The Doha Institute for Graduate Studies (DI) held its annual English language learning and teaching seminar on Sunday, February 7, 2021. This year the topic was Academic English in a Virtual Setting: Aspects and Sustainability. The event took place online and around 400 English language teaching professionals from various universities, colleges, and schools from both the Doha and international community attended.
The welcoming remarks were given by Dr. Alaa El Gibali, Director of the Language Center at the DI. He stated that the seminar supports the Language Center's mission in developing linguistic and cultural capacities for excellence in knowledge production. He also highlighted that it falls within the context of the DI's community outreach initiative and contributes to enhancing communication between the Institute, individuals, and organizations in the Doha and international community.
The first session was given by Kelly Wilson, Writing Center Administrator, Northwestern University in Qatar, and focused on 'Fostering a Community for Writers in a Virtual Setting'. In her talk, she presented a variety of practices and specific techniques that she implemented in the virtual writing classroom in order to promote a sense of community among student writers. Based on the work of other teachers and scholars of writing, including bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress (1994) and Parker Palmer's Courage to Teach (2017), she showed that in order for students to succeed in the classroom, they must first know that their instructors care about them and their learning experiences. Drawing from her own work with second-language learners enrolled in English-only institutions, she demonstrated that, whether in a classroom setting or a virtual learning environment, achieving sustainability is not only possible, but rewarding for both students and their instructors.
The second session was delivered by Jim Buckingham, Language Lecturer and Education Technologist in the College of Preparatory Studies, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, and was titled 'Rethinking Instructional Design in an EAP Context'. He discussed learning experience design and its emergence as a means to ensure that the design of instruction realizes a more personal, positive and profound experience for students. He also discussed micro credentialing and its aim to support and more formally recognize the development of life skills, highlighting that such skills are increasingly seen as highly relevant to a student's career success but have typically not been nurtured nor recognized in a traditional EAP program. He concluded that current social and educational issues in an Arab Gulf EFL and EAP context could be better addressed with the implementation of both the learning experience design ethos and micro credentialing strategies.
The final session was presented by Dr. Joseph Alvaro, Corpus Christi College, Vancouver, Canada. His talk was titled 'E-learning & EAP: Problems, Solutions & Applications'. He highlighted that the challenges of online teaching require educators to embrace a paradigm shift in their approach to pedagogy as questions have been raised with regard to methods, definitions, and new terminology. He examined recent studies and highlighted that isolation, lack of interaction, and separation from peers, create loneliness and even despair, seriously hampering the learning process. He stated that recommendations from SLA theory advocate social interaction as a primary factor in positive language learning, indicating that a "sense of community" is essential, and concluded that "Blogs" and "near peer role models" are two methods that have been largely effective in building successful communities of practice in online EAP.