Ken Merwin, of Cambria, Wisconsin, originally posted
much of this statement on the TESLJB-L listserv, during
a discussion of different TEFL Certificate options. He
has graciously agreed to have his comments reprinted for
the readers of ESL MiniConference Online.
I wanted to touch on some of the issues surrounding distance learning;
issues of cost, accessibility, etc. Obviously, there are some negatives
in terms of a component such as supervised teaching, but one can also teach
at a distance and work to identify tools and resources that take
the place of what can be done in a face-to-face setting.
Distance learning isn't right for those learners who are not self-directed
and it takes proficiency with a computer and the Internet. But for motivated
learners who don't need a teacher looking over their shoulder it is a
very cost-effective way to take courses.
If one has a high-speed connection, the toys of videoconferencing,
etc., it's possible to almost replicate the face-to-face experience,
but I also think a darned good job can be done using good old list
servs, Web pages, some simple chat tools and e-mail; then, learners
can participate even with older PC's and slower connections.
It's hard to even find a small town library or school that doesn't
have some public access computers and this is what is being done in
developing countries, where people will do virtually anything to
learn, market crafts directly, etc.
This is a useful thread for those of us who are "newbies" and wanting
to receive the best training within the boundaries of finances, time
I took one very intensive course taught totally over the Internet
several years ago. I don't think I could have received more interaction
and support from any face-to-face course. Such a course was structured
so one could do the readings, interactions, etc., any time. We had no
chat requiring all to be present at some fixed schedule, although some
of us did chat online.
There is no doubt that a component of supervised teaching with students
who one would typically find in a TEFL class would be invaluable, but I
also see the continued trend of offering courses online. Again, the human
face-to-face interactions are somewhat lacking, but there are advantages
as well. One big advantage is being able to have students participate
who may lack access to a traditional four-walls type of school. My readings
and networking show that, even in many parts of Africa, more and more
people--learners--have Internet access via telecenters.
So, regardless of the type of teaching one does, there are likely to be
new venues, learner backgrounds, etc., that may not even be available
in the type of supervised teaching offered by Midwest Teacher Training
or similar programs.
The distance learning literature suggests that teaching over the
Internet requires a whole new approach to learning. Programs that
try to force it to conform to the traditional classroom are not as
good as those that provide a fit to the technology, how to select
students appropriate for this type of learning, how to engage
the learner in interactions, provide research/library resources,
technology support for everyone, etc.
Then, the question becomes one of transferring the skills learned
in teaching within the four-wall model to something totally online,
or even a combination of the two.
I believe that the theory elements of many disciplines can be offered
online, at less cost than a commute to Madison, Wisconsin, the parking
costs, meals away from home, etc. Then, offer a shorter on-campus
component for the supervised teaching.
So, virtually everything involves trade-offs. For someone who has
never stood in front of a class, regardless of the subject or mix
of students, a program that lacks any practice teaching clearly
would be a minimal program for them. But, for those with some
teaching experience, then I believe something on a fast-track format
could be just as valuable since they ought to be able to make some
transfers on their own to other subject/student mix/learning styles
types of situations.
2002 ESL MiniConference Online