Monday, June 28, 2010

Starting a new course - Summer 2010

I've decided to add to this blog with comments about summer term - rebuilding, as it were, from beginning to end.

20 of the 25 people in the course have created blogs so far, and they look good. I suspect that class blogs may be showing up as final projects in the course for several people, given their enthusiasm about blogging.

There really is something about having your own web presence that is very compelling. Unlike Facebook, your own blog is really yours to define. You can create a very informal, chatty blog, or create one that is more thoughtful and course-oriented, like our blogs here. You can share as much or as little as you like on your profile. It's a free and easy way to be online.

I'm looking forward to seeing where all these blogs go this term!


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Little by little, step by step

We've gotten through eight weeks of this 10-week course now. I've been very pleased in general with how well this has gone. I really wish that teachers had a way to try the new techniques with students while they're in the course. Since this is summer, that's not really an option. So we'll have to wait until fall to see what people actually do try and what actually works.

I'm very hopeful that a cadre of learner-centered, technology-aware teachers in developing. Critical mass is necessary for change to begin and to take root. Iraq is on the edge of widespread technology development and use. When that happens, then the teachers who have already started using technology in their classes will have a real advantage. I hope they'll also be ready to train their colleagues so that all students will be able to benefit.

I'll be very curious to see what the teachers do this week. We're working on going from theory to practice - developing course sites and creating activities and handouts to use online or offline. Now the proverbial rubber will hit the road - and we'll see who zips along and who gets stuck by the roadside. I'm sure there will be quite a few very good courses and exercises created. I'm just hoping that there won't be too many technical barriers in the way!


Friday, August 7, 2009

A blog about blogging

Using blogs as a way for teachers to share their ideas and reflections was an addition to the course this term. Blogging is a relatively common activity these days, and it's easier to create a blog with Blogger than to try to create a web page with Tripod or another free site.

Now that people are getting more familiar with blogging, though, we're starting to see the limitations of this site. It's easy to add graphics, video, and links, but not easy to add files. I'll put together instructions on adding files to the course wiki, right-clicking to copy the link address, then adding that link to the blog. It's more complicated than just uploading a file, but there are limits to what you can ask of a free site. (I've linked to the instructions: This will only work for course participants)

Another information bit that I'll put together - maybe as a Tech Tip - is using Delicious ( or other bookmarking sites to store bookmarks. People are starting to accumulate bookmarks from the course and elsewhere, so some sort of organizing tool would be useful. I had an earlier Tech Tip about saving files, creating bookmark folders, and the like, but it's very helpful to have bookmarks that you can access from anywhere, not just on one computer.

When you think about it, it's amazing how much is available for free. It's easy to complain about what the free tools don't do, but best to keep in mind what they will do - and for free.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer, projects, and changing focus

Week 5 had a project-based learning theme, with Tom Robb as the guest moderator. WebQuests were the second topic - a specific form of project-based learning. Since this is summer, it's much more difficult to have the "aha" moment where teachers try something and see that it works. We'll have to wait until school starts up again, when I hope I'll hear about the different techniques that participants in the course tried.

In the meantime, there were a number of good project ideas. Only one person actually put together a web quest on Zunal so far, which was a bit disappointing. Again, working in the summer may just make all sorts of adventuring more difficult.

Week 6 is working on learning styles, alternative assessment, and rubrics. These are all things that were in the Shaping course, so they seem pretty familiar. Adding a technology component is what's been more challenging. I'm still working on getting everyone to move from abstract to concrete - not just summarizing theory but describing what they actually will try in their classes. Everyone seems well on board with the idea of pair and small group work - a positive change in practice that may have come with the Shaping course. The concept of appealing to different learning styles also seems clear, though I'm less sure how much of it is actually implemented in classes.

All of these are elements that can lead to a shift from teacher-centered to learner-centered to learner-directed learning. We seem to be moving toward learner-centered in mindset, but we've still got some distance to go to achieve learner-directed learning. This is true not only in what the participants are teaching, but also in this course. I'm starting to see discussions where participants are routinely sharing their ideas about teaching practice with each other and guiding the discussion. I'm delighted to see the sharing in blog posts and on the course wiki, as well. It's not easy to create rubrics and tasks, then hand control over to learners do the work and assess themselves and each other.

Perhaps it's time for a self-assessment activity in the course... something to think about implementing for next week. An interim project report might be good as part of that, too, asking participants to answer a question like, "What would you do with something new that you've learned in this course, something that uses technology resources in a way different from what you've done before?" Needs a bit more thought - and any comments would be welcome.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Week 4 - whew!

Week 4 seemed to zip right by. We had a great moderator on Nicenet, Sueanne Parker, who was very active in encouraging everyone to be more specific, think more deeply, and broaden horizons. We had more people mentioning lack of resources, and also many people giving suggestions for what to do with very few resources. I am very impressed by the resourcefulness of so many of the teachers.

The posts on Nicenet seemed much better this week, so I think I did a better job of putting together the questions. I've been working on these with my colleague Char, who provides another perspective on the assignment plans and great advice about how to frame the discussion questions. Each group is different, of course, so the questions are a bit different from one course to the next.

