Using Skype in ESL and Literacy Programs: Webinar Follow up

May 18, 2010

How thrilled was I to see more than 50 participants in today’s webinar from as far away as Egypt and Kyrgyzstan?! We also had people join in from across Canada and the U.S.

If you couldn’t make the webinar and you’re interested in what we talked about, here’s Link to the webinar recording. Note that this link may ask to download Java onto your computer. If you click “yes”, you’ll be able to access the recording, slides and all the chat that happened during the session.

If you just want the slides for today, I’ve archived them on Slide share for you here:

Click here to get a copy of the handouts from the webinar.

Dr. Peggy George was kind enough to offer this additional resource that she put together on using Skype AzTEA WOW (Way Out West) Conference, May 1, 2010. Birds of a Feather Lunch Conversation: Skype in the Classroom. Thank you for sharing your resource, Peggy.

Check out my research article on this topic:

Eaton, S. E. (2010). How to Use Skype in the ESL/EFL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, XVI(11). Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Eaton-UsingSkype.html

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


What do others really think about your marketing materials?

May 17, 2010

Ever heard the expression, “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees”? It refers to someone who loses his perspective on a situation because they are too involved (and invested) in the situation to see it clearly. This is what can happen when you market your program. You may think that your current brochures, web page, etc. are just fine– but what do others think about them? Do you really know?

What’s the solution? Have your marketing materials audited. If you have your current marketing materials audited, you may get a clearer picture of what outsiders really think of your materials – and your program. An audit is usually conducted by an impartial third party, and it involves an objective evaluation of your materials to determine what is good about them and what you need to improve.

This may mean hiring a marketing professional or educational consultant to review what you currently have. What she will probably do is review and assess how you:
•    use branding (for example, your logo and image)
•    convey the information (language, style, readability)
•    use colour, graphics, font and typesetting
•    can make your marketing more effective

An audit may also include an evaluation of the texture and quality of paper you choose for your printed materials, the accessibility of your web site, a ranking of your web site in search engines or an evaluation of your office stationery. These are all factors to consider when you are thinking about how you present your image to the world.

An audit of your marketing material done by an objective outsider may surprise you. A good consultant will give you no-nonsense feedback about your marketing materials and valuable information on how to improve them. These improvements may give your school the competitive edge it lacks.

There are hundreds of marketing consultants out there. It may benefit you to hire someone who specializes in educational or international marketing so you can get the best assessment possible.

Once the audit is complete, you will then have to decide which, if any, of the auditor’s recommendations to use. This will depend on cost, time and your own perception of how you wish to present your school. But inevitably, you will come away with a fresh perspective on how others view your school through your marketing materials.

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This post is an adapted excerpt from 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program It is been adapted from “Idea # 8: Have your current marketing materials audited.”

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Trends in language learning: What’s hot, what’s not

May 14, 2010

The world is changing quickly. Old ways of promoting language learning are not going to fly any more. Here’s what’s hot and what’s not, in language learning and education.

What’s out
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Vague, hollow promises that can’t be proven. Students see right through vague promises that language learning will get them better jobs. Today’s job market requires more than knowledge of another language. Vague promises are down. Unless you can prove it, don’t claim it.

Authoritative “I know best because I’m your teacher” attitudes. In today’s world where technology is moving at the speed of light, young people are very aware that they know more than the “over-30s”, as we are affectionately known. Old, traditional, hierarchical attitudes are definitely out.

Saying that learning languages is easy. Because it’s really hard work. Students can see right through claims that language learning is easy, or that if they play an audio program in their car or on their iPod they’ll achieve fluency. They know that achieving competence takes dedication, time and effort. Lying to students when deep down they know better, is out.

Complaining and grumbling about cutbacks and lack of funding. Students don’t care that their teachers have a big pile of corrections on their desk. Or that they’re overworked and underpaid. Or that language programs are the underdog of the institution. Really, they just don’t care. Complaining about it makes us, their mentors, look stuffy and jaded. Face it, folks, grumbling is down.

What’s in

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Clear, provable demonstrations of how learning a language can have a significant impact on our students. If vague promises from “authorities” are out, then irrefutable evidence from learners themselves is most definitely in. We’re not talking about general-knowledge building here. We’re talking about clear demonstrations of the impact language learning has on our students. Projects that challenge students to ask themselves how they themselves have grown and changed in positive ways are definitely in. Sharing the results of those projects in ways that demonstrate student learning through showcases, school days, and presentations to parents and community members are also up.

Using technology to demonstrate language learning and its impact. Take the projects mentioned above and show the results through technology and you’re very, very in. Demonstrations of work through portfolios, student-made videos, student blogs, Wikis, podcasts. All of it is in. We’re not talking about using technology for the sake of using technology. We’re talking about using technology to demonstrate students’ learning and show how they themselves reflect upon the impact language learning has had on them. And then sharing it with others through technology. Very, very in.

Proving the value of language learning through stories and speech. Public speaking and presentation skills are enjoying new levels of prestige in the Obama era. For the first time in years, there is a U.S. President who is wooing young people with his power to communicate verbally. Today, it’s cool to be articulate. Debate club is no longer for the nerds. Second language speech contests, debates, poetry readings, and story telling are hot, hot, hot.

