Sunday, 25 May 2014

‘Super fast’ learning - Using wikis for EFL courses

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So far we’ve mentioned blogs and blogging as one of the most popular tools that Web 2.0 has offered to teachers. But there’s another web application that is gaining popularity in EFL teaching: the wiki, an interactive and dynamic website that allows you to add, modify and delete content in collaboration with others. As blogs, they’re free and easy to create, but, while blogs are public, the wikis give you the option to create a private space in which only invited members can participate. 

Whether public or private, depending on the organizer’s settings, all users or members of a wiki site can create, edit and contribute to an apparent nonfinite number of pages, and it doesn’t only allow you to add texts or photos, but also videos, gadgets, widgets and more. In other words, it provides different editing tools and templates, as well as it allows you to add several web applications.

Wikis can be used for different educational purposes: for syllabus, to make content accessible in seminars, as platform for course projects or workshops, for forums and discussions and as an extra-classroom space for teaching and learning. Wikis can be beneficial for both students and teachers in many ways, because they:

a.     Improve communication and interaction: the students have the opportunity to share opinions and information either through commenting on the teachers’ or their partners’ works and pages.

b.     Encourage students’ participation: wiki’s options of posting comments or having discussions fosters the students’ participation, as well as the teacher can give them the task of commenting about something specific that leads to whole class discussion.

c.     Promote collaborative work: the fact that the students are integral part of the wiki space, with the possibility of editing and collaborating to the site’s content, may give the students a sense of community and responsibility. Also, specific tasks prepared by the teacher may demand collaborative work from them.

d.     Facilitate projects: wiki is a space where students can play an important part at, as well as it’s ideal to create specific class or groups projects. Platforms such as Wikispaces, for example, have a ‘Classroom’ modality apart from the traditional wiki, where the creator of the page has the tool to start projects by giving specific assignments to a determined group of users.

e.     Help to develop students’ reading and writing skills: teachers have the opportunity to provide students with more material for them to read and also to send particular writing tasks, but the fact of only writing a comment about a particular page content is already writing practice. Besides the fact that not only the teacher, but also their peers, will have access to their writing gives the student a feeling of commitment with what they write.

f.        Provide a space for sharing resources: as it was mentioned before, not only can we send our students extra material for them to work on, we can also lead them to blogs or sites where they can find more material and even have material used in class available for them (e.g. presentations, worksheets, and so on)

g.     Improve students-students and teacher-students relationship: as the sense of community increases, students get to know a bit more about each other, but also the teacher knows more about the students, almost as much as they get to know about their teacher. This gives teachers a great advantage, since lessons can be planned around the students’ favorite topics and even taking into account their wishes and past experiences. Sometimes, Wikis can give you more information about our students than a one-day Needs Analysis.

h.      Develops creativity: both teachers and students’ creativity have a space to grow in a Wiki. Since you can create as many pages as you like, add gadgets and any kind of audiovisual material (e.g., pictures, videos, podcasts and so on), teachers have the opportunity to adventure and propose a variety of activities and tasks that might not have been possible in a traditional classroom. Teachers and students practically have no limits when it comes to resources since the web gives us a large amount of material, which encourages us to do something different.

There’s a lot of material on the web devoted to the use of Wikis in the classroom and I could recommend you the next:

This article by Vanderbilt University may give you more ideas on how to use a wiki, and the writers even give you real examples of how other instructors are using wikis. 
Also, it’s interesting the fact that they mention the difference between working with a wiki and using a blog.

Since we’ve mentioned online learning in previous posts, this article can also be of your interest: ‘Why Wikis? Student Perceptions of Using Wikis in Online Coursework’ by Faye Deters, Kristen Cuthrell and Joe Stapleton, which shows the perceptions of a particular group of students in online instructions about using wikis. It also reflects around the benefits and limitations of this tool.

