Friday, December 19, 2008

Language Exchange

In an effort to make my own learning as transparent as possible, I thought I'd share a clip of a class I was involved with this month and reflect on the experience.  

This clip shows three language learners participating in a presentation about women´s roles and their differences between American and Mexican cultures.  The student sitting down is a Mexican English language learner and her partners (American Spanish language learners) are the two students in the video being projected on the wall.  This project was a capstone performance task that ended a semester-long language exchange.  Using Skype, language learners participated in weekly, hour-long exchanges speaking half the time in Spanish and half in English.  These weekly events ended up driving the rest of the week's lesson as learners were given the opportunity to prepare for subsequent exchanges and to reflect on prior ones.    

Towards the end of the semester, my colleague (in the US) and I decided to extend the language exchange experience to include mini presentations that would give the partners a chance to simultaneously present something to the rest of the classes (in the US and in Mexico).  We really left it wide open in the beginning but would require that the groups compare and contrast cultural differences between the US and Mexico.  With a little assistance on our part in narrowing down topics, the groups were really off-and-running from the beginning.

The technology used to simultaneously display the PowerPoint presentation is Google Docs and the video being projected on the wall is Skype.  The first attempt at this activity included using Yugma to project the PowerPoint presentation and Skype for the video.  Considering all the presentations of this kind that were conducted over a four-day period, I feel confident in saying that the preferred technology is Google Docs.  The day we used Yugma, we ended up scrapping the whole day - the connection was just too poor to conduct the presentations.  Having said that, there was one day where the connection caused a bit of a distraction while using Google Docs, however we were able to get through it.  Our American counterparts have a "hyperspeed" connection while we typically have 150-200 bps connection.  Clearly we are the bottleneck, but if this 150-200 bps is maintained (as it is being maintained in this video), then it doesn´t really affect the quality of the experience.  Broadband is an important consideration when doing a language exchange that incorporates audio, video, and a shared presentation.  

As I reflect on this particular class, a reoccuring theme keeps entering my mind: preparation.  As you see in this video, our learners were advancing the slides, both for their own presentation and their American partners' as well.  In other words, consolidating PowerPoint presentations beforehand is helpful and should be uploaded to Google Docs and shared before the presentation begins.  If you notice at 7:00 minutes, this is me not being prepared.  This is an example of what not to do.  The presentations here are divided into two separate files and I failed to upload my learner's presentation.  As you can see, it takes me three minutes to get it going.  Advice: Have both PowerPoints as one file and have it uploaded and shared in time for the actual presentation.   
One of the most important aspects of this performance task was at 14:14.  After the Mexican English language learner finishes her presentation, an American student offers a slightly different perspective.  At 14:38 I paraphrase what the American student said after detecting that some in my group did not understand.  At 14:55, the teacher in the US offers more perspective. At 16:06, the teacher in the US asks how my group feels about their presentation and as you can see, they are a little slow to respond.  At this point, they are not quite used to having a discussion of this type and they are still feeling a bit intimidated.  At 17:34, notice how the Mexican learner states the difference in cultures.  A reflection activity might expose at what point she realized this difference.  Did she believe this before she met her partner?  Or did she have an inclination going into the language exchange that was then later confirmed after having worked with her partner over the course of a semester?     

A performance task of this type is best served when both groups can get as involved as possible in the discussion.  Due to time constraints, the question-and-answer stage of this presentation was rather brief, but in my opinion effective.

Any comments/suggestions on this activity are welcomed, and I would love to know what other technologies are being used to achieve similar or different learning goals.   

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Distributed Leadership

I´m reading Sergiovanni's Strengthening the heartbeat: Leading and learning together in schools where he mentions "distributed leadership" within the context of "leadership as entitlement". According to Sergiovanni (and I agree), those who have the ability to lead should be given the authority to do so, regardless of position.

I think this translates well to the classroom as well, that is, a classroom as a learning community. The notion of distributed (or networked) leadership provides all actors (i.e., teachers, students, parents, administrators, civic leaders, etc.) the chance to take on leadership roles at appropriate times based on the individual strengths of the collective. Thus, power is distributed as well throughout the community - both within and outside the classroom - in a way that provides a more equitable education. Learners, for example, who are given the opportunity (or authority) to lead in classroom activities and in their own learning, begin to feel empowered as their ability to lead improves as well. Through their interaction with others, they begin to see the strengths of others while at the same time realizing their own weaknesses. By developing personal wisdom, they gain insight on the benefits of creating various ties with classmates and others in order to improve their own personal learning network.

Although these concepts work at a variety of levels, the challenge is creating an environment that encourages learners, educators, etc. to take on leadership roles through interaction that includes actors that perhaps fall outside the common cliques that drive most social, educational, and professional dialog.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Teacher observations

I´ve been participating in threads pertaining to teacher observations, walk-throughs, etc., and recalling previous conversations with colleagues regarding the same, and still have reservations with the notion of using checklists when observing teachers.
How much can be observed when the observer is going down a checklist containing items that are or are not being addressed in class?  

How reliable and valid can an observation be when focused items from that checklist are discussed and predetermined in the pre-observation conference?  

