WEB EXCLUSIVE: Don’t just teach about it — do it


Education students are often taught to teach using task-based learning, but they are seldom taught that way.

That’s a problem Theresa Minick, coordinator of Spanish Language Studies, sought to fix in her graduate course: Multimedia, Online Instruction & L2 Acquisition Course.

“A lot of times, students get a lot of theory, but until they go out in the field, they never use it,” Minick said. “It really challenges what they learned … (and helps them) recognize the gaps in their learning.

“We say our students have to work collaboratively; they have to work in groups,” she said. “But we don’t teach that way ourselves. In this course, we really put it into practice.”

The purpose of the course was to create an online course in American culture designed for international students. The course was based on a series of tasks that each student would complete. Each task tried to incorporate the four skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

“Task-based learning is developed to meet the students’ real-world problems,” ESL instructor Diane Lamb said. Lamb was one of the graduate students who took the class and helped developed tasks.

The graduate students had to form groups and build upon a previous semester’s work. They had to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the existing work and produce more content for the online course, which was organized like a road map of the country.

“We’re not just creating these things just to create things with computers,” Lamb said. “We really wanted to stick with pedagogy. Let the task-based learning drive the course.”

The groups created a series of tasks in several cities, including Boston and Las Vegas. Their tasks included video experiences and even roadblocks that an international student might encounter traveling in the United States.

“Most of the students won’t be able to come to America,” said Susanne Rizzo, an ESL instructor who also took the class as a graduate student. “We wanted to bring them a sensory experience. We wanted to make them feel like they were in a different city.”

After the online course was completed, it was tested on ESL students in the ESL center. Minick said the experience was good for the graduate students.

“It was the first time many of them had to face challenges and conflicts,” she said.

—Meranda Watling