Friday, December 31, 2010

Cool websites to teach writing

For technology resources teaching, Jennifer Verschoor's blog,  My Technological Journey, is hard to beat.
Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.... Nathaniel Hawthorne 
As a language teacher I really find it difficult to motivate my students to start writing in class. The Internet is a resource that complements the dynamics of my class. It is easy to access, up-to-date and immediate source of authentic materials. Since I started introducing technology and using a wiki with Middle school my classes have definitely changed. Please check below the cool sites we have been using this year.
  • Writing Fun A MUST for teachers.  This website motivated my students to enhance their writing skills.
  • iWrite Provides several examples for students to learn how to write effectively.
  • Writing Exemplars I make my students search for writing samples created by other students worldwide.

Studying on their own or in a self-paced study group, students become their own teachers, although (as a college writing teacher) I've seen enough misguided "feral" and self-administered feedback to recognize the pitfalls. Teaching yourself writing does not eliminate the need for 3rd party feedback.

In my mind, this is a central problem to developing an effective self paced writing program. If you write on your own, outside a group and without a writing buddy, what are your best strategies for getting feedback on your writing? What options are available? 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pros & cons of group vs private submission & review

Posted by Dr. Karen F. Kellison, Program Director Educational Technology, James Madison University, to an IT forum that I follow. See also Death to the Digital Dropbox: Rethinking Student Privacy and Public Performanceby Patrick R. Lowenthal and David Thomas. All this goes to the question of public vs private submission, peer review (sharing writing with group), group work, etc. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mele Kalikimaka!

From Language Log ~ a linguistic and an entirely appropriate Christmas or Kalikimaka greeting

"Mele Kalikimaka" is Hawaiian for "Merry Christmas". Or, more precisely, it's the English phrase "Merry Christmas" as pronounced in Hawaiian. And it was the title of a hit song for Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters in 1950:
There's also a (different) 1978 Beach Boys song, originally released as "Kona Coast", which features the same phrase: "Mele Kalikimaka / is Merry Christmas in Hawaii talk-a".
"Wait, what?" you may be asking yourself. "Mele" for "merry", OK — obviously /l/ is the closest thing to /r/ in Hawaiian, we're used to that from stereotypes (and even facts) about Japanese and other varieties of "Engrish".  But where did that kalikimaka come from?
Here's the consonant inventory of Hawaiian:
The only fricative is /h/. So what should they use for /s/? Well, according to Allison Adler ("Faithfulness and perception in loanword adaptation: A case study from Hawaiian", Lingua 116(7): 1024-1045, 2006), it's sometimes /h/ and sometimes /k/. Thus the English word crease might be rendered as kaliki or kalihi.
Then there are the extra vowels. That, of course, is because Hawaiian doesn't allow consonant clusters — so that /kɹɪ/ becomes /kali/ – or syllable-final consonants — so that /mas/ becomes /maka/.
(Actually, according to Adler, the illegal consonants are sometimes dropped and sometimes licensed by adding extra vowels — thus trade might be rendered as /kaleiʔe/ or as /kale:/.)
And you might have noticed that the epenthetic vowels are somewhat variable. Thus Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary (1986) gives christmas as both kalikimaka andkalikamaka:
But Kalikimaka is apparently the favorite version, and it's the one that made it into the song, as well as into the earliest printed evidence of the borrowed phrase. According to Robert C. Schmitt, "Holidays in Hawai'i", The Hawaiian Journal of History, 29 1995:
The Hawaiian version of "Merry Christmas," Mele Kalikimaka, did not surface until 1904, when it was printed by Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. First proclaimed a national holiday (by Kamehameha IV) in 1862, Christmas was included in the list enacted by the 1896 legislature and has remained a legal holiday to the present time.
("Ka Nupepa Kuokoa" is a Hawaiian-language newspaper that began publishing in 1861.)
So Mele Kalikimaka to all!