Finally, I recommend you to read ‘Use of Wikis in Second/Foreign Language Classes: A Literature Review‘, by Mimi Li. In this article, the author examines and reviews literature regarding the use of Wikis in the ELT classroom, (i.e. theories, tasks, wiki applications) and categorizing it into different topics. This is an article which can help you if you’re interested in the state of the topic so far and gives you a base for further academic research.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Blogging in ELT

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Recapitulating, it’s clear that nowadays learners of all ages are every time more and more familiar with information technologies and they’re expected that to be more accessible no time. Internet has practically become our best friend, a friend that provides us with greater opportunities for interactivity, knowledge acquisition and control as users. Hence, English Language Teaching has benefitted from many tools that the web offers, for instance, Web 1.0 allowed schools and universities to facilitate information and learning material to any user who could access the web, even those geographically distant; and with the emergence of Web 2.0, a more interactive network to access information was born, one that allows users’ active participation in the built of new knowledge and experiences.

One of the most used platforms in language teaching has been the weblog, more commonly known as blog; a sort of online journal which users can create, design and continuously update. As a Web 2.0 tool, blogs utilize a simple interface, which makes it simple for their users to be part of all the process of its creation and maintenance, since no knowledge of programming or web-scripting is required.

This same blog was created rapidly and according to my taste: I chose the color, the format, the font and I myself in less than five minutes can add and modify its content. Moreover, I’m even using it as a journal of what I’ve learned in my course on ICT in the ELT classroom, and also to share my knowledge and experience acquired. I also have a list of blogs that connect me with other journals created by my peers. As learners, blogs help us share and discuss knowledge and information, which certainly increases learning performance.

There are many uses for blogs: as course syllabus, as professional websites, for free publishing and so on. But what about the benefits they can bring to English language learners? As teachers, what exactly can blogs do for our students? I’d like to number some of many possibilities, or the ones which I consider more significant:

a.     Stimulate students with further reading practice: blogging has proven to be very beneficial to encourage our learners to read in the target language, especially extensive reading, since the students are more motivated to do so in the online environment than they would be in the classroom.

b.     Provide students with hyperlinks to appropriate resources on the web: apart from materials selected to follow the course’s syllabus, the web gives us the facility to guide our students to various sites (or blogs) with extra material that can be useful for them to learn and practice their skills in the L2.

c.     Encourage shy students to participate: shy students tend to find it easier to socialize and communicate online rather than face-to-face, and under the protection of a screen they’re more likely to enjoy sharing their thoughts and participating in group work and projects than in a traditional classroom setting.

d.     Stimulate out-of-class discussion with their peers: apart from in-site discussion in the classroom, students can have an alternative space to share their opinions about various topics, as well as work on their language learning and help their peers in this process.

e.     Foster a sense of community among learners: by encouraging our students to explore their knowledge and exchange information, they’re more likely to feel part of a community rather than isolated learners.

f.        Promote learner-centred learning environment: the web becomes a learning environment that allows the students to learn at their own pace and also propose topics or materials of their and their partners’ interest.

g.     Encourage writing practice: blogs provide a real audience for the students’ writing, so they may be more aware of the importance of what and how they write than if they were writing for the teacher only. Also, they’re practicing this skill in a meaningful and authentic environment for them when they comment on posts.

h.      Fosters students’ creation of online journals of their written work: learners can keep their blog linked to a course as an electronic portfolio of their written work and keep track of their own development over time.

i.         Promote collaborative and project based learning: students can use blogs as part of a particular project, working in teams in order to get the best results and a meaningful outcome.

These are some of many reasons why teachers should be literate in the uses and possibilities of blogging and encourage their use among learners. Furthermore, there are three particular types of blogs for use in the ELT classroom, and their characteristics and advantages are summarized in the article  ‘Weblogs for use with ESL classes’ by Aaron Patric Campbell. In this article, the author gives some tips on how to put into use blogs in the ESL classroom and also mentions software available to do so.

