Category Archives: Research

5 Benefits and Trends of Digital Education in International Schools

By Paul Blake

While digital trends have greatly accelerated in recent years, this was nearly predictable, as online education companies were experiencing huge growth pre-pandemic. This expansion of tech in education continues as online education has become more universally accepted as a supplement to traditional pedagogies. 

The explosion in the use of virtual ‘meeting space technologies’ like Meet, Zoom, and other online classroom tools, has thrust traditional public schools into similar collaborative and diverse spaces that International Schools have long been accustomed to. 

Here are five benefits and trends to take advantage of, while technology continues to greatly impact everyday brick and mortar classrooms: 

  1.  Learning is More Accessible than Ever

Teachers often need to set rules in the digital space the same way they have rules set in a regular classroom. Requiring cameras to be on and microphones accessible during group classes helps increase student engagement. Assigning live group tasks to test new skills, correcting students in breakout rooms, and utilizing collaborative whiteboards and documents are all ways to increase digital space engagement. 

  1.  Increase in Digital Literacy 

Data research for projects can be done in real-time in collaboration in breakout rooms and a flipped classroom model. Students are becoming more digital-savvy in recognizing data-driven statistics from government sites, and more discerning about opinions (versus facts) provided on social media or blogs. Obtaining official documents and studies from field and area experts is easier than ever in the digital space.  

  1.  Global Connections And Intercultural Communication 

Public universities have joined the trends of online course offerings and are welcoming more international students into their communities. Project collaboration and presentations are trending more digital while traditional public speaking skills dominate the importance of effective communication whether on video or in-person. 

  1.  Increased Collaboration and Hybrid Learning

Teachers who set goals and expectations find online space to be more accountable to students as there is often a clear record of a lesson’s goals and outcomes. Tasks for a project can be clearly allocated, and students can take advantage of their strengths in collaboration. Students tend to take a more holistic approach in learning all aspects of the goal, often taking part in the research, writing, editing, and presentation. 

  1.  Applied Skills And Concepts

Technology has provided great collaboration for high-quality teacher lesson plans as well. Teachers Pay Teachers and a vast sea of prepared lessons are available at low subscription-based fees. A popular option for international school teachers, due to its commitment to UK standards and International School standards, is Twinkl. The digital space offers real-world applications and testing of learned concepts. Teachers can use a Baamboozle game to review  concepts with first graders, or professors can have college students publish on open access journals for peer review.  Access to education is no longer held by gatekeepers or holding back students with limited resources.  

The importance of authentic English materials in China.

The importance of authentic English materials in China. 

Due to the academic system of memorization and learning obscure words, Chinese students often struggle to use oral English because they don’t know how to use vocabulary in a real-world application.

The criticism of CET4 and CET6, China’s standardized English exams, includes that the oral English portion of the tests is not compulsory. In real-world situations, you are required to speak a second language much more than ever having to write it academically. A student who decides to live overseas may be completely lost in simply ordering a sandwich because they spent their preparatory days writing down academic words never to be used in actual communication. 

As highlighted in a CET analysis, researchers challenge the CET by pointing out that the test does not assess communicative competence as the teaching syllabus requires.[1]

There is no doubt that the CET test is a fair evaluator of general English skills, but test-taking itself is not an evaluator of oral communication skills. The goals of a foreign teacher’s oral English class are often focused on everyday communication and presentation skills. It is oral communication skills that will get the student to pass future job interviews or higher-education entrance interviews. A student with decent reading and writing skills may have great test scores but often does not have the confidence to communicate with foreigners at the most basic level. Listening to an unnatural, slow recording repeatedly may improve listening skills somewhat, but this is no replacement for real-life interaction with a foreign teacher. A good ESL teacher gives confidence in speaking to English language learners. Failing, demeaning, or embarrassing a student who shows great effort does not set the stage for success in language learning.

Students know best

In September of 2015, I started giving my students surveys about 4 weeks into the term for direct, student-focused feedback. This allows for each student to express their expectations, likes, dislikes, and suggestions for the course. It gives them ownership over their learning and provides amazing results for in-class participation and involvement. I read each student’s comments and apply all of them in the classroom. In academia, this is called a feedback loop. I usually run far away from schools that use student feedback as some way to punish teachers or to assert authority. Feedback is an important tool in a teacher’s academic toolbox. 

Feedback isn’t always positive, and it is critical comments that are most useful.

Students often ask for authentic English materials because the culture interests them, but it is my job to turn that three-minute clip into an academic lesson of value. This takes hours of lesson planning and looks effortless when executed properly. Typically it involves teaching sentence structures, vocab and expressions prior, giving critical thinking or research tasks that challenge their English skills, and dictating comprehension questions. On occasion it involves stopping a clip 30-seconds in, requiring each team to say what will happen next, retell the story or present their ideas. It involves matching topics to the existing curriculum and improving upon it. Often, it is applying a concept in the book and bringing it into the real world of English communication.

The frustration of practical, educational lessons

I am often following a 10 to 20 step lesson plan, step-by-step and a few students may not even realize the amount of speaking and creating their group did. What did you do in class today? “Oh, we just watched a three-minute film.” What did you do the other hour and a half???

When a class is active, language learners may not even realize their output, the number of corrections, its relation to the curriculum, or the everyday expressions they used and learned. They’ll make presentations nearly every class, solve problems, learn to work together and it will somehow be given less value because it wasn’t a one-time speech for the entire term that they spent all night memorizing, never to use again. 

Many academic studies show that most students learn from each other.[2] This is precisely why I design my classroom in desk clusters or small groups. In a language learning environment, it is important to focus on student output and this design optimizes my correction through movement around the classroom. In addition, the students are constantly correcting each other in a comfortable environment that eliminates making a mistake in front of a whole class. Mistakes are the only way to improve in language learning and the learning environment must be a comfortable, safe space to maximize student output.

Students learn the most by becoming the teacher.[3] An additional advantage of this classroom setup is the ability to assign group tasks to every class, in which each group must present their solutions in English only to the class. This may be retelling a story, predicting what happens next, summarizing, or analyzing a brief text or authentic English clip.

Authentic materials have at least three layers of learning embedded within them: language, cultural insights, and practical application (Spelleri, 2002).[4] These layers motivate the students intrinsically because students have the chance to enjoy both learning the language and the culture.

[1] Zheng, Ying & Cheng, Liying. (2008). College English test (CET) in China. Language Testing. 25. 408-417.

[2] Boud, D. (2001). ‘Introduction: Making the Move to Peer Learning’. In Boud, D., Cohen, Ruth & Sampson, Jane (Ed.). Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning From & With Each Other. London: Kogan Page Ltd, 1–17.

[3] Researchers J. F. Nestojko and D.C. Bui of Washington University, E.L. Bjork of the University of California and Nate Kornell of Williams College

[4] Spelleri, M., 2002. From lessons to life: Authentic materials bridge the gap. ESL Magazine.