A WebQuest reflection

For my this blog post  I thought I would post a reflection on the WebQuest I created for the Tech assignment. Originally I was going to include a reflection as part of the assignment but space and word count prevented that. So I thought this would be the ideal place.

Why a WebQuest?

First developed by Dodge (1995) to take advantage of new developments in technology and to create a stimulating and collaborative forum for learners, WebQuests linked task based learning to the web.

Although I had little background information I could see that there seemed to be potential for my own learners. Specifically I wanted to use more authentic materials in the class and I thought this would be a good way. I could develop an overall task and ask learners to research via the web different parts of it. I was also interested in point made by Chao (2006) who discusses that the use of a WebQuest by teachers was a very different experience to their usual teaching activities, specifically in the area of reading. In the WebQuest material is read and then transformed into another form, rather than the standard class activity of reading to find answers to posed questions. This idea of understanding and then analysing the text and then doing something with it proved to be appealing to me.

I decided to to use a real life task, as class trip as my starting point and thought about my aims and objectives. I then had to do some research in what platform I would deliver the WebQuest. My initial investigations led me to Google Sites. There are templates for WebQuests available enabling professional looking online materials to be created. However, although I consider myself fairly tech savvy, it was actually quite user unfriendly. There was also only limited opportunity for multi modality.

 

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After a few attempts I decided against using Google and looked instead at creating the WebQuest in PowerPoint. Although it has it’s detractors (Clark, 2008; Penciner, 2013; Knight, 2015) when used as a purely presentation tool, which tend to be overlong, as a medium it is something that I personally enjoy using.

The decision made to use PowerPoint, I set about teaching myself how to create a webquest. This went beyond my previous experiences with the software. I had only made fairly straightforward presentations before, featuring a couple of slides. This required me to embed links to online sources as well as media files, text transcripts and audio files. I also needed to learn how to insert hyperlinks, homepage buttons and links to pages in a non-linear manner. A clip that I found useful, though really simple was the one below showing me how to use slide master which I had never used.

Once started it was fairly straight forward. The hardest part was keeping track of the slides and which should link to which. As this was an activity for two people it become more complex remembering which page had to link to which page. However, I persevered and ultimately ended up with my very own WebQuest, which you can view below.

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So what did I learn?

Planning is the Key. Although I established my goals and objectives for the task, they continued to develop during the creation. I thought it was finished and then while writing the rationale, I thought of something else and tweaked it. Things that to be honest I really should have thought about when I started, how would learners be assessed? How would they know which button to press? Where were the answers to questions. So although I went the long way around it, it was definitely a learning curve and developing another one would be much easier after this first one.

Good points about the webquest

Although it didn’t seem it, it was actually fairly straightforward to make.

PowerPoint allows you to embed all manner of things, allowing for multi modality

It allows for collaborative learning

It looks professional and can run on pc’s, laptops and now iPads

Bad points about webquest

To be honest the only negative I can think of is that you really need to think of your content and the level of instruction that you are giving to learners. Part of the reason for using the WebQuest was to use authentic materials which are ungraded. This means however, that as suggested by Graves (2010), that tasks and instructions should themselves by carefully graded with tasks scaffolded in order to enable learners to progress.

Conclusion

This was a really enjoyable experience for me to create interactive materials for my learners. As mentioned it was a learning curve, but once I had mastered the necessary skills it was fairly straightforward to create the WebQuest. It has given me the confidence now to be able to incorporate and make these materials myself and I would advise anyone to give it a go, you may suprise yourself!

References

Clark, J. (2008). Powerpoint and Pedagogy: Maintaining Student Interest in University Lectures. College Teaching, Vol. 56 (1), 39-45

Chao, C. (2006). How WebQuests send technology to the background. In P. Hubbard, M. Levy, & (Eds), Teacher Education in CALL (pp. 220-234). n.p.: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Dodge, B. (1995). WebQuests: A technique for Internet-based learning. Distance Educator 1 (2), 10-13.

Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses: a guide for teachers. London: Heinle & Heinle.

Knight, M. (2015). The Ubiquitousness of PowerPoint. Business Communication Quarterly Vol 78 (3), 271 – 272.

Penciner, R. (2013). Does PowerPoint enhance learning? Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine Vol 15 (3), 109 – 112.

Google Street View and the Second Language Classroom

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I thought I would discuss the use of Google Street View in the ESL classroom. This is something that I have used a few times and had some success with. Essentially as the name suggests you are able to type a post code or place into Street View and it will take you to that place, which has been photographed and appears on the site. I’m  sure most of us are familiar with the concept. After all who hasn’t entered their own house address just for fun? But beyond that what are it’s uses if any in the classroom?

