The following interview is part of an interview series in which we feature education professionals from a variety of different fields in order to highlight individual efforts and creative solutions to education in the 21st century. If you want to participate simply write down and send your answers to the five below questions to info {at} and include a picture of yourself. (Please note that we reserve the right to not publish all submissions)

1. Who are you and what do you do in education?

laura_lawlessI’m Laura K. Lawless, American by birth and permanent ex-pat by choice: after living in Morocco, Costa Rica, and France, I finally settled in Guadeloupe, where my husband and I are building a house and three vacation rentals. I have a BA in International Studies from Monterey Institute and did some graduate work in translation and interpretation but never finished my MA.

I’ve always been fascinated by language. I speak fluent French and conversational Spanish, as well as a few phrases of Italian, Moroccan Arabic, and Greek.

I’ve been a virtual teacher since 1999, when I started teaching French on a free (ad-supported) website. I write lessons, create listening and reading comprehension exercises, put together vocabulary lists with sound files, share learning and teaching tips, and answer readers’ questions via forum and social media.

For several years, I also worked on Spanish and English sites, but they are pretty much inactive at this point; all my time now goes into French.

2. Describe a typical work day in your life!

I wake up at 6 am and, even though I know it’s not the most productive way to begin the work day, I always start with a communications check: email, social media, and forum. Once I’ve answered questions and dealt with any technical issues, I dive into writing new lessons, updating old ones, translating texts, making sound files, and searching for public domain photos to illustrate vocabulary lessons and expression explanations.

I typically work for about an hour, then do another communications check, then write some more. I publish a new feature on my site every day, and share it on social media. I keep a list of upcoming features in my html editor, and always have at least half a dozen in various states of completion. If I get bored with a particular lesson or feel uninspired, I immediately move on to another, as I’ve found that is the best way to maintain my productivity. When I need a break, I go swimming, do something creatively delicious in the kitchen, or play online games. These enjoyable but more or less mindless activities leave my brain free to puzzle over tricky concepts and figure out the best way to word a particular idea.

My newsletter is sent twice a week with the previous few days’ features. I work 6-8 hours a day, 7 days a week, but I tend to check email several times even after I’ve officially quit work (i.e., walked away from my computer) for the day.

3. In what way has technology in general and the net in particular changed your work?

In pretty much every way there is. I never had any intention of being a teacher, but I didn’t manage to become an interpreter, and didn’t like working in an office, which is what I had to do for years once I left school.

When I got desperate to do something language related, I taught adult ed for a year, but I decided not to continue – I just don’t have a knack for teaching people face to face. Then the opportunity to teach French online came along, which sounded like an interesting challenge, and it turned out that I am very good at teaching from a distance. Without the internet, I guess I’d be working on more books – I’ve written several, including Intermediate French for Dummies.

4. What challenges do you see for education in the future?

With so much information freely available online, it’s harder and harder for people to justify paying for education. Even though logic tells us that online learning can’t possibly be sufficient to really master a topic or skill, it can be appealing to stick to free tools like the internet, rather than investing money and effort into finding and attending classes, or traveling to the country where the language you’re learning is spoken.

It’s essential for schools and teachers to offer something unique, something that sets them apart from the rest. But it’s especially tricky for online content creators: there’s a lot of competition, and unless you can hire a team to handle the technical and social aspects, you have to do much more than just write great content. Ten years ago, 95% of my time was spent writing; now, it’s more like 50%.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of poorly written content and even misinformation out there, so it’s up to each learner to seek out high-quality websites, which aren’t necessarily the largest or the ones that live at the top of search engines.

5. Where can we find you online?