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Finding your tribe

One of the most enjoyable and inspiring books I have read this year has been Sir Ken Robinson's "Out of our Minds"  and my ref...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

#ocTEL task 3.1 Creating your own materials.

I love to create resources for learning, have done ever since I first started teaching some 30 years ago. The digital revolution has made the creation process more empowering as it provides opportunities to create a more satisfying end product than my poor art skills could otherwise allow. Memorable breakthoughs came for me with the discovery on Microsoft Publisher many years ago, my worksheets became works of art :) These days I like to mix media using #popcorn and encourage students to create visual or audio resources to share with others.

Even in those early days of exploration I would carefully weigh up the relative advantage of producing a resource in a digital format compared with analogue equivalents - and there were many of those! Laminated project cards and images remain under my bed and in my office filing cabinets and, now and again, are used as more practical alternatives when the rooming is unsuitable or the hardware unavailable. After all, has any student ever said "how do you open this" when presented with a physical handout?! However, now it is the norm for me to start any resource creation with a digital focus and I have a virtual armoury which thankfully doesn't require dusting. Other benefits include:

  • easier editing and tweaking once the resource has been tried out
  • a large bank of possible starting points with hyperlinks to additional content making tasks extendible in any direction
  • colourful, interactive and innovative resources to stimulate learner interest
So this week's #ocTEL focus on experimentation and materials creation really appeals to me. I was already familiar with most of the tools on the suggestions list and I favour tools which are platform agnostic so I am not interested in formats that require a particular hardware (such as Apple products) but I dived in to a screencasting tool I had not heard of before only to be surprised by what I found out! Here's the very brief recording.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Lifelong learning

My classroom days of language teaching in secondary schools date back to the days before league tables and SAT targets, back to the 1980's. My objective as a language teacher, whether my students were high flying enthusiasts or reluctant "I 'ate French" types, was to find whatever ignited their interest and engage them in the sort of activities that allowed them to experience the power of using the language of another culture. For some that meant song, others written word, drama, cookery. In one year 8 class where I was teaching modal verbs the students had to decide what I could or couldn't do - amazing how quickly you can find infinitives with that incentive :) We used GRASS databases to report and record lost property and used the CD-ROM package Granville to visit France for an hour or so in our rural Warwickshire IT suite. All a long time before the internet was available almost everywhere.

Without the pressure of producing a fixed number of A-C grades, I would reflect daily, weekly, annually on the nature of the progress of my 1,000 or so students (several of whom remain in touch to this day). I learned from my mistakes, their mistakes and their triumphs as all teachers can. I saw that those who were motivated only by the grade could nonetheless be won over to the intrinsic reward of self improvement by finding their own connection to the language. Not all of them became French enthusiasts of course, but many became more open to foreign culture and more still had a better understanding of their own language and identity. That, I have always considered to be my role : to light the blue touchpaper of their interest, even if the urge to take off only happens years later. 

In my current blended learning context, it is clear to me that the same varied diet, the same crafted combination of experiences informed by student interest and enquiry can ignite engagement and passion. Our Institution Wide Language Programme welcomes students from all disciplines and they are undertaking language learning for many and varied reasons - they may be motivated by the need to amass credit, the desire to build on school language learning, the awareness of language as a useful skill in a competitive jobs market... Our VLE facilitates the provision of resources giving instant feedback such as quizzes and online games, consolidation and extension can be provided through video, slides and more. I can to some extent use the reporting to see how these are used by individuals and use that to inform my planning for our face to face sessions. Using these tools I can reach further beyond the classroom walls, connect my students with native speakers of the language they are learning and they can access these opportunities from their room or even on the bus! 

It is my role and my responsibility to offer a range of "ways in" to my students. I ensure they have a chance to find the experiences that will move them from a focus on grade or badge in the short term to a deeper approach through fostering autonomy and control of their learning. Ultimately how they respond and connect will be their decision, conscious or otherwise. It will be influenced by all sorts of factors, some of which are beyond my control. I can provide the conditions for learning and encourage intrinsically motivated exploration of my subject area, ultimately the learning is up to the learner. 

In my online courses I try to close the psychological distance between us through a series of activities which provide immediate feedback and encouragement. After all, they are my guests in the online space, I need to acknowledge their presence and make them feel at home. I found Gilly Salmon's 5 stage model is a very useful tool for designing effective online communities:

5 stage model of online development. Gilly Salmon, 2001.

As a co-learner working alongside my students with access to a wide range of real language use, I must ensure that they venture in, gradually moving beyond their comfort zone if they are to experience the many opportunities for learning that await them. 


Sunday, 11 May 2014

Reflecting on my practice

So here I am again, my head stuck in the waters of my practice whilst at the same time having an out of body experience trying to better understand what I do and why. I found this week's webinar really helpful even though it overlapped with another important one for me (on eportfolio practice). This meant participating live for the first 30 mins then reviewing the rest of the session from the archive. A little disjointed but it is great to be able to return to the recording.

