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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Week 11: Integrating ICT in my EFL Classroom



The experience of creating something especially designed for my students, based on their needs and context was exciting and very demanding.
In order to provide a solution to one of the several issues that we have to face in our EUS classes in Amazonas, I decided to design a complementary space where students could interact with the target language and also can go deeper in their grammar instruction. This is the origin of “Grammar Express for you” a wiki, especially designed to offer Amazonas’ students the opportunity of having extra tutoring in some grammatical aspects that they do not understand very well and that cannot be properly covered in the face to face sessions for the little time we have.  Basically, it contains the most important aspects that are described in the instructional material but presented in a funny and interactive way, so students can complement what it is presented in their books.

Although, this site has not been used yet, I am expecting to use it to see if the model that I adopted is compatible with my students’ expectations. Although, this site has not been used yet, and that introducing technology in this context can be a little bit challenging because students do not use computers frequently, for most of them computer access is limited, the Internet service in the region is not very fast, and they have very basic computer skills; I do really hope that this can be the proper means to offer students extra counseling without waiting to travel to clarify their doubts.

This wiki includes several technological tools like videos, websites, readings and other exercises that can improve students’ reading skills in the subject, and why not? May be they get interested in studying English as a foreign language and do not limit their studies to ESP courses that we offer in their career.
Despite the hard work it takes to design a wiki, plan its pages, adapt the content to my student’s needs, and deciding which could be the best methods to foster their learning autonomy, I do really hope that this site can accomplish its purpose and it serves students as a window to go beyond their classrooms and they can experience something a little bit different form what they are used to do. 

Week 10: Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and e-moderation

Image taken from: www.canstockphoto.com

Virtual environments are around us all the time, because there are available in every artifact of daily use likecell phones, cameras, tablets, computers, etc, that allow us to surf on the net whenever and wherever we want to do so.
When talking about learning environments it can be a little bit complicated to define exactly which those special spaces are, some people say that they are spaces designed with pedagogical purposes only, for example: blogs, online books, Wikipedia, etc., others claim that virtual environments are special platforms  designed to deliver instruction such as: wiziq, blackboard collaborates, moodle, etc.
However, some authors like Dillenbourg P., Schneider D., and Synteta, P (2002) explain in their article Virtual Learning Environments, which virtual learning environments are not “restricted to well-structured information spaces” and “The representation of the learning environment ranges from text-based interfaces”, and what makes a web page a virtual learning environment  is the social interaction about the information. So basically, all the elements to create a virtual learning environment are already in the web, but it is the teacher the one who puts everything together to give it a pedagogical purpose.
Image taken from: zosteralearning.com
It is then when the teacher plays his/her role as a moderator. The moderator is the one who set the goals for every virtual activity and the one who decides which resources are going to be used and how they are going to be used as well. Besides, he/she is the one who decides the type of interaction that is going to be among students- medium- professor, and should be able to overcome any issue that could appear in the last minute. If the moderator has no idea of what his/her role is the learning potential of any activity can be lost.

Despite the fact that, there are several specialized platforms designed to provide the proper tools to teach on the web, is the moderator who creates the perfect environment in order to let the learning process occur. Then, it can be said that it is the teacher who transforms the web sites into teaching tools.

Here there is another description of VLE: 



References: 
Dillenbourg P., Schneider D., and Synteta, P (2002). Virtual Learning Environments. In A. Dimitracopoulou (Ed). Proceedings of the 3rd Hellenic Conference Information and Communication Technologies in Education. [Online] Available at http://edutice.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/19/07/01/PDF/Dillernbourg-Pierre-2002a.pdf

Week 9: Web –based Lessons, e- portfolios and e- assessment.

Image taken from: cesar-ictintefl.blogspot.com
Web- based lessons have proven to be a good alternative for online classes, as they can include a huge number of resources that help teachers to improve their classes. This also represent an excellent alternative for ESL/EFL teachers who want to use authentic material in their lessons, because the web offers a wide variety of resources that allow students to access to multiple sources of information and to experience a real contact with the language that was very difficult to access before.
Despite the fact that web –based lesson may seem appropriate for distance classes, they can also be included in regular classes as a complement for regular classes and even when institutions offer computer labs facilities, it can be included in class, for preparing projects, watching videos or just to complement what it is taught in class.
Some people may think that traditional classes are more effective than the web based ones, and even may say that teachers use this type of lessons just to teach in a very lazy way. But the fact is that web lessons require more planning and revision than regular classes because teachers need to:
·         Check the content and the means before using it.
  •          Set the goals for the activity.
  •          Define the skill that the teacher wants to work on.
  •         Decide the resource that is going to be used in the class.
  •         Design the follow- up activities.
  •          Check internet access and website availability.

·         Prepare a backup plan in case that there is any trouble with the connection.
  •          Try the activity before the class begins.
  •          Be aware of any technological trouble that students may have.
  •          Be able to give students advice about any technological problem they have.

