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


Fabulous Futures Blog

I have tried to incorporate everything I have learned about PBL and alternative assessment into creating a technology enhanced project for my Work and Education English course (upper secondary school).

I will be using my course orientation blog Espoo heart English! for schedules and instruction. I have already introduced the course requirements and outline to the class. They have agreed to all the hard work and seemed to understand the underlying notion which is that we are preparing for the future. The goal is to produce actual digital documents for the future that can be used for applying for jobs and to create a blog (project) to provide information to help us and others consider different career options. Using technology to create modern digital CVs that are available online was a concept that the students embraced. Especially since I could show them an example of my own digital portfolio.

During the course we will complete the following tasks:
  1. Project task 1: 1 blog post (personality tests and dream careers) and 2 comments (introduction + peer evaluation)
  2. Project task 2: 1 blog post (a CV on Prezi.com or personal blog) and 2 comments (introduction + peer evaluation)
  3. Project task 3: 1 blog post (job ad and questions for an interview using Voki.com) and 2 comments (introduction + cover letter)
After the blog is finished, documents will be printed out and we will have job interviews in class (oral skills). I will be creating a separate rubric for this occasion.

I believe in the motivational aspect of having students' project work visible online for the world to see and comment. This also enables instructed constructive criticism (peer evaluation) and more interaction by commenting. I think the students will have their hands full. However, I believe in positive reinforcement and a rewarding experience through hard work. I am confident that they will succeed and we will have lots of fun together!

Having used rubrics before, I was well-aware of their influence on the quality of work regarding students. However, I had never tried Rubistar before, which is an extremely helpful online tool for writing rubrics and publishing them online (perfect for my blogs!). This time, I used Rubistar to clarify our project objectives. To create visually and intellectually captivating WebQuests, I used the original WebQuest Model and my own previous experience. Never before have I had so many web tools in one course - exciting!

You can take a look at what I have achieved so far at Fabulous Futures. I would love to hear your thoughts on the first task (project task 1) and the rubric (commenting). Please do not comment the blog itself, that is reserved for students only. Comment this blog post instead!

Anna will teach you English on Facebook!

I have always wanted to teach on Facebook! So finally my fan page is up and all you have to do it "like" it in order to receive status updates which will help you learn English. I wanted to share this idea with everyone because it can be a wonderfully innovative way to reach students via their favorite social medium.

Anna will teach you English


White House Webquest

I don't believe teachers should be using technology to teach. Instead teachers should be encouraging students to use technology in order to learn a language and valuable IT and communication skills for the future. There is a presidential election going on in Finland right now and I told my students this week that if they ever wanted to be president, they would need to know how social media works. Both presidents have impressive blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages: Pekka Haavisto Campaign Blog. It's all a part of each person's digital footprint and web image. Students need to start practicing now.

One of the tasks this week was to create a computer assisted lesson plan. I would like to share a version of it here for everyone to see. I think it is a good practical demonstration of what I would like to do with technology and teaching English.

Lesson Plan with Technology

Class: 20 upper secondary school students, approx. 16 years old, mixed level (intermediate to beginner), English Course 4: Society.

Duration: 75 min. The lesson will take place in computer class.

Objectives of this lesson:

  1. to learn advanced political vocabulary and about the U.S. Government and political system

  2. to learn how to access different web sources and look for relevant information + summarize in our own words

  3. to be able to use the vocabulary in writing (150 - 250 words, 90% accuracy) and orally (1 min. presentation on voki.com, 5 min. presentations in pairs in front of the class, 80% accuracy)

  4. to be able to provide constructive criticism for a peer
Procedure and activities:

  1. A WebQuest with questions about the White House will be available on our blog at the beginning of the lesson.

  2. The teacher will clarify some of the questions and present the main source of information: the White House Official Website. The teacher will also explain how to tell about a topic in your own words and choose relevant information from a long text. She will also encourage students to look for video and photo material and show the students how to comment the blog post when they have found their answers.

  3. Students will partner up and each get two of the questions to research + they are asked to teach the rest of the class 3 difficult words they encounter on their quest using an online dictionary.