I started to use it last summer when I was teaching teenagers in an ESL summer school. Each class had an interactive board and having been inspired by a post on Busy Teacher I decided to give it a try with my Elementary class.

Each afternoon my learners were involved in sight seeing and the following day we we discuss as part of the class what they had seen. I decided this would be a good opportunity to involve Street View. I entered the information of the attraction they had visited the previous day, it appeared on the screen and  started a discussion. I used Socratic questioning to build questions, initially they centered around describing what they saw, what they could see on the screen, how would they describe parts of a building etc. using suitable vocabulary. The learners seemed to enjoy it and so I decided to use it further.

We then started to move onto giving directions,  again increasing vocabulary and making comparisons between two tourist attractions. This proved successful when we were studying comparatives and superlatives. I also found it helpful for learners when they were discussing differences. If they had visited two museums we could bring them both up and talk about what was different about them. For my elementary class this was a really fun way of getting them to talk. Obviously, this could be developed for higher classes. Street view allows you to visit both current and ancient sights. This could be useful for simple grammar explanations. Also for higher levels it may be used to inform research about a topic or as part of a presentation.

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Here is one of the Churches we visited during the summer. My elementary class described it, used past tense to discuss what had happened to it in the past and were able to compare it to more modern Churches we visited. They were also able with the help of the map to give directions from this location back to the school!

A further use of the technology is through story telling. Learners can develop a story or guide about somewhere they have visited (Lee, 2014).

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This is a resource which I found really useful and easy to use. Here is a link to the Street View gallery, which enables your learners to go anywhere in the world without ever leaving your classroom.

https://www.google.com/streetview/

Reference

Lee, L. (2014). Digital News Stories: Building Language Learners’ Content Knowledge and Speaking Skills. Foreign Language Annals, Vol. 47, (2), 338–356

Second Life? I’ll need one to join a language class!

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Fig. 1 At the Drive-Through School of English

About a decade ago, research for a teacher training course I was part of,  involved a presentation on the use of Technology in Education. One of the platforms I looked at, was the Virtual Reality (VR) world of Second Life (SL). Multi-user virtual environments (MUVE’s) had started to move away from the game/role playing aspect of online interaction and had started to generate interest in the world of education. The VR world was seen as a way of offering learners a variety of learning strategies, such as research, group work and online discussions (Bricken, 1991).

Fast forward another decade and I’m in a similar position, researching online learning platforms.  I hadn’t really given SL much thought in the intervening decade. At the time I had found the application visually interesting and the educational aspects intriguing; but beyond the novelty value, it actually seemed to offer little in the way of learning opportunities in through a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). My recent research has however, brought SL back into view. I wondered what changes if any had occurred since my last interactions with it and how and if somebody could learn an L2 using this platform.

Second Life as a VLE

According to Pan et al. (2006) a VLE  should have the following four features which are the main components of a VLE:

Knowledge Space – this is the actual virtual environment that provides the platform for learning.

This is something that SL does provide, the platform is available and for the most part groups are free to form. Problems arise if you want to conduct classes within the VR environment itself. This involves paying to ‘build’ a VR space within SL that learners can come to for lessons. This cost obviously presents something of a barrier to most people. There are some language schools in SL such as Drive Through ESL (see fig 1.). Language Lab (see fig 2) another popular online VR platform has however pulled out of SL and now delivers via it’s own website.

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The lack of VR environment within SL has led to free language groups being formed. One of these Virtlantis describes itself as a providing language learning activities rather than being a language class. Most of these groups use SL as a point of contact, but the language learning itself occurs outside of it. Virtlantis, which provides practice in different languages publishes it’s timetable (Fig. 3) on it’s own website and interactive sessions are held for the most part using Skype. A Facebook page also provides a number of resources for language learners, including textbooks, wav files featuring pronunciation and language lessons and online activities for learners.

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Communication Community – multiple methods of communication for both general and social communication, must be provided for learners. These include email and chat applications for group discussions.

Another feature of SL is the variety of methods of communication. All the language learning environments I viewed on SL shared the principle of collaborative learning and featured multiple methods of communication. Chat is direct and synchronous but as mentioned previously can be asynchronous. Lessons can be downloaded and reviewed and students are able to meet and have group discussions.

Active Action – this allows learners to contribute towards their learning by providing information, asking questions and providing answers.

