While all language teachers strive to adhere to ACTFL proficiency standards, guidelines, recommendations, and best practices for language instruction to promote communicative competence in the three modes of communication (interpretive, presentational, and interpersonal), it can be challenging to do so in the online environment. In order to be successful practitioners, foreign language educators need to have content knowledge (with the requisite level of proficiency in the target language), pedagogical content knowledge, knowledge of students’ backgrounds and their prior learning, knowledge of appropriate methods, knowledge of how to assess language learning and how use assessment data to inform instructional practices, and knowledge of the instructional context and curriculum. In addition to these proficiencies, online foreign language educators also need to have a deep understanding of the instructional design process, knowledge of best practices for online pedagogy, and the ability to use instructional technologies and applications to create opportunities for interaction in the target language within a meaningful cultural context. While initial foreign language teacher preparation programs do a good job of preparing candidates to teach in a traditional environment, the skills and proficiencies that are needed to teach a language online successfully are not typically addressed in teacher education programs.
Currently, more than 7 million postsecondary students in the United States take at least one class online and the growth rate for online enrollments continues to outpace traditional enrollments (Allen, Seaman, Poulin, & Straut, 2016). With the growing demand for online courses at the tertiary level, many universities and colleges now require their faculty to teach online. Similarly, online enrollments are also increasing at the K-12 level with almost three quarters of all U.S. school districts offering online or blended courses for credit recovery, dual enrollment, extension of the school day, and/or for differentiating of the pacing of instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners (Picciano & Seaman, 2010). Due to the high demand for online course delivery at every level, professional development opportunities for language teachers are urgently needed. Therefore, the ACTFL Distance Learning (DL) Special Interest Group (SIG) and the NFLRC are proposing a national mentoring program for K-16 language teachers, the purpose of which is to help language educators develop the knowledge, skills, and proficiencies needed to design, develop, and deliver effective online foreign language courses.
The program will pair participants (mentees) with a seasoned mentor who has three or more years experience teaching language online. Mentors will be members of the ACTFL DL SIG in good standing and, in order to participate in the program, they will fill out a mentor teacher application and submit a copy of their CV to the DL SIG Mentoring Committee. The committee will evaluate the applications and maintain a list of online mentors with their contact information and the language(s) that they teach online. Committee members will also make use of the online community to recruit new mentors as needed. As the mentoring program grows, the DL SIG will request an additional officer role to be created—Coordinator of the Online Mentoring Program—which could be a position that is elected on a two- or three-year cycle. This would ensure that there is continuity with the mentoring program and accountability on the part of the mentor and the mentee. Mentees will be K-16 foreign language instructors who have either no or limited experience (less than three years) teaching language online.
The materials used for the mentoring experience were exclusively created to meet the professional learning needs of online world language teachers. A first set of lessons, named Introduction to Online Learning, was collaboratively developed by ACTFL DL SIG, BOLDD Collaboratory, and NFLRC professionals. The content of those lessons was based on materials created by the BOLDD Collaboratory. The NFLRC provided pedagogical, logistic, and technical support in their creation. Two additional sets of lessons that focus on interaction and materials development are also available for the mentoring program. These latter sets were created through a collaboration between the NFLRC and the North Carolina Virtual Public School. A third set of lessons focusing on assessment will be developed in Fall 2017 and will also become part of the pool of resources for mentors and mentees.
The mentor and the mentee will work together either over a period of one semester (for those with no online teaching experience) or for two semesters (for those with some experience in the online teaching environment), depending upon the needs of the mentee. The mentee will complete a selection of online lessons. The mentor and the mentee will collaborate to determine which online lessons will be the most beneficial for the mentee to complete. In addition, if possible, the mentor will embed the mentee into one of his or her online language classes. Similarly, if the mentee’s institution permits it, the mentor could be embedded into the online language course that the mentee is in the process of developing. If neither option is possible (depending upon the institutional policies of the mentor/mentee), then the mentor and the mentee could spend time together examining an online language course that is available as an open educational resource. This piece will ensure that the mentee will be able to see the content that he/she learned during the mentoring program in practice. Finally, the mentor and the mentee will communicate throughout the program on a regular basis so that the mentor can answer questions and check that the assigned tasks were completed. Upon completion of the program, both the mentor and the mentee will fill out an evaluation form.
- Background Questionnaire
- Resources for the ACTFL DL SIG / NFLRC Mentoring Program for Online Language Teachers
- Online Teaching Mentor Badge Criteria
- Online Teaching Mentee Badge Criteria
- Mentor Evaluation Form
- Mentee Evaluation Form
Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group Report (pp. 1–57). The Sloan Consortium.
Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2010). Class connections: High school reform and the role of online learning. Babson Survey Research Group Report (pp. 1–28). Babson College.