First impressions and thoughts

After having invested quite some time into the creation and construction of the first elewa course about ‘Sustainable language teaching and learning’, it is great to read and hear comments from those colleagues who are experiencing the tools and material of the course not only as interesting, but also as helpful for their own teaching. The posts in the discussion forum with various thoughts and ideas on the one hand show that participants have taken up suggestions and tasks from the course and brought them into their classrooms, on the other hand they reveal how many creative and thoughtful contributions enthusiastic foreign language teachers have to share.

Through the feedback section in the discussion forum I have found out that my concern about offering enough material for everybody obviously has led to quite a full course program.  While creating the material, I found it very challenging to decide which topics to address and which material to include. Not knowing who would sign up for the course, we tried to include and offer material to every teacher from class 1 to class 12. In the experience of some teachers that has resulted in more material than they can manage in 2 to 3 hours per week.  Rearranging the timing and delaying the due dates for the assignments and tasks was a spontaneous solution that, we hope, will free people from a pressure they felt.  For the future, we have to consider whether it makes sense to also create smaller or shorter courses which focus more on one topic or on a certain age group. However, I trust that colleagues have taken the freedom to move on in their own pace and make use of the material in any way that helps them in their own development and their teaching.

Becoming an online teacher

I’ve had lots of fun working on the material and working together with Martyn on this project. Especially conducting the interviews was very inspiring and I have got to know so much more about colleagues who I had known for quite a while. Hence, I experienced the preparational work as rather enriching and the same is true for every sort of communication which takes place within the course, may it be personal feedback from people I know and meet, or may it be comments, questions or suggestions in the discussion forum. As in face-to-face teaching – or offline-teaching, as it is called in e-learning literature – I think the correspondence between teachers and learners or among colleagues within a learning community is an essential part of a living process in which the ‘subject’ can further develop. However, even in live-situations there are always students or participants who don’t say anything, but as long as we are in one room together I can look at their faces and see their reactions. Consequently, I would have the chance to ask them directly, if I felt that they were not happy or might need something else.
As the facilitator of an online course, however, I have come to realize how dependent I am on the participants’ willingness to communicate with me. I might get the feeling that… and I might have the question whether… but I can only hope or trust that people are either satisfied and have found what they were looking for or otherwise will get into contact with me. In a normal offline-course setting I could speak with a participant who stood up in order to leave the room, I could ask why he or she wants to leave and if I could do anything about it – whereas in an online-course I can only ask for feedback in a very general way. Since I don’t really know who is still working with the material and who is maybe about to leave, I have to send so called bulk emails to everybody, ask for feedback and hope for constructive co-operation.

Keeping a vision alive

I have noticed that this position asks for a lot of patience and is quite a challenge for a teacher like me who always wants to assure that everybody can take something out of what ‘the lesson’ has to offer. And it brings me back to a question that I have frequently been wondering about during the last months: why does somebody who is extremely keen on a direct and open communication with the people she is working with, chooses to do an online course which includes a certain dimension of anonymity? As soon as I look into the discussion forum or talk to people about their community circle meetings, though, I remember that one important aspect of the vision that I want to pursue with this format of an online course is the possibility it offers for developing a global community of Waldorf practitioners from around the world.
From the beginning of my contact with Waldorf pedagogy, the concept of an ongoing professional exchange and development among colleagues has always especially appealed to me. Nevertheless, I have also noticed how challenging this aim can be within a college of teachers and how easily all the other necessities of a teacher’s everyday life get into the way. Even though teachers experienced the collegial exchange during events like the English Week as extremely rewarding, I have often heard confessions such as , “In my school we hardly sit together as foreign language teachers.” or “Our teacher’s meetings are often filled with so many organizational things that we don’t have enough time and space for in detail discussions about pedagogical questions.” So creating an online course that offers the possibility to address people wherever they are or whenever they have time seemed to be a logical consequence of all these considerations.

It has been really exciting bringing elewa into existence and I am really looking forward to seeing her develop and the community of Waldorf teachers grow.

Greetings! Ulrike