Monday, 16 May 2011

My Professional Development Project

Along the many online courses I have taken, I have noticed that effective and efficient communication seems to be one of the key factors in the success of a course. In face-to-face interaction, we have the aid of body language and intonation to perceive if and how we are getting our message across, and to make the necessary adjustments to ensure that our course is inclusive and engaging. In online environments we do not have these cues so it becomes crucial to make the best possible use of the tools at our disposal as well as to look for other ways to hone communication so that we can prevent the learner from feeling isolated and lost, and from eventually dropping out as a result.

I find this topic fascinating so I decided to choose it for my PD. I carried out my project directly on the Moodle sandbox (no links therefore), which helped me put into practice the skills I have acquired during these workshops.

Course Description

This is more or less what I had in mind, though I have been able to cover only 2 weeks of the three I had initially planned.

Week 1
The idea was to have participants reflect on the nature and requirements of effective communication and think of ways of making this possible in online learning.

  1. Success in Online Learning: Communication 
  2. Online vs Face-to-Face Communication  
  3. Promoting Efficient Communication with Moodle as a Curriculum and Information Management System

Activities and Resources:
  1. Wordle image to trigger reflection and discussion
  2. Forum to share views asynchronously
  3. WiZiQ session to discuss the readings and the participants' reflections synchronously. Tutorials are provided for those not familiar with this virtual classroom.
Week 2  
The focus of this week was the different types of communication available in online environments, the features and affordances of synchronous and asynchronous tools,  and the importance of including synchronous tools in a medium that relies heavily on text-mediated communication.

  1. How to Enhance Online Student Engagement and Satisfaction 
  2. Opinion: The Importance of Being Synchronous
Activities and Resources:
  1. Participants are invited to watch this video:       
  2. A forum is created for participants to share their views on the readings and the video. 
  3. Participants are invited to take part in a Webquest to explore different tools that can be used to provide online live meetings for the school where they work.
Week 3
In this week, the aim is to have participants explore other tools that can help enhance communication both synchronously (Skype, voice boards, instant messaging, mobile devices, chat) and asynchronously (email, forums, news groups, blogs, wikis, podcasts, text messaging)

    Sunday, 15 May 2011

    M4T-A: Book Review

    For our book review, Sandra, Jose and I had chosen "Moodle 1.9: English Teacher's Cookbook" by Silvina P. Hillar. An English Teacher and a Certified Legal Translator, the author has done a lot of research on writing and composing techniques and describes herself as passionate about educational technology, qualities that can easily be noticed in her construction of the book.

    Here, Hillar focuses on activities and resources for developing reading and writing skills with the Moodle environment in mind. Along its 10 chapters, the book moves gradually from simple activities designed to improve writing at sentence level, to reach more sophisticated levels of written discourse like poem, description, composition, essay and article writing.

    She uses a wide variety of resources and tools, including Hot Potatoes, Twitter, Facebook, cubing techniques, Venn Diagrams, Mind Maps, Tree Diagrams and Discussion Clocks. Most of them call for collaborative and creative work, and are clearly presented and illustrated by means of abundant screenshots. The latter feature could be seen as a bit redundant for those who are already familiar with Moodle, though it will be of great help for the Moodle newbie.

    All in all, this is a good book for those teachers looking at honing reading and writing skills within Moodle.

    Here's our presentation:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Group Challenge Project

    For our group challenge project, we chose a voiceboard tool that Sandra came up with. All of us immediately fell for Gong since we think it would make an invaluable addition to any course. It would be particularly useful in the EFL field as it would provide listening and speaking practice in an invironment where there is normally not much opportunity for the development of these skills. Among other features, it offers the possibility of listening to and responding to text and voice messages. It also allows the participation in group discussions using synchronous and asynchronous chat.

    Here's the presentation we put together:

    Nanogong or gong
    View more presentations from Mary Di Monaco.

    And here's our advertisement for the tool:

    M4T-A: Week 4 Readings

    I've been going through two of the suggested readings in Week 4: Success factors in online teaching and Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching

    Not surprisingly, they both emphasise the need to engage learners by using materials that are relevant to their needs and to the learning objectives. Both of them also stress the importance of creating a supportive and safe environment for learners to achieve their goals. 
    • Success factors in online teaching  
    This presentation states that, as online learning entails isolation and a need for time management skills, technical skills and computer access, it is essential to provide a collaborative and supportive environment and to ensure the accessibility of the course materials. In this medium, the role of the mentor becomes crucial for engaging and supporting learners. Success depends on learning resources that are relevant, challenging, but achievable, and easy to navigate. 