This overlaps somewhat with the communicative approach adopted by the language learning communities.

Facility Toolkit – this provides a method of organisation, timetables, the tracking of learner activity and recording learner progress.

The formal online learning providers feature an online tracking system to monitor learner progress much like a language school in real life and learners are taught by a qualified ESL teacher. This can be problematic however, who is checking qualifications? What kind of regulation is there? People are paying money to learn and there doesn’t seem to be an answer to this question.  For the more informal language groups, no monitoring is done, it acts rather as a kind of online conversation club where volunteers teach and monitor groups.

So as a VLE, SL seems to for the most part meet the criteria. My problem with it is that in the ten or so years since I last looked at it, little seems to have changed. It still seems to me to be full of possibilities and has some exciting features. These however seem to be overshadowed by the negatives. Interest seems to have peaked in SL around 2010 and it looks like it’s been downhill ever since. As mentioned language groups seem to use it as a point of contact, with lessons actually taking place somewhere else. The ideal scenario however, would be that lessons actually happened within SL.

Achieving this and actually enrolling on a course in SL could prove difficult however. The actual interface is quite difficult to use. The first step is building an avatar of yourself to interact in SL. Once this is done you have to actually find somewhere to learn a language. There is no directory, just a method of searching which seems to be a little hit and miss. My initial try at joining a class took nearly two hours and resulted in not much action. Indeed I found it was quicker to simply Google or YouTube language groups. This I believe is the fundamental problem with SL. It looks great, but it can be difficult to find someone to talk to and  it seems like being on a ghost ship, it’s frustrating, time consuming and didn’t deliver the results I wanted. In this day and age, I want to search, find and do within minutes; SL unfortunately didn’t allow me to do this, hence the title!

References

Blasing, M. (2010). SECOND LANGUAGE IN SECOND LIFE: EXPLORING INTERACTION, IDENTITY AND PEDAGOGICAL PRACTICE IN A VIRTUAL WORLD. Slavic and East European Journal Vol 54 (1), 96-117.

Bricken, M. (1991). Virtual Reality Learning Environments: Potentials and Challenges. Computer Graphics Volume 25 (3), 178-184.

Pan, Z., Cheok, A., Yang, H., Zhu, J., & Shi, J. (2006). Virtual reality and mixed reality for virtual learning environments. Computers & Graphics 30, 20-28.

 

A useful little app

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One thing I’m sure every ESL teacher and student sees in their classroom is the  ubiquitous phonetic chart. If we are able to work with a group of learners over a period of time, we have the ability to integrate its use into lessons. However, for many teachers and learners, short courses and new learners appearing in your class every week, can prevent effective use.

Certainly in my own situation, I have new learners in every class that I teach who may only be studying short term. This means they don’t always have the time to study or get to know the phonetic chart. However, they do need to focus on pronunciation both in and outside of the classroom. This led me to start recommending the Macmillan phonetic app to my students. Published by Macmillan, who published the famous Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill, it is available for Android and Apple and comes in two versions.

The first free version provides a phonetic chart, which when each letter is pressed produces an  individual sound. The paid for version, goes further and is able to produce words, which learners are able to listen to, then record themselves and compare pronunciation.

This is an app which works well with dictionary work, especially if learners can be encouraged to use dictionaries with phonetic spelling. The recording aspect also provides an interactive aspect to the app, which learners seem to like. In addition, there are also features to test knowledge, instructional videos and language learning tips.

As far as downsides go, well there is only so much this app can do. It leans towards the Segmental aspects of pronunciation, concentrating on single sounds, with no elements of the Suprasegmental, such as sentence stress, connected speech or intonation. In addition it currently has approximately 650 words it is able to pronounce, which all things considered is not a particularly large amount.

So would I recommend this app? Well, yes. I actually like it and think it serves it’s purpose. Ok, it’s probably not for advanced language learners, but it’s great for learners to check pronunciation of new words and it’s a good way of introducing the phonetic chart. I also think it’s a very handy way of teachers learning the phonetic chart, but keep that one to yourselves!

TodaysMeet

I recently came across a simple little chat platform, Todaysmeet that is easy to use for both teacher and student and can be used in multiple different ways in an ESL classroom. The teacher creates a chat room and gives the URL to students who then simply log in via any device.

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For me the beauty of this is it’s simplicity. Don’t expect fancy graphics, bells and whistles, in this free version. There is an option available to subscribe which allows the user access for further features, however, these don’t seem to be particularly worth the subscription cost.

