Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Learning Networks and Communities of Practice

Picture taken from www.socialserviceinstitute.sg

If we go back a few entries, we shall remember that part of the digital competencies expected from teachers of the new era include collaborative learning and sharing of knowledge. Teachers are expected to be learners and producers of knowledge, constantly engaged with educational experimentation and innovation. This, of course, shall be achieved by working collaboratively with their colleagues and outside experts. Hence, this leads to the fact that teachers must be literate in the use of a variety of digital resources, networked devices to create and support a community of knowledge and collaborative learning.

This social learning system includes what are called Communities of Practice (CoPs). These are groups of people who share an interest or a passion about a particular topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise by regularly interacting. Of course, more than just sharing an interest, communities of practice are focused on a domain of knowledge and, more than just sharing interests, their goal is to develop their shared practice by dealing in community with problems, solutions, and building a common store of knowledge.

For developing professionally, educators nowadays can build their own Personal or Professional Learning Network (PLN), a system of interpersonal connections that foster and support informal learning. Two types of systems can be used as PLNs:

  • ·         Information aggregation systems: used to collect and organize information regarding a topic from various resources. It helps users to stay up-to-date on theories, practices and news in the field. Among this type of systems we have the RSS reader and Social Bookmarking tools such as Diigo. The first collects information from various websites and allows educators to skim through hundreds of pages, web sites, wikis and articles in order to find the most relevant information. The second, allows users to highlight, tag and organize relevant web pages, and by joining a group you receive shared bookmarks from all members in the group regularly.

  • ·         Social media connections: provide users with a space to connect with a global audience. Apart from popular social media tools such as Facebook or Twitter, there are also interest-based groups, such as GoogleGroups or Ning. In other words, these can be any online place where you can connect with other individuals: websites, discussion forums, social networking sites and so on.

In general, literature highlights many reasons why educators should use PLNs, and some of them are the following:

·         They help people learn from each other in a communal way. Educator can use them to ask for help, feedback and ideas.

·         They’re more flexible and personalized than conventional place-based conventional education.

·         They can be accessed any time and anywhere.

·         Instead of waiting for scheduled workshops, educators can ask for help through their PLNs and get immediate responses.

But not only educators find PLNs advantageous, but they’ve also proven to be useful for learners in many areas of expertise:

·         Many students are part of PLNs to learn skills that they’re not taught in their schools, such as photography, graphic design, even foreign languages.

·         They learn by participating in discussion forums, sharing their work and receiving feedback as part of collective knowledge building group.

If you have further interest in the concept of Communities of Practice, I recommend you to read this article written by Etienne Wenger, the author who is believed to have coined this concept: Communities  of  Practice  and  Social  Learning  Systems:  the  Career  of  a  Concept. http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/09-10-27-CoPs-and-systems-v2.0.pdf

I also recommend you this article if you’re interested in helping your students to create a PLN: Helping Students Develop a Personal Learning Network, written by Katie Becker, gives some tips to help your students, particularly young learners, to create and maintain a PLN. http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com/blog/?p=2050#sthash.AaCaiHkL.dpbs

Monday, 9 June 2014

Video-making with ELT purposes

picture taken from imacify.com
In previous entries, I have reflected on the use of technology in ELT, from the different types of technology-enhanced learning, through the web itself, to specific applications and programs. All this focused on how these technologies help us improve the quality of our teaching and make our students’ learning more dynamic. Every day, new tools to deliver information are created and it is part of our development as teachers to learn how to use them or at least be aware of their potential for future projects where our learners are exposed to a larger amount of real material and also to more opportunities of interaction.

I mentioned recently how broadcasting technologies are a boom in ELT research. Every day, more and more tools are developed to record and store audio and video on the web, and more and more research is being carried out on how we can take the best out of these technologies to improve our students learning and give them, and us, more ways to use our knowledge and put into practice everything we learn. One of the less explored, but at the same time one that seems really promising, is the use of videos, screencasts and slideshares in the classroom. 

Teachers can use a variety of video editing programs such as Movie Maker to create educational videos either to use in class or to provide students with some extra practice outside the classroom. These videos can be uploaded to a host page such as YouTube, where our students would be able to access them anytime and anywhere. Nowadays, we have many programs that facilitate video-making, not only to install in our computers, but also web-based platforms. And with these programs we can create videos out of pictures and voice recording, but we can also record whatever we do in our computer!

Before I go any further, it is convenient to define this last type of video-recording: screencasting. It is basically the digital recording of whatever we do in our computer screen, which can and is usually accompanied by voiceover narration. We can screencast by using a Screen Capture Software (SCS), such as Screen-o-matic, Jing, Screenr, CamStudio, Tildee, all of which are free, and also paid software like Camtasia. This type of video has been used in a variety of fields so far, but pedagogically it seems to be more commonly used to create tutorials or to extend classroom lectures. Its use has been reported to be really successful when it comes to providing students with information and additional access to teaching and materials. The possibilities opened by this asynchronous access to learning materials, not only help us teachers whenever we need to make up for missed classes, but also to review materials given in class. 

Apart form this, screencasting has also proven to be useful to respond and give feedback to our students assignments, specifically those submitted in an electronic format such as a Word document, a Power Point presentation, a Web site or even a video. According to research, screencasting is a better vehicle for in depth explanatory feedback than traditional written comments: as you check your students work in your computer, you can record while you highlight and give on the spot comments or corrections to what your students have done; this material is later accessible to the students and can be watched over and over again if necessary and generate deeper reflections on the students’ own mistakes.

Overall, we could list a few of many uses for screencasting:

- To teach how to use a web tool by making a short tutorial. Here you’ll find an example of a tutorial I made on how to open a Wikispaces classroom, using Camtasia. 