  4. Answers to the WebQuest will be posted as comments and presented to the rest of the class orally in front of the classroom (5 min. each)

  5. All the students read through some of the speeches and remarks available online (Barack and Michelle Obama) and choose one issue that they are interested in from the website.

  6. Students write / record their own speech as Obama or the First Lady on Voki, addressing one of these important issues and offering a solution. Vokis are published on the blog as posts.

  7. Students comment each others' vokis on the blog (constructive criticism) according to the evaluation criteria provided by the teacher on the blog. The idea is to use challenging political vocabulary and formal English.

Learning styles addressed: Different kinds of learners each get their chance on the computer. When working with a partner you can always ask for help and teach each other (often the best way to learn) + comments on the blog will also encourage peer evaluation. Visual and aural learners will have plenty to work with due to the videos and presentations, so will those who enjoy writing (blogging).

Homework: Write a blog post describing a day in the life of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Malia, Sasha or their dog. Use your imagination and everything that you have learned during the lesson about life in the White House. Details and colorful description will make your story real. Please write in first person, i.e. "I woke up this morning and kissed the first lady on the cheek."

Learning by doing

I don't believe that CALL should be about teachers using technology to teach their students.

In Finland, it is safe to assume that students already have the technical skills required, but no idea how to put those skills into good use. Teachers all know how to show a YouTube video in class and can demonstrate anything on the WhiteBoard using a document camera. This is not what I consider computer assisted learning. The world has evolved, Web 2.0 is here, and teaching has to keep up with the pace.

In order to really take computer assisted language learning further at this point, students need to be taught HOW to best use social media and technology to learn a new language and then INVOLVED in the process of creating new content for the web to analyze and comment.

Let me conclude by quoting the ancient Navajo saying: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand."


Death by PowerPoint

I got to thinking about my own project for this course, having read Zlatka Dyankova's final project report. She teaches English at Tryana Private High School of Languages and IT in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and her goal was to plan and conduct action research, which involves a change related to technology use in your classroom.

One of her basic aims was to use new technological tools (a sports WebQuest) to activate the students in reading and writing, make them more active in communicating and sharing opinions and to promoting motivation.

Dyankova's WebQuest was colorful, creative and full of engaging ideas, but in the end students were required to produce a PowerPoint presentation of their discoveries. At this point, I started thinking about my own history class WebQuests and how much more fun it was to involve the students in the process of creating a blog, taking photographs to illustrate posts and publishing blog posts for OUR blog. They also published prezis (Prezi.com) of their own "lectures," commented teachers' blog posts which were based on lectures in class, commented each others' blog posts and gave feedback online: History in English: Freedom Struggles Around the World.

PowerPoints are still very popular in schools and taught by many teachers. I fail to see why. PowerPoint is so old school. Let me explain why.

Student autonomy is the first incentive to any successful project and that can only be achieved by actively involving and encouraging students to create new content for the web. In the process they learn to censor themselves, think about copyrights and netiquette, practice constructive criticism and produce something they can call their own and be proud of for the world to enjoy.

Our course goes by the name interactive webskills. Interaction is the key element of social media. If a teacher merely creates something that has already been chewed up and processed FOR the students, they have no emotional ties to the web project and are therefore less motivated. Interaction on the web is achieved by commenting tools which are available when using blogs, Facebook, discussion forums, prezis, YouTube, collaborative mind maps etc. PowerPoint is not a webtool, unless it is published in a blog post, and is therefore far from interactive.

For my final project, I promise to involve my students in the entire process and give them the chance to show me the full scale of their skills on the interactive world wide web. Every teacher should do the same. You might be amazed!

I often show this video to my students before they start making their presentations and just for laughs:

And here is a sweded version of Harry Potter that my students created for Drama in English. We had so much fun and the video is amazing. You can read the feedback for the course on our blog, Sweet sweded!:

Delicous links

Check out my new link list on Delicious.com! I like to share links for my students on the orientation blog that I have created for all the English courses that I teach. However, I think I might use the stacking option of Delicious to share educational web tools with other teachers.