Friday, December 17, 2010

on rewriting

This short article illustrates the deep difference between making corrections, proofreading or copy editing, and rewriting,

William James on rewriting from Sentence first

William James said he wrote every page of the Principles of Psychology four or five times over. Vladimir Nabokov made a similar admission: that he had rewritten, often several times, every word he had ever published.

The craft of writing is in large part rewriting. The main thing at first is to get our ideas down — to record rough outlines, key images and impressions. After that comes the slower work of rewriting: changing and rearranging, pruning and smoothing. We strengthen connections, tighten syntax, pare away the clutter, and find words that tally better with our intentions.

Rewriting overlaps with editing. Both aim to enhance the sense, structure, style and coherence of prose. Writers often describe the act of verbal composition in three-dimensional spatial terms, almost as though they were sculpting. The comparison is familiar. Sculptors prod and pester and play with a lump until at last, inspected from various angles, it has become a luminous or at least bearable object.

In a letter to his friend Sarah Whitman, to whom he had sent some proofs of the Principles, William James wrote:

If there is aught of good in the style, it is the result of ceaseless toil in rewriting. Everything comes out wrong with me at first; but when once objectified in a crude shape, I can torture and poke and scrape and pat it till it offends me no more.

Toiltorturescrapeoffends: his words convey concretely the difficulty of rewriting. This is why some people dislike it. It takes practice and perseverance to master the selection and arrangement of words. Ernest Hemingway told the Paris Review that he rewrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied with it. Asked what the problem was, he replied, "Getting the words right." James would have sympathized.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

TCC 2011 (Apr 12-14): Call for Papers & Presentations


Below is a call for papers and presentations for TCC 2011, scheduled for April 12-14 next year (2011). We hope that you will consider submitting a proposal. Details are provided in the announcement.

Thank you for your interest and support of the TCC Worldwide Online Conference. 

Warmest regards, Bert Kimura, Curtis Ho & Sharon Fowler, Coordinators

TCC 2011 Call for Proposals

Sixteenth Annual
April 12-14, 2011
Pre-conference: April 5, 2011

Submission deadline: January 28, 2011


TCC 2011 invites faculty, support staff, librarians, counselors, student affairs professionals, students, administrators, and educational consultants to submit proposals for papers and general sessions.

The emergence of Web 2.0 created a global platform for communication, collaboration, and sharing. People, technologies, and perspectives have converged on the Internet that has spawned global communities and platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

The Internet has changed education. Many issues and concerns, however, have yet to be answered fully: How do faculty, staff, students and the communities served collaborate and innovate to produce positive learning outcomes? How can students learn through virtual worlds, educational games, augmented realities, or the use of smart, mobile devices? What best practices or choices have emerged in online learning? How do we keep up? How can we support each other? 

TCC invites papers and general sessions related to technology integrated learning, open educational resources, distance learning, virtual communities, and best choices in educational technologies. The coordinators are looking for a broad range of submissions including, but are not limited to:
  • Perspectives and personal experiences with emerging learning technologies
  • Case studies and progress in applying ICT and Web 2.0 tools for learning
  • Technologies that enable communication, collaboration, creativity, and sharing
  • Building and sustaining communities of learners
  • Instructional applications in virtual worlds
  • Distance learning including mobile learning
  • Open educational resources (OER)
  • E-portfolios and assessment tools
  • Student orientation and preparation
  • Ubiquitous and lifelong learning
  • Online student services and advising
  • Managing information technology and change
  • Global access and intercultural communication
  • Educational technology in developing countries
  • Educational game design, rubrics, and assessment
  • Student success and assessment strategies online
  • Professional development for faculty and staff
  • Projects for seniors and persons with disabilities
  • Online learning resources (library, learning centers, etc.)
  • Social networking games and MMORPGs in education
  • Augmented reality - blending virtual content in real environments
  • Online, hybrid, or blended modes of technology enhanced learning
  • Institutional planning and pedagogy facilitated by emerging technologies
  • Gender equity, digital divide, intercultural understanding, and open access
  • This conference accepts proposals in two formats: papers and general sessions. 
  • For submission details, see:
  • To submit a proposal, go to:
  • Papers are submitted in full and will be subjected to a blind peer review. Accepted papers will be published in the conference proceedings.
  • General sessions may be conducted in many ways including a forum, discussion, round table, panel, or pre-conference activity. These proposals will also be subject to a blind peer review.
  • Acceptances will be conveyed to the primary author or presenter by email. 
  • The coordinators are especially interested in proposals that involve student presenters. Fees for student presenters will be waived. Student presentations will be scheduled later in the day.
The submission deadline is January 28, 2011.

