Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Solving Complex Problems (for CEP 812)

I had identified a problem in one of my courses and found a solution, Haiku Deck, that seemed to work for it. I started writing it up and preparing my screencast and then I noticed a major problem. I had thought that the iPad app would be fully functionally with iPhone, which would have helped solve the problem. However, I noticed the iPhone functionality is limited, so I needed to change gears and examine another problem.

I do have a complex problem with quite a number of factors. While it isn’t directly teaching, it is intricately involved with my professional practice. In this screencast I describe the problem and the tool, Zoho, which I hope will help solve it.
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

CEP 811 Final Reflection

This course has helped me to consider more carefully how and why to integrate technology into my educational practice.  What stands out most for me is the work we did with respect to Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  Thinking about educational technology as something which can help open up more learning opportunities for all students was an interesting element and some of what I encountered there seems directly applicable to second language learning.  Making sure that using technology actually adds something useful that wouldn’t be possible without it also is an important concept I took away from this course.  The practice evaluating technological resources, including my own and those developed by my classmates, using the UDL and TPACK principles helped give me skills to continue to do this when finding or creating resources for my own classes.

Coming into this course I was pretty open to anything that might help me to improve my courses.  The fact that I have now got a webpage built that I can use for my courses in the new school year alone would be satisfying.  However, I have also managed to create a WebQuest which I expect will greatly enhance a major unit and help students achieve a couple of significant goals in one of my courses.  In addition, I have developed a STAIR which will aid in my reading courses.  Through developing this resource I have also been given a couple of opportunities to present about it to other teachers.  So I would say that I have not only met but significantly exceeded my goals for this course.

Creating things that expand on and support what is possible in direct, classroom-based instruction is what I would like to be able to do more of and more skillfully in the future.  My immediate plans to this end are to continue to improve and expand on the resources I have described above and to take CEP 812.  I hope that these steps will then lead to further development I have not yet considered.

Thanks to my instructor and classmates who made it all work!

Monday, February 25, 2013

F2F Instructional Strategies

I had an interesting experience today while exploring F2F resources for my course.  One of the technologies I was looking at was VoiceThread.  This is an interesting resource that allows one to make slide shows and collaborate on a conversation around these shows.  People can comment on / participate in these in a number of ways including text, voice, and video and then share them around the world.  It seems like a great resource for allowing EFL learners to connect and practice with learners around the world.  When I linked to the the ESL / EFL section here, I immediately found one example produced by someone I know from being officers in the same professional organization in Japan.  Then, as I explored further, I found one that the creator credited the idea for to someone by the same name as someone I used to work in the same school, live in the same building, and sometimes go to the same pub with.  I followed the link to her original material and then her blog and found it was in fact her, which provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with her.  Interesting how small the world can be!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reflections on Online Teaching

I would like to address this topic in two parts.  First with some reflection on the general topic based on the readings and my experience in my own teaching context in Japan.  Then I’ll turn to one of the resources noted in the Michigan Merit Curriculum Online Experience Guideline Companion Document and reply to the questions.

1. Generally relating online teaching to my teaching context.

I think there are much more limited opportunities for online experiences in Japanese institutions than in Michigan schools.  Where it is being offered it seems to most often be individual instructors or small groups of instructors who are doing it in their own classes or a small set of courses and this is mostly blended learning. However, some institutions are starting to offer teacher-led online courses.  My impression is this is driven more by a desire to expand the pool of potential students, particularly non-traditional aged students and part-time students, than a desire or plan to build technology skills.  These types of learners are accommodated very poorly in the traditional brick-and-mortar courses but are a growing percentage of potential students especially with the age-demographic realities in graying Japan.

I am actually not sure if my university offers any information or training on online citizenship and security.  I do know that during orientation there is an introduction to using the system and students get accounts so they can use the on-campus computers, which is more than at my previous school.  There is no Wi-Fi on campus and only teachers, not students, can connect their own computers to the Ethernet and then only with the IT office having registered and approved the computer.  There don’t seem to be any campus-wide directives or objectives similar to the MI initiative.  Some departments do require a computer course but usually it is based on learning to use Office software.

Online research and online resource evaluation training seem like they would be very valuable for our students.  Students generally are comfortable finding something (and, sadly, copying it) from Wikipedia or doing a basic Google search, but don’t seem to expand beyond that into checking multiple sources, checking the original sources and validity of what they do find, etc.  The Online Experience Guideline Companion Document has a lot of resources in these areas I plan to share with others in my English Education Center.

