Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Setting up costs

I believe that costs are a huge barrier to anyone setting up a site. In the past, programs went for thousands of dollars, but had only a limited capacity. These days, you can get programs free of charge, at the expense of a little privacy, that have amazing capabilities. Programs such as the one we are on now have become accessible, to anyone with a little knowledge of how they run, and where to find them. This has made it possible for anyone to put anything out there. The more reputable educational programs may be getting more expensive, but there are many people putting a lot of freeware out there and then asking for donations...if customers are satisfied.
If anyone can get anything for free (and there is a lot of legal freeware out there), then this opens up opportunities for individuals and groups to develop cheap, useful and easily accessible programs at a fraction of the cost.

Authentic Interaction

A couple of points I would like to hit on.
1. authentic interaction and
2. computer interaction.
Authentic and meaningful interaction...What is it? I believe that it would have something to do with purposeful action or actions that result in something being achieved or communicated. How authentic is any classroom activity, apart from transferring and receiving information. The only real world, truly authentic language task is outside in the real world on some kind of excursion. So, in CALL terms, what is really authentic and meaningful. A computer game would be. Internet shopping would be, too. However, when it comes to many activities (my blog included), how many are really categorized as meaninful and authentic. I tried one activity in a class once which used a Dawson's creek video to provide the subject matter for an online discussion board. The students were using technology to communicate their feelings to each other. The Ss were incredibly motivated, and eager to use the technology, because they wanted to discuss ideas...and the computer allowed them to do so. It wasn't without problems, however. It was limited by the technology itself (which was the program).

2. Computer interaction and human interaction... Would Ss really care? If the program was say, as interactive as say these role playing games...would students not have more fun, than sitting in a dull and boring audio-lingual class, or trudging through mindless grammar translation method or going through one of those thick TOEIC/TOEFL/IELTS preparation books... Food for thought...
Thanks for beginning this discussion....

More about using video

I was also thinking about using some aussie dramas...but when I watched a few I found them full of australian slang (blue heelers, etc...)... Actually I couldn't believe how much... Now from a sociolinguistics perspective (dialects, accents and world Englishes), it could be an interesting slant... but I know that I wouldn't hear the end of it with my pro-American school staff... and pro-American English Japan (not that it's bad or anything).
I guess that will have to wait for an Australian studies class...
I usually find that video in class, sends students to sleep, anyway... and when I start tacking on comprehension questions, I totally lose them. No, what I think needs to be done is to have some schema building before the video, as you've suggested, then just let them watch the program with English subtitles (L1 for the first episode), no expectations. Then after, give them a list of discussion questions on a chat board, and let them go. Of course, you have to establish the chat room etiquette and expectations. Let the students come up to you and ask questions...encourage students to respond to other students... I found that after a few episodes, the students were really getting into it. I guess the content was pitched at the right level, as my students are 18~20 year olds, and the drama was about relationships. That's another thing. I've found that the kind of video really does matter.
As for the chat room, an expectation I had was that they had to at least post one entry, and one response to someone.
As for learning outcomes, the two main goals were to write more and write better, and we talked as a class about how to do that.
My friend's Battlestar Galactica class was a creative writing class, that focussed on similar aims.
I will be trying it again our next semester (starting October here...)
I am actually on the lookout for new dramas that fit the bill. I am also looking for easier ways to set up a private chat room, that are easier to use than the google one... Anyone have any ideas???

Video in the classroom

I elected to do a drama like Dawson's Creek (however, the language in it probably goes beyond i + 1), because the episodes are around 30-40 minutes, but the story continues over a series, so students can develop connections to characters, and see the interrelationships between them. I used to watch Japanese dramas to study Japanese (Long Vacation was my favorite). Each episode was just long enough, or just short enough to keep me interested...
I have a friend using 'Battlestar Galactica' in the same way. I agree, with video, at least for teaching in the classroom, it should be kept short. However, when you do that, then you lose the integrity of the language in it's context, and therefore make it less authentic. And that's why I don't really like a lot of these language program skits...promoting video for language alone, and not including much of all the other stuff that comes with language in context.
As for video in the context of a web page, I believe that length doesn't really matter (within limits). Ss can elect whether to view a video, by watching the first few minutes, and if they don't like it, they will switch off. I think most video hosting sites in the beginning had time limits, but now they are allowing videos of greater length.
What do you think?

