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BYU–Hawaii's Online Distance Learning Program Takes the ELT Department International

The BYU–Hawaii distance learning program that began in Spring Term 2008 has since gone international. This program was designed to help prospective students that are denied admission to BYU–Hawaii due to low English scores or to students that are offered admission but lack the funds to enter school during that semester. The program also enables participating students to have some credit before coming to BYU–Hawaii, and encourages students to learn American academic style prior to arriving on American shores.

Over the summer, several of the developers of the program were invited to attend the 2009 International Information and Communication (ICT) Conference, held July 6 through 8, at the Open University of Hong Kong. Attendees (pictured above from left to right, outside the Hong Kong Temple) included English Language Teaching and Learning Department faculty member Ellen Bunker, students Jessica Davis and Alexis Young, faculty member Aubrey Olsen, and student Erik Ramsay. The conference included presentations on how to effectively combine various ways of delivering education to students, including face-to-face teaching, distance learning, and e-learning. The international conference included attendees from more than 30 countries, but it also had a high representation from Asia, said Bunker, which was useful for BYU–Hawaii.

The BYU–Hawaii student presenters at the conference were allowed to prepare the initial proposals for submittal to the conference reviewers, pre-invite. This preparation was to allow the students the professional experience, noted Bunker. When the proposals for the conference were accepted, the students then worked with their teachers to prepare their papers and presentation, which was about English as an International Language distance course at BYU–Hawaii. They were able to learn from other international presenters. “All of us learned a lot from the workshops and presentations and will be able to implement them into our courses,” said Young, a senior in TESOL from Arizona and a student assistant on the online development team for the new distance education EIL courses.

“The day after giving our presentation in talking with another conference attendee who had been in our session, I referred to Alexis and Jessica as ‘students,’ ” said Bunker. “The person expressed surprise because they had presented so well that he thought they were colleagues. The students were great representatives of BYU–Hawaii.” (Pictured below, left: faculty Aubrey Olsen, students Jessica Davis, Alexis Young, and Erik Ramsay) 

Davis, a special education major with a psychology minor from San Diego, Calif., and a student assistant for the online development teams, said the conference taught her the importance of professionalism. “The program taught me about professionalism, how to conduct research, and present my findings,” she said. “It gave me a better idea of how to use technology to shape my own classroom someday. It’s connected me with a lot of good people.”

Davis said their experiences at the conference will definitely improve BYU–Hawaii’s program. “It taught us things we can use to help make the courses more interesting by giving us variety in our teaching strategies,” she said.

The distance learning program offers two courses a year, which are slightly different from regular courses. “The good thing about this distance learning program is that it is creating learning opportunities outside the classroom thereby allowing tutors to tutor from anywhere and not necessarily at BYU–Hawaii campus. The teachers can go on vacation and still be teaching the class,” said Bunker. In the past, language courses taught at a distance did not produce fluency—however, new technology has made anything possible.

--Photos courtesy of Ellen Bunker