How ESL and other Language Schools Can Use Webinar Technology

April 30, 2011

The word webinar is being used today to refer to all kinds of online training and virtual presentations.

More and more literacy and language schools are adding a component of e-learning to their programs. It’s the 21st century way to learn!

Webinars are relatively easy to put on. Some of the language is a bit different from face-to-face environments, so it’s helpful to know that instructors, facilitators and teachers are mostly referred to as “presenters” in the webinar environment. Students, learners and clients are generally called “participants”.

Both presenters and participants need to have basic technology and computer literacy in order to take part in a webinar. This may mean that your current teachers and facilitators require some training before moving into an e-learning environment. Your participants may benefit from an orientation prior to the content to familiarize them with how webinars work.

Assuming that both parties have the technology literacy to move forward, here are some ideas on how you can make the most of webinar technology in your organization.

For Participants

Online group classes

Bring participants together in an e-learning class not only to teach them new content and skills, but also to learn how to work together in an online environment.

Online tutoring

Do you have learners in rural and remote areas? Or single parents who find it hard to get a sitter? Online tutoring provides a way for otherwise isolated learners to connect with tutors from the comfort and convenience of their own home. This is a super way to reach out to people who might otherwise not engage with learning.

Information sessions

If you offer information sessions about your programs in a live setting (your office space, a public library or elsewhere), you can adapt your content and host virtual information sessions. Information sessions are for prospective students and have a slight marketing component. A word of caution though… don’t try to “sell” in a webinar. Instead, demonstrate your expertise and what makes you unique.

Orientation sessions

When you bring new students into your organization, do you give them an orientation on  what to expect and how things work there? Photos, maps, and other materials can also be used in an online environment to give a virtual orientation. Though I’m a big fan of doing live webinars, this is one that you could record and use over again.

Pre-arrival workshops

If you offer classes for international students coming to learn English as a Second Language, an online pre-arrival workshop can be very helpful. Using photos, you can demonstrate what kind of clothes to bring (e.g. warm sweaters and winter boots), photos of the airport and what it will look like when they arrive, photos of what a typical airport arrival day looks like, and whatever other information you’d like them to know before they get to the program.

Follow-up workshops

Webinars are a great way to keep relationships going once the opportunity for face-to-face interaction has passed. A value-added webinar one month after the course ends is a super way to stay connected. Use the next upcoming holiday as a theme for your class and have everyone learn about it in the virtual classroom. In cases where participants already know one another, the online interaction is usually fun and very dynamic.

For staff and volunteers

Volunteer information sessions

Do you like the idea of having virtual teachers or tutors? Then set the stage by offering online information sessions for prospective teachers and volunteers about your organization. Review the programs that you offer, the opportunities you and the benefits of working with your organization. This is a great time to have current staff members and volunteer tutors chime in with what they love about working with you!

Volunteer training

Do you train your staff in intensive sessions that jam in loads of information? You can break it up into a series of online training workshops. The material is easier to absorb if you divide it into “chunks”. If you have ongoing workshops, your volunteers get ongoing training, which keeps building their skills. As an organization, ongoing training for them means you give offering them something back for their time and expertise.

Staff development workshops

Do your staff currently get all their professional development at an annual conference? I love conferences because of the chance to connect with old friends. But wouldn’t it be great to offer ongoing training and development for your staff throughout the year? The cool thing about this is that you don’t have to organize all the sessions yourself. Check out the Centre for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). They specialize in  offering online PD for educators. They have literally hundreds of programs to choose from, ranging from free to expensive.

For the community

A Virtual Open House

Share what you do with the community, your stakeholders and donors through a virtual open house. Include photos of your facilities and your staff. A video that uses digital storytelling to celebrate the success of your learners makes it even more dynamic.

These are just a few ideas for literacy and language programs to use webinars in their organizations. I’m a big fan of using this technology in the non-profit and educational sectors. It offers a lot of value for everyone – staff, volunteers, learners and students, as well as community stake holders. How many non-profits still lag behind when it comes to their own technology literacy? Implementing the use of webinars positions your organization as a leader in terms of technology. You lead by example, showing others how virtual and online learning is an important part of 21st century of education and professional capacity building.