I think many of the design standards described in the Guide to Teaching Online Courses (pp.6-7) have not made it yet into the general curricular standards though I would say that many language teachers do strive to meet them.  Courses being learner-centered and collaborative, fostering skills rather than only content memorization, and being flexible in both coursework and assessments to accommodate the varied backgrounds, needs and learning styles of students are areas that I feel there is a lot of attention to in the language teaching community but not necessarily at the institutional or regulatory level.  In fact, some polices implemented to make sure educators and students are held to standards can actually run counter to these goals.  As noted in The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age,
… traditional learning institutions, whether K–12 or institutions of higher learning, continue to privilege individualized performance in assessments and reward structures. Born and matured out of a century and a half of institutional shaping, maturing, and hardening, these assessment and reward structures have become fixed in place. But they now serve also to weigh down and impede new learning possibilities. (p. 24)
An insistence on formal final exams which account for at least 25% of the grade is an example of this in some institutions in Japan now.  On the other hand, there is a long-held assumption that a course in any format is to be teacher-led, and there is a recent push from regulators to be certain that course standards are made clear and that even university teachers should be expected, and provided opportunities, to continually improve their teaching practice.

Guide to Teaching Online Courses also suggests three necessary support structures for online instructors, which I would say should apply to teachers delivering blended-learning courses as well.  These are technology infrastructure, technical and administrative support, and educational support.  My experience with Japanese universities in this respect has not been stellar.  One school had no IT office or dedicated support staff, for example, and when Wi-Fi was introduced on campus it was made almost impossible for anyone to get permission to use it outside of one small department which was including ICT as a significant part of their curriculum and required the access.  Also, other than instructors using some of their research and materials budget to attend conferences I have not seen any real education support as outlined regarding ongoing teacher education.

2. Using one of the technologies.

One of the resources that could be useful in my teaching is one I found at http://calhouncourtkids.wikispaces.com/Third+Grade+Lessons.  The link I followed from the companion document was no longer active, but by searching around in the courts site I eventually found this.  It is a wiki of 15 different lessons on various aspects of how the court system works.  There are PDFs and PowerPoints to download and use.  While it is designed for 3rd graders in the USA, I think this resource could be applicable to some of my students at university in Japan.  I teach a class of students who are Law majors.  I think this could be an interesting way to give them a project that will be related to their majors more directly than much of the work we do.  How I envision using it is to create groups and then have them look at the titles of the lessons and get each group to choose one of the lessons to explore.  Then they would explore the lesson and do the activities involved in it on their own.  Then I would ask them to research how the Japanese courts would deal with a similar situation.  Finally, each group would use what they learned to create a presentation in English and share it with their classmates.  The presentations could be standard, in front of the class presentations or perhaps video presentations they could upload and share.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Extensive Reading StAIR

This is a stand-alone instructional resource (StAIR) which I developed for use in my reading classes.  It is designed to introduce and encourage Extensive Reading.  I used PowerPoint to develop it and it is a ppsx file which can be downloaded from my website here, from GoogleDrive here or from MERLOT here.  I may have gotten a little carried away with the sounds, so if you find them distracting just mute the audio.  Please feel free to use it and adapt it for our own class as long as you credit me as the developer.  

Introducing Extensive Reading by Thomas E. Bieri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Creative Commons License

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wiki Practice

This week I learned how to add content to Wikipedia and to create my own wiki.  Wikipedia is fairly simple to edit entries on, but not as simple as posting to your blog.  Some knowledge of special text to make sections, add emphasis characters, make citations and create links is necessary but fairly easily learned on the tutorial pages.  Within a few minutes of starting I had created an account and started practice editing.  After a bit of study and practice I was able to make my first edits to an existing page.  I choose the page on Extensive Reading (my university is extremely sensitive about public image and so I am unprepared to edit information on the related Wikipedia site) and made some updates.  First, I updated the external links section by removing a link to a site I knew had been shut down, added a new site taking on some of the functions the other was providing, and then added two more sites for groups providing support for Extensive Reading.  After succeeding with that, I decided to add a section on these two groups, which you can see in the screen shot below.

