The Brain and Emergency Online Language Learning

June 2020

Teachers around the world have been hard at work adapting their curricula to online instruction, while simultaneously learning to use an assortment of online teaching tools. In this issue, teachers share what techniques they are using to teach language online. We also examine what research there is available on how the brain learns online. This month’s issue was co-produced with the JALT CALL SIG

Cover photo by ysbrandcosijn on iStock photos.   Other photos: and

Watch before you read...

We just can’t get enough of Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, and she joins us again, giving superb advice on how to structure an effective online course. Amanda Gillis-Furutaka follows up with complete coverage of Tracey’s suggestions. Tim Murphey and Curtis Kelly, with the help of some friends, start the Think Tank off by reminiscing on the changes they made as teachers, and identifying the single most important need of their learners. CALL expert Louise Ohashi shares her findings on how learners and teachers are adapting to Emergency Remote Teaching, and then we hear from teachers themselves, who share some surprisingly useful online teaching tips. Glenn Magee reflects on how our own difficulties help us understand those of our learners, while suggesting ways we can reduce the emotional burden.

In the PLUS section, Amanda comes back to inform us why meeting apps are not very brain compatible and why they can cause Zoom Fatigue. Then, we end with a touching story from Candace LakeEjim about one of her learners.

Our Thoughts on Online Learning

How to Get the Most out of Zoom Classroom Sessions Amanda Gillis-Furutaka

We have a lot to be thankful for regarding the technology that allows us to meet online, especially during a pandemic such as the one we are currently experiencing. Even before the current crisis, online meetings had brought people from all fields and continents together, enabling human connections to flourish by linking workrooms, meeting rooms, classrooms, and living rooms. These days, chatting, singing, and sharing in other ways by using a video platform can alleviate the sense of isolation that lockdown has brought to so many.

Think Tank Articles

The Need to Socialize while Social Isolating: Group Surfing on Virtual Waves Tim Murphey & Curtis Kelly

(Ed. note: This starts as a discussion about online teaching between Curtis and Tim, but ends up like a Zoom meeting on paper…well, virtual paper. Jon Kabat-Zinn was right: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”)

Emergency Remote Teaching: An Educational and Emotional Shift Louise Ohashi

If you are reading this article, chances are you are one among many who are teaching or learning online this year. For some of you, embarking on a journey into online education will be a new experience; for all of you, it will be the first time to do so under the extraordinary conditions that arise when the education system is upended by a global pandemic. Teachers and students have been thrown into a period of disruption. Courses designed for classrooms have hurriedly been adapted for online delivery in an attempt to keep education accessible in a time when we need to enforce strict physical distancing measures. Therefore, what we are dealing with now is not “online education” in the traditional sense, but “emergency remote teaching.”

Online Teaching Tips Collected from Think Tank Readers, May 2020 The Crowd

Editors: We asked our readers to give us some online teaching tips and, in a couple days, we were deluged. We’ll show you a few staff picks, some favorites excluded, but you can see the full, X-rated version here

Changing Behaviors Glenn Magee

My Facebook feed is full of stories from teachers who are experiencing fatigue they attribute to long sessions in front of the computer. Covid-19 has upended many people’s way of living and daily routines, including my own. So, what is so tiring about this new way of living for teachers and the students we teach?

Think Tank Plus

“Zoom Fatigue” is Taxing the Brain. Here's Why that Happens Amanda Gillis-Furutaka

The Lite lead-in video, a short news item (Video Calls Making you Feel Exhausted? It Could be “Zoom Fatigue”) introduces the work of Julia Sklar, who writes for National Geographic. Many of the contributors to this magazine, and no doubt many of our readers, are talking about how tiring it is to work and teach online. In her article, Sklar tells us why, regardless of what platform we use, virtual interactions can be very tough on the brain. One explanation is that we have to sit at attention with our eyes trained on the camera, trying not to let our eyes wander to look at all the other faces staring out at us from the screen gallery.

The Reward for Planting Seeds Candace Lake-Ejim

What makes a student memorable? As an instructor, I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I have to admit that I do. Typically, these favorites were my troubled, unprepared, or lazy students. They became my favorites because I worked with them closely, counseled them, and got to know them as people, not just a warm body sitting in my classroom.

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Quarantine Maths Class Disaster

What Will College Look Like in the Fall (and Beyond)?  Podcast Episode 418

Stephen Dubner interviews three US university presidents on the administrative challenges they face, which are not so different than those faced in every other pandemic country.

A Message from our co-producer this month:
JALT CALL SIG (Computer-Assisted Language
Learning Special Interest Group)

The CALL SIG is for educators and researchers who share an interest in digital technology and language learning. We hold a major conference every year in early/mid-June plus workshops at various times throughout the year. Conference details are available at We also publish refereed journal articles through The JALT CALL Journal. The journal is published three times per year and is available online at

 You can keep up to date with the CALL SIG’s activities by visiting our homepage,, or following us on social media: @jaltcall on Twitter and on Facebook at For information about hosting a CALL SIG speaker for professional development, please contact the SIG Coordinator, Ryan Barnes at [email protected].

MBE Logo

The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

Curtis H. Kelly                Skye Playsted   



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