viernes, 22 de abril de 2011

Social Networking

Social networking has become a very common activity in the last few years. It allows people from all walks of life to stay in touch with their friends, relatives, etc. Perhaps the most popular network at the present time is Facebook, which was launched in 2004 and has more than 600 million active users nowadays.

But beyond the fact of simply keeping connected to our special ones, Facebook and other social networks like MySpace and Hi5, for example, offer a new world of possibilities for language learning. Thanks to the different apps that these social networks offer, like chatting, multimedia up/download, messaging, posting, etc., now teachers may find new ways not only to get closer to learners, but also to make them practice with the language.

When it comes to teaching English, we teachers may rely on such apps in order to design a wide variety of activities which are very educative, motivating, and fun for learners. imagine for example having learners upload a summary of the latest English lesson on Facebook each week and have the other students in the class make comments on it, using the English language. What if we have learners to create a story by posting notes on Facebook and add a new paragraph or chapter every week? What if we have our students chat with or send messages in English to their e-pals in a class in another school in or outside the country? How about having our pupils create photo albums on Facebook where they can talk about their interests, school, culture, etc., including picture descriptions in English?

The possibilities are endless and all you need as a teacher is your willingness to use technology in the class plus a little bit of creativity. This will help you create task-based activities that are engaging and fun for learners, promoting their independence and developing their learning strategies and language and computer skills.

sábado, 9 de abril de 2011

Using Wikis in the Classroom

One more time and thank the LT's Course, I have discovered a new way to incorporate the LT's in my classroom. This time everything is about collaborative writing, which refers to writing that is edited and polished by more than one person. Taking this into consideration, Wikis arise as, perhaps, the best way to carry out collaborative writing and, to be more specific, peer writing in the English class. But what is a Wiki? Well, it is a website that can be edited by different people by means of using a web browser. Users can create, modify, and even erase a text that they all share. 

From this point of view, using wikis in the English class serves not only the purpose of using learning technologies, but also the promotion of writing and peer reviewing as a strategy to be used during the revising stage of the writing process. Peer reviewing lets students be motivated and feel engaged as they use their own knowledge to correct others' texts and, at the same time, provide feedback.

Here you are the link to a video that explains what a wiki is and its advantages. Enjoy it!

 

miércoles, 6 de abril de 2011

Using Blogs and keeping track of them... God bless RSS!!!

Whoa!!! After going through all the activities in the unit Online writing for students and teachers, I must confess that the part that I liked the most is the one regarding how to use RSS (Really Simple Syndication), which is a tool that allows you to subscribe to different sites on the cyberspace and keep updated on them.

For a long time, I had seen the orange symbol on the left without knowing what it meant or what it was used for. Now I know that just by clicking on it I can subscribe to any site on the Internet. This is undoubtedly a very useful tool as it lets you save time when surfing the net looking for the most recent news or updates on your favorite webpages.

Also, I loved the part about Google Reader, an application that allows you to access all news about the pages to which you have subscribed just as you do with your email accounts. Personally, I think this application is great; I just opened my account in Google Reader to keep track of all those newsfeeds from my favorite sites.

sábado, 2 de abril de 2011

School Linked Projects

Nowadays, when it comes to using learning technologies in the classroom, the variety of things we can do as teachers in almost endless. It just requires imagination and creativity to come up with a new way to use LTs to achieve our lesson goals.

One nice and important feature of using LTs is that we can actually get in touch with other people around the world in order to exchange educative experiences. Bearing this in mind, it is good to know that liked projects arise as one of the best options. A linked project lets schools that are geographically distant get in touch with each other. By means of using them, we can have learners communicate with other learners in different countries, promoting and fostering not only the practice of the language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and the linguistic competence, but also the good relationships between people from different cultures and the practice and learning of universal values like respect, love, tolerance, etc.

In the light of such linked projects, teachers and students can communicate with each other by means of using different applications available on the web. Among these, some of the most popular are (video) conference calls, chat rooms, emails, blogs, forums, and wikis. At the present time there are different sites and freeware on the cyberspace that offer these applications; for example, Facebook, Skype, Blogger, eLanguages, ePals, etc., which are free and available in different languages.

