A student not able to use a webpage or app in a CALL room with you beside them is one thing. Trying to help them when they are at their home in another prefecture is increasing the difficulty level, to say the least. However, one thing we have discovered in this pandemic is that students often need direct help with various aspects of online education. This is especially true for students turn to smart phones and tablets to do and submit assigned work. While some teachers resist, it is actually in your best interest to help students in their online experience because it will give you a better perspective on what works and doesn’t work in an online environment.
First things first
When working with a student, first question should always be what device they are using. It can be incredibly frustrating to give a long explanation about how do use a webpage, only to learn that the student is on a smart phone or tablet and can’t see many of the things you are referring to. Beyond that, what model and what browser can give them some questions they can answer and help you avoid wasting time.
Horses, not zebras
When tackling these problems with a student, it is helpful to remember a phrase that med students are taught: When you hear hoofs, think horse, not zebra. Having the student log out and then log in again, making sure they use the appropriate address (smartphones will often default to the smartphone email), ascertaining they are on the correct webpage and have the correct address, can often solve most problems.
A good LMS will offer you a student view where you can see what the student sees. Don’t forget to look at the interface bilingually, because students will probably choose their native language to view the interface. You may also wish to step through with the student using zoom or a similar application with screen sharing to show the student exactly what they need to do.
Screen capture videos and screenshots
Another possibility is to make videos walking students through the necessary steps. This can be very useful in showing students how to use smart phone interfaces. For example, it is possible to plug iPhone into a Macintosh and record a video of you using the app and then adding a voiceover. Macs also allow you to record the screen or a portion of the screen while you do a voice over. Windows 10 has Game Bar (https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/how-to-capture-video-clips-in-windows-10) a screen capture utility designed to record gameplay. I will often upload these videos to a Google account so the students can simply click on a link link to view the video. But if that is not possible, recording with your smartphone camera and sending the video something that can be done if all else falis.
You can also take screenshots and send them to students, and don’t overlook the possibility of students with smart phones taking screenshots and then returning them marked with what they need to do. SNS apps like LINE and Facebook make it very easy to exchange screenshots in this way. In addition, a video call that allows the student to use their smartphone camera to show you what they see.
Don’t be afraid to codeswitch
When doing this kind of advisement, codeswitching is often very helpful. While most things can be rendered in katakana English, a few words and phrases don’t work that way so using the words below might be helpful in directing students.
No spaces=supesu nashi
Top right of the page=migi ue
The very end/bottom of the page=ichiban shita
It is unfortunate that screensharing requires a bit of effort, but getting a student on a zoom call, walking them thru how to shard their screen and being able to give them advice might be an option if all else fails.
After you (hopefully) get the student on track, ask them to write up what the problem was in Japanese and share it on whatever bulletin board system that your class uses. This may not only help distribute that knowledge, but it also gives you some language to use if a similar problem arises in another class.
I believe that this pandemic has given us teachers a shock to the system and made us realize that our assumptions of what students can and can’t do with technology are often wildly optimistic. Well some teachers may not want to make the effort, working with students in this way can often sharpen your explanations and allow you to predict bumps in the road ahead.
Joseph Tomei has taught EFL in France, Spain, and Japan at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. In addition to his interest in computer-mediated communication, he also is interested in the application of functional/typological grammar to language teaching, practical activities in the language classroom, and writing instruction, and his doctorate is on the use of metaphor by EFL writers.