#ocTEL is just one of several online communities (or are they really collectives as defined by Thomas and Seely Brown in A new culture of learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, 2011) and I discover and experience a great richness of discussion and debate around education and learning in online communities through these. So compelling sometimes that it is really difficult to stop and look around above the water level! This week I have been struck by the similarities in the 4 way diagram shared by Sally Chapelle (and others) as they reflect upon their teaching and course design and the one provided by Ernesto Macaro in 2003 representing the polarisation of theories of language acquisition, crucial to my M.A. a few year's ago:

The horizontal axis represents the polarisation between theories of language input. Implicit input arises from natural exposure and sub-conscious processing, explicit from teaching and conscious processing. The vertical axis represents the concept of how language input is processed. Nativist implies that language learning is an innate skill, interactionist that language is a specialised form of knowledge that is acquired through interaction with the environment. This goes to the very heart of what it means to be a language teacher. Thinking through all these quandrants and realising that learning can and does happen best when we have the opportunity to activate all the areas - the informal learning that happens through social interaction as well as the formal directed space, the autonomous self directed activities we do alone or with others - only then do we optimise our learning potential. This has huge implications for the role of the tutor and in my own practice I have been working to support language tutors in considering their place in the learning of their students, facilitating the adoption of technologies for interaction to help redress the balance in favour of the social and the interactionist, the self directed and the personal . 
In #ocTEL it was good to come across other language teachers with similar concerns such as @dustinaced in the language teachers group  and we have produced a couple of shared docs together, a work one shared in my last post and this #eurovision themed one for fun-It remains open, hispanists welcome :)
My reflections lead me to remind myself of the importance of play in learning. We're born to learn, we can potentially learn desirable and undesirable things from the world around us. One of my other communities (or collectives) twitter, reminded me of this today and I shared the source (RSA):

We are all actors in our learning and the learning of others. Taking everything else away (yes, including the technology) what matters are the relationships we build together and the nature of the interactions we have. This I believe needs to be central in our learning design, we need to connect and collaborate with our students and each other with open minds if we are to grow together if we are to be ready for the challenges of the future. The models have lines and limitations, human interactions can transcend these and create truly inspirational learning. 

BTW, had such a good time on twitter with my PLN during #Eurovision last night !


Macaro, E., (2003). Teaching and Learning a Second Language. London: Continuum.

Thomas, D. and Seely Brown, J., (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. (Downloaded to my kindle http://www.amazon.com/New-Culture-Learning-Cultivating-Imagination/dp/1456458884/)


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Reflection on collaboration.

When I looked at the small group reflection task set in week 0 I knew it would not be a quick activity to sort out. I have been connecting and collaborating with international networks for some years now, and during past 4 years I have been building up an international virtual exchange network #clavier which has completely transformed my teaching practice and the experiences I can offer our students - but it took time...

  • time to find people with shared interests
  • time to find overlapping interests and shared purpose
  • time to build a relationship of trust and mutuality
  • time to locate preferred tech communication channels
  • all of the above in the virtual dark of computer mediated communication

I knew very few people in the #ocTEL course so first came the challenge of finding people with an interest in language education. I was delighted to find that a group already existed on the ocTEL site. I used the groups function of the wordpress site but my lack of familiarity with the interface meant that my first post was incorrectly placed in the the status update for the group. Schoolgirl error! Scanning my twitter feed (much more familiar with this channel) for #ocTEL participants was helpful though and soon I had found a few connections. I made a forum post suggestion and thanks to the encouragement from new connection @damon_tokyo who is based in Japan we decided to set up a shared document to edit asynchronously:
shared doc

Now we are under way but a further issue is apparent, a familiar one in my context. The google doc I set up was deliberately planned to be as open and available as possible in order to reduce any barriers to collaboration. There have been several edits and contributions but none of them signed in with google accounts so the revision history just shows anonymous contributions. It would be much easier to move this asynchronous document into a proxy for making further connections and more in depth reflection if, on arrive, contributors would sign in. I don't want to force this by changing the permissions though so we will see how it goes. In my context we have a similar situation when our students of French write collaborative stories with their virtual exchange partners in Clermont Ferrand. A really interesting and engaging activity that could be even more useful if we shared connections through google apps for education accounts. Preserving the student identity to be managed as they feel is appropriate and providing a real life opportunity to interact internationally and acquire the many transversal skills they will need in their future. A wasted opportunity. 

Groups who are experienced in international collaboration such as #globalclassroom, soliya  classroom 2.0 and many more are familiar with the barriers presented by time and schedule differences, different technology preferences, language and intercultural barriers etc., they achieve a great deal because their shared passion drives them on, they are resilient, flexible and most importantly willing to put in the time.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Big and little questions #ocTEL

I get the feeling that this cMOOC organised by ALT could be a good opportunity for me to reflect and engage with the wider learning technology community, learn new things and clarify my priorities as a new CMALT holder. The process will probably require writing a blog post every week for the next few weeks, that level of discipline is something I will be exploring but I make no promises that it will last. I don't think the wider world is ready to hear from me that often!

So what are my big and little questions relating to the use of technology enhanced learning? The main one is of course related to my research into computer-mediated communication and the technologies used to facilitate it. The context here has changed enormously in recent years. When I first wrote my M.A. dissertation and identified challenges in the adoption of voip for language teaching it was unusual for institutional computers to have sound cards at all. I was told that using headsets would be unhygienic and that speaking into a computer would be distracting for others. Now of course I regularly pass students sitting in corridors having skype chats from their laptops free from wired internet connections and institutional machines, or overhear snippets of their conversations on mobile phones as they stand in the queue at the cafĂ©. My son's generation (he's 20 btw) are always interacting through some gadget or another, by voice, text, exchanging images and sharing youtube clips. 

The big question? When are educators (particularly language educators) going to accept that CMC is a vital area of investigation which has direct relevance to our young people? Not just a curiosity to be dismissed by those who are "not into computers" but a vital realm already inhabited by others. 

The little questions - which are as important to the growth of CMC include:

  • how do we share the existing growing body of knowledge around engagement in CMC?
  • how do we mainstream the many great ideas for CMC which could help to address so many issues such as student mobility, transversal skills acquisition, intercultural awareness, the need for constant CPD for educators?
  • how do we ensure that technical infrastructures provided by institutions give best value by prioritising effective ways of supporting CMC? 

Looking at the questions here, maybe they are not so little but I do at least have some directions and clues for answering some of these. If you are also interested in these questions please connect with me in the #ocTEL site or through twitter @warwicklanguage
and maybe together we can make a difference?