Virtual Team Teaching is Gaining Ground in the Regions
The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec is a bastion of the French language where students have few authentic opportunities to engage in English conversation with Anglophones or English-speaking Allophones. This can be particularly problematic for English as a Second Language teachers. Thanks to a grant from the Entente Canada-Québec and the assistance of the Virtual Team Teaching Network, spearheaded by Vanier College, our project was able to find an innovative solution that provided students with the next best thing to an authentic English environment.
The objective of the project was to experiment with virtual team teaching, pairing English and French CEGEP teachers with the eventual goal of forming a virtual exchange network of second language students in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region and beyond. The project would initiate new teachers to virtual team teaching, allow intermediate and advanced students to engage in real-time communication and permit all involved to be more autonomous when conducting student projects with team members that were geographically dispersed.
With the variety of real-time communication technologies that are available to educators today, there are numerous ways to bridge the gap between our regions and other parts of the province in order to provide opportunities for authentic conversations. These technologies were used for students with level 3 and 4 proficiency in English to enhance their linguistic competency, communication strategy and acquire some of the skills from the ICT Profile for College Students through a virtual team teaching project. Literary topics and communication adapted to the labour market were the first areas we wanted to explore.
Vanier College has developed a significant amount of expertise in virtual team teaching. We got in touch with Eric Lozowy and Isabelle Delisle from the Institutional and Pedagogical Development & Research Office at Vanier in order to assist us in coordinating the regional teams and find teachers at Vanier that would help us with language enrichment activities in the second half of the semester. More recently, Maria Kanter (Vanier’s new REPTIC) has been providing us with assistance. Two teachers were found: Shari Blaukopf from Office Systems Technology: Micropublishing and Hypermedia and Lyne-Marie Larocque from Sociology. They will be communicating with our students in the second half of the semester. Virtual team teaching is an important facet of Vanier’s strategic plan for the next few years, and the regional colleges are happy to have access to their expertise!
Our project teams were formed with the following teacher pairs:
- Annie Lescault, ESL Teacher, Collège d’Alma
- Margaret McCall, ESL Teacher, Cégep de Jonquière
- Lisa Deguire, ESL Teacher, Cégep de Jonquière
- Netta Gorman, ESL Teacher, Cégep d’Abitibi-Témiscamingue (Rouyn campus)
Later in the semester, Annie and Margaret will be paired with Lyne-Marie Larocque from Vanier College, while Netta and I will be working with Shari Blaukopf, also from Vanier.
Most importantly, prior to our experimentation semester, we solicited the assistance and advice of our network analyst, computer technicians and REPTIC. Computer technicians helped our teacher teams with training sessions and dry run practices. They have also been with us during our real-time communication activities to ensure smooth communication during the experimentation. Without these technical team members working behind the scenes to ensure fluid communications, success would quite simply not be possible.
Virtual Team Teaching Activities
The semester was divided into 2 blocks, with the first being dedicated to laying a foundation between the 2 partner CEGEPs and the second being dedicated to language enrichment with the participation of an English CEGEP (Vanier).
In the first block the adapted English groups conducted first contact interviews between students in one regional CEGEP and their peers in the other regional CEGEP. The objective was to initiate students to communication and collaboration tools and to apply the explicit teaching method (in French).
The Culture and Literature collaborators created Literary circles to discuss literature (using a short story). Students were given specific discussion roles and they presented their information to the group.
The second block enrichment activities will be taking place in the coming weeks. Vanier students have been paired with two A Block 103 student groups and two B Block 102 student groups. Based on course objectives, students will participate in a Client/Supplier-simulation in the area of Graphic Design. Jonquiere and Abitibi students will describe information related to their field that they have researched in order to supply data to Vanier students and assist them in the creation of an Infographic. For their part, Alma and Jonquiere have teamed up with a sociology class in Vanier. The idea is to connect literature to sociology, using various articles and novels.
Experimenting with Evaluation
Based on past virtual team teaching collaborations, in my Entente Canada-Québec project proposal, I considered it important to construct evaluation tools that were adapted to this sort of pedagogy, through the development of surveys, polls, checklists, formative and summative rubrics to collect data from both teachers and students related to language acquisition, and virtual team teaching pedagogy, of course!
Here is an example of an informal poll that was used as part of the process. Eighty students are registered to our closed group, 22 responded to the informal last minute poll. The data collected permitted us to address student apprehensions prior to our First Contact collaboration.
The data collected permitted us to address student apprehensions prior to our First Contact collaboration.
The ICT Profile Connection
Another important aspect of our team teaching project was to include elements of the ICT Profile for Students, which is a framework for ensuring that students leaving our college system have the technological and information skills they need to succeed upon graduation. Our project integrated parts of Ability 4 ‘Working in a Network.’ The following tasks related to Ability 4 are broached by our team teaching project:
- Task 4.1.2 – Select the appropriate communication tool
- Task 4.1.3 – Anticipate the communication’s logistical and technical aspects
- Task 4.1.4 – Establish communication
- Task 4.1.5 – Apply best practices in virtual communication
- Task 4.1.6 – Keep track of own communications
So far, the Google suite of tools has facilitated work in real-time between the different partner colleges. The fact that multiple users can work on a Google Doc in real-time is very useful. Google Hangouts was chosen as a synchronous communication tool for group meetings. Google Hangouts on Air permits students to record the video from their interviews and to restrict access to the teacher only. It would seem that mastering cloud-based tools like Google Docs is becoming an essential skill for the 21st century! They have certainly found their place in our team teaching project.
Although we are in the midst of our experimentation, we have already made some discoveries.
- Solicit the support of technical experts to allow you to concentrate on your pedagogical expertise.
- Ask your REPTIC (IT-Rep) to accompany you during the process as ‘’a second pair of eyes.’’
- Prepare a contingency plan, in case of unforeseen technical difficulties.
- Encourage teachers to stay focused on manageable goals for students, but also for themselves.
During real time communication with Abitibi (First contact activity) I was pleased to note that students made more of an effort to communicate in standard formal English with careful word choice whereas similar in- class activities between classmates have often been a disappointment where level of language practice is concerned. Role play seems to be more difficult than real-time communication! Of course, as they became acquainted and comfortable with each other, language became slightly less formal and one or two students were reminded of the objectives of the task.
In the Future
Over the course of our project we have piqued the interest of a few more teachers in our colleges. We are hoping to add more CEGEPs to our list of partners for the next academic year, in 2016-2017. An email to this effect was sent to regional colleges just before the midterm, but do consider this your personal invitation to join us! We would especially like one of the other English CEGEPs to come on board!
In the next few months, we will be sharing more of our experiences with the college network (hopefully at the RASCALS 2016 conference) as we attempt to further our understanding of the pedagogical potential and limitations of virtual team teaching in second language training and explicit training.
Editor’s Note: Lisa Deguire would like to acknowledge the contribution of the following programs and people who have assisted her project:
- The Entente Canada-Québec
- Pierre-Alexandre Audet, Cégep de Jonquière
- Dany Deschênes, Network analyst
- Mathieu Arsenault, Cégep de Jonquière
- Claude Cyr, Cégep de Jonquière
- Isabelle Delisle, Maria Kanter and Eric Lozowy, Virtual Team Teaching Network – Réseau d’enseignement virtuel en équipe, Vanier College