January 2007

Valentina from the OWP invited me to take part in this meme game. A meme (thanks for the definition, Bee) is term used to describe songs, catch phrases, clothes fashions, or other cultural information passed from person to person) that is passed over the internet by word of mouth (Wikipedia).

So, I’m supposed to reveal five things most people don’t know about me and then to pass the ball to five other bloggers by tagging them.  I’ll write this time, but this reminds me too much of those chain letters my friends used to pass around in third grade. You know, the ones where if you didn’t send the letter on to ten more people, you would meet some kind of horrible death!

1. Yoga.  I love ashtanga yoga, but I haven’t found anyplace to take classes here in El Salvador.  And I’m not good enough or motivated enough yet to practice on my own!

2. Travel.  Living in San Salvador, I’m only six hours away from Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Copán, a mere four hours from Guatemala City, a half hour from the Pacific, not much farther from Nicaragua.  Travelling in Central America is like going from Cincinnati to Chicago!  I love it!

3. Language.  I have this dream to go back to studying German, and then Portuguese…

4. Recent medical calamities.  I threw out my back while I was in Costa Rica this past week.  Hmmm, maybe this wouldn’t have happened if I’d been more diligent with my yoga practice!

5. Dancing.  Before I lived in Barranquilla, Colombia, I only liked dancing.  Now, I have a salsa/merengue/vallenato/cumbia itch that I can’t seem to get rid of.

What are the differences you see between traditional learning systems (LMS) and open participatory environments? How do you think you can effectively promote open participatory skills in teaching? What may be the benefits and the constraints that open environments bring? How do you think students will react when they are introduced to these new environments?

I feel that it can be extremely time consuming to be an active member of an open participatory environment. This is especially true for those of us who don’t have 24/7 Internet access anymore, and even more so for students. There is a learning curve for all of these tools, and the tools change often. They require more effort on the part of the end user to organize and mangage, where as a closed system is usually more user-friendly. I took an EVO course on Moodle two years ago, and have enjoyed playing around with that course management tool, although I’ve not yet been able to convince any of the institutions I’ve worked for to set up a server for me, and I’ve not had the time or equipment to do so myself. These so-called traditional LMSs and open participatory environments both have their advantages and disadvantages. I like the fact that a closed system gives me more control as a teacher and administradora in assessment and such. On the other hand, OPEs (can I abbreviate it like that?) give students and teachers new ways to develop social networks and audiences for their ideas, opinions, interests, etc. Disadvantages to traditional LMSs can be the same as the advantages…they’re closed to the general public, and to those outside the class. For OPEs, I feel that there are so many tools to choose from, that it quickly can become overwhelming, and that it takes more time to master these tools.

In order to promote open participatroy skills in teaching, I first need to master these skills myself. Although I think it’s a fabulous idea to learn along with my students, I want to have a strong base in this beforehand. In addition, I have to have access to computers where my students can learn this skills. This, unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, is what I’m lacking. Expensive cyber cafes and at-home Internet connections don’t help with this, either.

I have had many students ask me of ways that they can find people to practice their English with online, and I think that open participatory tools are one way to do so. It does require the student to be a bit tech-savy, which isn’t nearly as common here in Central America as it was in the U.S. People can use email, office, and chat programs, but don’t tend to go much beyond that.

I still feel rather skeptical about using Flickr with my blogs. I’ve found Picasa and Google’s web albums to be intergrated better and certainly easier to use. Maybe I just need to play around more with Flickr, but even at 11:00 pm, it’s taking forever to upload pics and then connect them. Picasa usually takes much less waiting time.

Suprglu is nice as well, but it’s also been very slow in loading, and I’ve had problems logging into it on several occasions.I think that students will be motivated by these new tools, but if they take as long to load and are as problematic as they have been for me, that motivation could quickly wan. As a tech junkie myself, I have no patience for tools that are not easily learned, or that are too “technical” for their own good, or that don’t prove their usefulness right away. Why should I use my time playing around with all these things if they’re not easy to use? It’s not to say that they’re horribly difficult to use either, but maybe some of them need a year or so to be developed better and more easy to integrate with each other.

