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How EVO Differs

Page history last edited by Ayat 6 years, 6 months ago


How is EVO different from other online courses?


Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, with

Dafne González, Vance Stevens, Buthaina al Othman, Aiden Yeh, Chris Jones, Nicolas Gromik, Christine Bauer-Ramazani from the EVO Coordination Team 2004

Contact: ehansonsmi@yahoo.com


Experienced online instructors agree that using technology in an Internet-based environment is secondary to the human factors. This wisdom is perhaps doubly important to keep in mind when you are conducting a volunteer, non-credit course with your peers. Both you and the participants will not be subject to the usual constraints of classroom structures: You aren't getting a salary, and you don't have to make up a final exam; they haven't paid tuition, and they aren't going to get graded.


Even more importantly, these "students" are your peers, fellow teachers with their own areas of expertise in which they are authorities--maybe in the same area as yours--and they have their own expectations and phobias about online teaching and learning. This is the situation with the Electronic Village Online (EVO).


EVO has an already considerable history behind it (see Hanson-Smith & Bauer-Ramazani, 2004), and will host many return participants who are expecting a rich, rewarding experience. To make the EVO experience a good one for both you and your participants, this short article attempts to delineate how some of your expectations about online teaching and learning--whether you have taught online before or not--may differ from what you will experience in EVO.


Berge (2005) talks about four areas significant to online teaching and learning: the technological, the pedagogical, the social, and the managerial, but notes that the four often are difficult to distinguish. I will comment on all four, but give shorter shrift to those of lesser import for the EVO.



The Technological Environment


Yahoo Groups (YG) has traditionally been home base for EVO sessions because it is very user-friendly for participants and particularly well-adapted to volunteer groups (rather than courses for credit). You may be tempted to use a course management system, such as Moodle, but remember, CMSs are really for courses, not informal discussions or workshops with lots of social interaction. YG's unified email list keeps everyone in the session together, and the built-in calendar, polls, files, and link archives can also serve social purposes. Also, your liaison person has had extensive experience with YG and can help out technologically in a flash. You are welcome to use other resources, such as wikis, chat sites, etc., and many on our team have extensive experience to help you with these.  You are also welcome to try other group sites, such as Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas, WizIQ, Edmodo, etc., but we have found from past experience that they don't quite fit EVO needs as well as YG. Whatever you use as your home base for your EVO session, be sure there is a solid email list and that your mentor from the Coordination Team is given administrator access to your resources. Be advised that you may be on your own if you run into problems.  


This year for the second time, the coordinators' and moderators' online discussion groups are not Yahoo Groups but  Google Plus Communities (G+C). G+ Communities were used successfully by several EVO sessions in 2014, and the decision was made to try it out for coordinators and moderators last year. You may wish to consider using a G+C for your session as well. See this page for some pros and cons, and visit this page for tips and advice on using G+C.


While you do have a mentor from the Coordination Team to help you, remember that the coordinators are also volunteers with day jobs and personal lives, and many of them also have their own sessions to develop and run. Make sure that you read all the documents about setting up and using the interactive tool that you choose, so that you at least know where to look for information and help on your own. You should be able to:


  • help people join your group and leave it
  • understand why they need to register for the YG or other LMS
  • add a moderator (so that someone can take over quickly in case of need, or assist you with the settings)
  • create folders and move files around when they are in the wrong place
  • delete spam and ban spammers, etc.


Whatever tool you are using, if you haven't tried it out, you aren't ready for prime time.


If you are comfortable with the technological environment yourself, you can aid participants quickly and your session will be focused on the content, not the medium. Many of the advanced YG features, such as polling, calendar reminders, and databases (and these will be found in other management systems), may become crucial in keeping your session lively (more on that later).


Even if you have used YG or other LMS before, you should expand your technological horizons. EVO frequently uses Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate) or Adobe Connect. These interfaces include voice/video chat, which has some nice advantages in creating a friendly atmosphere. Some sessions also use WiZiQ. (You'll learn more about these venues in the training session.) The Coordination Team and the mentors expect you to join us in live chat to share problems and solutions, and to get the social and technological support to run a successful session. Chat can save a session that is in trouble, and it can keep a free, all-volunteer course together. Many of your participants already use chat and will expect it as part of their time with you. 


