EFL Classroom Sits Down With Us

Today we have an interview with David from EFL classroom. David shares his views on educational technology of EFL classroom, and provides resources for educators to interact and help each other. He is here with us today to share his views on education and technology.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved with efl classroom.

Well, I”ve been teaching almost 20 years. The last 5 years I have been training English language teachers in S.Korea both for the world’s largest school board in the world and by teaching graduate TESOL courses. I worked my way along after getting my teaching degree – many countries in Europe, teaching new immigrants in Canada, the public school system. I like change!

I started EFL Classroom 2.0 because I outgrew my old blog where I was sharing resources and ideas. I have always kept abreast with developments in technology and in and about 2006/2007 much more powerful web 2.0 tools were being developed along with an increased ability to stream video online. The future was being born and I had to be part of it! I set up EFL Classroom 2.0 and just did a lot of leg work, mostly propelled through sheer force of nature and my belief that English Language teachers needed one place to meet and share. ELT (English Language Teaching) is a “nomadic” discipline but the internet could offer a way for us to create community, no matter where we were or how often we traveled.

I think anything “great” is also born of the ego. I won’t deny that I made a bet with myself that I could do it – when told by many that it was impossible. Also, that I really needed a place to highlight my own ability to harness technology in creative ways for the benefit of language learners and teachers. I really believe we have the world’s best educational network, bar none. Why? Because we have content, great, unique, teacher shared and made content along with the “talk”. At the end of the day, teachers still want the goods and content is king.

2. What audience were you targeting when you launched efl classroom? And how was the reality different from the expectations?

I was really targeting new teachers. As mentioned, ours is a transient profession and there are thousands of new English teachers thrown into classrooms around the world. They needed advice and resources. I had them in abundance.

The reality at first was different. Got a whole lot of very experienced teachers participating but that was great in an unexpected way. Allowed us to develop lots of games, karaoke files, new ideas/sites that eventually paid off as a “source” when new teachers began arriving as members in droves.

One other reality that struck me hard was how much work it did take to run and develop a community. Further, I had expected many teachers to enthusiastically share their “secrets”. Yet, so few initially did. I really had to light the way. The whole notion of copyright and keeping one’s creations close to home, really created a climate of teachers not being willing to share. However, I forged ahead and now teachers are coming around to the notion that ideas are free and there are no secrets – only things we’ve borrowed and are indebted by.

3. What are the technological and administrative challenges facing your education software?

There are many. I really believed in the Ning platform but that has been a challenge to manage. So much I built was constantly thrown away by Ning through their willy-nilly changes. I also had to learn a lot about technology and integrating the network. Both within (we have the only fully precise tag search across our whole Ning network) and without (using twitter, social bookmarking, building a brand etc…). I also faced the challenge of dealing with copyright issues. This has been a challenge, balancing the needs of teachers and education to remix and use (for the benefit of society), with the wider notion of ownership as historically enshrined. However almost all those I’ve dealt with are reasonable about these issues. It is when you talk in generalities and “corporate” levels that things degenerate.

We also have problems from time to time with “soft” spammers. We are a closed community, so we don’t get that many. However many find trickier and trickier methods ifor promoting their product instead of participating in community. If you do have a product to promote – find the right community and participate. Earn the right to tell others about your idea/product. Just don’t barge in.

I will say that a few things I’ve done have surprised me by their success. Other sites big or small would do well by doing the same.

A. Have a monthly newsletter.
B. Greet your visitors, even if it is a semi generic automatic greeting
C. Listen to your users and do many surveys, start discussions. They know best and appreciate it.
D. Reach out (like me doing this interview). People will find you. So many have found EFL Classroom 2.0 through these means.
E. Keep the focus on people. Bring the people to the fore and highlight them.

4. What should we expect to see from efl classroom in the coming years?

Much of the same and a lot different! Sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t. Technology is changing at lightning speed so we much change. I will be opening up the world’s first aggregation of all the English Language Teaching jobs on a new site TEFList, harnessing the power of video resumes and internet aggregation. This will allow the new teachers a “job” home so that they can serve that other side of teaching, the more practical aspect of employment. Further, we will better a lot of what we already do well. RSS and social bookmarking is so powerful. Twitter and getting teachers involved more in building PLNs (Personal Learning Networks), more emphasis and encouragement of teachers becoming bloggers and developing professionally online.

I also want to work with English Central, a wonderful site that I helped out on. It offers such a powerful means of learning language and I think teachers need to use it. Further, I would love to develop an online TESOL certificate course that would be free (or close to it) and with a validated certificate, valuable because experienced teachers mentor the certificate takers. Online learning is truly revolutionary and “liberating”. Udemy is one of those on the cutting edge of this new “way of learning”.

5. Finally, what do you think of the advent of online education? Is it going to replace more traditional means of education or merely augment existing in-person learning?

As I just mentioned, I truly believe it is revolutionary. I have blogged ad nauseum about its potential. Here is a nice presentation that has a lot of my thoughts about the “Future of Learning”. http://eflclassroom.com/flash/newlearningfull.swf

I really believe in the principles of the enlightenment from so long ago.The many become informed. Or as Voltaire declared, “Ecrasez l’infame” – Wipe out the infamy. Free up the world and give access to all so that tyranny won’t reign. I still believe idealistically as ever, that through “mass education” the world might step closer to being a better, more peaceful world. Online learning is going to play a big part in this next enlightenment.

The enlightenment dimmed throughout much of the 20th century but now with the ending of the Gutenberg galaxy and the beginning of the Netiverse the possibility that we can “learn” instead of “be taught” are epoch altering. Society if it does indeed get “better”, only achieves this through the free and unrestrained flow of information to the most people possible. This is truly the march of history we are seeing – more and more people have the possibility to access knowledge and lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Online learning is a big big part of that. Meaning, we now have the possibility to teach ourselves, knowledge has been unchained from the sky. The emperor (teacher) has no clothes.

I’m not advocating the death of “teachers”. We will always need teachers but they will become specialists in both the aggregation of specialized information and the interpretation of its meaning. They won’t be holders of some “sacred” knowledge. They will be facilitators and participants in “learning”. Teaching as we know it will die, teachers won’t.

Traditional teaching won’t be replaced but it will become less and less an automatic or given. We will have to redefine both the word “institution” and “authority”. What we know as institutional (schools, universities, public education) will become less so as authority erodes as more people find alternative ways to gain accreditation and “know how”. There will be many different kinds of gate keepers and they won’t be near so domineering or important. The whole system will become more merit based. What you “can do” , not what test you passed.

Online learning is great. Convenient, economical, effective. I await even better ways and means to teach and most importantly “learn” online. I’m glad Udemy is a part of that and hope you keep forging ahead as new possibilities open on the new learning horizon.

Thanks David for sitting down with us! You can find EFL classroom here. For more information on democratizing education, see Udemy’s main website here.