Some of the advantages of using link projects are:

1. They are engaging,  motivating, interesting, and fun..
2. Students can develop and practice with their language and computer skills at the same time.
3. Communication and understanding between cultures is promoted and enhanced.
4. Students can also create the content as they work on the project, so teachers save time and effort.
5. They are easy to carry out.

Some recommendations:

1. Be careful when planing your linked project: make sure you have a clear topic and purpose, learning objectives, tasks to be performed by learners, resources and skills needed, type of language and content appropriate to the learners' level, age, and abilities, etc.
2. A good linked project should last 2 o3 three weeks. Avoid working on huge projects that take a lot of time and effort on the part of teachers and students.
3. Ensure all learners are familiar with the different applications and web tools to be used.
4. When selecting the name of the project, always come up with something that is catchy and summarizes its purpose and topic.

Finally, here you are some links that are useful when working with linked projects:

jueves, 17 de marzo de 2011

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Office Applications in the Classroom

In my case, I've always used PowerPoint and Word to prepare materials and activities for students in the class. However, as it happens to other resources, Office Applications may have their own advantages and drawbacks.

Advantages:

1. You can use multimedia, which is good because it makes it easy to catch the attention of students with different cognitive styles.
2. It is motivating for the majority of learners.
3. You can create printed materials as well as activities or tasks to work on using a projector.
4. Office Applications allow you to save time during the class.
5. Most students know how to work with computers and Office Aplications in general, so they feel comfortable and confident.

Disadvantages:

1. For activities to be done on the computer or with projectors you depend on electricity, so it is advisable to have a plan B all the time.
2. Teachers have to know how to work with Office Applications; otherwise, planning the activities or creating the materials might be very time-consuming and stressful. 
3. Using Office Applications in class might be sort of addictive. Remember that they are just another resource for you to achieve your goals, so don't overuse them.
4. Also, overusing Office Applications  in class may make students get bored. There most be a balance between using them and using other types of resources.
5. If you are not careful with the way you design your activities (i.e. using and combining colors, including photographs, using animation, etc.), these may result distracting instead of engaging for most learners, making them get out of focus during your classes.

Some Suggestions on Using LTs for Whole Class Activities

All English teachers should know about the advantages and disadvantages of using whole class activities. For instance, the teacher has more control and can be more aware of students' performance. In the same way, low level students can learn from more advanced students. On the other hand, whole class activities are more teacher-oriented and less communicative. To my mind, a good class should have moments where learners work all together as a whole class and some others where they can work in groups. In my experience, I think whole class activities are good in order to provide students with explanations on grammar points, doing guided reading, etc., while having them work in groups is better to promote and foster communication in the classroom.

Whatever the case may be, including learning technologies in your lessons is something that has to be carried out carefully. To begin with, before using Office Applications with your pupils, make sure you know how to use them appropriately, since you will have to provide them with explanations in case they have doubts when doing a task using PowerPoint, Word, etc. So if your case is that of a teacher with no or almost no experience working with computers, consider taking a course or having someone else to teach you how to use them. Also, it is a good idea to give students clear and easy-to-follow instructions before doing any activity; make sure you use language suitable for their level and content that is appropriate to their age, needs, interests, etc. In addition, remember that LTs serve the purpose of helping to achieve the objectives of your class, so they should complement it and not lead it. Bearing this in mind, it is important to be careful with the time learners are allowed to work on the computers as well as with the time the teacher spends on using them.    Finally, remember to always have a plan B in case you have unexpected technical problems in the last minute.

Do you have any other words of advice regarding using LTs in the classroom? If so, just leave your comments.

domingo, 13 de marzo de 2011

Cyber Well-being


Using the web has become a very popular activity among people from all ages and walks of life in the past decade, thanks to the constant advances of technology. The Internet has become the most popular way to look for and find information, have fun, and keep in touch with people all over the world. However, it has also become a tool to harm others.

Bullying has always been a problem in most schools around the world, but with the arrival of new devices like cell phones and portable computers, it has reached its peak, to the extent that some people (especially kids) in different countries have considered suicide as an easy way out. However, this is an issue that does not have to do with technology itself, but with education.