How reliable and valid are observations that are either scheduled or conducted at random when teachers know ahead of time the areas of teaching/learning that administrators find important?
Working together with all teachers in establishing a set of agreed-upon teaching principals should be the bases of post-observation teacher conferences.  Instead of creating a checklist, having a common educational philosophy, mission, and a set of collective commitments paves the way for teachers to chart out their own path in initiating a change in practice.

Friday, October 17, 2008

MEXTESOL: Performance Tasks

For those who are interested in the PowerPoint presentation (that I presented at MEXTESOL yesterday), it is available by clicking the link below (Scribd).  It was good to meet teachers with similar interests regarding performance tasks as an alternative form of assessment.  I am interested in hearing your successes and challenges in adapting performance tasks within your own particular teaching/learning contexts.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

CCK08: Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft

This week made me think about Sergiovanni´s distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) vs. Gesellschaft (society) as ideal extremes and Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbell´s treatment of dealing with diverse classrooms through an individualism/collectivism dichotomy.  The latter, I believe, parallels more with George´s definition of connectives in that individual efforts and identity are not compromised for the sake of the group´s goals and objectives.  Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbell´s deal with how "individualistic" attributes of US culture are different than the rest of the world, seen more as a collectivist culture.  They go on to explain how teachers can account for these differences and thus take advantage of them in creating more of a dynamic and productive learning experience.  The main difference between these two perspectives is that Sergiovanni speaks to participants as a whole in shifting the paradigm while Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbell deal more with accepting and working with the dichotomy in a practical sense (less about actually trying to shift the paradigm).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

CCK08: "collaboration" versus "cooperation"

There was an interesting question posed at 26.23: Does learning as an individual task mean that when we learn together that we are not doing a shared process?

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At 28.20 Stephen Downes distinguishes between "collaborate" and "cooperate" in that the former shares more group properties while the latter shares more network properties (see video). The outer ends of the group/network continuum, I believe, are extreme occurrences that don´t necessarily lend themselves well to most school environments that utilize a curriculum as a means for establishing intended desired results. On the one hand, groups include a closed learning environment that contain hierarchies (i.e., teacher-student, student-student, etc.) and tend to hamper the way information is presented presumably in order to assure that "good" content is being provided. On the other hand, networks originate completely from a personal choice (Dron and Anderson) which is also not practical in today´s school systems. Perhaps the "answer" is somewhere in between.

Establishing classrooms as a learning community means recognizing that individual and group goals are taken into consideration. The taught curriculum includes input and individual choice on the part of the learner so that personal learning networks may be designed, implemented, and reflected upon. The educator takes on multiple roles (e.g., didactic instructor, facilitate, and coach) depending on the circumstances, and assists the learner as the process of achieving individual and group goals unfolds. Yes, at times, a didactic role is required because some students respond to this type of instruction given certain circumstances. It´s not about constantly "feeding" information to the learner or expecting that the learner automatically consider the information valuable, but more about being one of many informants that learners may choose from in order to create their own understanding or networked knowledge. An important role of the educator is to assist the learner in determining what information is valuable (or not) within the context of a particular learning situation.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

CCK08: Rhizomatic Education and language learning




I enjoyed reading Dave Cormier's article on Rhizomatic Education.  The rhizome metaphor emphasizes the importance of diversifying instruction and assessment.  Curricular aims for language learning are typically based on certain behavioral patterns that provide reliable and valid evidence that the learner has achieved a desired level of communicative proficiency.  A rhizomatic education frames these common sets of curricular aims in terms of establishing individual learning progressions with distinct starting and ending points.  In my opinion, relying on traditional tests and quizzes and discrete activities alone will fail to develop the individual learner due to the assumption that an entire group of learners are starting from a single starting point and will end up (or should end up) at one common ending point.  


In contrast, establishing foreign language exchanges, for example, provide the means for developing individual learning progressions that promote individual interests, needs, and learning styles while at the same time respecting curricular aims.  Although preparation for the language exchange performance task can include teachers taking a didactic and facilitating role, the bulk of the actual performance task requires an active learner and a teacher as a coach.  During the language exchange common themes assist the language learner to focus on a certain lexicon while conversations take different directions based on the knowledge and experience of the interlocutors. 


The final discussion this week ended with George and Stephen providing an example of connectivism in a practical sense.  George provided an example very similar to a language exchange as discussed in this blog while Stephen, after writing off a connective-classroom environment as somewhat “artificial”, stated the importance of getting students out of the classroom and doing something for the betterment of society.  While I agree that the latter might be a preferred way of learning, I don’t see anything artificial about learning another culture through a connective-classroom.  Getting to know people from different cultures creates a level of respect for others that also contributes to the common good. 



Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I just thought I'd include ACTFL's first blog-talk-radio broadcast.  There's a lot of good information for first-year language teachers.  They address teachers in the US but much of the advice is good for teachers working abroad as well.  

Monday, September 15, 2008

CCK08: explanation of connectivism from Bauwens

Bauwens mentions here the following:

1. ...a transmission from someone that has the knowledge with someone who doesn't have the knowledge.
2. The value becomes in your experience in tapping the network  rather than the particular relationship between teacher and learner.

