Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blogs and language learning

Some questions have been surfacing recently (as part of a TESOL online workshop) about the use of blogs.  When deciding whether to use a blog or not, an educator typically must ask the following two questions (among others):

1. How can I use a blog to further my own teaching practice?

2. How can I use a blog to further the achievement of my students?

Understanding that there is some overlap in asking both questions, I will focus more on the former.  Notice how the video below presents a discourse among individuals interested in language learning:

The benefit of a blog is that individuals can create discourse through asynchronous communication on topics of interest.

What are your thoughts on using blogs, either as a means for promoting your own learning or as a means for promoting student achievement?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is Teaching a “Class” a Big Mistake?

Learning is social.

I think most would agree that learning occurs through social interaction, but I see this as being different than learning being social.  One can intuitively see how this is the case when considering how one learns how to play a musical instrument.  If I study from the same music teacher, the same number of hours, the exact same instrument, under all the same conditions as my friend, the two of us would still not play music in the same way, with the same musical style, etc.  Learning is personal.

A problem with class sizes of 25 – 30 is the peer group is often too small to be functional. Not everyone is ready to give feedback when a learner needs it. Larger group sizes are needed for peer review to work. From our experience groups of around 50 – 60 students should be considered as a minimum, groups of 90 – 120 or more is even better.

This really depends on how one defines a group.  Since "virtual learning enviroments" is being considered, I would argue that we are really looking at a network as opposed to a group whereby peers become not only the classmates within the same school, but peers that extend beyond the classroom.  Regardless, it's the type of interaction between the students that counts, and not the number of students that make up the learner's network

Teachers (and schools) have the obligation to find innovative ways to connect students and experts in ways that bring about multiple perspectives.  Teaching a class is not a mistake, teaching a finite group is.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Social versus the Personal

The Yin and Yang of Ideas and Creativity

My response...

Is social creativity more productive than individual productivity?

It depends on how one views “social creativity”. This made me think of Siemens’s collective/connective or Downes’s group/network distinction. Social creativity (in terms of degree) is the result of the individuals’ creativity. If some individuals are marginalized in any way, the misconception is that social creativity is representative of each person. As Downes has referred to a connective community as being open, diverse, autonomous, and interactive; as I see it, these same attributes are required when promoting creativity in general.

Personally, I tend to avoid terms like “social learning” and “social creativity” – both happen at an individual level through social interaction.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dealing with the Three Cs in English Language Learning and Teaching

Recent response to an interesting exchange...

With regard to FL teacher education, how do you attempt and/or manage to balance the three important perspectives or goals you are referring to, i.e. “creativity”, “criticality” and “caring”?

Teachers have to use discretion based on the maturity, academic, and linguistic levels of the students, but choices can come in a variety of ways:

1. choosing which content from the Internet to use in class and why the content is appropriate

2. choosing which groups will form and how they are to work together (e.g., team charter)

3. deciding which products to produce (e.g., video, brochure, presentation, etc.)

4. determining how to express empathy and perspective

By pursuing understandings (Wiggins and Mctighe, 2005), teachers can use a variety of assessment methods (e.g., Socratic method, instructional conversations, tests, quizzes, academic prompts, performance tasks, etc.) for making more informed inferences on a student's achievement.  This also implies the need to set expressive outcomes instead of behavioral outcomes in ways that make learning and the assessment of learning more of a ill-defined, non-linear, and emergent (i.e., authentic) phenomenon.  Thus, we are requiring students to know more than discrete facts and figures that they likely will find on standardized tests; it also makes stakeholders more conscious of a learner's capacity (as a matter of degree) instead of a competence (either you have it or you don't).

As for language teaching and learning go, I label communicative and linguistic knowledge and skill as being (to use Popham's words, 2008) enabling knowledge and subskills respectively in terms of how they relate to understandings.  In other words, language becomes both a means and an end much like ESL and content teachers working together in the US when teaching English language learners (i.e., Sheltered Content Instruction or CLIL).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day one in WordPress!