This is a handy tool to support learning that can be used either during or outside class time. On a basic level, learners can practice online conversation, turn taking and speaking in specific genres. It could also be used to answer learner queries, either as they occur or after the class, as another  feature is that transcripts of conversations can be saved and printed off. As anyone with the URL can access the chat room, it also opens up possibilities for guest speakers, or interaction with other classes, who are not necessarily in the same physical space. The medium can also as Lam (2004) discusses, help learners “form linguistic and interactional patterns, genres and discourses”  (Wam, 2004, p.48) and help form group identify within the classroom.

Another feature that I like that you are limited to 140 characters when chatting, so the learner has to think about what they will write and the words they choose.

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Another possibility I can see is the teacher using this for office hours. The teacher could set up a room for learners  to ask questions, provide feedback or share links. Synchronous or asynchronous comments, questions and conversations can take place and thanks to the transcript facility, all are recorded.

 

The only downside of this platform for me is the opposite of it’s upside, it’s very simplicity. Easy to use and access it is never the less, in today’s tech world of VR learning, and multi-modality apps, fairly basic and boring to look at and I’m not sure it performs much function beyond the basic. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, how many times are we distracted by the all singing all dancing piece of tech, that actually when deconstructed is a basic piece of kit, that just happens to look good? Therefore I would suggest that this little chat platform, could be something to use in the ESL classroom, either for teacher to learner or for learner to learner interaction.

For more ideas about how to use TodaysMeet have a look at Matt Miller’s Ditch that Textbook blog.

http://ditchthattextbook.com/2014/01/30/20-useful-ways-to-use-todaysmeet-in-schools/

The link for TodaysMeet is

https://todaysmeet.com/home

References

Lam, W. (2004). SECOND LANGUAGE SOCIALIZATION IN A BILINGUAL CHAT ROOM: GLOBAL AND LOCAL CONSIDERATIONS. Language Learning & Technology, 44-65.

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Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom

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What is it?

Do you ever get carried away when you come across a super cool piece of technology and immediately start thinking how you could use in in your ESL classroom?. Aren’t we all as teachers ready to embrace shiny, new ideas and technologies? I know I am. Developments within the last few years have now enabled Virtual Reality headsets to be available to the general public. One of the most popular and reasonably priced options on the market currently is the Google Cardboard. This self-assembly cardboard mask is used in conjunction with a Smartphone to produce a 360° Virtual Reality environment. The design is open source so you can downloaded and build it yourself or buy it from Google for around £15.00. Once this is done all you have to do is download a compatible app onto your phone, insert it into Google Cardboard and away you go!

Does it have practical use in the language classroom?

When I first saw this relatively inexpensive way of bringing Virtual Reality into the classroom, I was really impressed and immediately thought it was something that learners in an ESL classroom could use There are a number of apps available to download and use in addition to  media via YouTube. The content of these apps is not aimed at language learners, but allows viewers to discover different places in the world,   have virtual tours of museums and historical sites as well as observing historical events. Therefore if this medium is to be used in language learning classroom it is left to the teacher to identify how best to use it.

Very little information currently exists as to whether it is being used or how it could be engaged for language learning.My own thoughts are that it could be used as part of a blended learning approach to support what is being taught in the traditional classroom, perhaps as part of a writing task, learners take a tour and then write an information leaflet about the sights they have seen. These could then be used as part of a larger class project, for example a museum or travel guide. Learners could  also give short presentations on historical, sports or current events they have observed. This would allow a range of skills to be used throughout the activity such as observation, note taking, drafting the presentation and finally giving it to the class. It could be argued that this use of the technology allows learners to be more active participants in their learning, choosing what they would like to observe/report and therefore having more interest than constantly relying on ESL textbooks.

Advantages

Cost – Not excessively expensive and it can be made yourself – Maybe making them could be part of a class task, following instructions to build the glasses.

Novelty – learners tend to engage and be more stimulated by something new. This definitely has the novelty factor.

Apps – The majority of apps are free or available through other platforms such as YouTube.

Allows learners choice in what they would like to look at, discover and talk or write about.

Disadvantages

Cost – as a single unit the cost is relatively low, however for a larger class it may be prohibitively expensive.

Smartphone – not every learner may have access to a Smartphone.

Durability – just how long will a cardboard mask last in a classroom?

Summary

To summarise, I believe that VR technology is a really interesting and forward thinking technology to use in the classroom. We are at a very early stage of it’s use in the language learning classroom, but never the less, I believe this is an exciting and forward thinking development in the ESL classroom. What do you think? Please post your comments.