How are online classes impacting teaching abroad opportunities?

Diary submitted by Lisa L., Barcelona, 2020

Since English is an internationally used language, EFL teachers benefit from a wide range of job opportunities thanks to the demand all around the world. It is one of the appeals of the certification, since it allows the discovery of new countries and cultures while working. However, as the current pandemic situation has proven, the future of teaching – even abroad – relies on a new way of doing things: online classes. Due to this new aspect of teaching, this reflective diary is going to focus on how online classes can impact teaching overseas opportunities.

A sign of this new facet is the increased popularity of online platforms such as Skype, Zoom, or Hangouts. They are particularly interesting when it comes to teaching worldwide since they are free and accessible in most countries. In the academy where I do my internship, staff and students use Zoom, whose features comprise the compulsory video and audio options, but also screen sharing, recording, silencing and chatting. Therefore, even when teaching someone from a different country, teachers can interact almost the same way they would in a physical classroom. However, it can prove more challenging due to the lack of proximity, which makes interpreting body language and nonverbal cues more difficult. I think some teachers go to extra lengths to make this new form teaching just as interactive as a face-to-face class, with games and music. All those options create an enjoyable and effective virtual classroom, bringing down the barrier that might exist with online teaching. 

While teaching online implies more opportunities for teachers to find students, I reckon online classes can prove just as beneficial the other way round, as they can be a bridge between someone’s home country and their future host country. For example, lots of students in my academy come from abroad, such as Morocco, Pakistan, Venezuela, or Iran. For those whose mother tongue is not Spanish, they have to undertake a Spanish course before anything else, and online classes could be the beginning of their experience in Spain. Indeed, the Zoom features fit all the needs for language classes: teachers can share PowerPoints and videos, they can record the class in case some students struggle to understand everything the first time, and even the less confident students can ask questions since they can do so in the chat rather than orally. Doing so strengthens even more the future that online classes can offer since unlike what we would expect from an approach that relies entirely on technology, it brings a more human touch to teaching. Indeed, teachers can get to know their students before they physically attend school, therefore creating a continuity between online and presential classes.

This idea of continuity is just as important if the teacher or the student needs to go to another country. The pandemic situation has shown that online classes allowed a semblance of normality for EFL students, since even native teachers who decided to go back to their home country kept teaching. Some students from the academy where I did my internship also chose to go back to their country but kept attending their classes. The distance can be a problem if teachers and students are in different time zones but overall, the development of online classes is not so much an obstacle to teaching abroad than it is to living abroad.

I cannot imagine a future where online teaching won’t have a role in education, but I also feel like a part of the abroad experience is lost with it. It can be the case for teachers, who won’t be immersed in the culture of their students, but also for language students who will not be in direct contact with it. While researching for this diary, I noticed that the suggestions that came up for teaching overseas seldom comprised the idea of doing it online. Besides, from what I have heard from students, the majority tend to prefer attending classes in person rather than in front of a screen. Only some people ask for online classes, and in order for them to keep being as popular as in a pandemic, they would need to take into account the requests of prospective online students. 



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