The Internet is a jungle. You have to be careful not to let your link lists get too lengthy. Too much information is hard to process and use to the students' advantage. Stacking and categorizing them is a great idea. Including a brief introduction and sharing lesson plans also help others survive in the jungle.



I learned a lot during the second week of our Web Skills Course. I discovered many new valuable search engines to use with my students from NoodleTools. I was especially intrigued by SweetSearch and AmericanMemory because I am teaching a History in English course which would greatly benefit from these sources.

I also learned that it is important to clarify task-specific objectives with measurable behaviors. For this task I used Penn State's Learning Design Community Hub. I realized that I am used to writing objectives for high school courses, but the last time I wrote down task-based objectives according to the ABCD-model was when I was training to become a teacher and our instructors wanted to see what we were getting at when assigning a task to our class. It was refreshing to actually sit down and approach tasks from an ABCD point-of-view again. Of course I always have the model in mind when teaching, but I don't write it down anymore. It is quite automatic after years of experience to consider the audience, their expected behavior, the conditions of the classroom and the degree of mastery that I require of my students. It is a constant thought-process, but one that I have not consciously recognized for quite some time.

I am pleasantly surprised by the academic proficiency of my fellow colleagues and impressed by their web-skills. I am picking up great ideas and links by visiting their blogs and reading the discussion threads. I hope that one of the high school student teachers will want to collaborate with me on the final project. Next term, I am teaching an English course which involves applying for jobs and considering future careers. We are creating a blog or several blogs (digital portfolios on Wordpress) and using Prezi.com to create CV's and cover letters. If there is time, hopefully videos as well (maybe job interviews). Collaborating with a web-teacher professional and his/her students from another country would be a fantastic opportunity. We could comment each others' blogs, share videos together, create a Facebook page and even chat on-line.

Anyone interested? If so, I'm hoping for someone who is proficient at blogging and has advanced English students of approximately the same age, 16 - 18 years old.

Another idea that has been spawning in my head is a grading system mimicking a game. For each English course students collect a certain amount of points and in Finland, 50% is required in order to pass. If students were to see how many points they have gained by meeting deadlines and doing the assigned tasks well throughout the course, they would definitely be more motivated. Today's kids like playing on the computer, visual affects, and competing. The only problem is that numerical grades cannot be shown to other students (the law), so the teacher would have to figure out a reward system, for example, rewarding three best scores. And if the "grading game" had different levels and prizes for reaching each level (high scores, smileys, applause) within itself, that could suffice.

If anyone has ideas on where to build this sort of grading system, let me know? I have tried Janine's JupiterGrades, but it is not very visual.

I will think about all of this and hope for comments to help me along!



My career as a teacher has been shaped by social media and the infinite possibilities offered by the realm of information technology. I studied Media Education as a minor at the University of Helsinki and I have now been blogging with my high school students for 5 years. It's been a blast!

A Native American proverb says, "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand." I believe in teaching English by involving students in the process and letting them enjoy the thrill of the experience. Right now I mostly use this collective blog for course orientation: Espoo heart English! By clicking any of the Student Blogs, you can see what we have done for each course.

My goal is to use social media as a tool that enables the students to communicate during the learning process with each other, practice constructive criticism by commenting, learn about modern information technologies, use their imagination, and create something new together in an interactive environment. Task-based learning and blended learning are something I am interested in as methodologies and I am always looking for new ways to develop my skills as a professional and stay on the cutting-edge of education.I have experience editing video material with iMovies, MovieMaker and Pinnacle and have used them to make movies with my students like this Sweded Version of Harry Potter and Don't Be A Loser, Get a Job!

I also have a rudimentary knowledge of HTML, CSS and Dreamweaver for simple coding. I can create web-based work and study environments using blogs, wikipedia, GoogleDocs, Moodle, Fronter, BSCW, Jing Project, Adobe Connect Professional, WebCT, CmapTools and Blackboard. I have taught educational technologies at the Department of Applied Sciences of Education to those training to be teachers and professors.I prefer blogging on Wordpress, but Blogger is quite simple to use. I will be reporting here about my experiences with the University of Oregon Web Skills Course. More coming right up!