The Pedagogical Environment


You may go into your EVO session expecting that the pedagogical aspects will be the most important. You know your field and have some good questions or activities ready to go. You assume everyone has read the description of your session and has signed up for it because they want to discuss your topic or learn more about a cool tool. So why do all your participants suddenly go silent in Week 3?


We have found that the differences between EVO and the usual online class may not really impact you until the 2nd or 3rd week. At this point, volunteer participants seem to pause to catch up with the other aspects of their lives. So, without the stick of grades, you've got to keep the carrots coming. When online discussion flags suddenly--or none of the participants seem to do the project or task for a particular week--you will need a few tricks like the ones below (and we'll mention others in our e-list discussion):


Discussion strategies:


*Ask the question a different way, or offer a related question; in a workshop, offer some examples of the task and its solution

*Offer a provocative question or short reading (but don't flame)

*Invite a "guest speaker"--a good plan for any syllabus 

*Don't resort to lecture--it's even more boring online than off--but indicate a problem you have had, and your own solution

*Request responses and give a time limit to answer (if no one does, indicate it's OK to move on and perhaps revisit the topic later)

*Write a few participants outside the e-list and invite them individually to contribute

*If discussion is heading off-syllabus, let it do so for a time--you aren't on a term deadline with a final exam

*End a discussion decisively--a summary is a good tactic--but let everyone know it's OK to add something later (and (or?) ask your participants to do a summary)

*Make sure your syllabus is detailed enough that everyone knows what the next question or task will be in advance--invite catch-ups

*A detailed syllabus helps keep everyone on track (and you will be asked to complete one before your session can be accepted in December) 


Technology strategies:


*Hold a chat with a specific topic

*Have a chat with a guest speaker--"big names" in the field are surprisingly willing to do a one-shot online appearance

*Create a poll on a topic, for example, a needs assessment, and discuss the results

*Use the YG (or other LMS) calendar reminder feature to keep the syllabus on everyone's mind

*Use the database feature to organize participants' projects or personal data, to create a document together (like a wiki), etc.

*Not everyone visits your wiki or homepage, but leave a sketch of the syllabus there as a road map--remind members it's there

*Make sure all documents are readable online, as well as downloadable--members who can't access materials usually won't tell you about it

*Keep good archives--if someone suggests a good Web site, put the URL in the LINKS area (or archive it in your wiki or blog), etc.

*Make your homepage/wiki a good learning and teaching resource.

*Record your live sessions for those who could not attend.  



Metacognitive strategies:


*Request metacognitive responses from time to time: How do participants feel about the course, the content, their work, etc.

*If you're doing small group or hands-on projects, be sure to build into your syllabus time to view the results and share responses

*Don't start projects in Week 5 -- this should be reserved for wrap-up and evaluations

*If you are doing a reading, provide a summary for those who don't have time to read it--after all, you aren't testing for content

*Summarize discussions (usually at the end of each week), or ask a guest or volunteer to do so--this keeps everyone up to date if they have to drop out for a time

*Summarize chat logs from live meetings, including good Web links, solutions to problems, etc.

*Put the summaries into HTML as well as text document format

*Use subtle social pressures (see the next section)



Remember, if the discussion or even the whole session doesn't go well, it doesn't mean that you are not a bad moderator or a bad person. Working in an all-volunteer environment is very unpredictable.



The Social Environment


With all-volunteer participants, the social elements can be as important as the content, or more so. You might expect teachers to want the content, the meat of the discussion or the technical expertise. In fact, despite its great usefulness, your session, which doesn't give them credit toward their profession, is going to seem less important than almost everything else in their lives. Conversely, even in the most technically oriented hands-on workshop, where social grouping might not be expected, we've received comments from participants to the effect that the group and/or the instructor was "unfriendly." Avoid that problem by encouraging the social aspects of your session.


You may not have time in your EVO session to form small groups, but you will want to ensure a warm friendly atmosphere in your interactive platform that keeps teachers coming back for more. You don't have the luxury of attendance requirements, and you aren't giving a grade, so you will need to make social cohesion and attendant social/peer pressure happen faster than in real life.


We've put together a few guidelines that will help make your session a cohesive social environment:


*Make sure you get group cohesion early by having participants introduce themselves and post a picture--put time for introductions into your syllabus in the first week

*Respond to the introductions directly and set a good example by including your own

*A web page or wiki with the introductions and pictures is a great ice-breaker, and you will learn about your participants as you create it

*Use these introductions to "pull" people into the group: "Andrew, didn't you have a similar experience while teaching in China?"