Doesn't this first statement put more value on the importance of content while the second statement places more value on the "pipe"? And isn't the teacher part of the network? 

Building a learning community within a class requires that clear objectives be established (i.e., desired results that learners understand), learners have the chance to self-assess, and they collaborate with others (1).  Adhering to a connectivism learning theory (based on the description in this video) leaves me to believe that it's more important to simply "tap the network" and let the learners create their own network set (I wanted to say interpret) that guides them to some intended practice.  But teachers are looking for a type of practice that provides the evidence needed to accurately evaluate the learner (based on the class objectives), so learners must be able to distinguish between good and bad content (i.e., understanding, knowledge, skill, process, or concept) as they prepare for their future or ongoing practice.  This is where I think the teacher plays a critical role as part of the learning network as a whole.      

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Language Exchange

As I reflect on my language exchange experience so far this semester I am constantly amazed as to its impact it has on my students - first-year UAA pre-service English language teachers.  Each week's exchange (i.e., performance task) really drives the rest of the week's lessons as learners prepare for their conversation with their US partner(s) at MU.  I see my group gaining more confidence each week as they improve in their langauge acquisition and learn more about their exchange partner(s). 

In addition to using Skype as the primary means of communication, this semester we began using other applications for complementing the language exchange experience.  We opened up a Moodle page from NineHub in order to establish a central location for learners and teachers to collaborate.  NineHub has been working out well so far and to my knowledge is the only free Moodle host available at this time.  Moodle provides a good way for learners to share their reflections and continue their correspondence, asynchronously or synchronously, throughout the week.  Since my particular class is a listening and speaking class, we also are using VoiceThread as a means for learners to practice these skills by reflecting on the experience to a real audience.  The good thing about Moodle is that VoiceThreads can be embedded so learners can access everything within the Moodle page.  There are certainly other applications available that do the same thing but Skype, Moodle, and VoiceThread are serving our purposes well at this time.

It would be great to hear from others who are participating in similar experiences.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

CCK08: Interpreting the Pipe and Content

As I'm getting a little more familiar with connectivism this week (and wishing the word would be added all to the spell-checkers out there), some of the terminology used in explaining how we learn in today's world is resonating with me.  The internal, external, and conceptual networks that we build through experiences emphasizes the point where teaching is more about demonstrating and modeling, and learning is more about practicing and reflecting.

Within a language learning context, I would add there are more viable networks that need to be created as well.  The building of contextual, strategic, and phonetic networks also develops language proficiency through the creation of educative experiences.  I hesitate to say simply the creation of experiences, referring back to Dewey's distinction between educative and non-educative experiences, because certain practices are better than others.  This is where connectivism gets a little vague.  

"The pipe is more important than the content" is a phrase coined by Siemens in referring to connectivism and this gives me the impression that any content creates connections.  Or perhaps the more "pipes" the better, regardless of the content that "flows through it".  Or is it that fewer “pipes” but with better content is preferred over many “pipes” of poorer content?  For me, putting into practice this concept still puzzles me.  I agree we should try to create as many connections as possible within the confines of the curriculum, but it's still up to the teacher to interpret this (or rationalize it) to their liking.

As always, I welcome all opinions.   


Monday, September 8, 2008

Calling all bloggers...

I started this blog without much of an explanation so although a bit late, here it is.  

The reason for establishing this blog was to complement a course on connectivism, but since there are certainly other educational areas of interest, subsequent posts will cover a variety of topics.  Anyone may comment on the posts, but if you'd like to be an author, please send me an email message (by clicking on the profile button) and I will be sure to invite you.

All types of comments and posts regarding educational topics are welcome!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

MEXTESOL Aguascalientes

It was good to see some new and familiar faces at yesterday's MEXTESOL Aguascalientes conference. Two topics in particular struck my interest: 1) when to use translation when teaching English language learners and 2) and how to consciously promote academic and character development simultaneously.
Although most would agree that translating for ELLs does have its place in language acquisition, there appears to be some debate as to the degree in which teachers use it (i.e., what model is most effective-The role of translation in the EFL / ESL classroom). What model is most effective within your own teaching and learning contexts: 90/10 - 90% L2, 10% L1 - 50/50? How do you use translation, if at all, in your class?

Developing character and academic proficiencies at the same time addresses the importance of teaching the whole person - or using the common catch phrase teaching the whole child. As foreign/second language teachers, as with any educator, we all are responsible for developing learners to be more productive citizens by establishing a set of virtues that promote professional success. So, how do you promote character development in your class?

CCK08 Connectivism Course

In the coming weeks, I'll be discussing issues regarding connectivism and its place within the language learning environment (as well as within education in general). Although there continues to be a lot of discussion about whether to consider it a learning theory or not, I'm more interested in learning how the main aspects of it (whatever one decides to call it - social networking, connectivism, etc.) fit into teaching and learning.

Here's a short video with George Siemens, considered a co-founder of connectivism along with Stephen Downes, made three weeks ago.

Here's a video he posted to YouTube last year.