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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.

My Calgary Includes Both Official Languages in Schools

April 27, 2011

School girl on stairsI was astounded when I saw the headline tweet from the Calgary Herald: “French classes no longer mandatory in Calgary schools“. I read the article and astonishment turned to dismay.

It used to be that in Calgary, children in grades four to six had to learn French, Canada’s other official language. It seems that the Calgary Board of Education has now made it the choice of each individual school whether or not they choose to teach French to their students. The school may make its decision based on demand and interest. This decision comes just days after another announcement that the school board will cut hundreds of teaching jobs this year.

Is this a coincidence? I hardly think so.

While there is ample research that demonstrates the benefits of language learning on overall cognitive development, including math and problem solving skills, our local public school board has effectively said “if there’s no demand, there’s no reason to have these classes.” Just because I personally had no desire to take math in school, that didn’t make it optional.

Canada is a bilingual country. While many of us may never achieve full bilingual fluency, leaving cultural and linguistic exposure up to “school choice” and “student choice” won’t help us build a twenty-first century global citizenry. Nor will it help those children later in life if they ever want a job with the federal government. A job with the feds requires functional fluency… and our students won’t even get exposure to our country’s other official language.

The idea of making language learning choice-driven is akin to making it market driven. I’m all for marketing of language programs and promoting second language learning. I literally did a PhD thesis on marketing of language programs. In fact, I’m not even a huge proponent of mandatory language learning.

If it was really about “choice” or “market demand”, the board could have hired a market research firm to determine what classes would be among students’ first choice… Would the sciences be among most students’ favorites? Or phys ed? The answer is… no one knows. Because no one in Calgary has actually done any research to find out what students want now… and what skills they will need for their jobs later in life.

But this isn’t really about market demand or choice is it? This is about finding ways to cut programs, cut costs, cut jobs. It’s about balancing a budget in the short term… and doing it slyly and indirectly by making mandatory classes optional. No one’s thinking about making sciences optional here… just our country’s other official language.

And it’s gob-smackingly short sighted.

We don’t ask children if they’d like the choice to study math or English or science when they’re in grades four to six. It’s part of our job as responsible adults, parents and community leaders to provide them opportunities for learning that will serve as the foundation for more learning into the high school years… and later as the foundation for skills that will get them jobs and provide them with critical thinking skills as they then become the guardians of the next generation. It’s our job to get them excited about learning, keep their minds open and their motivation levels soaring so they engage in learning in new and innovative ways.

In Calgary, we seem to have forgotten that. Mon dieu…. Père, pardonne-leur car ils ne savent pas ce qu’ils font.


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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 Get a Spectacular Speaker for Your Next Literacy or Language PD Event

April 26, 2011

Sarah Elaine Eaton - Ontario Literacy Conference speaker 2010I’ve had some conversations recently with colleagues looking for speakers for conferences, professional development (PD) events or workshops. They’ve said that they don’t really know where to start looking and find themselves in that classic quandary… “We need someone good… Really, really good… And we have a limited budget!” Where to start?

In 2010 I was inducted into the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS) and I realized that there’s a big gap, a chasm almost, between the world of corporate meeting planners and the non-profit volunteer conference organizing committees. I talk to dozens of professional speakers who are aching to speak at more non-profit and educational events… and volunteer organizers who just don’t know where to find great speakers. There must be a way to get both groups connected!

Here are some tips that may help…

Decide on your budget

Whether you’re working with an entire committee or you’re one person charged with the responsibility of finding an amazing speaker, you’ll want to figure out how much you have to spend. Your budget will generally include two parts:

  • Speaking fee
  • Travel and accommodation

Some speakers have an “all in” fee that includes travel, meals and accommodation. Keynote speeches for non-profit events start at about $500 and go up to $10,000. The fee is often a combination of what the organization can afford and the speaker’s rates. $5000 for a keynote speaking fee is about average, but there is a great deal of variance.

Prospective clients sometimes ask me if I will speak for free. The answer is yes, but there are some rules.

