class have to provide hints; picture dictations; say things about a picture – give each group two minutes;

Q&A (20 minutes at the end of the session were given over to questions, which I felt was a good idea)

  • Pair work – students just practising incorrect language? But, better to speak, and practice language, even if incorrect.
  • One to one class students who are reluctant to speak? Vocabulary brainstorming, conjecturing, can still be done in a 1to1 class.
  • Mix more confident and less confident, or match confidence levels? Perhaps mix, so that sometimes they are with similar ability, and sometimes with a different ability; try to so something in the middle.
  • Multiple L1s are easier to get speaking than mono-lingual classes?
  • Mixed ability classes – for example strong students who think the activity is too easy? Try to have activities which can adapt to the level of the student.
  • Avoid one student dominating? Speak frankly to the student; give that student the job as chairperson;
  • Error correction? Effective way of correcting errors? If students are more confident, can be stopped and corrected; even pause interaction – correct mistake – make sure it is corrected before fossilised; with less confident students try to avoid correcting.
  • Scripts acceptable? If use sometimes, but not all the time; provides a repertoire of chunks of language.
  • Let students know that they will be evaluated, or not let them know? Should tell them first. But, how are you evaluating them? What criteria?
  • Old but beginner learner, illiterate in mother tongue. How to help them learn chunks of vocabulary? Through repetition, but has to be interesting.
  • Use alternate words rather than as ‘what’s the word for’? But are valid and possible.
  • Role playing activities? She does not like it; much more challenging – speaking English and play a role; better to be themselves; role play for more advanced students.

Two links to activities from the book.


Penny Ur is pretty much a legend when it comes to learning how to teach EFL. I still have ‘Grammar Practice Activities: A Practical Guide for Teachers’ from 1988, and I think she was publishing well before that. This webinar is filled with common sense ideas; maybe experienced teachers will know most of them, but it is always good to be reminded.

University of Sheffield – How to Succeed at: Writing Applications (Week 2)

Week 2 is much better than week 1. More meaty. Still very much focused on the UK.
This week there are several videos:

  • Welcome to Week 2
  • Improve your digital footprint
  • Market yourself on Linkedin
  • Some final thoughts on CVs and covering letters

Lots of information on Writing a CV and an application letter, providing bad examples, annotated examples, and discussion forums. But it’s all about downloading and doing it yourself.

I suppose the problem is security, and not uploading something that can identify yourself.

UQx: Write101x English Grammar and Style – Week 4 – Nouns and pronouns

Week 4 – Nouns and pronouns

This was an easier week!

Four videos.

Some of the content of the videos is quite dense. I wonder whether it is better as a written text? You can see the presenters are reading a text. Would it work better as a Q&A?

The quizzes were fairly straightforward.

Discussions – seem quite random. This course really needs to signpost the discussions more – for example after each video or activity.

English for Doing Business in Asia – Speaking (Week 4, Task 1)

Copied from the course: (apologies)

Task 1 Instructions: 30-second pitch 

STEP 1 Read the following mini-case

Susan is a sales manager for the popular North American clothing brand, Youth. She will be travelling from the United States to Singapore to meet with the owners of a large retailer company with stores located throughout Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The goal of the meeting is to convince the owners to allocate a large portion of their shelves for Youth’s new summer collection, including men’s and women’s clothing. However, the owners of the retailer company are concerned that the Youth clothing designs will not be well received by their customers, who tend have conservative and traditional preferences in clothing styles. This is Susan’s first time working in Asia and she is more familiar with the North American clothing market.

STEP 2 Prepare a 30-second pitch for an idea/solution to the problem presented in the mini-case

To help you decide what content to include in your speech, answer the following questions:

    • What is your idea?
    • Who is your audience?
    • What do you most want the audience to remember about your idea?
    • How will your idea solve the problem?
    • What are the unique benefits of adopting your idea?
    • What are the final goals of your idea?
    • What do you need from the audience? (i.e. What is your purpose in making this speech?

To help you organize the speech, consider the following outline for a 30-second persuasive pitch:

STEP 3 Practice your pitch alone, with a family member or a friend

Pay attention to your topic development, word choice, pronunciation, and stress and pausing. To get an idea of what we are expecting from you check out the rubric for this task.

STEP 4 Record your 30-second pitch and submit the link to your recording for peer feedback

We recommend that you use SoundCloud to record and upload your files. Click here to watch the tutorial on how to record and share audio files with SoundCloud. Remember to choose PRIVATE in the settings of your file. (If SoundCloud does not work in your country, please use alternative free services.)

Before sharing the link, it is your responsibility to  check that the link works. To do that you need to copy the link from the Share screen. Then log out from SoundCloud and paste the link into your browser and play the audio. Another option would be to send the link to a friend or family member who can try to play the audio (they don’t need an account with SoundCloud). If the link does not work, your peers will not be able to assess your work and you will receive zero as your score, without exception.

Once you feel happy with your recording and you are sure that the link works, submit the link to the file in the section Your Response below. The submission is anonymous. Do not paste a written response (script), just the link to your audio file.

STEP 5 Give feedback to five pitches submitted by your peers

You will be randomly assigned five 30-second persuasive pitches produced by your peers. Before you begin to assess your peers’ responses, you’ll learn how to complete peer assessments by reviewing a pitch that instructors have already assessed. Listen to the pitches and then complete the feedback form by assigning a score to each category, providing constructive feedback in the comment box to help your peers improve their work.  Use the grading rubric to assist you with assigning the scores.

My comments

I wasn’t sure if this would work, but I completed it, and quite enjoyed listening to the other participants.

1. I used vocaroo rather than soundcloud. I do have a soundcloud account, but vocaroo is so much easier in terms of just click and record. The ones I had to mark all used soundcloud, but vocaroo had been mentioned as an alternative on the site.

2. Vocaroo has ads, and as soon as you click on the link it plays. So, not perfect, but there is no sign up.

3. We had 30 secs to do everything, and it had to be under 40 secs. It’s a lot to cover in the task. Two comments I got was that I was “too fast”. I agree – but is that a fault of the task. Again, instructions were a little vague.

4. Did I need to cover any of the content to actually do the task? We had to listen to one example before we could proceed to marking, but I felt examples (perhaps a parallel task?) would have made it clearer.

5. I am now more confident of what we can do in a job applications MOOC – interview responses.