Confessions of an Online Teacher

I’ve expressed in writing at least once before how I feel about the public ratings and comments used on so many interactive websites. My article for the Materials Writers Interest Section of TESOL argued that such feedback should be seen as a helpful tool and not a source of anxiety. I must confess, though, that a degree of anxiety is present each time I click on an Upload or Publish button. You put a bit of yourself in each piece of work, from a podcast to an interactive exercise, so it can be difficult to control your emotions when initially faced with feedback that’s more critical than appreciative.

One thing that takes some adjusting to when you create ELT materials online is that you cannot really judge your performance until it’s over and you begin to receive feedback from your audience. In contrast, traditional classroom teaching lets you observe and  judge while you’re sharing your materials. You can make adjustments and additions based on how the students are responding.

How do you know your lessons and choice of materials are successful? You obviously don’t have a sign over your door flashing a four- or five-star rating.  Do you judge by the students’ performance? Do you look for smiles? Do you ask for comments? Do you ever use a survey? Do you give more weight to student feedback or feedback from peers and supervisors?

Feel free share your ideas. I think it would be helpful to know the tools and the criteria others use to judge the quality of their lessons.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Irma says:

    Nice post, Jennifer. Let me tell you about the other end. There are a lot of publications I couldn’t care less about. With a few, I’d like to make suggestions for improvement. And sitting in front of the comment box, I literally writhe in agony, because no matter what I say, it sounds dreadful. Shooting my head off seems to be the only way to get it done. Write and hit the submit button without thinking much.
    I’ve thought about this myself. I think I’d like to design a short 3 point questionnaire for people to comment. Something like: what did you like best, what did you have trouble with, what could have made this easier for you?
    Probably a fill-in-the-blank type of thing, because visually the blanks create space for feedback, so people are conveyed openness on my part for feedback. I’ve yet to discover the technicalities for this idea.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      Yes, I think you’re on to something when you call attention to the open box and the open feedback. However, prompts for use of that space are helpful. When we do classroom observations, there are so many focused questions to judge a teacher’s performance, such as use of whiteboard, clarity of instructions, etc. On a site like YouTube, users now either give thumbs-up or thumbs-down. The white comment box gives no guidance in formulating feedback, so both praise and criticism can be non-specific and long-winded!

  2. David S says:

    Getting feedback from Ss about an extant lesson is invaluable to calibrate that lesson for future classes. I usually make an online survey and give it to the Ss with the promise of quickly and directly sending them their final grades upon the survey’s successful completion. I get over 90% response rate.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, David!

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