In addition, I set up a wiki here. I set it up to use in a writing class in the next academic year and I will have class members join it, set up their own pages, and then create group and individual projects for them so they can have the work they post protected from other people changing it.  Since students will post their work here, which may include private information, and since my students are minors under Japanese law, I have opted to keep this wiki private to class members and "other teachers."  If you are a teacher and would like access to be able to view it, please let me know and I'll give you permission, at least until students start adding information.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

WebQuest Evaluation

To start, I would once again like to address the issue of finding materials relevant to my teaching context.  I found the search options somewhat limited on the WebQuest.org page, starting with the fact that the text search option is indefinitely unavailable and continuing with that the curriculum with grade level matrix search returned no results for English/ Languge Arts plus either adult or grades 9 – 12.  Going into QuestGarden’s search page and using the Free Text Search function also brought back no results in EFL or ESL.  However, if I searched for reading, I was able to find nearly 800 results.  The problem here is that there was no apparent way to further define my search from there, or even to reorder the list of results.  This makes it kind of hit-and-miss and/or extremely time consuming to find anything which might be applicable to my teaching.
That said, near the top of the second page of results I found something quite promising called Reading and Discovery that is listed as both for college/adult level and in English/ Language arts.  This find lead me to wonder why this didn’t appear in the matrix search.  When I then examined it closely, it turned out to be less than I had hoped for, so I returned to the search results and moved on.  Further down the page I found Will My Life Be Better With or Without Reading?, which in spite of being listed as for grades 6 to 8 might be of interest to and applicable for my Japanese university first-year students.  Since this WebQuest is much more fully developed than the first one, I thought it might be useful to continue my approach from my last posting and compare the two of them in my evaluation.

Firstly, let me give a brief synopsis of both of these.  Reading and Discovery is intended for non-native speakers bound for tertiary education in an English-speaking institution and aims to develop their reading comprehension and vocabulary.  The author does not address particular curriculum standards, but does sate that he attends to “learning activities that incorporate multiple intelligences and practical or collaborative tasks” in the standards description.[1]  In contrast, Will My Life Be Better With or Without Reading?, the author hopes to inspire struggling students to appreciate the value of education and reading  through learning “what it takes to have the best paying, most interesting job later in life”.[2] Again, curriculum standards are not stated.

Secondly, I would like to discuss the pedagogy in both of these. Reading and Discovery does not seem to have any approach to actually teaching or supporting the learning of the students.  It is merely practice in reading, summarizing and discussing a journal article.  However, Will My Life Be Better With or Without Reading? provides a lot of scaffolding and support in guiding students to engage in a combination of compilation, design and self-knowledge tasks.  Learners are guided to gather information about themselves and jobs and critically evaluate this information before producing a pamphlet and engaging in a presentation and discussion session.  It appears that students are expected to make comparisons, analyze perspectives, and ultimately make an induction about the value of study and reading.

Thirdly, I would like to address the relative leveraging of technology in these two WebQuests.  Simply stated, Reading and Discovery doesn’t leverage technology.  I find it to simply be an electronic version of an assignment handout, without any added digital artifacts of any sort.  In reality, it would be better consolidated into one page in an electronic version or made into a handout with a URL or QR code for whatever journal article it would link to. In this respect, Will My Life Be Better With or Without Reading? is somewhat better than Reading and Discovery.  It leads students to an on-line job survey and provides links to other resources; while there is no actual link present in Reading and Discovery, the links in this WebQuest are active. It also provides a couple of attractive graphics on the pages.  However, other than having the links built in, this too could be done largely as a handout without any apparent loss in effectiveness. 

Fourthly, I would like to note that neither of these credit resources except for a comment on the latter one saying, “I adapted this webquest from Kimberly Vittitow, Bluestem Elementary Leon.”

Finally, I would like to assign both WebQuests total scores based on the Evaluation Rubric for Webquests which was linked in our CEP 811 course materials.   For Reading and Discovery, I would rate it 8/50 while for Will My Life Be Better With or Without Reading?, I would score it about 36/50.  As for how to improve these WebQuests, I think the former one would need a complete overhaul and is not properly called a WebQuest.  For the latter, making the research resources a little more defined and narrow, making pamphlet production into a group task where each individual brings their self-knowledge into a small group for comparison and they try to find common themes and negotiate a synthesis, providing links to an example video of the interview and to some pamphlets to help guide the students in what is expected in those steps as well as make them more engaging, and drawing some more clearly defined attention to the issue of valuing reading and education would perhaps all improve this WebQuest.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

CEP 811 MERLOT Evaluation (2)

I decided to depart slightly from the assignment in order to more appropriately reflect my own learning environment and to not repeat what I had done previously.  Instead of using a resource from MERLOT, I chose to explore some other sites also listed in our lesson. You can understand the rationale behind this in more detail if you look at the posting below, CEP 811 MERLOT evaluation, from October, 2012.  I found that both FREE - http://free.ed.gov and Wisc-Online -http://wisc-online.com had a variety of materials which could be useful for my teaching context and have chosen from there instead of MERLOT.   Within the latter site, under the ELL, English, and Reading sections I found several seemingly useful learning objects and for this assignment I decided to evaluate Ever and Never by Fran McCarthy and "Say" and "Tell" by Lori Sween as both of these usage issues have come up recently and repeatedly with my students.