Linking language learning to leadership and changing the world in amazingly positive ways. All around the world people are quietly learning other languages as a means not only to become self-empowered, but also to empower others.  They are choosing to learn another language in order to go to a country where they can make a difference, for however short a time. Housing projects. Clean water projects. Health-related projects. Projects that help children and families in the developing world. These are more common place today than they have ever been. Learning a language in order to reach out to others and make a difference in the world is “in”.

Showing funders the impact their investment has on our students, our communities and our world. If students are tired of hearing teachers grumble, funders – and that includes government or other funders – are definitely tired of it. Today savvy educators and program directors are saying, “We’re going to show you how your funding makes a difference.” Then you show them through all those provable demonstrations that were mentioned earlier. Then you say, “See the impact your contribution has made? Thank you.  Thank you for investing in our students and our future. Their future. Now let’s see what can accomplish with your continued support…” Seeing government and funders as partners and “investors in the future” is totally in.

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Post update (July 124, 2010) – This post led to a full-fledged research report on these topics. Check it out:

Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century http://wp.me/pNAh3-8I

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How to price ESL or other second language programs powerfully

May 13, 2010

Figuring out how to price a program can be tricky. It can be even trickier to adjust the price of a program that has already been established. If your price is too high, prospects may balk. If your price is too low, they may think that it is poor quality. It doesn’t pay to offer bargain basement prices if you pride yourself on quality.

Before you price your program, you will want to determine your costs. Your cost for a program will include obvious things such as:

•    instructors’ salaries
•    learning materials (books, CDs, etc.)
•    excursions (including any lunches or entrance fees to museums, etc.)
•    accommodation (homestay, dorm or hotel)
•    insurance (medical and accident insurance for your students, for example)
•    photocopies
•    catering

And there are the not-so-obvious costs included in your overhead that you will want to factor in as well. These may include:

•    support staff salaries
•    office supplies (including stationery and business cards)
•    marketing materials (brochures, business cards, etc.)
•    any other printing
•    postage
•    rent (including any special events you may host, such as a graduation)
•    phone, fax, and Internet expenses
•    utilities and any other overhead costs
•    computing and technology expenses (including language lab maintenance and tech support)

Once you have determined your own costs, you divide the total cost by the lowest number of participants you expect to have. That way, you will know what your break-even point is.

Here’s a highly simplified example:

$5000 (your total costs, as determined by the list above) divided by 100 (the lowest number of students you expect to have) = $500

This means that you would charge each student at least $500 just to cover your costs.

But covering your costs isn’t enough. You need to ensure that your program is sustainable. So, you need think about how to price your program, using your break-even cost as a starting point.

Because hidden and unexpected costs inevitably occur during any program, one technique used by big institutions is to double your costs, at the very least. For specialized or custom-designed programs, you may be able to triple or quadruple your costs and use that as your price point.

Let’s re-do the math, tripling your base costs:

$5000 (your total costs, as determined by the list above) x 3 = $15,000

$15,000 divided by 100 (the lowest number of students you expect to have) = $1500

So, $1500 is what you would charge each student as tuition.

Sound too high? I have found that as educators, we tend to be reluctant to price ourselves out of the market. Remember that if your price is too low, prospects may not take you seriously. And you can always subsidize some programs if others are doing very well. It’s about finding a balance that will work for your school.

You also want to plan for unexpected increases in your costs. For example, in the past ten years in Canada insurance rates have skyrocketed, in some cases more than doubling. If a school hadn’t forecast such an increase, they might be left scrambling to make ends meet.

Another example is rising costs of natural gas, which can affect the heating and water bills for your school (or your rent). If you haven’t budgeted for such increases, it can seriously affect the sustainability of your program. These are examples from a Canadian context, but the principle applies to any school in any country. You need to plan for the unexpected. This isn’t about gouging your students; it’s about ensuring that you can continue to serve them into the future. It’s responsible.

Even if your program is non-profit, I encourage you to price your program responsibly. Should a miracle happen and you make “too much money”, you can give your staff a raise or hire more staff, re-vamp your website, buy better books or add another computer to your lab. You get the idea. You can re-invest in your own program to ensure it can continue in the future.

Speaking of being responsible, I strongly recommend that you tell your prospects exactly what they are getting for their money; they are more likely to understand what they are paying for, and they will be more likely to buy.

What do you include in your pricing? Books? Homestay? Excursions? Make sure that you list on your marketing materials what is included in the price. Some schools charge extra for students to take exams, so if your school doesn’t, be sure to list that.

Here’s an example of what you could write:

Our price includes:
•    25 hours of instruction per week
•    books and learning materials
•    CD ROM of practice activities
•    homestay (including 3 meals per day)
•    medical and accident insurance
•    all tests and exams
•    graduation ceremony
•    certificate of completion
•    final written evaluation of your performance

By pricing your program powerfully and letting students know exactly what they are getting for their money, you will gain both respect and increased enrolment.

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This post is an excerpt from 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program It is “Idea 7: Price your program powerfully.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


How technology can enhance the non-profit organization

May 12, 2010

Here are some slides from a presentation I did last fall at the Literacy and Leadership Symposium in Red Deer, Alberta. The presentation goes over:

  • Programs to help non-profit organizations can acquire new or refurbished hardware for little to no cost.
  • Free software (including Open Office, Skype, and Primo .pdf).
View more presentations from Sarah Eaton.
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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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