Different Online resources

ELLLO is a fantastic resource that I blatantly overuse (just look at my website). I try to put them under headings, like family, pets, places where we live... etc... (I have 10 themes, so far) in this way, the students can listen to a variety of people, discussing a variety of subjects.
I also make use of VOA, although I am sometimes skeptical about the value of the so called special English. However, I like to provide it, just in case it's useful. With VOA, I try to make lesson worksheets, that work on schema building, vocab, phrasal verbs, and comprehension activities. The thing that I try hard to also do with the VOA and some of the guided readers, is to make some online interactive cloze activities.
As you say, video is a great tool, and I haven't gotten too much into making lessons for video segments. I always find that students in Japan have a great need for the transcripts, and it is very hard to find video sites with full transcripts that are available, like the VOA site.
Unfortunately, one disadvantage with VOA is that it is American centric. It would be great to have a similar site for world Englishes.

Another great site for all those who are into Current Topics (which you probably all know already) is Breakingnewsesl.com. It provides lesson plans almost daily.

Computer Technology over the years

Computer technology seems to improve in leaps and bounds, but more importantly the internet has made what we can do with computers almost infinite. In the early 80's the focus was most likely on the inherent capabilities of the the computer, where computer access was available - in the classroom or a computer lab.
The internet has somewhat changed the way we use computers, and has had a significant impact on accessibility. Students no longer have to be tied down to specific areas, but can access from homes, cafes and anywhere there is an internet porthole. Students who may have been denied access to educational resources by distance, can now easily study in a variety of ways. Even in my own case, for many years I put off doing my masters because I believed that I didn't have the resources open to me in my area (Osaka), in the early 90's. Internet access changed that, and now I am able to study, because there is a wealth of knowledge and a variety of resources to help me. I can connect with a greater number of people and share ideas on a regular basis.
I see the developments in computer software making the computer an even more formidable force in education. In the beginning, people used basic software that allowed for interaction on a basic level. Software these days tends to be more interactive and encourages people to network. Programs such as Facebook, Sype, Yutube and Blogger allow people to make connections on many levels, and share ideas in various ways. People are communicating in a vastly different way than what they used to before (with just e-mail).
Ahmad, et al (1985) discusses the reluctance of the older generation to adopt new technologies, and the younger generation pushing the limits of what can be done with new technologies. There is a gap similar to the old generation-gap, that can no longer be avoided. Teachers cannot keep away from these new technologies, but should try to embrace them. Competence in the target subject and pedagogical skill alone is insufficient. and teachers need to now embrace computer competency, in order to bridge the ever increasing technological gap between generations. This is easier said than done. I for one, began embracing computer literacy, by forcing my way through reams of HTML code, only to get frustrated and search out easier alternatives. For me, the easy solution was with so called authoring languages (like cloze maker and packages (like blogger and iweb), that made life much easier, because the layout was fixed. But as my competence in using the packages increased, I started to feel my creativity become limited, which is one of the disadvantages posed by Ahmed, et al (1985).
Technology cannot replace the me the teacher, but I am aware of an ever increasing need to keep abreast of changes in my field, brought on by new technologies. With any change there will always be advantages and disadvantages for both the teacher and the learner. The computer, or more specifically advances in internet technology and the software that is made available for and on it will undoubtedly bring more change in the future. How we adapt to that change and how we incorporate it into our lives as learners and teachers may not always be smooth. However, instead of resisting the change, why not think of it more positively as a challenge...
Steven Mondy

How I started becoming interested in computers?

CALL - Computer Assisted Language Learning
Hello everyone.
I started becoming interested in computers when I first bought my Mac 4 years ago. Access to this powerful tool enabled me to start experimenting both on and off line. However, when I first came across a little program called 'Blogger' I really started to gain momentum, and the things that I could produce for both teachers and students expanded exponentially.
I started with simple ideas, such as using the blog function to communicate ideas to students. Then I got students involved through a project in my writing class. They need to contribute 50 words per week to a class blog.
Students at my school were initially hesitant. I often got responses such as, 'I don't have a computer' and 'I don't have internet access'. I thought about this and tried to encourage my school to provide more access time in the computer lab. This was the key to making this kind of blog enjoyable and available to all students. Now the biggest issue is trying to get them to edit their work sufficiently, before publication.
Another way that I use the internet is as a central hub for ESL and EFL materials...where I provide information and lessons for both teachers to use and students to access as supplementary or class related assignment. Some students make use of this resource, and I would like to investigate ways in which I can make the material more accessible to a greater number of people. One thing that I have found, is that language can be quite a hurdle for many, and the idea of visiting a site only in the target language, can be quite daunting. For this reason, I am playing with the idea of a bilingual site, or something that can be accessed in a number of languages. This is quite a large endeavor that will take a little time.
Recently, I have added more things to my site, including videos from Yutube, a great resource and very easy to embed. I would like to also investigate new ways to use video, and even incorporating web discussions using programs such as Sype, to promote regular networking and study groups.
There is so much I still want to do, which I will do one step at a time. If you get the chance, please visit my website at: mondosworld.blogspot.com
Until next time...Ciao Steven smile