It’s time again for the annual TESOL EVO courses. Usually I’m okay for at least the first couple of weeks, but this time I had to travel to present at two conferences in Costa Rica, along with a site visit from Georgetown for the English Language Fellow program, so I’m already behind! I’m also adopting a kitten tonight (exciting, my first pet that’s “mine”), so I’m not sure it’s going to get much better.

In the first week, there were several tools that we were supposed to create accounts for and play with. I already had accounts from past EVO years with WordPress, Bloglines, Flickr, Community Walk, 43Trio, and, although the last three I haven’t done much with. Twitter, VoiceThread, and dotSUB are new for me.

My context, as I never got around to posting it on the SMiELT forum, is a binational center in El Salvador, where I am in my second year as an English Language Fellow.  My current projects are curriculum design, creating new program assessment tools, planning for the national teacher’s conference, teacher training, and on and on.  I don’t have any group of students (or teachers) on a continual basis, so most of what I’ve done in El Salvador with social media is a workshop here and there and playing on my own time.  I suppose that my fascination in this topic comes partially from the fact that my undergrad was in information technology, which has been a create combo with my later love for teaching! 

Here it goes for Week 2’s questions:

After observing the usage of these tools and behavior of users in these environments, read the suggested articles and discuss on your blog the affordances that open and participatory environments offer in ELT.

  • What are the benefits/constraints that these open environments may bring in your context?
    I feel right now that the biggest benefit for my from using these tools has been keeping in touch with other English Language Fellows (ELFs) that are in the same region as myself.  The constraint is often access to a decent Internet connection and the time one can spend with that connection, as well as access to a lab for teachers and students (something which is in the process of changing at work).  The time required for training teachers in using these tools is doable, but then they have to have time to play for themselves and to try out how they might use these tools with their students before actually introducing them in class.  Many features of an open environment are currently blocked in our lab at work, which makes it difficult.

    At least in San Salvador, there seems to be a reluctance to share information in general among institutions that teach English (just my perception, as someone who is somewhat “neutral” in that community of professionals since I have no real boss).  So, as far as having open, participatory environments as defined in the e-book…it’s been difficult.  If social media “thrives on connectedness, making use of links to other sites, resources and people,” that has not yet been successful in my experiences here.  As others said in their postings, many people are unaware of the options available or are unwilling to try them out, so with other than a select few, no one really wants to talk about it.  On the other hand, other binational centers in Latin America have begun to use these tools, so once we have the new computers for the teachers in a few days/weeks, I think we can figure something out.    

  • Are you promoting open participatory skills in ELT? How?
    Whenever we have a teacher training course at my current place of work I try to encourage the participants to use Yahoo Groups to communicate, but many times they struggle even with using email.  We spend time exploring Groups, but it’s been difficult.  With the teachers at the binational center, I’ve talked about using blogs and so on, but then run into the “time” factor.  I don’t have any regular classes at the moment, so I haven’t been able to use many things with students, only with teachers in training.  It’s been the topic of many of my conference presentations in the Central American region.

    In the past, I used blogs with my students in Colombia, but mostly for writing.  Right about the time we started experimenting with video I moved to El Salvador, but it provided a space where they felt comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating.

  • Can these social media help you? How?
    Right now I’m focused on how social media can help keep English Language Fellows in the region in contact with each other and share resources that they’ve created (so we don’t reinvent the wheel every 10 months—the length of our contracts).  Some of us have connected through Facebook, which has been fairly successful since it’s addictive.  But places to store resources? Conversations that don’t disappear?  Last year we tried a Moodle, forums, and Yahoo groups but many were too difficult to use without training and/or time to play with them.  And then when the moderator(s) disappeared, so did the resources that we’d posted.  I’m still pondering the how in this case.