Presenters are expected to:
  • Participate in a pre-conference orientation session.
  • Conduct a 20-minute informal, interactive online session about your paper or general session.
  • Use a headset with a microphone during the presentation.
  • Upload a photo, a brief professional bio, and related informational materials to the conference web site.
  • Respond to questions and comments from conference participants during the entire conference.
  • Maintain communications, as appropriate, with the conference staff.
All presenters are required to register online and pay the conference fee ($99 USD; $179 USD after March 31). Group and site registration rates for faculty and students are available. Contact Sharon Fowler for details <>.

This conference is held entirely online using a web browser to access live sessions and related content. A computer equipped with headphones and microphone as well as broadband Internet access is highly recommended.

For additional information, see <>. For further inquiry, contact Bert Kimura <> or Curtis Ho <>.

This event is a partnership between and Additional support provided by faculty and staff at the University of Hawaii.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Turning Kids From India’s Slums Into Autodidacts | KurzweilAI

Turning Kids From India’s Slums Into Autodidacts

December 6, 2010

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Dec 4, 2010

Replacing the medieval habit of schooling — one teacher telling a bunch of children what to think — Sugata Mitra, an Indian physicist whose self-learning experiment inspired the film “Slumdog Millionaire”– is convinced that, with the Internet, kids can learn by themselves, so long as they are in small groups and have well-posed questions to answer.

Dr. Mitra asked a class of poor Tamil-speaking kids to use the Internet, which they had not yet encountered, to learn biotechnology, which they had never heard of, in English, which they did not speak. Two months later he was astounded at what they had taught themselves.

On their own, children can get about 30% of the knowledge required to pass exams. To go further, Dr. Mitra supplements SOLE with e-mediators, or the “granny cloud” as he calls it: amateur volunteers who use Skype to help kids learn online.

And now, Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) are going global.

Posted via email from Academentia

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Help Students Write Better

This (mostly reposted/ re-purposed) article is also cross-posted Blogging English, a companion/ mirror blog of sorts, is for and supports an ESL self study group, which means I don't make a habit of marking student writing. Writing is supposed to be the primary focus, not that anyone there has been doing much of that lately. 

The lessons in this article go to feed back and editing. Does that makes this article irrelevant to self-paced writing. If you want to write better, you must actually write ~ and the more, the better ~ but feedback and revision are necessary. How much and what kind depends on purpose and audience. Still, handling any kind of writing feedback within DIY (do it yourself) structure is proving problematic.

Dr Davis at Teaching College English writes, 
I teach developmental composition. In my class, I require 7 essays and 3 rewrites, with a fourth rewrite as optional. Most of the other faculty require between 4 and 6 essays and between 0 and 3 rewrites. 
When I was much younger I required 14 essays in a 16-week semester.
I would like to encourage my students to write better, while not having to grade quite so many papers. So when I was reading the CHE forum, this caught my attention.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TOEFL Poetics

Ryan Daley on Buffalo Poetics writes about Tests of English as a Foreign Language...

Back in May, and back when I was teaching a TOEFL test instruction class, I would spend so much time preparing and teaching per week that my writing was suffering. Then I came up with an idea. 

