Monday, May 26, 2008

Using technology

I was asked by Sarah to come share some ideas with you for integrating technology into the classroom, so I thought I'd do it in Blog form. I will read this blog aloud to you as you read it on the computer screen. This will give you a short American English pronunciation lesson and allow you to work a bit at your own pace as well! I will organize this presentation in order from the easiest ideas to implement to the more complex. Here you can find a table of ideas if you would like my outline.

Let's start with blogs! What are blogs? Who has used one before? Here are a few that I will now freely comment upon:

Blogs are easy to develop because they don't take an incredible amount of knowledge to set up, you can use them simply or in more complex ways and they help to foster informal communication outside the classroom.

Keywords: developing writing skills / peer or instructor corrections / low-pressure / individualization / on or off topic

Here's a mini-example for you. Work with the person next to you.
Give your partner the answer. This is simply a concept that can be used in a lesson or as homework. You can make it interactive by having everyone go to the same website and look for different information or you can make them find the same information, with nuances, from two different websites. A concrete example of this is from this example from our "Spezialwoche" in February.

In a less interactive way, but a way that lets each participant work at his or her own pace, you can give them a list of questions to find the answers to as in the Lingualevel search. This is a nice way of working with in-service teachers as there is a broader range of computer-literacy. The more computer-literate ones can be given a task of finding something relevant for their next lessons and the less computer-literate can focus on understanding the functionality.

One more concept is that if you only want participants to become familiar with a website or find resources, they should get lost a bit on the way. So if I resend you to and ask: "where can you find the word wall pictures and words for the autumn (or fall)" - you might find the answer to this question but a lot more along the way!

Keywords: interactive or individual work / skimming and scanning for information / filtering out unnecessary information


You see on my website a "Materials Bank". The idea is simple - students can upload materials onto this database that are then accessible to everyone. This is also my rule for absences: If you know you are going to miss a third lesson, you must create an activity and upload it for everyone. Moreover, for certain teaching points (eg. teaching listening skills), groups must create an activity and upload it. I started it on October 2007 and so far, so good, though encouraging people to use it more is quite a challenge. At this point I would also like to make a few comments that I don't want documented on paper.

Keywords: sharing / transparency / materials development


Just a few words on wikis. At some point with pre-service teachers in Z├╝rich, we had a scratchpad wiki going about language learning strategies. This acted as a means of peer-collaboration to develop language and concept together.

Another website I show (quickly in front of the class) is Simplewiki for language learners as well as how to look up a word in Wikipedia and find its equivelant in another language. Please keep in mind that a wiki is only as good as those people using it. So you have no right to use the information without being responsible for its correctness (language and content).

Keywords: developing writing skills / peer editing / consolidating knowledge

For Instructors Only

Well, in ILIAS, there are always Dozierendengruppe. We have also set one up for the English department with a few rules:
  • Old information be put in the archive section and not in the newest folders (folders by topic).
  • When somebody requests something from someone, put it on dozigruppe for everyone
Unfortunately, this is not working because there are few ILIAS freaks amongst us!

We have also used it for various work groups - e.g. for the Wissensbasis (click on the picture to enlarge it). We were given the task of illustrating aspects of cooperative learning. We then put our ideas on ILIAS and perhaps, one day, they will be elaborated upon!

For Inservice and Preservice Teachers
The next thing we have in the English department is what we call our "Toolbox". This is a means of sharing information with inservice and preservice teachers.

In Inservice Training
Finally, the most complex thing that could be done is an entire module on ILIAS (SPP 030 Allgemeine Fremdsprachendidaktik). I say this is complex because in all honesty, working with ILIAS is not always that user-friendly when you know other programs like WebCT or Dreamweaver. The main problem is that it's difficult to format pages and make tests. Once you've got the hang of it though, it can be a powerful tool.

The main tip I've learned over the past three courses is one concerning the forum work. Somehow, this has not come naturally to the students - they don't see it as contributing to a discussion but rather "I have to do it, so I will". So my new strategy is to work with groups of students who have to discuss the same video (and not just each share something they saw because they only present and not interact like this). Moreover, you've got to assign roles (summarizer, leader, question asker, etc..). It sounds like "duh, Laura, you should have known that" but I thought students would be so enthusiastic about working on the computer, that it would take off. This was the case on the Navajo Reservation when people lived five hours apart but not in ZH and SH where we see each other every day! So, as it is at times in in-person, small groups, role assignments can help a lot! Moreover, making your goals clear, for example saying that an obligatory part of the course is one presentation of something and two comments to others can "force" participation and up the chances that someone will become a real fan.

Keywords: blended learning / cooperative learning / that's enough keywords for today *************************************************************************
So now you've got it - the quick and dirty of how I use technology in the classroom. Using technology in the classroom does not neglect the more tactile things in life, like taking a POWER-WALK BRAINSTORM. So if you have 5 minutes now (probably not), get up out of your seat and walk up the hill behind the building and back and ask each other "How can I integrate technology into my teaching" or "Do I really want to do more in this regards than I am?"! Thank you for your patience and I hope that this has not exceeded my 15 minutes.

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