This section of the British Council website devoted to blogging in ELT can also give you a few more tips on how to use this resource in the classroom, reasons to do so, how to manage the settings and even gives you some ideas for activities.

Finally, I recommend you to read ‘Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice’ by Shih-Hsien Yang as well. This article goes more in-depth in the benefits of using blogs in order to foster critical reflection and communities of practice based on the authors’ research using blogging in teacher training programmes.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Teaching Through a Web in Evolution: Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0

In the previous post we surfed through basic concepts that XXI-century teachers must be aware of, such as mobile learning, e-learning and so on. As we did, we should have realized how teaching and learning typologies have fed from the web, and therefore, its evolution has inevitably caused changes in the way technology is used in ELT. As the web evolves, teachers, instructional designers, trainers, have to adapt their infrastructure for interacting and delivering content.

Therefore, it’s necessary for teachers to know the basics about the evolution of the web in order to understand changes in the part technology plays in the ELT classroom and moreover, how further development of the web is reshaping and will impact the way we teach.
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The first generation sites, better known as Web 1.0, were introduced in the 1980s with the creation of the World Wide Web (WWW) interface. These sites were mostly read only and mainly with the sole purpose to share information; it was some kind of library in which we could access information on the web, but this information couldn’t be changed by the general users in any way, being the owner of the site the only one who could carry out any modification. Also, some knowledge of programming was necessary to create and modify a site.
However, 2000 brought the rise of the Social Web or Web 2.0, with sites such as Facebook and Amazon. We can still use it to receive information as passive readers, but its particularity lies on the fact that users can also contribute with their own knowledge and experience (user-contributed content), making it more interactive and highly collaborative. Sites such as Blogger or Wikipedia allow the users to modify the content without the need of a particular knowledge of programming; in other words, Web 2.0 meant a more useful-friendly framework.

But innovations in Artificial Intelligence and in computer science have occurred so fast that, without even noticing, a different internet, the Web 3.0, is emerging. Also known as the Semantic Web, it is proposed to be a web capable to understand human-produced content. It is believed to be a continuation of Web 2.0 in a certain way, but, even though websites in the Web 2.0 somehow communicate, in the Web 3.0 they’ll not only share information, but will be able to understand this information (understanding of natural language), analyze it and produce the results expected by the user. It’s focused on the individual, since the more a user uses the web, the more this learns from the proper user (interests, job, etc.) and the more able to anticipate the user’s needs. Previously, we mentioned how society is becoming more and more mobile, and this is likely to increase in the near future, when Web 3.0 make the internet more and more invisible, not only found in a computer, a mobile or a tablet, but also in our home appliances and clothes.

This may seem already amazing for us, but this is already happening, and further changes are expected: a Web 4.0 or Virtual Web, which would transform the web in a digital landscape, is already foreseen and changes are expected to show firstly in the development of online massive role-playing videogames.

How will teachers adapt and incorporate these technologies into their classrooms? We’ll find the way when the time comes. Using the web has proven to be tremendously useful and beneficial for ELT, and this is not likely to change since such promising technologies are to come. If you’re interested in this topic and would like to read about it more in detail, you can take a look at the documents below:

‘Adding Intelligence to Internet: Service Web 3.0’ by Deependra Kr. Dwivedi and others, is an interesting paper which goes through the evolution of the web and how Web 3.0 should work in terms of data organization and its relation with the user.

Another useful resource is ‘World Wide Web in the Service of Scholling: Semantic Web as a Solution for Language Teaching in Cypriot Secondary School’, written by Neofytou Chrystalla, in which the author analyzes the advantages of the Semantic Web in teaching secondary school, specifically to facilitate the user, whether be teachers or learners, to choose appropriate texts for their learning process.

