CPD where you’d least expect it

Ok, so the title’s just a little bit misleading because while there are certainly settings where engaging in CPD wouldn’t be likely, meeting up with an ESP instructor to talk about online courses isn’t one of them.

I spent this Saturday morning with a colleague who is planning to introduce a blended learning component into one of his regular (traditional) courses. His institution uses Moodle, so the idea was that I would show him how some of the resources and activities work in practice, as I’ve tested quite a few of them out in my course over the past couple of semesters.

It turned out that this instructor has some experience with Moodle, so we could skip the orientation details and dive straight in. He talked me through the activity types he was familiar with, like quizzes and an interesting activity I hadn’t used before as my course is entirely online: the attendance register. (I’d actually assumed this was a resource and not an activity, but the official site says otherwise.)

He then described the course he wanted to add online features to and we brainstormed a little on how this could be done in relatively undemanding fashion because of the time constraints involved. I showed him my course and some activity types I think work well, for instance, my favorite: the peer review (workshop). The idea of dividing students into groups and assigning a forum to each group also seemed to appeal, particularly the concept of the Q&A forum in which you can’t read earlier posts until you’ve added your own.

Throughout all this we talked about our courses and students, some common issues we’ve come up against and how we deal with them, and compared our specific teaching environments. I recommended the Learn Moodle MOOC, which I felt was tremendously useful for me when I was starting out and which they’ll be running again in June.

Later on in town I spotted some people toting bags bearing the logo of a well-known ELT materials publisher and I realized this was the day they’d held their traditional one-day event. I used to attend when I was at Octopus. And it occurred to me that they would get a certificate of attendance, while I had also spent a not inconsiderable amount of time doing CPD, only this doesn’t translate into any kind of formal recognition.

Please don’t get me wrong; I love talking about my course – if anyone knows this it’s the readers of this blog – and it’s fantastic to have an opportunity to do this with someone who is interested in online learning. I also found it very useful to talk about my day-to-day teaching issues with someone in real life – I don’t get many opportunities to do this as I work in an office now and my virtual staffroom (my online PLN) is basically my only source of ELT-related news and info. It’s inspiring, motivating, supportive and generally lovely, but even someone who is really into online stuff appreciates talking to people over coffee about things of relevance in their local context.

What I’m saying is that it would be great if these less formal/completely informal forms of CPD were also somehow recognized for what they are. I haven’t been doing CPD for the certificates for ages now, but still. I have no practical suggestions re how this could be done though, for example, in terms of defining how long this CPD session lasted or which topics were covered, and I know this is important for people quantifying CPD.

What do you think? Are there countries or organizations where CPD already is defined as something beyond what you can prove has taken place with a certificate? Or do you feel this is unnecessary and would say there is no need to describe my example as anything other than a chat with a colleague?

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How digitally competent are you?

 Oiluj Samall Zeid: Autofocus (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This might sound like a trick question but is in fact an attempt (probably lame) at a clickbaity title. It’s not entirely misleading though because this post is going to be about assessing a whole range of digital competences – before you tune out at the mention of ‘digital’ and think, “Oh God, not 21st-century skills again,” give it a chance because you might be interested in how you’d score. 😛

I’ve been teaching online – in an asynchronous environment, which I suspect is not the primary definition of ‘online’ that comes to mind for most of the ELT community – for the last 6 years. Given that over this time I’ve tried out a lot of online tools and consider myself reasonably edtech proficient, I was curious to see which level I’d be at if something like the CEFR for digital skills were ever devised.

Over the last couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the DigCompEdu framework, which basically works like the CEFR and will be easy to navigate for those familiar with the six-level (A2-C2) concept. This is what the European Commission website says (if you didn’t click through above):

The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (DigCompEdu) is a scientifically sound framework describing what it means for educators to be digitally competent. It provides a general reference frame to support the development of educator-specific digital competences in Europe. DigCompEdu is directed towards educators at all levels of education, from early childhood to higher and adult education, including general and vocational education and training, special needs education, and non-formal learning contexts. DigCompEdu details 22 competences organised in six Areas. The focus is not on technical skills. Rather, the framework aims to detail how digital technologies can be used to enhance and innovate education and training.

