My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 6 – Jacket Potatoes, MLearning, ELearning & Skype

Tuesday, 20th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.

IATEFL Day 1

Part of our amazing Twitteratti queueing for jacket potatoes

Lunch on this day was quite an experience.

First, we had to round up the Twitteratti after Anthony Gaughan’s talk, including those that didn’t manage to get past the surly female ‘bouncer’.

Then, we had to decided what our lunch options were. It turned out that we only had a café Costa that served sandwiches, a bistro/restaurant that was already full, and a jacket potato stand to choose from.

Next, we had to painfully recognize the fact that there was no way 50 members of the Twitteratti would fit in any where and that we had to split into smaller groups.

A group of us decided to go with the jacket potato option and after braving the long queues, we ended up sitting on the floor with our lunches. (not realizing that there was a hall full of tables that we could have sat at!) In any case, we certainly enjoyed bonding in front of the vending machine and feeling like the hippies that we were. Carol Goodey and I even attempted to go to the exhibition area to ‘score’ some desserts (in the form of boiled sweets) from some of the stands, before heading off early to all the respective rooms our talks were being held in for fear of being confronted by scary Scottish bouncers again (Fiona Mauchline, are you sure that was Genghis McCann’s mother?)

Not all teachers are champagne socialists! Some actually walk the walk!

Most of my afternoon was an exploration into technologies for learning, an area I must admit I know very little about (hence, the curiosity).

The first was the Learning Technologies (LT) SIG’s presentation by Maria do Carmo Ferreira Xavier of Cultura Inglesa – Ideas to implement mobile phones in the English classroom. In a very practical session where Maria talked of the project she has been working on over the last 18 months, where she used different types of mobiles, including smart phones, to motivate and engage her learners, allowing them to interpret the materials in the coursebooks in a personalized way.

Here are some of the ideas she put forward:

Get students to…

…use their mobiles to take photos of objects in odd positions and get to work in pairs guessing what each other’s photos are of.

…send a text message to their classmates inviting them to a party.

…actually have that party, take photos of it with their mobiles, and describe the party the following day to those who couldn’t make it.

…take photos of someone with piercings, with tattoo or body art, and bring it to class to talk about.

…bring photos of their holidays or places they have travelled to and talk about it.

…take photos of what they think represents the world’s biggest problems and or problems with their local area, and use the photos as discussion prompts.

…use iPods, smartphones, and iPads for vocabulary lists, and for Twitter/Facebook contact with native speakers.

Following in the theme of technology and learning, I then headed to Przemyslaw Stencel’s Which is better? F2F or ELearning? Apples or Oranges?

International House London, partnered by Cambridge, launched the Celta Online about a year ago, and more and more teacher trainers are making that move into online distance learning and teaching. I myself did the Distance Delta many years ago and had a great experience on it despite having initial reservations of there not being a Face-to-Face (F2F) element. I was thus curious what Przemyslaw had to say on the topic.

At the start of his talk, Przemyslaw introduces the audience a website called nosignificantdifference.org (no this is not one of those comedy hashtags, James…it is an actual real website with real statistics and stuff…) and it showed that there was in fact no statistical difference between distance learning and F2F.

Learning is after all the result of motivation and of opportunities, and learning happens best as an active process where there is interaction with others.

In ELearning, we can invite all kinds of people, including those outside the group, to join in and this allows for more interaction with a wider variety of people, hence increasing motivation. An example of this is MOOT (Massive Open Online Course) where the platform is opened to the public and anyone can join in.

Przemyslaw goes on to assert that unlike in F2F where we prefer to have a small number of learners/trainees, in ELearning, the more the participants, the more interesting the experience. We use Moodle or Blackboard because it allows us to retain control and assign tasks, but in fact we should get rid of the limitations and use ELearning to let students guide their own learning.

Often, a criticism of using online forums is the lack of immediacy and the delayed responses, but this could be seen as a good things as this means allowing for thinking and pondering time for the learner. Recommending the use of online tools such as Edublogs, Glogster, Youtube, etc, ELearning can be made an active process, and online projects can be bigger and involve more people than any F2F project can.

We tend to peg F2F as more ‘real’ and ELearning as ‘artificial’, when in fact we often create artificial environments in the classroom to teach students what to do in real life. Such classroom tasks are often artificial. On the contrary, we can give authentic real life tasks online, such as using google maps to teach directions, getting students to plan their holidays by using websites, etc.

A convincing talk by the end of which it is clear which of the two Przemyslaw is biased towards…and it’s certainly not Oranges.

Next up was another very exciting and popular event, especially amongst the Twitteratti. LT SIG Scholarship winner Bruno Andrade (Cultura Inglesa), also known as ‘That amazing guy who is running the Brazil #ELTChat?’,  presents ‘Technology speaks volumes: Enhancing Integration, Participation, and Speaking Activities’.

Bruno’s digital immersion project started off with him offering his students a range of tools to choose from, allowing them to select what they felt comfortable working with. When Skype was chosen, he gave the students further responsibility by asking them when in their lessons they would like to use Skype. In a presentation-style that was inspiring enough to make us go forth and try and move mountains, Bruno says, ‘When students are given responsibility, it becomes a driving force for them, and amazing things happen.

In their 1st Skype session, students simply exchanged trivial conversations, but by the 2nd session, they started to talk about the geographical and cultural aspects of their area.

In their 3rd Skype session, students started to play drama games, e.g. where they were only allowed to carry on a conversation with only 1 word at a time, or by only making questions.

By their 5th session, there was evidence of the encouraging of critical thinking through the discussion of violence in schools.

Here are my top picks of Bruno’s wise words:

  • Skype could make the class less teacher- and coursebook- centred.
  • Do not forcefully stick to the plan but take advantage of teachable moments and go with the flow (or what Dogmeticians would probably call ‘Dogme moments’?)
  • Encourage critical thinking in the classroom.
  • Play back the conversations for the students as this can help them with self-awareness, self-correction and increased self-confidence with talking to others.
  • Remember that when working with YLs, ensure you ask for authorization from parents when embarking on such digital immersion projects.

However, my favourite part of Bruno’s passionate presentation must have been when he played us videos of his learners, some of whom were too shy to even make a sentence in English prior to his project, talking about their learning experience with Skype in perfectly intelligible communicative English on camera.

But the best part wasn’t just what the learners were saying…

…but that big smile on Bruno’s face when that video was playing.

It was a smile that could have lit up a thousand Skype screens!

We know that look Bruno…and that is why we teach!

Thank you, Bruno, for reminding us of that!

(I feel all warm and fuzzy inside just recalling that moment…but Day 1 is not quite over yet…watch this space…)

…to be continued…

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