    Providing support and feedback by means of regular meetings becomes central in this context. The presentation illustrates the point by referring to an experience in which several tools were used to this effect:
    Gmail: to profit from a wide variety of Google apps by creating a Google account.
    Google Calendar: one of the many Google apps, useful to schedule and view events. for mentors to add events to calendars, and check preferred meeting times. Good tool for selecting event times convenient to the majority of the students.
    FlashMeeting: to hold group meetings as a way to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging, as well as to provide opportunities to clarify doubts
    my.TAFE: for students to receive announcements and see them in the Google calendar.
    redcoal: to send meeting reminders by sms text with the link to the meeting, and feedback on marked assignments.

    • Nine principles of online education
    This article elaborates a bit more on the subject, outlining nine principles that are essential for online education to become a successful experience.
    1. The online world is a medium unto itself: materials need to be designed with the web dynamics in mind, providing clear guidelines to navigate them.
    2. In the online world content is a verb: learners need to be actively involved with the content in order to master it. Rather than merely providing content, the instructor needs to design tasks and assignments that learners can engage with in order to meet the course objectives.
    3. Technology is a vehicle, not a destination: tools must be chosen taken into account how they can help to meet the learning objectives, and they need to be constantly evaluated to make pedagogically informed decisions for their implementation.
    4. Great online courses are defined by teaching, not technology: a successful online course presupposes clearly stated objectives and goals, regular and individual contact and feedback.
    5. Sense of community and social presence are essential to online excellence: it is crucial to develop a sense of community to make up for the lack of face to face contact and so that the learner can be percieved as real person.
    6. Excellence requires multiple areas of expertise: excellent instruction must be accompanied by technical expertise to ensure that the contents can be properly delivered and accessed.
    7. A great web interface will not save a poor course; but a poor web interface will destroy a potentially great course: it is necessary to articulate a clear guide to lead students through the course.
    8. Excellence comes from ongoing assessment and refinement: course effectiveness and efficiency should be regularly and systematically reviewed so as to obtain diagnostic feedback.
    9. Sometimes the little extras go a long way:  additions such as exemplars, rubrics, guides, tutorials, personal email messages, calendar reminders, audio clips and video segme

    Tuesday, 12 April 2011

    M4T-A: An Open Letter to Educators

    The young man in the video “An Open Letter to Educators” claims that he left university not because he was no longer interested in learning, but because he felt institutional education was interfering with his education.

    He points out that information is no longer in the hands of a few. It is now accessible to everyone and, therefore, education can no longer be centered on simply imparting facts (which are now just a click away), and expecting students to memorize and then regurgitate them when testing time comes.

    I believe he is right. This information era calls for new literacies. With the information overload we are exposed to, it is essential that students be taught how to look for, filter, analyse, evaluate, organise and apply information.  This involves higher order thinking skills that go beyond just storing, remembering and recalling facts.

    So what’s the role of educators in view of this paradigm shift? Incorporating technology in our classrooms is not enough if it does not serve a meaningful purpose and is supported by a sound pedagogy. Rather than spoon-feeding our students, we should seek to empower them to make the most of the tools and resources at their disposal. As Albin Toffler puts it, we must prepare them “to learn, unlearn and relearn”, to think creatively so that they can keep abreast in a fast changing world. But how can we prepare them for that if we are not ready to embrace change ourselves?

    M4T-A: reflections on the first chapter of "Using Moodle"

    In the first chapter of their book “Using Moodle”, Jason Colen and Helen Foster clearly outline the factors that make Moodle special:
    • It’s open source, thus allowing for peer review and knowledge sharing.
    • It’s free, and as such, free from market pressures, which can sometimes result in detriment to quality.
    • It’s based on the educational philosophy of social constructionism which views learning as a reconstruction rather than a transmission of knowledge, emphasizing the role of creative experimentation and meaning negotiation. While CMSs are tool centered, Moodle is learning centered and aims at the construction of knowledge through exploration, discovery, sharing and collaboration rather than at the mere delivery of information.
    • It’s nurtured by a large and active community of users and developers who, through their feedback and suggestions, ensure quality and constant development.

    Sunday, 10 April 2011

    M4T-A: my Moodling so far

    I started this series of Moodle workshops with Integrating Technology back in December last year and it's been a most enriching experience.

    Right from the Orientation Workshop, I started exploring the philosophy underpinning Moodle, one with which I feel completely identified. And then were the practical aspects of using Moodle. The hands-on work in the sandboxes has helped me learn the ropes - well, sort of... I feel quite confident now using many of the activities and resources, though there are still a few that I need to continue working on.