It would be much better all around if the teachers could actually try some of these techniques with their students while we're in this course. It was much easier last term that way - even more great ideas emerged when the teachers were able to test the concepts with actual students. I hope that there will be enough ideas - and discussion of projects by the end of the course - that everyone will try to implement at least one new thing in their classes.

Looking at technology used online in another way, I was involved in a webinar (web-based seminar) with some teachers in Israel this morning. Rick Rosenberg, the Regional English Language Officer, is doing a face-to-face session on technology tools. He invited me to talk about software. We tested the setup the night before - voice and video on Skype, chat on Skype and a Ning (a kind of social network site), and a range of tools on Adobe Connect - and everything worked. It seemed very slow on my end, but I thought that might be because Rick was on a wireless connection.

However, when time came for the actual session (7:30 am my time, 5:30 pm there), the audio did not work at all. I had no idea if they could see and hear me. After struggling for 15 minutes or so, we shifted to chat on the Ning. That worked well enough, but it just was not what we had hoped for. Rick said later that the technicians had made some sort of change to the system earlier that day, and the technicians had left by the time for the webinar. I'm hoping they were able to see the PowerPoint show that I'd sent to Rick earlier. (Here's a link to the PDF version.)

Lessons learned: Always have Plan B (we did - the chat); don't let the technicians make changes to the system before a webinar; and make sure the technicians are available during a technology-heavy webinar. Generally speaking, chat or a Nicenet-style discussion board will work well, but audio and video are tricky.

We'll hope for better luck next time!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Week 3 of the course

I just finished sending comments to everyone about their work this past week. I'm very impressed with the collegiality that everyone has shown in sharing ideas on Nicenet. There have been some great suggestions for skill-building websites and how to use them.

My only regret is that I didn't make the prompt for discussion quite as clear as it should have been. I was really looking for how teachers would use specific sites in their teaching, whether as a teacher resource, in-class activity, or assignments for students outside of class. I did get learning objectives, though, and they are getting to be more consistently about student behavior, not about teacher goals. That's a positive development.

I was very happy with how well blogging is going for most people. We're only missing three blogs now, and most people with blogs are posting to them regularly. That has worked as well as I hoped. Given the issues with the Internet, especially in Iraq, I was really unsure that the participants in the course would be able to create blogs without too much trouble. But Blogger is quite easy to use, so it seems to have worked. We'll probably use blogs more often in the future, too.

Having the ELT Wiki with all the blogs listed has been very, very helpful. I can go through and view each blog that way. I have set up Google Reader so that I can read posts as they come in, but I still like the overview that I get by going through each blog in turn.

Because Nicenet doesn't allow attachments and I don't see an easy way to add an attachment other than a picture or audio/video here on Blogger, I decided to create another page on our wiki for files called Shared Files (it's only open to wiki members, like the rest of the wiki). I also added a page called Website Resources where people could share their favorite websites. The Website Resources page could turn into a page on the course website later, too.

The discussions for Week 4 are already starting, and they seem more productive from my standpoint than the ones last week. Looks like I may have learned a lesson from last week's prompt and did a better job this week - at least, I hope so.

I am certainly looking forward to the ideas coming this week!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Week 2 of the course

I've been very happy to see how well participants in the course are doing with their blogs. There have been various problems, of course, as we always expect with technology. Still, most people now have their blogs. I'll look forward to seeing them progress as we move through the course. I've learned a few things to add to my Blogger How-to file (like how to set the language), as well as the importance of the verification email that Blogger sends when you first log into Blogger. I've also seen the need to reiterate the purpose of the blogs - to share reflections about the course with each other, and thus deepen our own learning. Having the course wiki where everyone's blogs are listed works very well. It will also let us share other files, since we can't share files on Nicenet.

All in all, I feel that Week 2 went well. The main reason why is the enthusiasm and good will of the participants, of course. This is a great group.

Writing a reflective blog is both easy and difficult. It's easy in the sense that we as teachers are always thinking about what we did in our classes and how to improve a lesson. It's difficult in the sense that a blog is a public document, so it's a bit scary to reveal one's thoughts so publicly. One good thing is knowing that we are all in the same boat - we're all teachers, and we're all trying to write reflective blogs. That means that we can be learning from each other.

I always like observing other teachers' classes. No matter who the teacher is or what the lesson is about, I always learn something. If the students are not being cooperative and the lesson doesn't go well, it makes me reflect on what I might have done differently if I were teaching the class. Sometimes I have no idea, and just feel sorry for the teacher. Sometimes, though, being on the outside looking in lets me think more freely and come up with better ideas about how to deal with problems. It's the same way when I see a very good class. I think about whether I could do the same thing in one of my classes and have the same results. Most of the time when I observe, I talk with the teacher before class to learn what the objectives are and how the class usually works. Also, I usually can talk with the teacher afterward about what he or she thought was going on in the class.

In a way, our reflective blogs are ways that we are observing each other as teachers and as learners. We're talking about our objectives, what we did, what happened, and why. It's one way to learn from each other, even if we're far apart. That's how I feel about it, anyway; I hope you feel the same way.

On to Week 3!