Jun 30, 2009

Effective Approaches to Blended Learning for Independent Schools

By Radames Bernath, Vice President, ACT360 Media Ltd.

Click here to download PDF for printing.

What is Blended Learning?

A blended learning program uses a combination of e-learning and classroom instruction. Independent schools that teach English as a second language and TOEFL / TOEIC prep are using this learning solution to save time, lower costs, and improve quality of service to students.

Kaplan, one of the world’s largest private education providers, sees blended learning as an essential part of its business strategy:

Our Blended Learning approach to instruction stems from the best practices, research, and experience available in the field of education today. We developed our revolutionary approach because we know that children learn best when exposed to different methods and approaches to instruction. We offer a unique blend of personal and online instruction. (Source: www.kaplan.com)

How does blended learning work?
Blended learning is flexible. Students in these programs can learn at their own pace while benefiting from personal instruction in the classroom. ACT360 Media’s TestDEN.com service makes it easy for large and small schools to integrate custom e-learning solutions into their curriculum.

Case Study 1: Online English Placement Tests
Teachers at an independent ESL school were spending a significant amount of time marking tests. The first week of class was particularly chaotic as they finalized schedules, organized school orientation, and administered English placement tests for all incoming students.

In search of a solution, the school’s academic director partnered with TestDEN.com to create an online version of the English placement test. The school provided their test content and answer key to the TestDEN team, who authored the content into a custom online test.

The online test includes listening and reading sections and a customized log-in page to access the online test. All pages are branded with the school’s logo and colors. After the initial setup, the academic director purchased passwords in blocks of 50 from TestDEN.com. Each incoming student gets a password to access the online test and the school buys additional passwords in blocks, as needed.

New online test saves teachers’ time and improves school image
The school saw immediate gains in productivity. Incoming students take the placement test online before they arrive at the school and overseas agents issue it to students before they leave their home country. Teachers see the results as soon as the tests are submitted and they can assign students to the correct class before they even arrive at the school.

The academic director decided to retire the paper exam and use only the online version. Now she is considering other tests and practice materials that can be offered online.

Adopting this blended learning approach gave the school several important advantages:
  • Teachers now spend less time grading exams and more time on classroom instruction and higher value student services.
  • The school differentiated itself from competitors by projecting a technology-savvy image to its customers by having its overseas agent issue the placement test online.
  • Students received a good impression of the school because it was well-organized, with orientation and classes beginning as soon as they arrived.

Case Study 2: TOEFL Test Prep
The same school offers a four-week TOEFL prep course. During the classroom-based course, teachers provide instruction and practice materials to help students improve their TOEFL scores.

Each student is issued a set of paper-based practice materials. Some of these practice sets are submitted for teacher grading and feedback, while others are provided for supplemental use only.

To improve the effectiveness of the TOEFL test prep course, the academic coordinator decided to add online practice tests to the course. She signed up the school for the TestDEN Academic Partners program and selected the TOEFL Practice Test option for each student. The program works as follows:
  1. Each student is issued a unique password for accessing online course materials.
  2. Students log in from a custom login web page that displays the school’s logo.
  3. Once inside, students have access to four complete TOEFL tests that include listening, reading, speaking, and writing sections.

After-class access to online practice tests
With the new blended learning curriculum, the TOEFL class instructors continue to provide English instruction in person. Students complete online practice tests outside of class hours – freeing up time for additional face-to-face instruction.

Teachers assign one practice test each week and monitor student progress using an administrator login. This allows them to see each student’s progress and identify areas to work on. Instructors may also grade student speaking and writing responses.

They are prepared for each student and are able to address highest priority needs. The end result is that each student receives personal attention to achieve skill mastery.

For more information about how TestDEN.com can help your independent school create blended learning programs, visit our website at www.testden.com/partner/

Andy Krieger on CTV News

TestDEN voice coach Andy Krieger was recently in Calgary to teach a group of Canadian actors how to speak more American. Don't laugh, because if you are an actor auditioning for Hollywood movies and TV shows, it's the difference between being a star or being unemployed.

Believe it or not, Canadians do speak English differently from Americans, and there is a distinct Canadian accent. Coach K's methods work with all nationalities, even English speakers from Western Canada.

Click here to see Andy's interview.

Jun 26, 2009

Coach K Accent Training DVD Coming July 15

Voice coach Andy Krieger just gave us a sneak preview of his new Accent Training DVD, and it looks awesome! The packaging looks very Hollywood, which is appropriate because Andy used to work in Central Casting with all kinds of famous movie stars.

Andy tells us that the DVD is 209 minutes long, and includes new teaching material that he added to his course from his recent trip to Asia. He successfully taught over 500 students at HSBC Group, and hopes to return later this year for another round of training.

The DVD has been sent to the factory for production, and we expect to get our first copies on July 15.

Here is a look at the back of the DVD. Notice the t-shirt is from his work on the movie Forbidden Kingdom which came out last year starring Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Crystal Yifei Liu, and Li Bing Bing.

Jun 23, 2009

TestDEN New Look Goes Live

TestDEN.com has a new, friendlier look. It took us a while but we finally launched the new website. Thanks to all our customers and partners who gave us their input these last few months.

Among the many changes:
  • Separate sections with lots of info and free demos for TOEFL, TOEIC, and Accent Reduction.
  • Easy access to TestDEN Challenge for free TOEFL and TOEIC tests.
  • Revised 180-day training bundles for TOEFL and TOEIC that offer extreme value to students.
  • Integrated Paypal payment option.
  • A completely revamped TestDEN Partners section with descriptions of all TestDEN services and details about how to become a TestDEN Partner.
In the coming months, we will be continuing to add new features and programs to TestDEN.com. Send your feedback to comment@testden.com

Jun 18, 2009

TestDEN Partners with Omni College for Accent Training

TestDEN Accent Reduction Course provides nursing students a clear path to professional success.

Richmond, B.C., Canada, June 18, 2009 – ACT360 Media Ltd., developer of TestDEN.com, is pleased to announce a new partnership with Omni College of Richmond, B.C. Beginning on July 1, 2009, all nursing candidates enrolling in Omni's CELBAN Prep course will be required to complete TestDEN's Accent Reduction Course.

Developed by voice coach Andy Krieger, the TestDEN Accent Reduction Course is a an advanced speaking course designed for busy professionals to quickly and effectively lose their foreign accent. Students receive a 3.5 hour instructional DVD, a Practice and Review booklet, and 180-day access to TestDEN's online practice modules. Personal one-to-one sessions may be booked directly with Andy Krieger.

"Nurses in Canada need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively," says Omni College president Ron Burke. "The TestDEN Accent Reduction Course offers accent training that works and will clearly benefit our students."

As an added benefit, Omni College has negotiated a 10% discount from the retail list price of US$99.

Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN) is an assessment tool designed to assess the English language proficiency of internationally-educated nurses who are applying for licensure in the nursing profession in Canada. CELBAN has been recognized by nursing licensing bodies across Canada.

ACT360 Media’s TestDEN.com is a leading provider of e-learning and training solutions that help students meet international standards. Our customers include global education institutions and Fortune 500 corporations. The TestDEN platform is being used to deliver TOEFL, TOEFL IBT, TOEIC, business English, and hotel training applications in more than 60 countries.

ACT360 Media contact:
Vincent Wong, president
604-270-3656 ext. 112