Developing a training toolkit to support teachers of modern foreign languages

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Nola Marshall, Curriculum Manager Languages, Adult Community Learning Essex, has produced, as temporary project manager of a small team, a training toolkit to support teachers of modern foreign languages to develop blended/online language modules.   Funded by an LSIS (Learning & Skills Improvement Service) bid of £28,800, the project was as a direct result of completing the MA DTCE as a distance learner in 2011 and seeing how distance/online learning could be effective in supporting learners as a realistic alternative and flexible method of accessing learning in a field where traditional teaching is still very much the norm.

Nola says “Although funding cuts, which had led to fee increases and reduced enrolments, had been a driver, the two main aims for the project were to upskill our language teaching staff (many ‘techno-reluctant’!) in the use of teaching and learning technologies as well as provide a more flexible vehicle for learners who face barriers to learning eg family and work commitments, geographical distances, disability, and financial considerations.”

The training pack, made up of 11 tutorials in .pdf format on the use of widely available (mostly free) technologies for creating audio, visual, text and communication resources include Posterous, Flashmeeting, Audacity and Speakonia.  Thirteen language tutors attended, speaking French, German, Italian or Spanish, with partners from Norfolk, West Suffolk and Thurrock ACL, an intensive 3-day training course based on the toolkit.  The bid funding also financed access to external expertise in the form of language/ICT specialist, Joe Dale, who has worked for organisations such as the BBC, the OU and the British Council.

Nola adds “The first benefit was rather unexpected – the rigour of academic reading and writing gave me the motivation to persevere with the complex art of bid writing; bids as a source of funding are relatively new in ACL.   With bid funding, we were able to draw together a good mix of expertise within and outside Essex.  Most importantly the knowledge and experience gained on the MA in instructional design, rationale behind choice of technologies, pedagogical considerations, notion of learner autonomy and synchronous/asynchronous communication as well as a confidence to give something a go was essential to the completion of the pack.  Additionally, I was able to use the project work to make a comparison for my dissertation between traditional, face-2-face training and the experience of tutors learning online on a CPD programme.  The findings continue to inform our staff training programme today.”

Nola now sits on the newly created Curriculum Review Innovation and Funding (CRIF) group set up at Essex which includes the role of e-learning, as well as a new bid writing consortium covering Eastern Region UK.  Further bid success had led to a new project on developing self-help guidance including the use of specialist software for those, recently diagnosed with hearing loss, wishing to gain lip reading skills but unable to find a lip reading class.

Nola adds “Above all I gained the personal skills (patience, perseverance, refusal to give up…) to cope with any negative response to teaching and learning technologies, including my own, especially when it fails and feel that I have been able to dispel some of the myths about why adults are hesitant about using them.”

Although designed for language tutors, other curriculum areas are using it for other subjects such as construction, numeracy and science.  The toolkit is available on CD-Rom and can be made available to those who shared my experiences on the MA DTCE.

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