Have a clear idea of what kind of speaker you want

Every event wants someone “good”, but what does that mean to you? Do you want your speaker to entertain, educate or both? Usually, it’s a good idea to get someone who is knowledgeable or an advocate of your subject area. Don’t get in a mechanics expert for a group of literacy practitioners. Make sure your speaker has either worked in the field or is a champion of it.

Beware of the “I need to work” types who will claim to be a supporter of your cause just because they need a gig. A quick Google search can help you figure out who’s really in your corner.

Use your networks to find good speakers

Ask your colleagues, teachers and others for recommendations. Keynoters often get work due to referrals and word of mouth. Don’t be afraid to ask people around you who comes to mind when they think of an engaging presenter. Use professional listservs, Twitter and other social media to get recommendations, too.Auditorum seats

Put out a call for keynotes or plenary speakers

Conferences put out calls for presenters, but don’t often do the same for keynotes or plenaries because they fear that the quality of those who might apply would be lower than if they conducted the search themselves. That’s kind of like saying that a university only accepts students they seek out and they don’t accept applications. Putting out a call for keynotes is a great way to find high quality speakers who are building a reputation – particularly if your budget is very limited. Do an RFP (Request for Proposals) and be clear in your call what fee range you’re looking for, then speakers who are working in that range are likely to apply.

Check out your local professional speaking organization

Really, professional speakers are not as expensive as you may think! There is a stereotype about professional speakers that they have a certain approach (a la Tony Robbins, for example). While it’s true that there are many motivational or inspirational professional speakers, there are also hundreds who specialize in speaking to non-profit and educational audiences.

Professional speaking organizations are usually national organizations. Members must meet a strict set of professional criteria (such as a minimum number of paid speaking engagements per year, letters of reference, etc.) before being inducted into a major national organization. These big organizations are often divided further into state or provincial chapters.

Look for evidence of past success

Good speakers have a track record of success.

In the United States, it is pretty much de rigueur that speakers will have a demo video in the form of a CD, a DVD or a YouTube video. In Canada this may be true for corporate speakers, but has yet to fully catch on for non-profit and philanthropic speakers.

At the very least, a speaker should have testimonials and a list of past clients. Ask for recommendations. Check for a calendar of past or upcoming events. With or without a video, a good indicator of success is a full speaking schedule.

Travel and Accommodation

If there’s one thing that is non-negotiable, it’s travel and accommodation. Your speaker may have traveled all day to get to your event. A hot shower, a clean room and a good meal are a relief after a long day of travel.

Having a greeter at the airport is a nice touch that many non-profit conference organizers overlook.

If you’re trying to save on costs, here’s a tip: Hotel food is often high in calories and not very interesting. Many speakers will appreciate a home cooked meal at the home of a conference organizer. This gives your speaker a chance to get to know you and enjoy some social time.

Allow speaker product sales

I’m baffled by conferences that require speakers to rent a booth in order to sell their products. I suspect that thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars a year are lost at non-profit events because the conference has a policy against product sales. Unless the speaker travels with an assistant, they likely won’t have the time to set up a booth and sell product.

An experienced speaker will likely be busy reviewing their notes or doing other preparations before the presentation – as they should. Once a speaker factors in the cost of a booth, plus the cost of an assistant to set up that booth and sell the product, most, if not all of the revenue they would have made is gone. So, speakers abide by conference policies and leave their books, workbooks, CDs and DVDs at home.

A better option: Set up a table at the back of the room where the speaker is giving his or her presentation. Have a conference volunteer work at that table in exchange for a percentage of the gross sales (20% to 30% of total sales is common). If a speaker sells $500 in books and splits the revenue 70/30 with the conference, then the conference makes $150. The speaker takes away $350, from which he or she will need to pay the costs of production (book printing), packaging and shipping. In the end, it works out to a pretty fair split.

Develop a relationship with your speaker

Don’t think of this as one-time gig. This is your opportunity to develop an on-going relationship with someone. Your speaker may help to promote your event by posting about it on Twitter, Facebook or other social media. They may mention you on their blog or find other ways to drive traffic to your website and positive attention to your organization. Non-profit speakers usually have a deep emotional attachment to their field. They want to get to know you and those you serve. If you develop a relationship, that same person may join you again for future events. Figure out how you can help each other succeed and I guarantee you that you’ll get quality speakers that your audiences will love.


