Fight on!: Synchronous Learning

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On May 11, 2018, I graduated and earned my Masters of Arts in Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) from the University of Southern California. This was a very proud moment for me as I am the first in my family to earn a master’s degree (and a bachelor’s.)

When I decided that I would pursue a degree in TESOL, I had two choices; attend in-person or online. After much consideration, I chose the latter.

USC offers a unique experience for their online students with their synchronous learning component of their online programs. I remember a classmate saying that we were “spoiled” in our online experience. I agree.

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Often times people; colleagues, friends, parents would ask me: Are you going to be driving all the way down to LA?!”

As online students, we were able to have the on-campus experience in our homes. There were students who lived in various parts of the U.S. and the world including China and Laos during my time in the program and yet, we met weekly in real-time via Adobe Connect. Classes were 2 to 2 ½ hours and acted similar to a traditional classroom that included lectures and discussions. Because we were able to meet weekly, it was easy to build relationships with each other.

The TESOL program requires you to create lesson plans and teach lessons in a face-to-face classroom, and tutor students in an online platform too. A selected amount of lessons are to be filmed depending on the course. The great benefit to the program is that it does not require you to quit your full-time job nor are you required to student teach full-time.

The professors were wonderful. They each had something special to offer to the classroom with their experiences and background in the TESOL world. The support staff was amazing as well. Every student is assigned to a student support advisor and receive schedule coaching calls to help you navigate through your program.

The program did not come without stresses though. I will admit I was a terrible undergrad student! I’ve been in teacher mode for so many years that it was quite difficult to discipline myself to study and show up on time to class. But nevertheless, I am thankful for my online experience with USC. I do not think I would have the same (positive) experience anywhere else.

Now, I just need to consolidate this student debt…

 

The Synchronous World of Teaching

When I was a kid, I loved the Nickelodeon television show, Ken & Kel. Hey, 90’s kids! I remember watching an episode where they traveled to the year 3000. In the beginning of the episode, Kenan and Kel were late to school due to Kenan oversleeping. Kenan got dressed, and they both rushed to get to school… on the bedroom couch. With the click of the remote, their teacher appeared on the television screen ready to give them their alien biology test. 

Kenan and Kel attended an online synchronous classroom.

Synchronous Teaching

A synchronous classroom is a class attended in real time through an online platform such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, etc. Many ESL online companies such as VIPKid have their own platform that students log onto.

Synchronous classrooms can be one-on-one, small group, or whole classes. Lectures/ lessons are performed similarly as they are in a traditional classroom. However, instead of using a whiteboard or smartboard, it may be taught through a PowerPoint. In a synchronous classroom feedback is immediate, both verbally and sometimes through the chat box.

Many people are familiar with asynchronous classrooms. Asynchronous classrooms are not attended in real time. Class can be attended anytime, assignments are done independently, and communication is done anytime through an LMS – learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, etc.).

I think of synchronous learning as truly online whereas asynchronous learning is offline because there is not a specified time to attend a class lecture.

I have taught students online in their bed, at the kitchen table, at restaurants, and in moving cars. In the synchronous classroom, students can attend class anywhere and everywhere. There is a great freedom and convenience. It is an amazing feeling to connect to students who are 6,000 miles away from the other side of the Earth. I get to travel every weekend without stepping on a plane!

Synchronous teaching does have its limitations. There is that barrier, our computer screens. I do not get to greet my students every morning in the hallways or give them a big hug. Nor do I get to see them daily. However, we can still make those 25 minutes (or however long class is) feel as if it’s a full 6-7 hour school day.

Use props to enhance your synchronous classroom.
We both love pandas!

As teachers, we encourage our students to explore the world in the classroom using their senses. In a synchronous classroom, we must heighten their senses in creative ways such as using total physical response (TPR), chants/ singing, props, realia, images and other multimodal literacies. 

I think of teaching as a performance art. As soon as my camera turns on and my student enters my classroom, it’s Lights, Camera, Action!

How I Began Teaching Online

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I began teaching English as a second language online in September 2016. At the time, I was substitute teaching and tutoring face-to-face with a local company. Late one night, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a sponsored advertisement for VIPKid. Of course, my first thoughts were is this legit? Can I really teach children on the other side of the world on my computer? Will they hire someone who looks like me?

I did some research which consisted of watching teacher reviews and tips on YouTube. There were maybe, 5? Now, there are gazillion VIPKid teachers on YouTube! Shout out to Victoria Love, who solidified my decision to apply.

The whole hiring  process from submitting my resume, to logging onto their online platform to schedule my interview and demo (with an interviewee at VIPKid’s office in Beijing, China), watching numerous training videos, and teaching my first and only practicum (to an American living in Thailand) was a whirlwind!  It was not something I had experienced before. (VIPKid has reworked their hiring process many times since I was originally hired.)

Prior to teaching online, I was not too familiar with video conferencing with the exception of FaceTime and Skype. Since then, I’ve used  Zoom for VIPKid workshops and online tutoring as well as Adobe Connect for online courses.

Online teaching has a lot freedom. I love the flexibility- I create my own schedule. I am a night owl, so a lot of my teaching begins in the evening into the late night. (I’ve tried getting up for early mornings at 2 or 3 a.m., and oh no, that was not fun! East Coast teachers, you got it good!) I do not need to spend extra gas money to drive to another job and I do not have to adhere to a dress code. I just throw on an orange shirt and turn on my camera! You know, business on top and party on the bottom! Oh, hello, yoga pants.

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I hope this blog is a useful resource to you. My goal is to create content to help you become successful in your online teaching journey and to continuously have an updated database of online ESL teaching jobs that profile reputable companies. Teachers come from all walks of life. Maybe, you are a teacher from a brick and mortar school looking for supplemental income, or a recent college grad looking for work experience, maybe you are changing careers, whatever your story is, welcome.