It is not the Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that pose a threat for us. Conversely, it is the way we use it. Bearing this in mind, the right thing to do is not banning the use of computers and the Internet at schools or in our everyday life, but educating ourselves and others regarding the possible risks of using the web. It is true that in the cyberspace we can have fun, learn a lot of things, and stay in touch with our loved ones; nonetheless, it can also be a place for bullying, access to unappropriate conetnts, harassment, discriminating, etc. Hence, we have to teach our students (and people in general) to be webSMART. This means:

S: Stay SAFE by avoiding giving personal information like your full name, address, phone numbers, passwords, etc., that might be use to commit fraud or impersonating others.

M: Don't MEET UP with people you have been friends with only on Internet. In the end, they're still strangers to you.

A: Don't ACCEPT EMAILS from people you don't know. These can be a potential source of viruses that can damage either your hardware or softwar, and may containg nasty information you won't want to know.

R: People you know on the Internet are not RELIABLE. Sometimes people pretend to be someone else.

T: TELL others and ask for help in case you are being victim of bullying or harassment through the web. Many people around the world that face such a situation do not report it, which may lead to serious consequences.

At the end of the day, cyber well-being and safe surfing are things that depend on how hard governments, schools, and families work together. Do you agree with me on this? Just let me know what you think... Here you are a link to watch an interesting and moving video on cyber bullying made by Childnet International. Take a look at it and draw your own conclusions.

Using the Internet and videogames to harm others... What can be done?

After reading Ms. Byron's report Safer Children in a Digital World in the LTs Online Course, I just confirmed my theory that education is the key to solve the problem of people (especially children) being harmed online. This is a problem that affects us all in many different ways.

On the Internet, everyone is expossed to risks and this is a situation that has gotten worsed nowadays as technology has made it possible to be online almost 24/7. With the arrival of such devices as portable game consoles, computers, cell phones, etc., a higher number of people around the world have the possibility to be online regardless of the place the are and have rapid access to any type of content and info just by doing a click. Children are not an exception; for example, I have students in second grade that have iPods and BlackBerries which let them be online whenever they want. Taking this into consideration, some important questions arise: What can be done to prevent children from having access to unappropriate content? What can be done to keep them away from bullies or stop them from bullying others? How can we monitor children's communications to see if they're chatting with close friends or potentially dangerous strangers?

Well, the answer is very simple: Education! If we do not get educated regarding how to use the Internet and videogames, we will never be able to solve this problem. Bearing this in mind, governments, schools, computer and Internet companies, and families should work together to find the means to educate ourselves and others concerning the safe usage of the net and videogames. However, although this is a shared responsibility, I think that parents at home play, perhaps, the most crucial role for it's them who first have to set the rules and take precautions to protect children in and outside home. Let's not forget that education starts in the family!

In my personal experience, I have seen how the many different values schools teach are then "untaught" at home as parents do not help on this. Take for example the case of a child that is agressive at school, but whose parents buy the newest version of PS2 Mortal Combat for him. What is this parent saying to their kids? What can schools and governments do about this? Think about it and give me your opinions, please.

sábado, 12 de marzo de 2011

Some words of reflection on using the Internet in the classroom

Nowadays, most English teachers are using the Internet as a pedagogical tool to foster language learning. Everyone know the very advantages of using the net (rapid access to all kinds of info, usage of multimedia which attracts learners with different cognitive styles, etc.). Nonetheless, teachers should be careful when using the Internet in the classroom as most poeple do not know that much of the information found in it may be misleading, biases, fake, or unappropriate. At this point, it turns out to be pertinent that teachers train students for them to be able to think critically about the different things available in the cyberspace.

With this in mind, a good integration of the Internet with lesson plans must start with a talk on the different features that may help learners to identify if there is somesing "obscure" concerning a website or the information it presents. We must teach our students to ask themselves, among other things, who publishes the info, why they publish it, to what extent the info is true, whether or not it can be confirmed by consulting other sources, etc. Only by developing students' (and in general, people's) critical thinking on this issue, they will be able to find and use info that is appropriate, reliable, lealistic, factual, and useful for any kind of purpose.

Search Engines

Particularly, when it comes to using the Internet with academic purposes, search engines arise as the most suitable alternative to look for and find information. There is a great variety of search engines or browsers that let us have access to almost everything we want. Some of the most popular ones are Google, Yahoo, Altavista, Ask, among others. However, most of the times, the majority of people can't get the best of them, as they do not know how to use their features and tools very much.