Apart from the random capitalization – why Areas? *groan* – I liked the idea. We used to use the CEFR a lot at Octopus, by which I mean that the school took part in piloting the ELP (the European Language Portfolio) – this was before my time – and for a time each student received their own copy and part of at least one class was dedicated to explaining how the ELP works and helping familiarize students with the concept of self-assessment (not widely known or trusted in Croatia 15 years ago, or possibly even now when it comes to trusting, but that’s another matter).

The six Areas, incidentally, for those who still haven’t clicked through are: professional engagement, digital resources, teaching and learning, assessment, empowering learners, and facilitating learners’ digital competence. 

Last week I used the self-assessment tool developed to accompany the DigCompEdu framework. Disclaimer: in a rush to get started I clicked on the first link available, whereas what I should have done was used the version developed for those in higher ed, which is my current context and which I had in mind as I was completing the assessment. This may have had an impact on my results.

What happens when you’re done assessing your skills in the six areas is you receive two pdf documents: one has the answers you picked and the other has your results and recommendations on how you could go from, say, A2 to B1 for each of the 22 competences. You’re asked at the beginning which level you’d place yourself at and then the same question comes up again at the end – before the results.

I confidently said I was at B2 before I started clicking away and then, in a sudden burst of what turned out to be delusion overconfidence, changed my mind to C1 before clicking submit.

As you can see above, my score places me at the higher end of B2 (okay, the higher end bit you can’t see but the range for B2 is 50-65). I scored best on professional engagement, teaching and learning and facilitating learners’ digital competence, and I think this is actually pretty fair and accurate. People at B2 go by the possibly presumptuous name of Expert, and while I very much hesitate to say that I am an expert in all things digital, I think I am quite comfortable with many things edtech related. People at C1 and especially C2 are what we – possibly sometimes with a degree of (misplaced?) irony – refer to as edtech gurus. They’re the people we’d ask for advice on edtech issues, who contribute to shaping the opinions of others… and I definitely don’t see myself as this type of person.

If you decide to do the self-assessment, I’d be interested in hearing what you think. Or even if you don’t, of course. 🙂

Looking back on 2018

I love year-in-review posts. They’re often a tad more personal than the usual ELT blog post in that they touch on areas of life outside of the classroom, which I always enjoy reading about. I’ve been following some folks’ blogs long enough to feel as if I know them in real life, so it’s great to read about their successes and challenges, and how they overcame/are dealing with the latter. Year-in-review posts can also be a useful reminder of things people have previously shared on their blogs or social media, but with the flood of news out there it’s often easy to overlook/forget bits of pertinent information.   

The idea for this post came from Sandy Millin’s blog, where you can also read which other posts inspired hers. I’ve adapted it a bit because a) it’s not December anymore, b) if I wrote about 31 points this would be completed in June, and c) I have nothing to say for some of the prompts, so I left them out.   

Your favorite activity from 2018

I haven’t taught offline much for quite a while now, so I’m going to go with an online activity which isn’t from 2018 but remains one of my favorites: the anonymous peer review. I wrote about how it’s set up in my course and which tweaks have been added over time in this post.

Most memorable story from 2018

This would have to be my visit to Athens in the spring. I hadn’t been to Greece before and it was great to have the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks there. One thing I’ll definitely remember the visit by is meeting one of my PLN in person – thanks for everything, Christina! Proof that the ELT world is indeed a small one is that in the brief time while I was in Athens the sixth BELTA Day took place and Christina was a presenter, so I was able to reminisce about the lovely BELTA people and previous BELTA Days without – hopefully – sounding too nostalgic.

the moment in 2018 you felt proud as a teacher

This isn’t classroom related but I’ve been adjuncting at the University of Zagreb since 2008, and a couple of years into this I was expected to qualify for the title of lecturer, which is the educational title lowest on the scale in the Croatian tertiary education system. Once you qualify, you hold this position for five years, after which you can go for re-election or try to move a step up the ladder. Last year I qualified for senior lecturer, which sounds grander than it is (especially if you’re still adjuncting – I expect I could soon be setting some kind of record), but was a bit of a proud moment nevertheless.

