My experience of on-line courses and on-line learning.

I have been a firm believer that it is necessary to know about technology and how it can enhance learning, especially as a freelance teacher. Now, though I am no longer freelance, I still feel the same way as I teach young learners.

I read books and made my own ponderings about how I could utilize the wonderful, yet ellusive materials out there in interspace, but it wasn’t until I took my first o-line course in 2006 that I really began to discover the more concrete possibilties.
From that moment on it was one long, intensive education that took place in a number of different times and places on the internet, no longer bound to the constrictions of a course. Yet one thing prevailed throughout this whole discovery process: I was not alone. There is a huge community of educators using technology, experimenting, commenting on the effect, and helping others.
I have learned so much from these people in many respects.
Now I also use technology, give on-line courses and write about my experiences. But I haven’t quit learning. My head is no longer smoking from processing the implications of some of the uses, nor am I quite so involved in the community at the moment, but it is more of a breather – taking time to implement all the things I have learned.

What makes on-line courses so different from face to face courses?
The most obvious difference is that you can work at any time of day or night, in your pyjamas, in the bath, or even in a cafe.
But there are other differences I have noticed. You are hardly ever alone. You can ask your questions at any time or day or night. You may not get an immediate answer, but you will get one soon. I also found that the roles of particpants in on-line courses quite quickly grew. If I needed help, quite often the first person to give it to me was someone else on the course who had figured it out or who had previous experience. More and more often it was I who was one of these persons helping out my colleagues on the course. I saw myself and others becoming responsible learners. I was also learning how to help out in technical questions – something we as teachers have to be able to do with your students as well.
We were building a network, and many connections I have made in the past are still alive.

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The classroom blog

Illya USA 014

Blogging is pretty easy to do and setting up a personal blog should pose no great hinderence to even the most computer-clumsy, but how can it be used for teaching?

There are many ways to use them, you can get the students up and blogging on their own, mash them together and all sorts of fun stuff. You can set up a blog with tasks and information for your students to use. Or you can get them all on the same blog sharing and communicating.

I have chosen the last possibility with my class of adults, one reason being that blogs seem to pose a mental barrier that is not easy to cross for many. The other reason is that I want my class to use it for real communication, as opposed to language practice.

It has taken me several classes of trail and error before I felt happy with the results, and I still am on that path of trail and error, but for those readers interested in using blogging as a supplement to what is going on in class, I will share what has worked for me, so that you may be spared at least some of the particularly bumpy beginning of the road.

Give clear instructions on how to use the blog and then allow time for troubleshooting in the next lesson or so.
And then explain again, even better, get them on the computer and let them try it with you standing by to hold their hand. Many people need this sense of security and will give up at the slightest hint of a problem. And here you need to be diligent and patient.

Give the blog importance from the very beginning.
My first time round I made the mistake of downplaying the role of hte blog, stressing that it was an addition, and that noone had to post to it.
Well, that didn’t work AT ALL! I still don’t make posting obligatory, but I do stress that this is where they can really use the language and that they SHOULD do it. I also offer to add anything to the blog that they don’t feel they could but would like to.

Give students clear and personal tasks to fulfill on the blog.
No tasks, no writing on it, especially at the beginning. I have found that asking students to make a personal comment on a topic we have been dealing with works quite well. However, since it is not obligatory, I must also accept that some will not contribute even with a very gripping topic and task. The chances are a lot better though, that they will.

Comment on every post a student makes and encourage them to comment as well.
Everyone wants to be heard, so make sure they feel they are. To get the students commenting on each other you might want to set further tasks. And ask them how they feel when there are comments- or not- on their post.

Set a good example.
If you want the students to write stories, about personal experiences or feelings, then make sure you do it as well. This supplies them with a model, on the one hand, and the sharing is two-way, builing stronger bonds in the classroom as a very pleasant side-effect.

Let the students decide what is corrected and what isn’t.
I clearly tell my students that I will correct nothing unless they specifically ask me to and send me the text. I am very clear about my reasons for this as well, otherwise they most certainly wouldn’t be accepted by my class (this may be different in your own). I explain that correcting is what happens insid ethe classroom and that when communicating, mistakes will happen. It takes a bit of courage to just write, and then just send it out onto the blog. It also creates more dynamic writing, and more of it. It is what real communication is about.

Get a special guest onto the blog.
This can be extremely motivating to share with someone outside of the class, maybe even with another class. Someone will be reading with interest and responding (hopefully) with more information, questions, etc, and THIS can generate a whole lot of very significant communication!

I’m sure that if I wracked my brain, I’d come up with more, but I think the ones above are enough here. Perhaps you can add to my list.
And if you’re interested in what my classblog looks like, here it is!

Facilitating online communities

I’ve just started a new course called Facilitating online communities through wikieducator and so this blog will be mainly dedicated to reflecting on this course over the next couple of months.

I’ve been a part of an extremely nurturing online community, one filled with role models, many probably out of intuition rather than theory. So I do believe that some may have a certain talent for it, just as some have a talent for teaching, coaching etc.

But why did I choose this course? Well, while co-moderating one of the course at EVO 08, I realized that I felt a bit insecure in this role and at the same time intrigued by what happened in the group. I want to expand my background knowledge of how to do this as well as gain experience. In the future I can also imagine using online communities for my teaching setting and other settings, and to become more confident in this process.

Another reason for wanting to join is out of curiousity and the drive in me to go forward in an erea that I find fascinating.

Now I am looking forward to growing and seeing where this new journey will take me.

Latest doings

I’ve been busy lately, too busy to be on the computer much, but since things are slowly winding down, I’ve found time to engage in a bit of fun.

Kevin from over at dogtrax offered a challenge I just couldn’t resist. Your day boiled down into 6 words. Well, I decided to expand it to 36 words over 6 days.  Just a few more days and a few more words.

