An immigrant teacher from a world away makes the world his classroom.
GUEST COLUMN | by Qazim Aliu
After teaching English in Kosovo for over 30 years, I decided it was time for change. I retired and immigrated to the U.S. to live with my son and grandchildren in Seattle. Soon after, I ventured beyond the borders of the traditional classroom by exploring the virtual world of academia. In 2013, equipped with my teaching materials and a partnership with EDUonGo, I founded “Te Profi Qaza,” the first online English language school for native Albanian speakers. You can imagine my surprise when I saw class enrollment exceed 2,500 students in six months! I have students that range from middle school to working age and are learning from locations such as Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Germany, Switzerland, Turkey and France. I am now teaching students around the globe from the comfort of my couch.
I am now teaching students around the globe from the comfort of my couch.
Transitioning from a traditional classroom to a cloud-based system initially felt like foreign terrain. I possessed limited computer skills and felt overwhelmed by the digital world. However, with the platform’s user-friendly layout, I quickly grasped the site with ease.
The platform has provided me the virtual space and tools I need to effectively mentor my students. My learning materials have been transformed into an interactive experience with features similar to that of YouTube, Kindle and Facebook. But instead of leveraging multiple sites to teach my students, it consolidates all of these features, allowing me to operate from one simple system. It has also been a more effective alternative for preserving my teaching methods, as opposed to the more expensive process of publishing a book.
Similar to many of today’s social networking sites, the site’s layout makes it intuitive for students to navigate. For instance, the Course Lounge is a forum designed like a Facebook newsfeed. Here, students collaborate by posting comments and asking questions.
In order to help students take command of their own learning I require active participation. To monitor their level of participation, I review Class Progress, a place where student interaction and assignment completion can be observed. This allows me to determine whether students have read their lessons and completed their work. Thus far, I have seen a high level of peer-to-peer interaction between students as they help each other understand the concepts they are learning.
In the e-reader, I upload class readings in the form of eBooks and also embed accompanying video lectures. Students can highlight and create notes throughout these materials, just as they would in a physical textbook and notepad. They can then store their entries for later review and test themselves with electronic flashcards. Students are also able to leave questions, responses and comments in the video lectures. Known as Video Noting, this interactive system allows students to view and post notes in the video timeline.
Should a student fall behind in their assignments or if I want to remind everyone of an upcoming quiz, the system will send them notification reminders by means of email or SMS. I control this feature by deciding what types of notifications should be sent out as well as their timing and frequency.
As enrollment continues to climb, I have turned my attention to Live Sessions, where I host Web meetings with my students. Like office hours, these streaming events allow students to ask questions and review materials with me in real-time. They are also able to see me via screen share and view my writings on the electronic whiteboard.
For anyone thinking about creating their own online academy, I recommend finding the right platform and being creative with lesson plans by incorporating interactive modules and games. I would also encourage instructors to establish a channel for student feedback and to make a point of reviewing their input.
Like many other teachers around the world, I wanted to build my own brand and community. With a smart class platform, I have established my own brand of teaching and mentorship in a way that would not have been possible in a classroom setting. Student collaboration has surged to new levels and I no longer grapple with setting a maximum capacity to the size of my classes. As long as students have access to the Internet and aspire to learn English, no one is turned away.
While I may have embarked online teaching as a computer novice, the platform helped streamline the revamp of my tutoring methods and cultivated a sense of community for my students. I continue to be amazed with the results and look forward to seeing even more Albanians enroll to become part of the online community.
If it wasn’t for a dummy-proof and easy-to-use system, I never could have done this.
Qazim Aliu’s teaching career has spanned nearly 40 years. Well-known throughout Kosovo’s academic community, Qazim is recognized for his unique and effective approach in teaching English. After graduating from the University of Prishtina’s school of English Language and Literature, Qazim began teaching as an English instructor at Vuk Karaxhiq, an elementary school in Gjilan. Later, in 1992, he founded and operated a private English school, COME, which has been nominated best private school with the highest rate of placing job seekers with English speaking skills. Additionally, the school was awarded by the Ministry of Education in 2013 for being the only operating private school during the 1999 Kosovo War. In July 2013, he founded online academy Te Profi Qaza, where he continues to teach and mentor students.