So, you've been considering getting TEFL-certified through CIEE's 150-hour course. Now what? If you're anything like me, you might not have a clue as to what to expect in an online TEFL course. You might have very little to no experience at all in online classes--maybe you haven't done any post-secondary education at all. When I signed up to take this course, I didn't know what I was getting into; I had only done a semester of university, and a smattering of online courses in high school. Needless to say, the idea that I might complete an entire certification class online was a little daunting. If you have the same apprehensions as I did, read on and find out through my experience what you can expect when getting certified through CIEE.
Your first thought might be: how in the world does an online class actually work? Fortunately, the interface of CIEE's website was very simple to figure out. You will first be greeted by a "home" page that lists access buttons to your syllabus, "modules", and various discussion boards. On the right-hand side, you can find your upcoming assignments, as well as peer and teacher feedback. All of the materials, schedule, and grades are easily-located, and once you click around a bit it only takes a basic understanding of websites to adjust to.
Modules & units
The course is split into ten modules, each of which focus on a specific topic (e.g. "Learning Vocabulary"). Each module includes five lessons, or "units", which are then divided into usually around ten or so parts, a "summing up" page, and a daily quiz. The lessons themselves are conducted through a sort of "powerpoint", which is accessed through a flash-based slideshow. Each page has just the right amount of information as to not be overwhelming (you won't find massive blocks of text to sort through), with all of the main points bolded and labeled appropriately. The lessons also include plenty of infographics and audio clips, where teachers will explain their information in easy-to-understand language. The length of each daily lesson varies, but typically it will take roughly 2-3 hours to complete in full.
Quizzes & exams
There are several types of quizzes that you will find in the course. At the end of every lesson, there is a timed and graded quiz, which goes over the content of that unit alone. You will also find practice quizzes throughout that will ensure that you are "up to speed" so to speak. These are not graded, and are only for your own benefit. Similarly, you will also find writing practice portions--these, too, are not graded, but are very useful for note-taking and self-reflection. At the end of each module, there is a module graded assignment (MGA), which is weighted significantly heavier than the daily quizzes (this I will go into more detail below). Finally, after all of the modules are completed there is a final exam, which is taken in four separate timed parts. As can be expected, this is worth a huge portion of your grade, and should be treated as such.
Unit summaries & notes
At the beginning and end of every lesson, you will be prompted to download the "unit summary". This is a document that summarizes the unit objectives, the unit outcomes, and various points found throughout the lesson. These sheets came especially in handy when I was studying for quizzes, but were immensely more useful because I added notes to them. In this class, notes are vital. I always had my unit summary open as I went through the lesson, taking notes and bolding vocabulary terms as I went along. Most of what to take note of is made quite clear, especially as each slideshow ends with a summary to ensure you gathered the appropriate information. Still, note-taking is a skill that should be honed; my notes towards the end of the course were far better to study from than the ones I wrote in the beginning. In my personal experience, I found that it's better to sort through an abundance of notes rather than rely on a bad memory!
Module graded assignments
Every week, you are expected to complete what they call a module graded assignment, or MGA. This is a small project that encapsulates what you learned in the module and utilizes it in a practical way. For example, if the module covers using music to teach English, then your MGA might involve choosing an appropriate song for your age group and making a lesson plan that incorporates it. These MGAs build up over the course of the class, and in the end you will use all of the information you gathered in order to create a full lesson plan, from start to finish. This, of course, is incredibly useful for not only your practicum (which will be covered below) but in your future career as well. These MGAs were always due midnight on Thursday morning, the following week. At any given time, you might be working on a module, your current MGA, and the MGA from the week prior, so it's extremely important that you give yourself enough time to complete your assignments.
Often times, you will need to complete one or several peer reviews. After you turn in your MGA, on Friday you will be given the MGAs of several of your classmates. Here, in preparation for grading your future students' work, you are expected to use the grading rubric provided (the same that your instructor will use on your own assignments) to analyze and grade the work of your peers. This involves not only selecting the number of points you believe they should receive on each section, but writing helpful notes in the margins. You yourself are graded on the completion and competency of the peer reviews you give, so take these seriously. The "golden rule" is really important here: grade others as you want to be graded. It's more useful to have clear, detailed criticism than mindless praise. This is especially useful towards the end of the course, when the peer reviews you receive count for part of your grade.
Every Monday, there is an optional (but incredibly useful) web conference held through a website called BigBlueButton.org. This is more or less the majority of the "virtual classroom" experience you will have. During these conferences, the professor goes through the previous week's content and discusses the next due MGA. These sessions are pivotal in making sure that you understand the material with the rest of the students, as well as allowing you to ask any questions you might have directly. I found that it was very easy to build a good rapport with my teacher during the streaming sessions, especially when I actively participated.
Other than the conferences, most of your interactions with other students will be conducted on the discussion boards. These are forums where you complete certain activities, some of which are part of the unit (and are thus graded). These were a great space for me to learn not just from my teacher's input, but from that of my classmates. As we all came from different walks of life, it was interesting to see how one student's opinions might differ wildly from my own. Some of my peers just put in the bare minimum required, but I had some really eye-opening experiences when I gave helpful criticism to my more active peers and received some in return!
Perhaps most importantly of all is the 20-hour practicum. This is where I really got a chance to put everything I had learned into action. Ten hours was the maximum amount of time allotted for "observing", whereas the other ten required actively tutoring or teaching. In my own experience, I only ended up observing for one hour and taught the rest of the semester and summer! Needless to say, I had finished the required practicum documentation in only two weeks, but since then I've made some great friends (and future references).
With the majority of what you can expect through taking the 150-hour TEFL course through CIEE out of the way, I'll share with you the most important tips I learned that helped me to graduate with distinction.
What worked for me
1. Take plenty of notes
Note-taking was something I had really never taken seriously in high school, but it's vital for this course. If you think it's important, write it down. If you come across something during any of the quizzes that you didn't already add to your notes, write it down. You will thank me when it comes time to take your final exam!
2. Make time to work
One of the biggest mistakes I made when going into this course was not realizing how intensive it really was. It's a lot of information packed into a short amount of time, so it's really important that you set aside enough time (at least 2-3 hours a day) to complete your work. Typically I completed one unit a day, while picking at my MGA throughout the week and finishing it on the weekend, but what works for you might be completely different.
3. Don't be afraid to ask questions
This was one of my biggest fears--over-extending myself. But the teachers were always available to help, no matter how many times I came to them, or how silly the questions I asked. Of course, they can't really help you if they don't know you need it, so don't be afraid to speak up either through the messaging system or during one of the weekly streams. Chances are, your classmates might be wondering the same thing!
4. You only get out what you put in
If you plan on getting an "easy" certificate or just coasting by on the merits of others, don't bother with this course. The material isn't difficult (in fact, it's refreshingly clear), but it takes serious hard work and dedication, not only for your own benefit but for that of your peers as well. Give them the respect they deserve by putting in some effort, and you will receive it tenfold.
Now you know what to expect, and you know what worked for me. Like any class, whether online or face-to-face, CIEE's TEFL program takes a lot of hard work, but the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life, not only in my teaching career but in my relationships with the people around me as well. The late night MGA crams, the early mornings studying over a cup of Earl Grey, scrapping entire projects only to start over at the last minute--all of makes worth the sigh of relief I can take as I admire the framed certificate on my wall. My hope is that, through this little blog post, you can get to take that sigh of relief just a little bit easier.