Marianna Leikomaa & Henri Annala
Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK), Finland
Collaborating with an international partner is often the best way to offer authentic learning experiences for students (Leikomaa & Annala, 2018), but what happens if the international partner is no longer able to continue offering joint courses? Two TAMK teachers encountered this problem with their on-line course English Speaking and Listening, when the partner the course had originally been created with could no longer continue participating and TAMK teachers still wished to offer the course in their curriculum. A new international partner had to be found, quickly, and they needed to be ready to start facilitating the course on quite a short notice.
Key words: international collaboration, language learning, online courses.
Finding new international partners on a short notice is often difficult. However, as can be expected, networking proved to be the key. The previous Language Teaching Tomorrow international weeks, as well as smaller individual international weeks, have provided TAMK teachers with a fairly extensive network of English teachers around the world. When a new teacher for the course had to be found for the first time, it took some time and effort, but when there was a need for the fourth new international partner, the TAMK teachers heard from more than 15 interested parties.
Instructions and materials
On-line courses are often, by nature, quite easily reusable. Once the structure and materials have been created, it is fairly easy to create another implementation in an on-line learning platform. This does mean the structure needs to be extremely clear and intuitive, but having a clear structure in the first place also benefits the students taking part in the course (Leikomaa & Annala, 2018).
In the case of English Speaking and Listening, the course was divided into three clear and individual units, each of which dealt with a distinct topic (listening, speaking, multi-cultural interaction), and each of which was facilitated by a different teacher. The front page of the course had a brief outline of the entire course, complete with a schedule, what tasks were included in which unit, and how much time each task would, approximately, require from the students. This made it much easier for a new teacher to gain an overview on the topics and the progress of the course (Annala & Leikomaa, 2017).
As each teacher was in charge of facilitating a single unit of the course, the workload was divided more or less evenly from the beginning. Whenever a new teacher joined the course, they would get the third unit to facilitate, as that enabled them to observe how the course functioned for six weeks before starting to facilitate their own unit.
However, when the course contains plenty of interaction with the instructors and students, reusing a course becomes harder. One of the ways to handle this problem was to create a shared Google Drive folder, shared with all the teachers of the course. The folder contained template messages for initial course instructions to be e-mailed to the students, discussion thread beginnings, and even template feedback options. Instead of having to think about how to phrase a start of a discussion, the teachers could easily copy existing instructions and modify them to suit the current situation. Having all the templates available for all the teachers all the time also enabled consistent communication with the students, and all teachers knew how the students had already been instructed previously. In addition to being very time-saving, this method of working also increased the transparency between both the course teachers and the teachers and the students, which has proven to be important in the past implementations of the course and according to research in the field (e.g. Dalsgaard & Paulsen, 2009, Fisher et al., 2016).
Another benefit of a shared folder was the ability to include all the student evaluations in one place. Each teacher filled in a shared Google sheet with the student grades and in the end, the grade point average was calculated. However, special attention needed to be paid to, again, transparency, because the grading scales used by TAMK and the partner university were different, and, in addition, Eliademy (the learning management system used) had a third, also different, scale. Therefore, both the teachers and the students really needed to be on the same page on how each task is assessed. The feedback the students received was also stored in Google Drive, so that all the teachers could see the whole progress of each student and were able to communicate it to the students as well when needed.
The on-line course in question has now been taught with five different international partner teachers from four different countries. In each case, an initial Google Hangout meeting has proven to be beneficial for the teachers to get to know each other and talk about the course collaboration on a practical level, but afterwards all communication has taken place through Google Drive, e-mail, and a few occasional video meetings. There has not been any need for travelling.
Once a significant amount of work has been invested into creating an online course with its materials and tasks, it is good to have viable options for offering it in the future as well, even when teachers and schedules change. The topic and contents of the course are well-suited for most university level degree programmes, which also facilitated finding new partners.
Annala, Henri & Leikomaa, Marianna. 2017. Creating an On-line Course with a Foreign Partner. TAMK-konferenssi – TAMK Conference 2017. Tampere: Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Retrieved at: http://julkaisut.tamk.fi/PDF-tiedostot-web/Muut/TAMK-Conference2017.pdf
Dalsgaard, Christian & Paulsen, Morten. 2009. Transparency in Cooperative Online Education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Volume 10, number 3. Retrieved at: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/download/671/1301
Fisher, Kirsten; Kouyoumdjian, Claudia; Roy, Bidhan; Talavera-Bustillos, Valerie & Willard, Michael. 2016. Building a Culture of Transparency. Peer Review. Winter/Spring 2016, volume 18, number 1/2. Retrieved at: https://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring/Fisher
Leikomaa, Marianna & Annala, Henri. 2018. English Speaking & Listening – International On-line Course & Student Experience. TAMK-konferenssi – TAMK Conference 2018. Tampere: Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Retrieved at: http://julkaisut.tamk.fi/PDF-tiedostot-web/Muut/TAMK-konferenssi2018.pdf