Finally, we recommend you to read ‘Semantic Web Technology for Web-Based Teaching and Learning: A Roadmap’ by Edmond Holohan and Claus Pahl’, which will provide you with more in-depth information regarding the possible future uses of the Semantic Web, particularly in distance and computer-aided teaching and learning.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Basic Concepts of ICT in ELT

From the 1980s until today, the development and use of technology in language teaching has gone through several changes, from initially limited to gap filling and word processing, through the development of web 2.0 tools and platforms, to the arrival of the social web and mobile technologies.  Step by step, hardware advances influenced changes in how learners and teachers took advantage of technological devices for their own learning processes and teaching preparation, as well as they led to changes in course books’, activities and materials design to include in the classrooms. Without going any deeper in this, it is our goal to introduce and clarify some of the most common terms used in ELT related to ICT development, and these are the ones below:
  • - Electronic learning is what we call any kind of learning assisted by information and communication technologies. There’s a tendency to limit this concept to the use of web resources, however, it includes any kind of learning involving electronic technology, such as interactive CD-roms, videos, video conferencing or hand-held computers.
  • - Distance Learning involves the deliver of information, classes and materials to someone distant by using different channels, not necessarily via websites or e-mail, and it’s typically held at college level. The students work at home or at the office, and they’re usually distant geographically. Nowadays, there are massive courses of this type which offer interactive participation and open access thanks to the web and other network technologies, but distant learning involves materials that can be both printed and electronic media.
  • - Online Learning refers to a type of schooling in which everything is held and stored on the web, and supports a two way communication via a computer network so the students can communicate with each other, the teacher and other staff. Materials used combine networking technologies with audios and videos.
  • - Blended Learning is an education program in which face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-mediated activities. The students learn in parts through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of control over time, place, path or pace.
  • - Mobile Learning, involves learning with mobile devices, with technologies which include hand-held computers, MP3 players, notebooks, mobile phones and tablets. Learners can learn anywhere and at any time since it focuses on the mobility of the learners, who are considered part of an increasingly mobile population.

 These are some of the basic concepts related to the use of ICT in ELT that we must be aware of. However, sometimes we may wonder how to incorporate technology in our classroom and all the factors we should consider in order to use them successfully.
In my case, our classrooms are equipped with PCs with broadband internet connection and ActivInspire, a software which allows us to create our own interactive presentations for their use in the classroom. Most classrooms are equipped with ActivInspire Interactive White Boards as well, connected to the PC, and those classrooms that don’t, are equipped with projectors. Also, digital versions of the students’ course books are installed in these PCs, which gives us fast access to pictures, tapescripts and other multimedia material that accompanies course book activities.
This gives me more opportunities, not only to create visually-attractive materials, but also to provide my students with more realistic input through multimedia resources and online material. For instance, students may practice their listening skills by watching a short documentary or listening to a song, practice their writing by telling a story based on an add or a music-clip, and so on. I’ve also had the chance to use set of activities and games from web-sites devoted to developing online interactive materials for learners, such as or I even take advantage of these web resources to encourage students to practice their skills outside the classroom, sometimes sending tasks involving watching videos and doing activities online as homework.
There are many other resources, such as mobile apps, virtual worlds or wikis that I haven’t experimented with yet, but there’s certainly lot of potential in technology to make our classes more dynamic, realistic and meaningful to our students. 

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If you’d like to read more about these topics I recommend you the following material:

 ‘e-Learning, online learning, and distance learning environments: Are they the same?’ is an article written by Joi L. Moore and other colleagues in which they go through the different uses and meanings that have been given to the concepts of e-learning, online learning and distance learning.

In this entry, Jennifer Weingarten introduces other terms, including those related to traditional learning settings, and some useful tips about what to take into account when using technology in the classroom.

This is a paper which is part of a Working Paper Series on Mobile Learning (WPS ML), licensed and granted by UNESCO. It introduces thoughts on the present state of Mobile Learning and its future, as well as it reflects on the barriers and enablers that are part of the challenge to promote Mobile learning around the world.