A new idea you implemented in 2018

The idea isn’t new but I finally got around to trying out badges. I’m still planning to create two more – for which I’ve more or less defined the criteria – by the end of the semester.

Your favorite teaching aid in 2018

A reliable board marker that doesn’t die on me halfway through the class.

The moment in 2018 when you felt proud of your student

There was definitely more than a single moment/student, but one that readily comes to mind is when a wonderful, very motivated and hardworking student – who recently graduated (or is almost there) – got a job at a place that inspires job satisfaction and looks good on their CV.

Your favorite teaching website in 2018

I don’t really have one. My favorite resource for everything teaching related is Twitter and I follow up on interesting info I come across by clicking through to whatever resources the person tweeting has linked to. These are, however, far more often blogs than websites like Edutopia or Teaching English. A quick look at some of my recent retweets suggests that I may have visited the EdSurge HigherEd website pretty often and I think this is explained by the fact that they cover topics of relevance both to my non-teaching (but still in the education sector) job and tertiary ed topics.

The person who inspired you in 2018

Some of my coworkers. I won’t single anyone out just in case someone from work ever reads this, primarily because many people there have been inspirational in a number of small (and not-so-small) ways and I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

Your greatest challenge in 2018

Overcoming impostor syndrome. Changing professions/working environments after such a long time did leave me with nagging doubts as to whether I was doing a good job, even if objectively I knew I was coping at least satisfactorily. Before I always used to be the one who had been doing that job forever when a new coworker came along and it was a challenge to be on the other side.  

Your strongest point as a teacher

Modesty dictates I say my students should be asked about this. But now I think about it, this really is a tough question. I’ve been teaching for 20 years so there are probably few things I’m hopeless at (apart from teaching YLs and teens, which I’ve never done). I hope I’m good at making students feel confident about their language skills. Let’s put it this way: I would be happy if that was how students felt.    

Your favorite teaching application in 2018

Definitely H5P, which I’ve written about here and here. I’m planning to try out more of their content types this year.  

The best CPD book you read in 2018

Readers of this blog know I occasionally do translations, so I think I’m justified in choosing this as a CPD book: Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything by David Bellos.

Your greatest frustration in 2018

Probably the fact that I wasn’t sure if my non-teaching contract was going to be extended, as a result of which I thought it would be prudent to hang on to any work I’d been doing previously. This included proofreading/language-editing/translation work and online teaching, so I worked almost every evening and weekend for the first half of the year. Luckily, the contract was eventually extended.

One thing you want non-teachers to understand

That it’s normal for teachers to be on the lookout for things that will make their job easier. People in other professions do this too. It’s great that there are teachers who enjoy being immersed in PD opportunities 24/7 and who will always take the more challenging route, but that works for them and shouldn’t be seen as the norm every teacher should necessarily aspire to.

Your most memorable teaching experiment in 2018

This has got to be the workshop on academic writing I delivered for my coworkers. I asked for my PLN for ideas and input in this post and would like to thank everyone once again: I thought the workshop turned out pretty well. There was some talk at the time that we might have more frequent sessions for those interested, and not only on academic writing but other aspects of language, but that hasn’t yet come to pass, primarily because I haven’t done anything about it. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not have the time and energy to do properly.

your personal success in 2018

I’m not sure if the “personal” is meant to stress that I see this as a success only I contributed to/brought about (as opposed to being part of a team), but I’m going to interpret it as also referring to team successes. I wrote about being involved in AMORES project here and here. The project ended three years ago but in 2018 articles describing project results were published in two books. It’s great to see the project living on!

One thing you plan to change in 2019

If I were the least bit confident that there was a chance of this actually happening, I’d say I’d do more exercise. 

Your greatest discovery in 2018

I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but you know the timer app on your phone? Oh, okay, I know, Google Keep. ILovePDF? Nope, nothing revolutionary.

Thank you for reading! I hope it’s not too late to wish you a great year ahead and please let me know if you’ve done a year-in-review post – I’d love to read it!