These findings take on particular significance when considered alongside the results of studies exploring the primary problems outlined in the Background of traditional professional development for teachers in adult education.
Online professional development seems poised to help in meeting these needs. This does not mean that online professional development is a panacea.
A study looking at the benefits and problems surrounding the use of an online professional development resource site for teachers of English as a foreign language EFL found that while the teachers reported positive perceptions of the resources on the Web site, they did not make frequent use of them Kabilan, Given the large investments of time, money, and expertise necessary to design and facilitate courses online, a question to be considered is: Egbert and Thomas point to the design of online programs as a possible culprit: Because adult ESL educators are often limited in choice to online professional development courses designed either for a general adult educator audience or for ESL teachers who do not teach adults see Tables 1 and 2 below , the question of content relevance is particularly valid.
Researchers have found that teachers have a persistent, if hesitant, interest in technology for instructional purposes, but often feel uncomfortable or ill prepared to use it in their teaching Sabatini, Daniels, Ginsberg, Limeul, and Russell, Much remains to be learned about what goes into building a community identity among adult ESL teachers.
One element that has been found to contribute to community building online is to emphasize a common sense of responsibility among members. The same study also found that having clear rules for member participation—some predefined, some negotiated by the group—also helped create a sense of community among the learners. Offering a course on the Web is only a first step in providing online professional development options for teachers.
The course needs to be maintained through continuous funding and disseminated so that teachers will know that it is available and how they can benefit from using it. In order to understand the full range of professional development options available online for adult ESL instructors, it is helpful to distinguish between two broad categories of online resources and online training.
However, distinguishing the two is a first step in helping practitioners select options to meet their needs. It should be noted that while some of the Web sites listed here have been designed specifically for adult ESL teachers, others are designed with different teacher populations in mind but nevertheless provide important information and activities for adult ESL teachers.
Online resources include a broad range of Web sites and online materials. What is common among these resources is that they can be accessed by teachers in order to learn about and, in some cases, share ideas on topics related to the profession of adult ESL teaching.
These sites are often—but not always—free. While they do not provide formal feedback to the teacher, they may involve interaction online with other adult ESL practitioners. Use of these resources is on an informal basis and does not result in a recognized, formal outcome such as a certificate or professional development points. It is possible to distinguish among three types of online resources that adult ESL practitioners can access: The following section describes these types of resources and sample Web sites and a summary is provided in Table 1.
The broadest type of online resources refers to the many texts available online for the adult ESL practitioner who is looking for current research from the field; guidelines on designing, teaching, or assessing adult ESL classes; or general information on issues of relevance to the profession.
These texts include online journals on topics such as ESL teaching e. TESL Journal at http: New Horizons in Adult Education at www. Reading Online at www. Online resource texts also include newsletters of particular relevance to adult ESL practitioners, such as the quarterly CAL Progress , which is published by the California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project and is accessible at www. Although intended primarily for teachers in the state of California, the newsletter contains useful information for out-of-state adult ESL teachers as well, such as articles on recent research, a resource corner, and essays of shared experiences and ideas from the field.
Teachers are encouraged to check whether similar newsletters are produced by, for example, the department of adult education in their own state. Other resources are various online toolkits or handbooks. Examples include The Practitioner Toolkit: The interested practitioner can also access online seminal articles and reports from the fields of adult education, TESOL, and papers on related topics such as literacy and civics. Finally, it is possible to read prepared texts on different topics of interest to the adult ESL practitioner, presented in the form of mini-modules or units.
In the case of the mini-modules, print texts are followed by suggested activities or investigations that encourage the reader to make connections between the text material and his or her teaching practices. Similar to the mini-modules, though not appearing as written texts, are Web casts on topics related to adult education.
Various electronic discussion lists are active on topics that may be of direct or indirect interest to adult ESL instructors. In addition, many states run local discussion groups that may be of interest to teachers outside the state as well.
Some Web sites now provide adult ESL teachers with space online that can complement their off-line professional development efforts. For example, teachers may use these spaces to build up online portfolios, post reflective journals for feedback, participate in online mentoring, or make public the results of an action research project.
Online discussions of topics such as ESL education, family literacy, workplace literacy, and adult education. Online space for posting portfolios, action research projects, journal entries, or participating in mentoring. Online training refers to courses or programs in which adult ESL instructors can enroll and learn about the adult ESL profession under the guidance or direct instruction of an online facilitator or teacher.
Upon successful completion of the course or degree, teachers earn some formal recognition in the form of Professional Development Points, Continuing Education Units, university course credits, certificates, or degrees.
In distinguishing among the various types of online training available, it can be useful to consider five key factors:. Online training may consist of short-term e. Teachers need to consider the amount of time they are willing and able to invest in completing the training. Workshop or course content can range from topics of general relevance to adult ESL teachers e.
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