Then there’s twittering over at lwc (which I’m also doing for Your Day in 6 Words).

And I had a good time giving a workshop for the regional ETAS about powerpoints. An evening full of sausage dogs 🙂 (see to find out my source of inspiration)

Finally, I’m trying to drum up some support again for the Matopo Primary Blog since the situation over at Zimbabwe is pretty tense at the moment.

Maybe you’ll have a look and leave a comment?

EVO 08 Kick-off

This evening was the great EVO 08 kick-off where the different groups presented themsleves. I must say I was awestruck by the number of participants in the chatroom, and even more so by the number of listeners on ustream, listening to it live. The number of listeners never went much under 100 at any given time. And despite the technical difficulties (oh, what would we ever do in a perfect world without technical difficulties!?) there was a great feeling of belonging and excitement.

Now SMiELT is about to get rolling, with the colors in place (thank you Rudolf 🙂 ), game chairs ready, and people already getting to know or re-introduce themselves. I’m certainly excited too.

So, let the show begin!!

School 2.0 – a revolution in learning? Discussions in the blogosphere

Bud the Teacher has an picked up a good point from a thread on David Warlick’s blog.
Here’s what he has to say:

I’ve been having quite intensive discussions

What I am against is the simplistic notion that this technology leads to “School 2.0″ and that it represents a revolution in learning.

    Yeah.  I’m against that, too.  See, while I’ve been participating in and am learning lots from the whole “School 2.0” conversation(s), I find that so often, the presence of technology, to some people, means that the school of the future is here.  But it ain’t.  The technology by itself changes very little.  Having a blog or a podcast or a really neat-o wiki doesn’t mean a thing in terms of school design, school reform, or doing business differently if the underlying philosophies of education don’t change.  Sitting in rows and watching the teacher type on a blog via the projector isn’t a revolution in amazingly new pedagogy — it’s just a really, really expensive use of virtuo-chalk.
    The change comes when we begin to realize the power of sharing the information, of making the walls more transparent.  I think. 
     And I’ve been guilty of that expensive use of tech stuff sometimes, but my larger point is simply that, if all we’ve done at the end of the day with these new fangled tools that have amazing potential is turn them on and blast the old school stuff out into the new school world, well, then we haven’t really done all that much.  Have we?

I’ve been having quite intense discussions with friends, trying to convince them of the whys and hows of blogs, wikis, collaborating via internet, etc. This is what it boils down to: Are the kids smarter if I make use of web 2.0 in the classroom? Will I be a better teacher? Bud’s words are exactly my own thinking. When I started exploring blogs, I was very sceptical, and it wasn’t until I had found a purpose that I feel my students will profit ADDITIONALLY from that I took them to heart.

I’m still exploring, and though I haven’t made any revolutionary steps in with my classes due to blogs, I’m still learning and working on it.
Tools are what the teachers make of them.

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Why integrate internet technology in classrooms?

After many discussions about the pros and cons of using the computer in the classroom, I’d like to leave my thoughts here.

cons
Many of the teachers I’ve talked to, especially the sceptical ones, are afraid of spending (wasting) a large amount of their valuable time on the computer. This, I think, is a fair point and one that is not addressed enough. Teachers, especially at the moment here in Switzerland are in a stage of upheaval and change. The entire education system is being rearranged and new subjects are being introduced. A fair enough reason for this fear of wasting their time.

At the same time teachers feel, rightly so, that many pupils these days spend (waste) more than enough time in front of a screen already, be it the computer, the cellphone, gameboys, x-boxes and other digital gadgets.

In addition, many educators question the pedagogic value of using computers. It seems to them that technology is being used simply for the sake of using something new. Why use it when there is so much other material around? Lessons were good before, and they question whether technology just simply puts what was previously around into a new packaging.

Pros
So, let’s look at ‘wasting time’.  There is a fair amount of time needed for technology, especially in the beginning. However, the time taken to read what others are saying, especially through blogs, can be a source of growth and personal and professional development. Where else are you going to get such cheap training, and with some very respectable and knowledgable people out there in the blogosphere, second life, yahoo groups, youtube, myspace and many more!  Here in Switzerland teachers are obliged to take courses. With the available internet resources this can be done with international groups, at home, when you have the time (like at 10:30pm ;-)). I don’t see this as a waste of time.

Kids DO waste a lot of time in front of the screen. So instead of saying, stop sitting in front of the screen (and them NoT doing it), why not give them something useful to do in front of the screen?  They will be using internet for a good while to come and should learn to use the possibilities in a respectable manner. They also need to be taught to use these tools effectively and efficiently. This can only happen if the educators are acquianted with these same tools and can offer more producive and creative ways to use them. It is our responsibility to guide our children and pupils and teach them what to do with the computer (not technically, but morally) . Get on the internet and teach them netiquette. Get them involved with other pupils in other cultures. Let them use their own voice and be heard – but with clear guidelines.

What educators have been doing IS a valuable contribution to society, and can be done without a computer. But you wouldn’t through out the OHP, would you? -well, maybe you would because you now use the beamer!  Why? because it can allow you to do things which support your teaching that the OHP can’t do. The same is for internet tools on the computer.  And I think the main and most important addition these tools can add to teaching is INVOLVING the pupils. Giving a child a voice is a great start, but giving this voice an audience, one that replies, encourages, comments, etc., is invaluable in motivating and involving your learners.

I’m sure I could come up with more reasons. At the moment I’ve especially focused on the young learner. But the same goes for any type of learner, in my case language learners. This is what I hope to be able to achieve with my classes. I hope to get them active outside the classroom, using language to interact, not just for practice in the lesson. I want to give them an opportunity to go further, beyond the classroom walls and language learning mentality. I want them to become language USERS.