    Along the Beginners' workshop, team work became central, providing first-hand experience of the constructivist and social constructionist approach of this learning environment. I can truly say I've learned a lot from my partners all along.

    Now I'm getting ready for the Advanced workshop. I hope I can manage to meet the course objectives but, in any event, I'm sure I'll continue learning a lot from my facilitators and partners.

    Sunday, 23 January 2011

    Facebook in the classroom?

    Quite a controversial topic these days. I had my qualms about using Facebook with my EFL students, mainly because of the privacy issues the network has been involved in. However, since one of my main objectives is to have my students use the language in a way that is meaningful to them so that they can continue learning outside the classroom walls, I had to give the issue a second thought. After all, is there such a thing as "online privacy"? I don't think so. The moment you click "send" anywhere on the web, the information is no longer yours alone and can, in most cases, be easily retrieved by any search engine. Try googling your name and you'll see what I mean.

    So why am I using Facebook with my students?
    • Most of my students already have a Facebook account and use it on a daily basis as the main means of communication with their friends.
    • I've found that, while I have to coax them to interact in their blogs, wikis and other social platforms, they seem to feel at home on Facebook and communicate there naturally and spontaneously.   
    • Since they are already there, this is a good opportunity to model approriate and safe internet behaviour. Although in my opinion "online privacy" is a contradiction in terms, I do believe "internet safety" is quite a different matter, and something we must endeavour to train our students in.
    How am I using it?
    • I created a Facebook Group instead of a Page since that gives you greater control over who joins the group and what others can see.
    • Parents were consulted and the topic was discussed in a meeting (most of them gave us a dismissive nod - here in Argentina the use of Facebook is incredibly pervasive)
    • We post discussions on different platforms so those students who do not have a Facebook account do not feel left out or under pressure to create one, and are still able to communicate and interact with their peers.
    What am I using it for?
    All the activities mentioned below are optional. Students are not forced to do them or marked on them. I somehow feel this would take away much of the fun.
    • Writing: students post short reviews of the songs they would like to work with in their f2f video classes.
    • Deciding what material they want to work with: polls are created with the students' suggestions and they have the opportunity to vote and have their say.
    • Extra practice: I post links to external sites which provide practice for listening, reading, writing, speaking, grammar, vocabulary, international exams.
    • Crosscultural experiences: again, I post links to safe pages that foster interaction with peers from all over the globe.
    • Responding to visual and oral stimuli: I post what I consider interesting articles and videos to trigger discussion. Sometimes I get lucky and can see exchanges like the one below (these are screen captures since it is not possible to see them in the group if you are not a member)

    These are just a few of the uses you can put Facebook to. And another good thing is that I don't even do half of the work. Most of what happens there is geared by the students themselves. They upload material and interact of their own accord most of the time.

    Note: this group is promoted only among teens and adults. In the case of kids, we work with blogs and wikis.

    Friday, 21 January 2011

    Flickr's Advanced Search Feature

    I have become quite aware of the importance of not infringing copyright laws. For example, when looking for images, I browse for those whose owners have chosen to share under a Creative Commons license, and try to return the favour when I upload images of my own.

    I knew about Google's advanced search feature, which allows you to filter images by license. What I didn't know is that Flickr lets you carry out this type of search too. This came as quite a big surprise. Has it been there all along and I didn't pay attention to the small print?

    For my previous post, I was looking for an image of a berry bush. I was painstakingly going through the properties of each image when it dawned on me that there must be an easier way. And there it was, Flickr's advanced search (Yes!)

    I scrolled the Advanced Search page all the way down and ticked the box for Creative Commons:

    So easy to be a law-abiding cyber citizen!

    Back to the Berry Bush

    Here’s my long overdue first post for evomlit11 - Multiliteracies. In fact, I’d told myself that I wouldn’t join this session this year. Not that I didn’t feel attracted to it (quite the opposite!) but, being in the middle of a Moodle workshop, I  have quite a full plate at the moment. Besides, I’m going away on holiday the day after tomorrow and do not expect to have internet access during that time.

    Anyway, here I am. Having joined last year’s session, I’ve been following the pursuits and findings of this community through the different environments multiliterates move around. Little by little, members’ introductions started to make it to my email inbox from the Yahoo Group: new people, new questions, new paths to tread. It was getting more and more difficult to just lurk. And then enters Vance’s post reminding members that this is not your normal course but more like a berry bush of choices, thus triggering associations of something rich and untamed, something that invites you to delve into, disentangle, pick, share, taste and  savour as you choose. Impossible to resist!