Online teaching may have been forced on many teachers as a direct result of Covid-19 lockdowns, but for some it has proved to be an eye-opener and a chance to pick up new skills and techniques, many of which they may wish to continue to use once things return to normal. Once again, the ability of teachers to adapt to the realities of their situation (perhaps one of their greatest assets) has come to the fore. So what is reality, how large a part does it play in our teaching and how is it affected by the current climate of remote learning?

One of our contributors, Paige Brown, is still undergoing her teacher training, but already she is leading the way in her teaching practice school by creating, and encouraging her colleagues to create, virtual classroom pictures with avatars of herself, other members of the teaching and support staff and a range of decorative objects, which engage the students and help her manage her online classes.

In our main feature, Nergiz Kern, who has long been in the vanguard when it comes to new technologies, particularly those connected to teaching in virtual environments, celebrates the advances in virtual reality technology which now give it a viable role in education. She argues that creating such things as a virtual café where students can meet and chat gives a more realistic experience than having them pretend to be in a café when all they can see is their fellow students’ ‘Zoom heads’.

For Sujani Balasooriya, reality is the vital element that is often missing from online interaction. She identifies ‘social presence’, the feeling that we and the people we are communicating with remotely are ‘real’, as the most important factor in successful virtual lessons.

For Amy Purevsuren, an authentic curriculum in which groups of students choose their own reading material and take part in genuine discussions of what they have read creates a reality of experience that enhances motivation and encourages deeper engagement with the language.

Min Gong’s Chinese university students are studying international trade but have no experience of actually conducting it. By means of simulations and a nationwide online trading competition, she gives them the practice they need in the realities of doing business in an international environment.

Joanna Buckle’s students are used to being able to pass an exam by memorising a set of vocabulary and grammar features and answering a few multiple-choice questions. One of the first things she has to do is to explain the reality of the IELTS exam and what the students will have to be able to do in order to get the scores they need to progress to English-medium higher education.

For more on what is or is not real, including a worksheet on reality TV, take a look at the Scrapbook. In the meantime, whatever your reality, enjoy this issue of ETp and take inspiration from our contributors in making language learning as authentic an experience as possible for your students.

Helena Gomm