Click away!

Building Teacher Skills Through the Interactive Web has come to an end after 10 weeks of hard work, lively discussions, project planning, reflection and peer assessment. This course has had all the elements of a successful web-course and thanks to a persistent, active group of professionals from around the world, energetic and rewarding! Careful planning and pre-construction of web-environments ensures motivated students and this was an extremely well-planned, task-based course which allowed me to tackle the web hands-on.

However, as always with the Internet, lots of material provided by the Wiki were out-dated or had simply disappeared. As with my students, I would make sure that the links are not too old or too general, but instead current, specific and targeted towards the topic at hand. Otherwise, the sources may seen overwhelming. I often wasted time clicking on links that did not work or lead to messy material from decades ago. Social media has revolutionized the Internet and there are many more attractive sources and databanks to look at nowadays.

All the topics were successful, except perhaps the "one-computer classroom" topic. I found it hard to imagine a scenario that does not exist in Finland. I was most intrigues by PBL (project based learning) and WebQuests which I have dabbled in before. Online rubrics are also something I will try to integrate into my teaching. I think I will create a site for my oral skills students on Anvill and I will start creating online research question forms on GoogleDocs with my students (Course 6: Science and Technology). Interactive PowerPoints are handy for many purposes.

The idea of collaborating with students and teachers around the world to create an authentic second-language learning environment is the most enticing one. Students would greatly benefit from an international environment and web-tools would be a natural addition. I hope to find partners for this kind of collaboration, and I am sure we all now have the interactive web-tool skills necessary for such a project!

Tools that I would suggest for the course are creating Facebook fan pages and groups for teaching, shared blog environments, and animations/cartoons/film making online.

Web-skills can never be mastered completely, it is an on-going, never-ending process. You keep an open mind and click away!


Blogging squared

My final project report is now finished, but the project continues.

As a teacher, you easily get set in your ways and although my blogging has always been innovative, I have been using the same web tools for a while now. The Interactive Web Tools Course offered by the University of Oregon has forced me to try out new tools and think about ways to integrate them into my blogs. I've thoroughly enjoyed looking at what other teachers from around the world have come up with in extreme circumstances such as power shortages, one-computer classrooms, poverty etc. I will never take what we have here in Finland for granted again. Working with wonderful creative teachers who do not have the same technological advantages has broadened my horizons and my list of useful links grown even longer.

Compared to some pedagogical IT courses that I have taken in Finland, the University of Oregon offers quality, hands-on instruction which I find very refreshing. There is only so much theory that can be studied, sometimes it's best to just click away and learn by trial and error! I have learned to boldly embrace new technologies and I have even started teaching on Facebook, which is something I have always dreamed of. By now, I already have 100 fans and I have to say that teaching on Facebook is quite addictive!


A shared course blog

I have noticed that many teachers use blogs for student portfolio work. Each student creates his or her own blog, posts the required tasks and the link list is somehow shared. I have always used a course blog instead and let me tell you why.

Wordpress allows the blog administrator to invite users. These users can be given either an administrator, editor or author status which gives them certain privileges. The teacher can build the environment for her students with embedded videos, links and photos to make instructions livelier. After signing up as Wordpress users, students are then invited via e-mail to join the course blog.

Advantages of using one blog together with students
  • a shared interactive web environment (less links and traffic from one website to another)
  • spontaneous discussions via commenting
  • some censorship control by the teacher (bullying, inappropriate blog posts, spam)
  • teacher assessment is easier (updates from one blog)
  • students cooperate with each other to construct the blog together
  • students see everyone's work and the teacher's comments in one place
  • peer evaluation is easier
  • the administrator can edit any blog post to help writers with technical or grammatical challenges
  • a sense of togetherness = a collective experience

Disadvantages of a course blog

  • students have limited control over the general visual appearance (theme, widgets)
  • student autonomy is somewhat compromised
  • lots of text to read (students can get frustrated)
  • if the layout is not simple enough, posts may be hard to find

I have been using shared course blogs for three years now and I have almost 50 blogs by now, all easily accessible under one username. I highly recommend this to all the teachers out there! For a list of blogs that I have created together with my students, please visit Espoo Heart English!


