Blogging


I just found this nifty presentation from the WiAOC 2007 (Webheads in Action Online Convergence). I’m just waiting for the day when I have the chance to actually teach again so that I can try out some of these ideas with my students!

I also found another page with some useful resources on blogging for ESL/ELF teachers.

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Hello to participants of the V Annual National Conference for Teachers of English in Tegucigalpa, Honduras! Please put the link to the blog you’ve made in our workshop in a comment to this post.

How can I help learners participate with their own voices?

I was scanning through the article on learner voice, and felt it’s particularly applicable to the projects that I’m working on right now. Part of my job is to help the students participate with their own voices, whether it’s in my own classes, outside class, or in the classes of others. As a teacher, do I understand and act upon learners’ views? I try to. One of my main goals has been to help guide students to become autonomous learners. I often tell them that yes, I’m a teacher by name of profession, but that I and they both can play other roles in the classroom, like leader, collaborator, team member, facilitator, and so on.

We’re beginning the process of designing curriculum for the various programs that are offered, and needs analysis is the first step, so many of the questions that the text poses caught my attention. Are there clear ways in which the learners are involved in decision-making processes? What tools/methods, if any, are being used for listening to learners’ voices? Does the culture of the institution support the development of learner voice? And what evidence do I have that learners’ voices are being listened to and acted upon? I believe that we sometimes assume that our students think the same as we do in everything. Without giving the learners a way of expressing themselves and knowing that their thoughts count, we risk harming the learning process. They need to know that their views are valued, which requires the institution and staff to be flexible and adaptable. Students can play a valuable role as curriculum developers as well.

The tools that we’ve been looking at in OWP provide many ways of empowering learners. I myself feel empowered in this session, knowing that what I’m writing and commenting on has a reading audience. I hadn’t felt that way before with blogging, since most of the comments made were few and far between, by random people. We are much more likely to express ourselves and find our voice if we are doing so in an environment where that voice is valued.

 

 

 

Okay, so this time I’m going to try posting from my new trial of Office 2007. It’s all sleek and pretty, but I’m not sure if I’m up to paying around $500 to upgrade to that and get a copy of Vista! This is the first time in my life that I’ve not been able to buy cheap copies of Windows products through university licensing…sigh.

I wanted to add a little on to Nancy’s comments in Reflection on some good questions, on some topics originally posed by Illya.

On being better teachers if we use these technologies: I think that we have the potential to be better teachers using these tools, but there’s also a chance we could end up worse than before. By experimenting and trying new techniques, we grow as professionals, but we must continue with our experimenting in order to truly be “better.” I don’t believe that a technologically-enhanced class would be “better” than a “traditional” classroom with books and such, only different. That said, maybe some day this will truly change. Maybe some day everything will be digitized. But not yet. We only become “better” teachers when we step out of the box and use our creativity to improve our teaching and our students’ learning. Getting stuck in any kind of routine for too long is no good. It’s not so much the medium, but what the teacher does with it.

On teaching different skills: Yes, yes, yes. I was reading an article (which, incidentally, I printed, read, and left at work by accident, ’cause my eyes are crossing from spending so much time in front of the monitor; I’ll post the link to it tomorrow!) that discussed how RSS is changing how we look for, organize, and disseminate information. A little over a year ago, I began to use Bloglines to keep up with news from different sites and all of the blogs from fellow TESOLers. I said, okay, this is nice, but do I really need it? Just last week, I realized after reading this article, that Bloglines really has increased my ability to find information that I’m looking for, scan through it, and find information that I might not have been looking for but that interests me. And, with Flock, I can open my feeds on the sidebar. Through these syndications, and the social tools, the way I think about information is changing. I suppose I knew this, in the technical sense, looking back at all of my database, e-commerce, and communications courses, but this was the first time in a while that I’d actually applied those ideas to my current life as an educator and as a general public Internet user. It’s true that through blogs and other tools, the Internet is now read/write instead of just read. To keep from rambling on, I’m intrigued by these changes and what it means to language learning and teaching!

It goes past this, even. I took the GRE for the second time back in October. The first time in 2002, when I was still living in Ohio, was the computer-based version. My complaint at that point was that I wasn’t used to writing timed essays on the computer. Here in El Salvador, I was given the paper-based version, and not informed it was going to be paper-based until a couple of days before, so then it was that it’d been years since I’d written an essay by hand, let alone timed! The way we read, write, research, organize, and share our thoughts…it’s changing. We have the challenge of guiding our students in learning to express themselves in a variety of mediums. It goes past knowing computing basics. And, it can be scary. Or worse than scary; people might just not understand how it’s changing. People could be the students, but more likely teachers, administrators, parents, etc.

The technologies themselves changes plenty fast, so fast that there’s not enough time in the day to keep up with all the changes. It’s how we apply them in our lives that doesn’t change as quickly. Even as we learn how to use one new tool and get comfortable with it, another one comes along.

Lastly, yes, our enthusiasm can be frightening to others! I say to my co-workers and the IT lady, “Let’s use Moodle! It’s free! It’s easy to use! Can I have some server space to try it?!” Or, And they slowly back away from me… J

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

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…

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