Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Project 'Write' for General English Intermediate

The role of writing in our life has changed over the centuries and the digital era has seen an increase in writing thanks to the popularity of e-mails, web forums, social networks and so on. However, these texts tend to be really short, and long, formal writing seems to be less necessary in this era. But still, a number of reasons push us to promote writing in the classroom:

  • First, many students have the need to develop their writing skills because of their work or because they need to write academic documents, or simply because their area require lots of writing.
  • Second, the mental process when we write involves more time to think, giving time for the student to reflect on the language, to rehearse it, to make mistakes and find alternatives and solutions to any problem they might face during the process.

Most learners nowadays live in a world of electronic text, spending most of their time reading and writing on computers, thus, Wikis are valuable tools for teachers to promote collaborative learning in a stress-free, learner-centred environment, where teachers-learners, as well as learners-learners can keep constant communication. Also, this is the proper space for the students to store their written work, since they can keep track of their work, revise and edit as many times as they please, allowing self-reflection.

According to the needs analyses that have been applied to many courses of General English at The British Council Venezuela, most of those who have steady jobs would like to improve their English either to get a promotion, to be able to speak fluently with their English-native peers or to get a position in another country. Most students who take these courses are looking forward to improving their English either to study abroad or to take the IELTS exam. Also, it’s more common that they express interest in improving their productive skills, in other words, writing and speaking skills.

To sum up, I have these punctual objectives:

  1. Provide the students of general English courses with a learner-centred environment to develop their writing skills.
  2. Foster collaborative learning, as well as the development of my learners’ digital competences.
  3. Raise learners’ awareness of the importance of storing, keeping track and revising their written work.
  4. Collect information about how practical the tool is for the students and whether they consider that it can help them to improve their writing skills.
  5. Gather the students’ opinion regarding collaborative writing, teacher/peer feedback and teacher/peer assessment.

I’m going to work with an intermediate level catalogued as 5B in the British Council’s system, in which we are supposed to cover modules 4-6 of the New Cutting Edge Intermediate students’ book, which cover these three topics: life events, success (the world of work) and in the media.

The participant learners will have to follow the steps below:
  • Access the weekly pages and complete the tasks.
  • Learners have to give peer feedback to their classmates’ writings and comments and encourage more writing.
  • Peer correction guided by the teacher is mandatory and preferibly on time. Consider that, if this is not done, your partner will not be aware of things to improve.
  • Deadlines will be given for weekly tasks. This will be considered in the evaluation.
  • The learners will work on an essay as their final project, strictly following the steps recommended by the instructor
  • At the end of the course, the learners will complete a survey regarding their experience using Wikis and all its implications (e.g.collaborative writing, peer feedback)

The weekly tasks can be seen in detail by visiting the correspondent Wiki here:


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Web-based Lessons, E-portfolios and Assessment

Picture taken from www.webanywhere.us
As we have seen so far, educators today can take advantage of new information technologies in many different ways, for instance, blogging, podcasting, even twitting. There are many tools we can use either to increase and share our knowledge, to foster our students' digital literacy while they develop different skills through online work, or even simply to make our classes a bit more dynamic. This leads us to changes in traditional concepts such as e-learning (a few entries ago) and even lesson planning, with the rise of the concept of web-based lessons.
But what is a web-based lesson? it is simply a lesson that incorporates one or more websites, and it can be conducted either entirely online or mayb in a traditional classroom setting with an online component. These websites can be used for different purposes: research, reading, writing, publishing, and even simple communication and collaboration with teachers and learners. 
There are many reasons why a web-based lesson is considered beneficial, but I will limit myself to these basics:

Such variety of resources and information on the web can inspire very original activities, as well as they can facilitate the creation of lessons related to any topic a teacher can imagine.
This variety of media (texts, videos, audios, others) found online is, apart from exciting, really positive and conductive for different learning styles.

Of course, it has to be said that planning a web-based lesson is way different to planning a traditional, one/two-hour classroom lessons. Consider that asynchronous learning involves that the student works on his/her own rythm, but yet, your lesson needs to structure your students' time on the web properly. Also, your lesson needs to point the students in the correct direction and towards a specific aim within the internet environment, otherwise, you will have your students aimlessly surfing the web. In other words, setting the time spent in each activity, clear giving clear instructions and guide them through specific web-pages is crucial when planning this type of lessons.
Another important thing to consider is the outcome of the lesson, what the students have to produce and what to do with this product. Information technologies have brought the possibility for the students to have what are called e-portfolios (or electronic portfolios). These are a valuable collection of learners' work which enables them to keep track of their own learning through self-evaluation and self-reflection and, of course, different from traditional protfolios, these are published on the web: web-folios, blog-folios, facebook-based e-portfolios and wiki-based e-portfolios are some of the most commonly used. 
Students' interest in social media and virtual worlds have led educators to adopt them, but there are other reasons why they seem to be beneicial and useful:

They are believed to facilitate teacher-student collaboration, active learning, self-reflection and self-assessment as well as responsibility of learning.
They allow easy storage of learners' work.
Traditional portfolios are characterized with limited access to a smaller audience, while e-portfolios provide access to a wider range of consumers.
It is available at any time and anywhere to provide feedback and to check learners' ongoing progress.
They contribute to learning in a stress-free, collaborative and learner-centred environment.
Receiving feedback from teachers and peers through e-portfolios develops a more interactive context in web-enhanced language learning modes.

Another issue that may be of interest when it comes to web-learning and teaching is the assessment. As students take control of their own learning, teachers' ways to assess students changed as well. The web provides educators with a wide range of tools to improve assessment strategies and make it more adaptative to the students' learning requirements, as well as we can provide more effective forms of feedback via video, audio or computer.
This can also be done through item banks within digital platforms such as Easy Test Maker. where questions can be assessed and indexed so that learners are given tests that match their abilities, or these questions could be randomized and all students shall receive questions with similar difficulty levels. This also allows students to sit at different times without invalidating the test. Overall, according to several practitioners' recent research, assessment can be done through:

Recording and uploading students' work to support reflections.
Giving instant feedback through auto-scoring computer quizzes or online teacher feedback.
Using the distance of the online environment to more comfortably give feedback to peers.
Providing learners with data to review targets and identify focus areas.
Enabling teachers and learners to exchange messages using commentary boxes and audio notes.

It has been found that through web-assessment students were more likely to complete tasks and produce quality work when they were peer assessed using blogs or student response systems were part of the process, specially because collaboration and peer review through blogging, discussion boards and other resources has proven to encourage better performance. As for the benefits this brings to us teachers, we can assess different skills using the same digital tool, as well as monitoring students' results online makes assessment more instantaneous and timely, which leads to more opportunities for remedial action.

If you are interested in reading further on this topic, I recommend you to check out this article written by Matthew Prineas and Marie Cini, Assessing Learning in Online Education, The Role of Technology in Improving Student Outcomes: http://www.learningoutcomeassessment.org/documents/onlineed.pdf

Also, preparing a web-based lesson my not be easy task for novices, so you may find this guide quite useful: http://crescentok.com/staff/jaskew/WebBased/assignments2.htm