Amazing Anvill

There is a new national course in Finnish upper secondary school, English Oral Skills, which will soon be a mandatory part of the standardized matriculation examination tests. I am amazed at the new discovery that I made this week, ANVILL, and convinced that this particular course would greatly benefit from such a web environment.

ANVILL (A National Virtual Language Lab) is a speech-based toolbox for language teachers, focused on the practice of oral/aural language. ANVILL has very modern web-based audio and video tools from duber dot com and the University of Oregon: Voiceboards, LiveChat, and Quizzes and Surveys. TCast, allows teachers to record and place audio or video files anywhere in a lesson in 3 easy steps. Each of these tools really opens up the scope and sequence of lessons centered around spoken language tasks.

Animoto is another new web tool that I am going to use with my oral English course, luckily it can be easily embedded into ANVILL. Fun, 30-second videos!


Design your own CV - the autonomous learner

This week I have been commenting and creating tasks for our new project blog: Fabulous Futures. Task 1 (personality tests and education webquests) is on-going and I have introduced the assessment rubric to my students. I have to be careful to also implement the rubric in my own comments as an example to the students. I think the groundwork that I have done on the rubric plays a key part in establishing learner autonomy.

The first task worked well and the students seemed to enjoy it. However, I need to create polls to assess their responses to each task (what they learned, what they liked/disliked). One spontaneous comment from a student was, "Wow, Ms Leino, did you do all this yourself?"

This week, I will be posting Task 2: Design your own CV and next week I will introduce it to my students. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the template that I chose for our blog does not publicly show who wrote which blog post so I have to make sure to remind students to publish their names underneath each post. I don't want to switch templates at the point because it is otherwise visually clean and beautifully minimalistic.

Templates, appearance and layouts are an important part in next week's task. I have never had students create their own blogs, I have always shared one with my students. Sharing a blog gives me ultimate control over visual appearance and content, which I like. However, a CV is more personal and should represent the job seeker stylistically. Student autonomy is an important motivator, but I am also afraid that students will end up publishing something they will later regret online. In order to prevent this I have to be very careful about the instructions and stress copyrights and self-censorship. I want the digital online CVs to be something they can ACTUALLY use in the future.


Large classes, beautiful minds

Large classes are a reality in Finnish high schools. Usually approx. 30 - 35 students start an English course, hiding behind their handbags and backpacks before they are told to take out their books and pencils and notebooks. And put away those cellphones! Then, when everyone is finally settled, the teacher gets to teach.

Since language is all about communication and interaction, a language teacher should not lecture. I sometimes find myself lecturing when I get carried away telling stories about my travels in the States or Apartheid or school in Zimbabwe, where I lived when I was a child. They love hearing good stories and it can be interesting at times, however, lecturing does not serve different learners when used constantly. And if used for teaching grammar, it does not allow the students to have any of their own epiphanies.

Here are some methods that I use to make a large class interactive:
  1. role-playing in pairs
  2. discussions or tasks in smaller groups which are then presented to the rest of the class
  3. polls (online or the "raise your hands" method)
  4. passing a piece of paper around onto which everyone writes one answer - checked by the teacher by projecting the answers on the Document Camera
  5. mind maps on the Smart Board
  6. PowerPoint slides with questions instead of answers
  7. grammar through demonstrative examples and deduction instead of a list of rules

A teacher should never chew up the information and knowledge for her students. Students need to develop stronger teeth to chew for themselves and acquire a deeper understanding of a topic. When you understand, you do not forget.


PowerPoint is a tool, not a method

Don't take your students' technological skills for granted, they have to be taught how to use PowerPoint. I always demonstrate how to create a PowerPoint before students start making their own. Nevertheless, the end-result is PowerPoints with too much text and a terrible layout. The problem is that they are afraid to memorize their speech and look at the audience. Instead, they often end up reading EVERYTHING off the PowerPoint. What I have learned is that the key to a good PowerPoint is teaching students how to PRESENT A TOPIC and SPEAK in front of an audience. After that, the PowerPoints are easy. It often helps when they see some students read from the slides and realize the problem themselves when filling peer evaluation forms.

Why most presentations suck