So, let me turn to an evaluation and comparison of these two very similar resources using the MERLOT evaluation criteria.
I. Quality of Content:
The criteria suggest that we should address the following questions regarding content:
  1. Does the software present valid (correct) concepts, models, and skills?
  2. Does the software present educationally significant concepts, models, and skills for the discipline?
I would say that for both of these learning objects, the answer is yes.  Both of these resources explain in some detail the differences in usage of the respective pairs of words, which are very common words in English but which learners often have trouble using properly and perhaps understanding when they encounter them.

II. Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching-Learning Tool:
Again, I believe both of these learning objects show the potential to be effective in supporting learning.  Both of them set the pairs of words side by side and explain the differences in usage, and both of them provide exercises for learners to practice and check understanding.  I believe that these can be used with upper elementary or higher level English language learners.  Learners would need enough understanding of English to read the explanations and understand the example and practice sentences, yet still have some difficulty in using the words correctly.  In the case of my first-year university students, this is often the case.  I think these could be given as individual work for students who have shown difficulty with either of these distinctions or to a whole class when the distinctions seem difficult for many of them.  Also, I believe that the game-like element of selecting words and putting them in a sentence with immediate correct/incorrect feedback would be both engaging and helpful to the students.  Teachers often do this sort of thing orally with a whole class or with written exercises.  The former allows for immediate feedback, but may not be attended to by all learners due to pacing, attention issues, etc.  The latter allows all learners to do the exercises but feedback is delayed until a teacher can mark and return work, perhaps a couple of weeks later.  In contrast, these learning resources allow all students to engage with the material at their own pace, for each to try the exercises individually, but to also get immediate feedback.

III. Ease of Use:
Both of these learning objects are basically easy to use, with linear progression through them, clear back and next buttons for most pages, immediate responses on each exercise, and a final score at the end.  However, there are two potential problems that could be improved.  First, for the exercises in both resources, learners must choose a word and click and drag it into a sentence or sentences on the page.  If one is not familiar how to click, drag and drop, this could be a problem.  Also, I am not sure if these will work properly on a touch-screen device or not.  Second, when the wrong word is dragged and dropped into a sentence, it merely bounces back to the original position and “Incorrect” is displayed at the bottom.  There are two distinct issues with this that could lead to learner confusion; the “Incorrect” at the bottom is not especially prominent so it might be easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it and the same thing happens even if you choose the correct word but you don’t quite get it to the proper spot in the blank before you drop it.  In addition to these two issues, it might be nice if there were a home button on each page, but since both of these are fairly short as well as clearly linear, it isn’t a significant weakness.  More importantly, if the feedback were more comprehensive, such as a pop-up explaining why the other word was more appropriate when a mistake was made, and a summary of which specific points were missed, it might be more helpful.  It does allow a user to email it to a teacher at the end, and this more detailed information beyond points scored might also help inform further instruction.  Additionally, both of these resources could be made more appealing with images, perhaps illustrations of the sentences, on the pages.

Finally, while these two resources were very similar in many respects, I would like to note a couple points of contrast.  Ever and Never provides one static page of principles or rules and example sentences for each word.  In contrast, ”Say” and “Tell” dedicates two or three dynamic pages to each of the words; on the first page for the word the principles appear one by one down the page and then on the second page the rules reappear with examples for each one; a list of special uses also appears in the case of the word tell.  Because of this style, the latter resource is more attractive to students and also builds in immediate review of the principles by presenting them twice.  Additionally, while students may wait as long as they like to move on to the next page, the pace of the appearance of the items may encourage them to read at a more fluent pace than just having the whole page appear at once.  Another contrast is that while Ever and Never presents five items on each page and does not offer a back button on these pages, almost all of the pages on “Say” and “Tell” are kept to one item per page and allow backward movement as well.  I find the latter style more attractive and more flexible for learners, and also think that with this style it would be easier to add the more comprehensive error feedback and visuals suggested above.  That said, these do both seem to be useful resources for EFL and ESL teachers and learners.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just Updating for CEP 811

Well, it is a new year and I am restarting CEP 811.  Ready to go and here is my blog.  Will be updating it further as we go on with the class.  That is all for now.