Model Programs or Quick Fix Solutions? Dr. Joseph D. Di Lella
Eastern New Mexico University Joseph.DiLella@enmu.edu
Introduction In the 21st
century, a growing number of public
schoolteachers entrenched in rural areas frequently enroll in TESOL distance education programs. Why? For the most part, to satisfy school district job qualification
mandates, better serve CLD students under the NCLB Act or quench a personal thirst to prepare for the diverse learner in the K-12 classroom.
Typically, field-tested veterans or novice instructors enroll in two-year programs, but basic questions of quality still remain. With over one hundred and fifty domestic and overseas programs, which one should a teacher choose? What delineates a model distance learning TESOL program from a poor one?
Student Profile: Who are Distance Learners?
In terms of age, there is no magical number. Thompson (1998) notes Holberg (1995) by citing the 25-35 age bracket best describes the group. For all programs, gender tilts in favor of women at over 60%. Ethnic breakdown is
impossible to determine because poor SES groups use online distance education as a way to enter university ranks. In TESOL education, Caucasian females generally make-up the student ranks. In terms of SES, TESOL students fall into lower-middle class.
TESOL Program Overview: What’s Out There?
Across the continents, well over one hundred and fifty programs enroll ESL private or public sector teachers who pray that certification will lead to better professional opportunities. Fly-by night schools calling themselves
academies and centers serve thousands of students in Latin
America, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand. Neither curriculum rigor nor teacher expertise equate into tuition dollars spent in many private online companies. Only those TESOL programs directly linked to accredited colleges (University of Manchester, England, for example) are best suited for professionals who need breath and depth in teaching cutting edge strategies for second language learners.
Kansas State University’s Distance Education Model
Bilingual educators and national organizations have praised Kansas State University’s (KSU) distance education TESOL program (Barry, 2002). Adopted by several colleges in rural states such as Kansas Iowa, Alabama and New Mexico to name a few, the program has given professionals in the field a chance for certification. The program started at KSU in 1996 with only 125 students. As of 2002, the total rose to forty-four school districts alone participating in Kansas with fifteen in Iowa.
KSU’s model is quite simple, but comprehensive. As a two-year, four-course sequence, the KSU TESOL program
guarantees that their students receive instruction in ESL/Dual Language instruction and methodology, assessment and testing and linguistics. A student portfolio (that includes platforms and artifacts is presented in the final course) serves as evidence to the teacher of record that his/her student has mastered the material and demonstrated the work in the classroom.
Eastern New Mexico University TESOL Certificate Program
By 2006, my alma mater Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) TESOL Certificate Program has spread across the
state, reaching as far northwest as the Zuni Indian Nation, Clovis in the northeast and Carlsbad to the south. Over the past five years, ENMU has graduated over 200 students. This fall, the program will bring new cohorts to Fort
Sumner, Farmington, Carlsbad and other familiar, but small townships.
Students are actively recruited from school districts that support bilingual education. Typically, a cohort consists of twelve or fewer students. Of this group
number, a smaller number (three to four), share videotapes, work on group activities and hand-in assignments at the end of the semester.
Benefits and Problems of a TESOL Distance Education Program
TESOL off-campus/online courses have the same inherent flaws found in other distance education programs.
During my first year teaching at ENMU, I found pluses and minuses in the two off-campus courses used by KSU. On the plus side, the curriculum posed demanding group and individual assignments. The reading materials (articles and assigned texts) were valuable learning tools. The smaller student grouping who met at school or at homes inspired, motivated and mentored each other. The serious nature of the subject matter often pushed men and women to create ingenious presentations and final projects that utilized Web-technology. School/district handbooks, original ESL courses and marvelous instructional videos also proved that students embraced course materials.
On the down side, distance education in general leads to minimal student-teacher interaction. Restricted to the seldom seen email or infrequent phone call from students, this instructor needed to work overtime to make sure each cohort received proper guidance and feedback throughout the semester.
Chapter assignments were monitored every two weeks by requesting students turn in their Reflective Essays via email. Thus, every fourteen days or so, students put down
their thoughts, feelings and professional actions in a 1,000 word essay. This allowed me to question and make suggestions to my students through several contacts. Though a few emails were lost (deleted by school district servers as junk mail), both instructor and students engaged each other on the weekly topics and how the TESOL
strategies impacted them in the classroom.
Though it cost my department a few extra dollars, I traveled to nearby sites twice a month, schools two hours or further away in drive time, once a month. This personal touch promoted a better understanding of what was expected of students. Essentially, each distance learner felt more connected to the accrediting school. Each student worked in closer collaboration on assignments with the teacher. Overall, implementation of theories into classroom practice became evident and illustrated mastery knowledge of the subject matter.
Essentially, quality of distance education comes down to college professors designing curriculums that cater to teachers in the field of a particular state region. Though KSU’s TESOL model program is superb, their videos need
of taping best practices videos of teachers in the surrounding area to supplement our TESOL program.
In general, TESOL model programs must do away with faceless instructors that only interact twice a semester. In-person or voice contact is a mandatory requirement that must be made on a weekly basis to guarantee students are engaged in the materials otherwise plagiarism can and does occur. WEBCT is the wave of the future for TESOL distance education. Contact with the teacher of record made through online discussion boards will promote such unity between all students.
Distance education may be a necessary evil, but if designed properly, can bring a fresh and unique experience to each student and teacher across America and throughout the world.
Barry, M. (2002). “K-State’s distance ESL program getting national recognition,” in K-State Perspectives, Kansas State University.
Thompson, M. (1998). Distance learners in higher education. In C. Gibson (Ed.) Distance learners in higher education: Institutional responses for quality outcomes (pp. 9-24). Madison, WI: Atwood.