Well,  I finally made the move.  This is officially day one in WordPress, and I really like what I see.   I look forward to continued discussions related to all things education.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Open course for EFL educators (Wikieducator)

Here's a recent message to EFL educators in Mexico taking an open (to anyone) course on professional development in Wikieducator...

Hello everyone! We are completing the second week of the Wikieducator workshop which you should now have a working knowledge of the following skills:

  • Create bold and italicized text
  • Create headings and lists (i.e., bullets, number, and indentions)
  • Upload and insert photos respecting copyright laws (e.g., using creative commons search and/or Wikimedia Commons)
  • Create internal/external links
  • Begin working on your user page

The central question we are focusing on during this workshop relates to the following question: How to become a better EFL educator? The answer to this question, which will be unique for each of you, will be in the form of a personal learning network (PLN). This workshop is intended to help you develop your own PLN and to share it with others.

In your user page, add a section (i.e., heading) where you share your goals in becoming a better EFL educator in terms of being a better communicator of English, increasing your pedagogical skill set, and/or increasing your knowledge of how languages are learned. Follow up by stating what you plan to do to accomplish these goals. If your goals change over the course of the semester, which they might, just update your user page to reflect these changes.

The first of three modules, the communicator of the English language module is meant to review various web 2.0 tools that might assist you in becoming a better communicator of the English language (both in written and spoken discourse). Weekly activities will be populated throughout each module and everyone is encouraged to participate in at least two activities per module. We will schedule several face-to-face sessions as well, but these sessions are meant for those who need assistance in getting around Wikieducator.

Finally, make sure your name appears in the list and that all of your information is correct. You'll notice that we are tracking edits so you can easily see how others are contributing. You can also refer to this list to find a colleague's user page.

Well, that's it for now. Keep asking questions and we'll see you in the wiki!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How do you define an LMS?

Details | LinkedIn

And the debate response:

When you say, "Why would I choose or reccomend an approach to others if there are more appropriate ways of doing it", you are assuming that your interpretation of "appropriateness" is the same for others. I will not assume that I know what is appropriate for the infinite number of educational contexts that exist today as well as which have existed in the past.

I'll extend my perspective once again but I realize that the fundamental difference in our opinion appears to be the definition of an LMS. I understand your meaning of the term as a Moodle-like platform that tends to be closed and content is pre-fabricated, probably linked to standards where learning tends to be linear - and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I define a "LMS" as a personal learning network (PLN), where a "typical" Moodle application would only be one part of a PLN. If we can't agree on definitions as I suspect we can not, perhaps this warrants a new post (smile). But this is where I am coming from.

An example of structuring content not using what most people consider an LMS.

Web 2.0 tools: Google Wave, Blogs, Wikis, websites, Google search, email, etc.

Can you envision how content might be structured using some combination of these tools? Do you see how integrating technology can be an alternative to using an "LMS" (i.e., Moodle, blackboard, etc.)?

Conversely, do you see how an LMS might be used to provide "just-in-time" content? Do you see how integrating technology and an LMS might change the playing field?

I can truly put my hand on my heart and say that learning and teaching are too complex for me to generalize in saying that the LMS (however it's being defined...and I assume we are referring to Moodle-like platforms) is the devil. Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

PS As we are unlikely to agree on this (which is fine), I would like to shift this discussion to more specific educational contexts where we can address the "appropriateness" of particular web tools. This would lead to a more constructive conversation. (End of post.)

How do you define an LMS?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Are LMSs still relevant? Do they work?

Details | LinkedIn
My response...

Let's assume we all agree that one example of an LMS is Moodle. Moodle is like a pencil. If I require my students to use a pencil in class, am I reverting back to the Stone Age? Does using a pencil in class automatically mean that I support traditional teaching/learning methodologies and techniques? It's my belief that a pencil can effectively and efficiently be used to in conjunction with (a) asynchronous and synchronous communication, (b) different delivery methods, both online and offline, and (c) different learning theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, social constructivism, socio-cultural theory, connectivism, etc.

There is no reason why YouTube, Google, or any other web tool cannot be implemented into a class that uses Moodle or any other "LMS". An "LMS" could just as easily be the entire Internet. The problem is not the "LMS", it's the type of communication, delivery, and learning theory being used.