College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

Three million students around the world are estimated to have used CEHD professor’s books

October 3, 2019

by Greg Sullivan

It’s a busy fall already for CEHD professor Joan Kang Shin.

Not only is Shin teaching classes in the School of Education at Mason, but as a book series co-editor she’s also launching a new second edition of one of the world’s most popular educational book series.

The first edition of Our World, also co-edited by Shin, is the top-selling book series published by National Geographic Learning and has been used by over three million students and more than 100,000 language teachers around the world, according to recent estimates by the publisher.

“When we first were developing this whole program, the textbooks, the videos, all of it, I don’t think I could have imagined it would become what it’s become,” said Shin, who serves as the academic program coordinator for the Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse and Exceptional Learners program. “But I think that the series’ popularity does speak to the foundation of the series, which is being able to understand what teachers need, how children learn, and ways of helping students and teachers engage with the world and topics that matter.”

Shin said that she’s talked to teachers across the globe about their thoughts on the Our World texts thus far, and often the teachers she talks to express a feeling of excitement, saying they’ve learned a great deal about the world themselves from teaching the books.

“There are other publishers that probably have books with sound pedagogies for teaching language, but I think what sets us apart is the National Geographic mission to care about our planet, and it really does inspire teachers and kids more.”

Shin also co-edited three related series, Explore Our World, Welcome to Our World, and Impact, all with JoAnn Crandall and the same publisher. She is also a co-author, along with Crandall, for National Geographic Learning’s professional development textbook, Teaching Young Learners English.

Shin said she and her co-editor enjoy the collaborative practice of putting together the books with the team at National Geographic Learning. “As language experts, we set the shape and tone of the course books, including what vocabulary and grammar are we teaching. But then we develop themes to teach, working alongside people familiar with the content that National Geographic Learning has and what National Geographic explorers are discovering around the world, and we find things that match what we’re working on,” Shin said.

New free MOOC making worldwide impact

In related work, Shin is also harnessing technology to help improve English language instruction across the globe.

In a collaborative effort with CEHD faculty Anna Evmenova and Jered Borup and doctoral students Woomee Kim and Hyejin Yoon, Shin developed and delivered a MOOC (short for “massive open online course”) with grant funding from the U.S. Department of State. The MOOC helps expand the reach of Shin’s work while also informing her future research with insightful discussion board feedback that the course gathers from participants.

The free, self-paced course, “Teaching English to Young Learners,” opened in September and runs through early December on the MOOC platform Canvas Network.

The course is designed to introduce language teachers to the best theory and practice for teaching English to children between the ages of 3–10. An earlier version of the MOOC that was instructed and lasted five weeks began in April with over 21,000 participants enrolled and had a very high completion rate, in terms of MOOCs, of more than one-third of students.

The teachers taking the course have been based all over the world, Shin said, including many in the Philippines where the MOOCs have been used in conjunction with face-to-face classes facilitated by the local U.S. embassy.

“Everything’s been developed and licensed under a creative commons license (CC BY 4.0) that makes it an open educational resource for all the teachers who take the course,” said Shin, who in addition to her position at Mason works as an English language specialist at the State Department.

“The teachers are able to freely use our MOOC materials and create their own materials in order to cascade their new knowledge to other teachers in their regions,” she added. “What we’re learning is, for some teachers, it’s the only time they’ve had access to any professional development, and that it’s not only helped them teach more effectively in the classroom, but it’s also helped them see that you can learn a lot through a larger community that’s now being built online.”

Whether it’s through her work on the high-selling book series, teaching online, or teaching in classrooms at Mason, Shin said she most enjoys empowering teachers so that they can in turn empower their students with a global language.

“My passion is figuring out how we can improve English language teaching around the world and working with teachers to understand education in global contexts,” Shin said. “That’s really been the basis of the work I do at Mason.”