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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.

Social Media for Language Programs – Free conference

April 22, 2011

Yup, you read that right. My friend, Evan Rubin, and his colleagues at San Diego State University’s Language Acquisition Resource Centre (LARC) are busy planning the 2011 Social Media Workshop. They invited me to present at the 2010 Social Media conference where I gave a session on Using Skype in the Second and Foreign Language Classroom. I also attended a number of other sessions and their quality was outstanding.

This year, Evan has put together a stellar line-up that includes 5 full days of sessions, August 8-12, 2011. There will be everything from keynotes and presentations to hands-on practice and exchanges of ideas. We’ll be looking at performance-based assessment, e-portfolios, blogging and a whole host of other social media for language education.

The best part? It’s free, all of it! People in San Diego can attend the live sessions and the rest of us can join in via webinar from all around the globe.

This is a fantastic way to get yourself revved up for the new school year, get energized, share and learn. Go. Register now. Tell Evan I sent you. (It’s not like I get a commission or anything… It’s free after all.)


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15 Marketing Tips for Educators

April 21, 2011

A printable file on Scribd:

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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.

10 Tips for Success as an Online Learner

April 15, 2011

Some of the same principles that apply to face-to-face learning also apply online, but the activities are different:

1. Arrive early

In the same way that you would budget time to find a parking space, walk to your classroom and get settled for a face-to-face training session, you need to arrive early for an online learning session. Your “arrive early” activities include:

  • Logging on
  • Testing your audio and mic
  • Saying hello to fellow participants and the facilitator

Plan to arrive 10 to 15 minutes ahead of your scheduled start time. That way, when the session starts, you’re ready to go.

2. Just say “No” to distractions

In a face-to-face learning environment, you can’t do laundry, answer the door, cook lunch, deal with staff questions, answer inquiries, staff the front desk or do any number of other activities that would detract from your learning. Create a “learning sanctum” that is free of distractions and allows you to be fully present during your e-learning session.

  • Turn off your telephone(s).
  • Put a sign on your door that says “Do Not Disturb”.
  • Go to the bathroom before the session starts.

3. Be An Active Learner

What are the qualities of an active learner in a bricks-and-mortar classroom? Someone who pays attention, doesn’t distract other learners, doesn’t allow themselves to be distracted and seems genuinely interested. The same thing applies on line:

  • Listen actively
  • Ask questions
  • Take notes (See the next point…)

4. Take notes – in a way that makes sense for you

Whether you use  a traditional notebook and a pen or a word processing program, taking notes is an important part of learning. It helps you capture the main ideas and embed them in your brain. Notes also give you something to refer back to later on.

Not everyone is comfortable taking notes on a mobile device or hearing a keyboard click as they’re listening. Other people may get hand cramps if they hold a pen too long. Don’t get too caught up in the idea of using technology for everything. How you choose to take notes is incidental. The important thing is to do it. Write down key points to help you remember them later.

5. Engage with other participants

You wouldn’t sit in a classroom and not speak to anyone else would you? Make a point of engaging with other participants. Ask questions, make comments, give kudos where they’re due. Remember that, just like you, those are human beings who are sitting in front of their respective screens. More than anything, humans crave connection. Try to connect personally with at least one other person in your session, if you can.

6. Go Green

E-learning provides a tremendous opportunity to be environmentally responsible. Experiment with reading on line. Test different font sizes and document sizes to find what works for you. Try not to print out every single handout, or .pdf file.

Digital materials are often meant to be interactive. If you print them, you lose the interactivity and web links may not show up in your print out.

7. Organize Your Stuff

In the same way that it’s frustrating to have a messy bookbag or a binder with papers falling out, it can be just as frustrating to have your digital materials scattered all over the place.

Set up folders and sub-folders on your computer to organize and store your files, course materials and handouts. Not only will this help you find it more easily later, it will also help to “make it yours”. Synch between devices to keep everything current.

8. Share and be social

Share online links to other resources. Explore online bookmarking sites (e.g. Diigo or StumbleUpon) to store and share interesting resources you find. If you’d like more resources or information, ask others to share with you. Be sure to thanks others who share interesting and helpful resources with you.