On the TOEFL test there is a 30-minute essay segment. Test takers have 30 minutes to write a 300 word essay in answer to an assigned question. These questions are usually somewhat mundane, i.e., one custom from your country you would share, etc. My goal was to write at least 75 essays and to repurpose them. While doing this, I also like I was sticking it to the powers observing us (Cameras were placed in each room, for "quality control").

To cut it short: I have roughly 60 TOEFL (poetic) essays up  at my blog, Check 'em out! And thanks for reading!

Sample essay

Q. If you could change one aspect of the public school/schools you attended, what would you change, how would you change it, and why? Use reasons and examples to support your response. 

A. Education is a tricky subject. As with figuring out anything, many variables involved in the deep process. Students emerge from schools at the end of the day and it's easy to forget that they belong to a community housed within several fortifications, cafes and playgrounds. I would change a few things about my school's construction and the administrative hierarchy. 

Schools are built much like prisons. We are interested in keeping children and their noises, their dramas as well as their affinities, inside and locked away. A brighter school with less restraints would improve matters for children. They would not feel the cold gray sky behind the gratings on the windows, would not lunch in the same linoleum room like those dentists use to calmly wash out patients' mouths, would not sing on a stage so lofty that the smallest squeak cannot be heard. We silence the children, and we assume they behave better this way. However, when children are unleashed they destroy property. This is because they hold their emotions so pent up. Generous little beings are not captivated by the dull school surroundings. Gym balls will bounce with resounding joy if only we update the facilities which school our children. 

School administrations refuge in lonely temperance behind desks which expose children early to alienation of processes. How many times will they see desk housing a person? Fresh new faces entice all guests to share the most important information with the desk's occupant, and in the quickest manner. Imagine what fresh faces enliven the office environs, while increasing productivity. To this end, all school admins and educators who are entrenched should be alternated every 5 years. A bargaining period is born of this, during which time admins would prove their worth. However, teachers are accustomed to unstable living situations already. Administrators and office dregs should share in this renewal.

The Poetics List is moderated & does not accept all posts. Guidelines:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Model of learning in a PLE

Plenk2010 is over but not the sharing. It's only just begun. Not just for teachers, learners are welcome too, so maybe next time some of you will join me.

Do you understand the distinction between PLN (network) and PLE (environment)? This model from Rita Kop's post at Observations about learning, knowledge and technology on modeling PLE based learning shows how complex and dynamic the process is. In other words, not to worry if you are still confused. I am and so are most of the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) participants.  

To quote Jerry Lee Lewis, "Great balls of fire" and "whole lotta shakin' goin' on"

The other PLENK news is that one of the facilitators started a focus group to research lurker learning, lurking as a learning strategy. If it's now an object of research, I guess I will need to be more patient with and tolerant of Blogging English's lurker. However, that doesn't mean I'll stop asking you to respond, post, comment ~ participate! Maybe the research focus group will come up with encouraging or at least useful results for us.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

PLN Competencies

All learning begins when our comfortable ideas turn out to be inadequate.” – John Dewey

from the blog Ponderances of Steve (Steve LeBlanc). PLN Competencies is not about language or writing but does clarify PLN vs PLE nicely, emphasis on the human connections, including potholes. Not a stretch I think to apply it to collaborative and other writing groups. 
Filed under: Coaching,MOOC — Steve LeBlanc @ 1:28 am 
You don’t have a strong PLN (Personal Learning Network) the moment you show up at the right group, even if it is the perfect fit for your particular interest. Admittedly, finding a group of folks who share your passions can offer support, guidance and quick tips for simple challenges. For example, finding the right quilting group for a lone quilter can be a dream come true...But what if your passions are not so neatly contained? What if your interests are broad and interdisciplinary? Specifically, what if you just can’t find a group that shares your varied interests? You could join different groups for your different interests or even create a new one. That works fine for discrete fields, that is, until you start to ask cross-cultural questions no one else in that group is interested in.
What is made of a network depends more on the user than the network. Skills and habits (and yes, related to using social media):
  1. Contribution
  2. Great Questions
  3. Feedback
  4. Evaluation
  5. Humble Boldness
  6. Basic Computer Skills
  7. Celebrating Aloud
  8. Remixing
  9. Leaving the Virtual
You'll have to read Steve LeBlanc's post to fill in the rest (including more about list items). The closing?