   Image taken from: ahscte.weebly.com
Besides, it is very important that teacher monitor as frequently as possible what students are doing and how they are performing the task assigned.
But not only web based lessons can help teachers to make innovations in teaching, there are also other web based alternatives that can make assessment process easier for students, that is the case of e- portfolios and e- assessment, which have made the evaluation more friendly.
e- portaflios are students’ collection of works on the web, that help them not only to keep an easy to access record of their work, but also let them to correct or improve them at any time. This is a great assessment tool, not only because of its accessibility, but also because it helps students to develop their creativity and also encourage them to find something new to add to their work to make it better. Besides, according to Luitel (n.d), portfolios may offer a kind of authentic evaluation as it allows teachers to assess students from a wider perspective so it offers a better picture of what is going on in students’ minds as it shows not only results, but also the process that they went through to learn.               
Finally, it is the e-assessment which consists on a set of online tools that let teachers to prepare different kinds of evaluation, including portfolios and online tests, which are suitable especially for distance education.
Online education alternatives are now just a click, and they have come to show us that everything is possible nowadays if it is well planned.

References:

Luitel, B (s.f) Authentic and Portfolio Assessment. Curtin University of Technology.Disponible:http://au.geocities.com/bcluitel/assessment.htm

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Week 8: Social media or social networks?

Image taken from: treuemax.com 
Like with other educational innovations the use of social networks, communities of practice and personal learning networks are questioned by some people and loved and defended by others.
It seems that although some teachers include technologies in their classes they simply do not dare to step forward by interacting with students in such a personal space, like the ones they have in social networks.
Wikipedia, defines Social media as “the social interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks”, according to this definition it is possible to think if social media is designed to share information and we as teachers do share information when teaching  why cannot include it in our practice? Actually, there are lots of teachers who share the same opinion that Pulkit (2014), who states that teachers should see social media as “an opportunity to build a more meaningful education system for teachers and student”.  
However, I think that it is important to make a clear distinction between the use of social media and social networks, not only to overcome our fear,  but also to decide in a properly way ( according to our context) which social tools could be used in our classes.
Basically, we can say that in one hand, social media is the macro term used to describe all those elements in which people can interact to exchange ideas and create new information. On the other hand social networks are those platforms specially designed to build social relations with people who share the same interests, origin and even real- life connections to share impressions or information about daily life issues. So, social networks will be then one of the different forms of social media. The following illustration represents the different types of social media according to the classification made by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010):



A lot of interesting activities in second language teaching can be done using any of the resources previously mentioned by developing communities of practice. However, there are some issues that can influence the acceptance of including these media in classes. For instance, some people do not like social networks at all, others just do not want to mix their academic and professional life with their personal one, and some are just afraid of being stalked or being cyber bullied, so it can be a little bit complicated to integrate social networks in educational activities.  Nevertheless, there are other resources that do not require sharing too much personal information and that can be used with educational purposes as practice communities like wikis and blogs just to mention some. The idea of integrating this kind of tools is to make teachers and students comfortable with sharing information and offer them at the same time the opportunity of choosing the media they consider the safest for their privacy.

Here there is a video related to the use of social networks in adult education:

video

video taken form youtube


References:
Pukit, (2014) The Barriers To Using Social Media In Education (Part 1 of 2) (online article) Retrieved from: http://www.edudemic.com/social-media-in-education-2/
Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael (2010). "Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media". Business Horizons 53 (1). p.61 doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Week 7: Videos and other useful Web 2.0 tools. Are they suitable for all kind of students?

Image taken from: www.textalibrarian.com  

As technology evolves every day, there are multiple choices in technological tools that can be used in the classroom. In fact, it is amazing just to take a look to the different options that we have to make new things in our classroom that we did not even know they existed. But are all these resources suitable for all the students?
Some teachers are always looking for improvement in language teaching and how to include technology in their practice. In fact, Dunn (2011) presents a list of 100 web 2.0 tools proposed by different teachers from all around the world to develop activities in ELT. Some of them are used to create videos that can be uploaded in the internet like: ANIMOTO, PIVOT STICK FIGURE ANIMATOR, SCREENCAST, XTRANORMAL, SLIDESHARK, YOUTUBE,  USTREAM.TV, VIMEO, among others. This list gives us an idea of the huge variety of tools that we can access to create new things with our students.
Image taken from: www.appappeal.com
However, there are several aspects that should be analyzed before choosing one of these resources to work in our classes. The idea of using web 2.0 tools in our classes is to offer our students the opportunity of doing some collaborative work, but before planning an activity that can use one of these tools, teachers should take into account student’s needs, age, they type of English that is taught (EGP, ESP or EAP, for instance), the context of the students and the purpose of the activity.  The use of these resources should be meaningful, useful and at the same time collaborative, so learners can get the real benefit of using it. In this line Pim (2013) states that “Technological use is clearly ‘situated’, dependent on context and predicated on the notion that what works in one context may not be entirely replicable in another. However, creative practitioners will always be able to see the potential for an idea and are particularly adept at customising approaches to meet the individual needs of their learners”.

Although some teachers include technologies in their practice, they tend to be very traditional because they like to use those tools that they know very well without stopping to think if there are others resources that can be very useful for educational purposes and can fit better student’s context and needs. When choosing a web 2.0 tool and designing an activity it is important to know that not all the classes are the same and that the class effectiveness may vary depending on each group, so careful planning should be the cornerstone of including technology in our classes. 

Here there are some videos that are used to teach English through videos: 












References:
Dunn, J. (2011) The 100 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools Chosen By You. (online) Retrieved from: http://www.edudemic.com/best-web-tools/ 
Pim, C. (2013) Emerging technologies, emerging minds: digital innovations within the primary sector. In G. Motteram (Ed.) Innovations in learning technologies for English language teaching. (pp. 16-42)