- To give feedback to our students’ work.
- As video lecture.
- To make presentations.

Another useful tool is VoiceThread, a web platform where you can create your own slideshows, upload pictures, video and images; you can also add comments on these by adding your own voice.  These and many other tools I could count, but I prefer to focus on how these technologies are useful not only to make our classes more dynamic, give extra material or create a deeper connection with our students; our students can also use these tools on their own to carry out several types of activities, such as doing oral presentations, preparing projects such as making a short movie or tutorial, practise their use of the L2 and so on. 

If you’re interested in the use of screencasting in the ESL classroom I strongly recommend you to read this article by Riki Thompson and Meredith J. Lee, ‘Talking with Students Through Screencasting: Experimentation with Video Feedback to Improve Student Learning”. In this article, the authors reflect on how important it is to give constructive feedback to our students, particularly written work, and how screencasting is a potential tool to respond to assignments submitted in an electronic format.

I recommend you to have a look at this post by Deniz Atesok as well, ‘VoiceThread & Ways of Using it in EFL/ESL classes’. Here you may find some very good ideas and activities that can benefit from the use of a tool such as VoiceThread. http://denizatesok.edublogs.org/2011/03/31/voicethread-ways-of-using-it-in-eflesl-classes/

Deniz Atesok also gives us some tips and ideas on how to use YouTube videos in the post ‘Using YouTube to Teach Productive Skills’. Apart from learning how to make a video for our classroom, it is part of our development as teachers to learn how to use existent material, specially realia, that is available on the web for us to take as much advantage as we can of ICTs: http://denizatesok.edublogs.org/2011/05/21/using-youtube-to-teach-productive-skills/
Finally, I found this video on YouTube about an ESL course whose project was to make a video. It is a sample of how students can practice their language through task-based learning, in a collaborative environment and using information and communication technologies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39o0bh42C_c

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Podcasting for ESL-EFL purposes

picture taken from www.webanywhere.co.uk

As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, we’re living in a mobile society. We’re never in one place, and we can have Internet access almost everywhere we go. And apart from the creation of resources such as apps specially made for mobile devices such as iPhones, there’s something else that has become a simpler task nowadays: distribution of audio and video files. And this is when the term Podcasting starts rolling.

Podcasting, a combination of the words iPod and Broadcasting, implies the delivery and distribution of audio and video files over the internet in ordered to be listened on mobile devices and personal computers, this through the use of RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Here lies the real novelty of podcasting, the fact that this audio/video content can be downloaded automatically. In fact, with a ‘podcast receiver’ device (such as iTunes) you can simply upload tons of audio material or podcasts in your mp3 or mobile with high speed internet connection.

Anyhow, what we care about is, how can teachers take advantage of this technology? To begin with, the students can listen to these materials (radio programs, recorded conversations and so on) while they’re travelling, in a waiting room or even when simply commuting. This allows them constant exposure to the language they are learning, since they have the possibility to listen to a variety of material in the target language and about many different topics of their interest.

Appart from being exposed to real and authentic extracts of the target language, this material can supplement the listening we find in textbooks and provide extra listening possibilities, not only inside but also outside the classroom. I myself have used podcasts related to a specific topic in the curriculum in order to complement my classes and provide my students with further listening practice than the textbook materials can allow. Furthermore, the students can be exposed to different varieties of the language and feel optimistic to discuss about what they just heard.

I have even used podcasts the same way I use online videos, adding simple listening tasks which can be as simple as note-taking, answering questions, guessing the topic, doing true/false and/or multiple-choice exercises to mention a few. The use of podcasts in the ESL/EFL classroom is so widely accepted that we can find banks of material which teachers can access to in order to include them in their lessons, supported by exercises and transcripts.

ESL/EFL teachers can use podcasts further. As part of a class project, or for them to practice their speaking and pronunciation, the students can be encouraged to create their own podcasts and publish them for a real audience (e.g. classroom discussions, interviews, reports, speech work, etc.). This not only provides students with practice on a particular skill, but also promotes students’ engagement with the language they’re producing aimed to a wider, real, audience.

Podcasting is still a very recent but promising tool for English language teaching. Moreover, less explored but also promising is the use of webcasting, similar to podcasting, but which implies live transmission. In other words, we could have our students communicating in real time, not only with their peers, but also with EFL students in different parts of the world, involving them in really exiting cultural exchanges. This is already possible through sites such as EFL Bridges, for example, where students can call and chat to students from all around the world. Also, even though it’s a bit more demanding and harder to set up and produce, having our students produce video podcasting is another promising way to engage our learners, with programs and sites that allow the recording of video as well, such as Podomatic.

To finish, I invite you to listen to a sample of an interview-structured podcast made for my course on ICT in ELT. The conversation took place through Skype, recorded with MP3 Skype Recorder, edited in an audio editing program named Audacity and finally uploaded to Podbean.com


Recommended readings:

Chris Evans in his article ‘The Effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education’ describes how effective has been podcasting as a tool in m-learning, specifically to teaching undergraduate students in higher education.  http://www.cblt.soton.ac.uk/multimedia/PDFsMM09/Effect%20of%20mobile%20learning%20in%20the%20form%20of%20podcast%20revision%20lectures%20in%20higher%20education.pdf

Also, if you’re interested in developSkype Recordering your proficiency on how to produce and publish podcasts and how to implement them in the language classroom, we recommend you to take a look at this blog, ‘Podcasting for the ESL-EFL classroom’. http://podcasting2013evo.blogspot.com/

Finally, this is an interesting material on an experience using student-generated video podcasts in a Japanese EFL classroom, written by Ami Christensen, that may give you some ideas on how to use this resource in any future projects. http://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/65612