My recomendation? Well, first of all, teachers should get trained on this area so that they can be successful at searching for info and using the so many different things available for the teaching and learning of English in the net. Only after that, they will be prepared and confident enough to teach students about it. In my personal experience, which is sort of funny by the way, recently I knew about Ask.com and how to use it. I never knew that it was, in fact, a search engine that I could use in my lessons. When I think of this I realize that most of us are just "toddlers" in the cyberspace. Taking this into account, my mission from now on (and I dare to say all teachers' too) is to keep updated on the field of LTs so that we can use them appropriately and successfully.

jueves, 3 de marzo de 2011

Integrating the Web

After finishing the section Integrating the Web, I have become more aware of what it takes to use websites with academic purposes successfully. It is something that requires careful planning and must serve the purpose of helping achieve the objective of the lesson. The following questions may be useful when integrating the web:


1. What areas of my syllabus would benefit from integrating the Web?


No doubt, all of them. There's always something in the Internet that is likely to be used in all areas. However, you have to remember that carefull analysis and plannig to select websites are required.


2. After using some of the websites in the unit Integrating the Web, how did the lesson benefit from the website being used?


Well, if the website was selected taking into account the purpose of the lesson, the content, the audience, the language level, and the relevance of the information, it's very likely that all lessons benefit 100%.


3. What websites do my learners use? Could they be exploited?


Usually, my learners use websites where they can play online games, social networks like Facebook, MySpace, etc., websites where they can see, upload, and download videos, among others. Of course they can be exploited... It just requires imagination and, as said before, careful plannig and organization.

miércoles, 2 de marzo de 2011

Some tips on evaluating websites to be used in our classes

As good English teachers we are always searching for new ways and resources to help our students in and outside the classroom and, sometimes, we rely on websites to do so. However, usually we select websites just thinking about a specific objective we have in mind and do not stop to think carefully about their characteristics, which somehow may foster or hinder not only our teaching practice, but also our students' learning process and performance.

After taking a look at the section Evaluating Websites in the Learning Technologies for the Classroom (LTFC) Course, now I have a much clear understanding of what it takes to select appropriate websites for our students. From this point of view, there are different features to take into consideration, such as the educational focus of the website and its accuracy, as well as its coverage, intended audience, ease of use, relevance, and acceptance. So, from now on, when deciding if a website is or is not appropriate for our learners, lets stop and make ourselves questions that relate to those characteristics, so we make the best choice.

viernes, 25 de febrero de 2011

Some thoughts about pros and cons of some teaching examples...

After taking a look at some teaching examples in the section An Introduction to Learning Technologies, it is important to answer such questions as:


1. Why should I be using technology in the first place?
    
Well, I think I should use technology as a resource to help achieve the purpose of a lesson and not as an easy way out when not having anything prepared, for instance. Also, it is important to remember that we cannot let technology lead our teaching practice; conversely, pedagogy must lead it.  


2. What can I do in my own teaching situation?


I can look for some learning technologies that: a) are appropriate for my students regarding their age, skills, and level; b) really help me fulfill the goals of my lesson; and c) adapts well to the contents included y the syllabus.


3. What do my students already use technology for?


Usually, they use it to play games, get in touch with their friends, communicate with teachers (I have the case of a students who usually travels to China and he emails me regarding academic issues -and he is only 8 years old!!!), draw and paint pictures, watch videos of their favorites celebrities, facebooking, etc. 


4. How can I meet my students' needs?


I think the best way to meet my students needs is by selecting learning technologies that help relate everything with do in the class with their lifestyles, interests, cognitive styles, background knowledge, likes and dislikes, etc. In that way, the will feel the activities are attractive, motivating, engaging, challenging (but appropriate for their level), and even fun.

domingo, 20 de febrero de 2011

My first impressions on Netiquette

Whoa! I just checked out most of the information posted in the Learning Technologies for the Classroom Online Course and I must confess I am amazed at the so many things regarding Netiquette that, up to know, I had ignored. This is something that has made me reflect on the way I carry out all my personal communications through the Internet. In the same way, I think it is such a fascinating topic and I would like to know more about it.