Extra Notes on Competencies and Literacies

Competencies and literacies are fairly new constructs in learning theory, and not yet well agreed upon, not even on Wikipedia. The Washington State Department of Personnel defines competencies as, “the measurable or observable knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors (KSABs) critical to successful job performance.” I like acronyms.  And Microsoft offers a dizzying array of competencies here, with rubrics for measuring Basic, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert Proficiency Level on each.  It seems that competencies have more to do with actions, and literacies have more to do with thinking and understanding. Rita Kop cites research that people might not necessarily have the critical literacies (thinking skills) required to learn and search independently, suggesting the need for some level of training or coaching. 
Here are Howard Rheingold‘s 5 Literacies: Attention, participation, evaluating credibility or critical consumption or “crap detection”, cooperation or collaboration and network awareness. He defines literacies as skills plus community (social media).... In a SlideShare called Digital Tribes and the Social Web, Steve Wheeler identifies what he calls the Digital Literacies: Social Networking, Transliteracy, Privacy Maintenance, Identity Management, Creating content, Organizing content, Reusing/Repurposing content, Filtering and selecting, Self presenting. Others include taxonomies, social tagging, and collaboration.
So what do they have to do with writing and  language learning? 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

About World Languages

Language Difficulty for English Speakers

How long will it take to become proficient in a foreign language?
People often ask: "How long will it take me to become proficient in language X?" This question is impossible to answer because a lot depends on a person's language learning ability, motivation, learning environment, intensity of instruction, and prior experience in learning foreign languages. Last, but not least, it depends on the level of proficiency the person wishes to attain.

Different language skills
There is no such thing as across-the-board proficiency in a particular language. Proficiency is usually measured in terms of four skills:

  • speaking
  • reading
  • listening
  • writing

Learners usually have different levels of proficiency in the four skills. Consequently, the four skills cannot be assessed by one test. Each one requires an independent evaluation.

Levels of proficiency
Two widely used guidelines identify stages of proficiency, as opposed to achievement. Both guidelines represent a hierarchy of global characterizations of integrated performance in speaking, listening, reading and writing. Each description is a representative sample of a particular range of ability, and each level subsumes all previous levels, moving from simple to complex.

It is important to understand that these guidelines are not intended to measure what an individual has achieved through specific classroom instruction but rather to allow assessment of what an individual can and cannot do, regardless of where, when, or how the language has been acquired.

ACTFL (American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages) has guidelines for speaking (1999) and preliminary guidelines for writing. The ILR (US Government Interagency Language Roundtable) has guidelines for speaking, reading, listening, writing and translation.

The two sets of guidelines for speaking only are given side-by-side below. Note that the ACTFL scale goes up only to the Superior level, while the ILR scale includes Advanced Professional Proficiency and Functionally Native Proficiency. ...moremore

World Languages is a commercial site but also a one-stop information website "dedicated to the world’s most important and populous languages... and language-related IT,"

OK so it's not about learning English, per se, but information about languages in general and learning languages does relate.

In particular, the chart for assessing different language skills and levels of proficiency seems adaptable to skills and levels in others languages.

Also a source about individual world languages, language families, fascinating language factoids (which always made language learning more interesting for me)

Posted via email from Meanderings

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Future of Work

this bit of research on the Gartner site; while it dates back to August has some interesting speculation about the Future of Work.

“People will swarm more often and work solo less. They’ll work with others with whom they have few links, and teams will include people outside the control of the organization,”

“In addition, simulation, visualization and unification technologies, working across yottabytes of data per second, will demand an emphasis on new perceptual skills.”

