The College of Arts & Sciences’ new online-only Teaching English as a Second Language master’s degree program made quite an impression on international audiences at two conferences in October.
“The demand for high quality, skilled English language instructors is strong throughout the world,” said Matt Wilson, program chair. Wilson and Danielle Bergez, program coordinator, spoke Oct. 14 on “Planning for an Online TESOL Program” in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and then Oct. 22 on “Overcoming Stereotypes in Online ESL/EFL Teacher Education,” at Sookmyung University campus, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
In addition to speaking at both conferences, Wilson and Bergez made several international connections with other participants for future partnerships in both countries.
At the presentation in Mexico, they discussed why they chose to develop the master’s degree in TESOL as an online, rather than face-to-face, program. They also presented what relevant literature has identified as two very significant challenges in an online TESOL program: communication and resources. They reviewed what research into existing literature uncovered about each challenge and then explained how they proactively addressed each one in the continuing development of the online MS TESOL program.
Wilson said several points became clear during this conference. First, that despite the affordability of Wilmington University’s tuition, it is still out of reach for the average Mexican university student.
Second, Mexico is open to online learning and increasing the use of technology in the classroom.
Third, universities do not currently seem to have resources and infrastructure to establish online programs of their own.
Fourth, there is tension in the situation of English language teachers (perhaps all teachers) in Mexico at the moment. “There is a sense that many teachers who are established in the field are from a generation that is not open to new approaches and would like to continue as they have been,” said Wilson.
And finally, some larger Mexican universities offer bachelor and/or master degrees in teaching English; however, these are face-to-face programs. This means that those not living in that area do not have access to such programs.
In Seoul, the presentation began with a very brief overview of why an online degree was chosen as the format for the MS TESOL program. The majority of the session focused on three stereotypes found in the literature on online learning, especially TESOL programs, Wilson said, including “degrees earned online are not real, online programs are not quality programs, and in an online program, you are on your own.”
Several points were reinforced or learned through attendance at the KOTESOL conference, said Wilson. First, mistrust of online learning is rampant. “Despite the title of the conference, there was a definite emphasis on face-to-face classroom instruction as the reliable source of education,” he said. “It was interesting to note that on an individual level, once people understood that Wilmington University is a real bricks-and-mortar institution, that mistrust was overcome.”
Second, the TESOL environment in South Korea is in transition, as is all education in South Korea. This is because of population decline and the expected drop-off of student enrollment in elementary school. Schools are firing large numbers of instructors, including ESL/EFL instructors, in anticipation of the lower enrollment.
“This is not necessarily a negative for the MS TESOL program,” said Wilson. “Demand for English language skills continues to be high.” Due to the massive lay-offs, many instructors now see that a master’s degree is needed for stable employment in South Korea.
The two returned home with two primary lessons learned from both conferences. “It is important to make face-to-face contact with overseas students and administrators in order to allay fears about online learning and to establish personal connection,” said Wilson. And because of the demand for quality teachers skilled in the English language, “there is reason to believe that the market for the MS degree will be strong,” he said.