9. Be patient and kind

As in a traditional classroom, there are likely to be learners who are less capable than you… and others who are more capable. In an online environment, this applies as much ability with technology, as it does to the content. Think of comfort and ability with technology as a continuum. People will be scattered all along the continuum. Be patient with those who aren’t as far along as you.

10. Find reasons to celebrate and have fun!

Remember when you were a kid in school and you got a gold star from the teacher? Humans respond well to positive reinforcement, regardless if it is face-to-face or online. Successful online learners look for opportunities to compliment and notice others’ progress. They are also self-aware and self-realized learners who acknowledge their own progress. Cheer on others when you see them making leaps and bounds and give yourself a pat on the back when you do a good job. Remember, learning is supposed to be fun!


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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.

Petition Saves Second Language Programs at University of Saskatchewan

April 14, 2011

A recent news release from the Academia Group gave highlights from this article in the Star Phoenix by Sean Tremblath: “U of S language program cuts re-examined after petition“. The article starts with this punchy first line:

“A University of Saskatchewan language program is being overhauled after speculation of major cutbacks sparked a student petition with almost 2,000 names.”

The article goes on to talk about scheduled cuts to language programs at the University of Saskatchewan, and in particular to the German program. The result was a petition to save the program that received 2000 signatures – in 3 days. The article quotes David Parkinson, Vice Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, a man I’ve met in my professional travels and have a great deal of respect for. He can see “the big picture” and can balance students’ needs with high level administrative pressures. I’ve admired his work for a long time… and don’t envy him one bit right now.

Language programs are being cut or having their funding reduced at alarming rates in North American schools and universities. Really, it’s shameful.

Here’s my response, in the form of a Letter to the Editor of the Star Phoenix:

I’m writing in response to Sean Tremblath’s article “U of S language program cuts re-examined after petition”, published on April 13, 2011.

Three cheers for the students at U Sask, who evidently know the value of learning languages in the 21st century and were willing to petition to keep language courses alive and well.

Cutbacks to second and modern language programs in North American universities is very troubling – particularly when all of Europe, as well as countries on other continents are encouraging – even mandating – the study of additional languages.

I’ve met David Parkinson, Vice Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, who is quoted in the article and I have a great deal of respect for him. He’s a man who can see “the big picture” and can balance students’ needs with high level administrative pressures.

I’ve admired his work for a long time… and don’t envy him one bit right now. He now faces a situation that language program administrators across North America face: Advocating for the viability of modern language programs in a system that has changed its criteria for what it will support based on bottom-line numbers and a philosophy that says “bums in seats = program success”.

Across Canada and the US, we seem preoccupied with cutting programs that have lower enrolments or those for which there is less financial justification. As a specialist in the integration of business practices and philosophies into higher education management, and in particular, the marketing and management of language programs in Canadian universities, I am saddened when I see this. My own research in this field has shown me that the bottom line is not the only indicator of success in education. In fact, it’s probably one of the least powerful indicators of success of an educational program. Better questions to ask are: What skills are needed by 21st century professionals and leaders? How do we, as educational institutions, ensure that we are building the capacity of our students to set them up for success as global citizens in a digital age?

Language learning programs don’t need to be cut from educational institutions. They need to be updated. Get away from literature-based programs that revolve around faculty interests and focus on the students. It’s time to incorporate real-world language skills that students can carry with them into their future professional and personal lives. Focus on global citizenship, technology, mobile language learning (MALL), and other aspects of learning that actually make sense and are relevant for language learners of today.

If we updated the programs with a focus on making them truly learner centred, rather than focussing on the traditional literature-based programs that reflect the specializations of current or soon-to-retire faculty, then we might be better at engaging our students and increasing our enrolments.

Kudos to the students and all those who signed the petition at U Sask for having the vision to see the benefits of language learning in the 21st century. The challenge goes back to the institution to create relevant programs that keep learners engaged, provide them with real world skills and develop courses that fill the seats because they’re so darned interesting and relevant that students will beat down the doors to get into them.

I encourage you to read the original article and send your own Letter to the Editor to support the continuation and growth of second language programs at Canadian universities!


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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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