Blogged with Flock

Mt. Dew, originally uploaded by erin_lowry_12.

It’s been months since I’ve had Mt. Dew. Cheers, San Jose, for carrying my most treasured caffeinated beverage (after a good Colombian tinto, that is!) in the grocery close to where I’m staying.

I haven’t had much time to play with all the new tools for the openwebpublishing session, but there are some things that I’ve noticed so far. I commented on another participants blog that I still feel connected to Google because I use Gmail all the time, and up until now, have been blogging only with Blogger. However, Flock is capable of pulling together services outside of Google’s realm. I’ll have to admit that I haven’t really been using it yet, out of laziness and love for Firefox. I like WordPress now that I’m a little more used to it, but I want to be able to edit my template (you have to pay to save changes to CCS, right? or host the blog yourself). 43 Places/People/Things is fun, but I don’t know if I’d use it in a class or not. Like Nancy said, I’m not interested in meeting people on the Internet at all, but I’m sure my students might be. There’s many other tools that I’ve used, but I tend to stick to written and photo blogging. I like, no love, the idea of podcasts and videoblogging, but have a hard time keeping myself awake in front of the computer some evenings!

That said, there’s many advantages to creating open learning environments (responding to your comment, Patricia, the first version of which got erased or not posted) for students. Unfortunately, there is little lab access at my current workplace in El Salvador. For example, in the weekly adult program, a term lasts 18 days, 2 hours a day. A class might have 1 hour in the lab each term. And, websites with social tools integrated into them are almost always blocked (supposedly because the TOEFL iBT is offered in the same lab). I found this out the hard way this week. I’d designed a Yahoo!Groups to use with our teacher training course that just started. I took the students to the lab to show them how it worked, only to find out that Groups is blocked.  Most students don’t have Internet access at home, or the time-desire-cash to go to a cybercafe.

When I’ve used blogs as part of classes in other places, students were in general excited to be able to write for an audience other than just me.  Blogging, though, is not blogging if no one reads and comments on what you post.  Participaton is essential, which means that you have to read other people’s blogs and comment, to build up your own network of readers.  Looking back, I don’t think that I focused enough on this aspect of blogging with my students.

Good news for today: I head to Costa Rica very, very early Tuesday morning to present on the basics of blogging at the NCTE annual conference. I’m also looking forward to seeing the workings of the Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano, after almost five months at the Centro Cultural Salvadoreño.  And, here in Central America, when a bus is first-class, they give you food, newspapers, blankets, even champagne sometimes!

Not-so-good news: I’m going to be very behind in my evo sessions after this week.  Also, I posted comments on several of the other participant’s blogs yesterday, but then only one out of five actually posted.  Wonder what happened…

I love reading the NY Times, and found a great article this week on widgets, called Some Bling for Your Blog. Widgets are little pieces of code that you can stick into your blog or webpage which grab content from some third-party service. So, you can add a map from Frappr, your Flickr photo albums, or the one that caught my attention, your Amazon wishlist. I couldn’t get that one to work on WordPress (I think you have to be hosting the blog yourself instead of using WordPress.com to be able to do it), but I did add my list of current reads to my personal blog on Blogger. Does anyone know of a similar type of widget that does the same thing, but works on WordPress? There’s so many options…check out Google Gadgets and Widgetbox.com for more!

My name is Erin Lowry and I’ve been teaching ESL/FL for a little over three years. Right now, I’m an English Language Fellow (http://elf.georgetown.edu/) in San Salvador, El Salvador at the binational center there. In my former life, I was an IT person and programmer, so I’m also looking for new ways to incorporate technology into my teaching and my students’
learning. I’ve used blogs with students in the past, and am hoping that I’ll be able to find the time to start using them again with some of my teacher training projects here. Oh, and one of my resolutions for this year is to stop being an EVO lurker and start participating more actively!