*Be accepting of lurkers: you have no way to force anyone to participate; assume learning is taking place and try to entice them in by knowing their names and teaching situations

*Leave up your YG/website/wiki/other LMS for several months at least after the EVO session--in most evaluations, participants say they want to revisit archives, links, and files

*Humor and sarcasm don't work well online, especially with a culturally diverse audience, so be sure to use "smileys" even if you think a joke is obvious

*Refer to and use the Netiquette statement--cut off flamers politely but firmly and quickly

*Be responsive to individuals and refer to them by name in your posts, particularly in the subject line--we all like to see our names "up in lights"

*Many of your participants will be non-native speakers, so occasionally you will need to "translate" by asking a clarifying question

*Invariably, some participants will not use normal e-mail conventions or will ask obvious questions--help them through without embarrassing them; there are no "dumb" questions

*The only "face" participants may see is your writing--be sure it's a friendly one and one that intermediate speakers of English can understand


Remember, you aren't giving the session to prove how much you know, but rather to help others learn and grow in a safe environment.



The Managerial Environment


Even though you may be an experienced online instructor, you will find that an EVO session with an all-volunteer audience will throw you some curves. You will be asked by us to produce a fairly detailed agenda or syllabus (and we can't offer your session if that agenda isn't ready by December 1st), but you may find your most active participants want to jump ahead or take a detour to a totally different subject--or they may simply not agree to perform the specific task needed to advance to the next stage in a sequence. What should you do?


If you are too forceful in insisting on your syllabus, you may alienate your fellow teachers--they are your peers after all--so you need to be as flexible and non-authoritarian as possible. You may also need to use a greater repertoire of group management skills than you are used to, so here are a few managerial strategies that might help to keep moving forward:


*Leave at least a week in your syllabus for introductions and getting used to the LMS and wiki settings.

*Leave the final week for catching up, sharing final summaries or group tasks, and session evaluations.

*Don't wait a week before deciding there is a problem, either with the discussion or the technology--you really have only about three full weeks of content.

*Don't overload the content--your participants may be working full time, have families to care for, may have trouble getting online, etc.

*Be courteous and flexible, even when correcting someone who appears to be very rude--your participants will be from many different cultures and may have different assumptions than you do about what constitutes respect.

*Ban spammers (remove them from membership) and delete spam immediately--don't wait and hope they'll become good netizens.

*Be sure all documents are accessible online as well as in a downloadable file--many participants will be working from public computers and may not be able to download materials.

*YG, for example,  makes it easy to create html documents--learn how and ask your mentor to help you may also find a good, free html composer/editor to be a help. (no knowledge of html needed)

*Don't hesitate to call on your mentor or anyone on the Coordination Team for help.

*Don't hesitate to write to an individual outside of the group e-list.


We also strongly urge you to have at least one other moderator; three or four may be optimal. You can share the burden of responding to the e-list (you will probably need to post several emails at least once a day), have more contacts to invite as guest speakers, and generate more ideas about how to keep the discussion afloat. It's not too late to invite someone to help, but any co-moderators should join the training session as soon as possible. It has been the experience of many that co-moderators who do not participate in the training do not have a good understanding of EVO expectations.


Even if you have moderated an EVO session before, each year is different. Your participants this year may be more knowledgeable about technology than last year--or they may not! In any case, we hope you enjoy the experience.






Berge, Z. L. The Role of the Online Instructor/Facilitator. (2005). http://www.emoderators.com/moderators/teach_online.html.


Hanson-Smith, E. & Bauer-Ramazani, C., with Robb, T. & Gaer, S. (2004). Professional development: The Electronic Village Online of the TESOL CALL Interest Section. TESL-EJ, 8 (2). http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume8/ej30/ej30int/


Yahoo! Groups. (2005). http://yahoo.com/.


last update September 21, 2014, Elizabeth Hanson-Smith and November 2015, Nina Liakos

Comments (1)

Holly Dilatush said

at 9:26 pm on Nov 1, 2009

...a very thorough review; thanks!
There are some very useful reminders included in the above lists; I especially appreciated "Put the summaries into HTML as well as text document format" and Be sure all documents are accessible online as well as in a downloadable file--many participants will be working from public computers and may not be able to download materials

Thanks again,
Holly (currently from VA, USA)

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