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.