-       Tom Austin, Vice President and Gartner Fellow

Gartner points out that the world of work will probably witness ten major changes in the next ten years. Interesting in that it will change how learning happens in the workplace as well. The eLearning industry will need to account for the coming change and have a strategy in place to deal with the changes.

So much of this applies as much to teaching and learning possibilities.

"De-routinization" of work (or teaching) could return to autonomy to teachers, already implied in Downes. Work swarms and teaming fit in at PLENK 2010 but seem less likely candidates for the entrenched academic mind.

And on down the list. Just because it could happen doesn't mean it will though.

Posted via email from Meanderings

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New Job Title: Social Media Slave

New writing genres for new jobs in new media/New Media: "Content Creation" involves writing, not 100% but can't leave home without it and involves computers too. How perfect for CLW can a recycled blog post be ... and not even about teaching unless perhaps implicitly as yet another genre to teach. And another interesting blog to subscribe to....

Social Media Jobs

"We all know how important it is for the social, real time web. No more corporate-ese please. We’ve had just enough of that blank, heartless, double speak for the time being. Press releases and official announcements that don’t tell you anything are as outdated as, well press releases and official announcements. The new client, the new sharer, wants authentic communication. We want bold headlines, crisp, alive copy and we want it to be presented to us married to great design that we can, and WANT to share with whoever we need to.

But what happens when businesses need content creation and aren’t willing to find the people, or pay the right rates, to get it down."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Integrate Technology in the Classroom"

Vanessa Vaile's notes: This site is setup to give you an overview of a book, "Great Ways to Integrate Technology in the Classroom-21st Century Curriculum: Activities That Will Keep Your Students Engaged". It is intended to help teachers integrate technology into their curriculum.
You can find more of Vanessa Vaile's bookmarks at
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Monday, October 18, 2010

PLENK Week 6: October 18, 2010

Not required reading for he Blogging English study group but posted in case anyone is interested I would recommend the readings for educators, anyone using communication technologies extensively... and  perhaps anyone raising their own crop of or working with digital natives. As for CLW (Computers, Language, Writing), since I'm cross-posting, adding commentary, reflections and such will be in order. I'd like to read and think about selections first as well read PLENK blog reactions and any reactions from the Blogging English study group. Maybe by the end of PLENK I'll have figured out how to add my link there.

Readings: Using PLE/Ns effectively: skills, mindsets, and critical literacies

How have you developed in your understanding of PLE/Ns? After discussions this past week, we've closed the loop on the main topics that relate to defining and evaluating PLE/Ns...detailing tools...and considering future directions.

In week 6, we will focus on the skills needed to be successful with PLE/Ns. What does a learner need to be able to do/to think/to be in order to function in a digital world? The term "literacy" is central here. What does it mean to be literate? By my (George) definition literacy is the ability to participate in the dominant modes of discourse in a particular era.

Being literate requires technical skills, conceptual mindsets, as well as an attitude of tolerance of complexity and ambiguity. These skills are not prominent in many schools and universities. Many students aren't digitally literate either. Our generation is in a transition phase where those who need to teach literacy are often not digitally literate themselves. So it shouldn't surprise educators that students sometimes do silly things online - they are raising themselves in this environment...the mentors are not the adults and teachers that modelled behaviour for previous generations. Mind you, that might not actually be a bad thing

Readings for this week:

New Media Literacy in Education (Robin Good, Howard Rheingold)

Critical Thinking Resources

Some factors to consider when designing semi-autonomous learning environments

Speaking in LOL Cats: What literacy means in the digital era

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

updates on multiliterate and other ESL chaos

 I created a Multiliteracies PLN (or facsimile thereof) tab on my public NetVibes page, and then posted a screen shot of the page + brief note with link to my Multiliteracies blog on Ning.
This evening, one of my almost students in Blogging English emailed me privately with a question about starting a PLN. I replied but directly to the blog (sorry the blog is private - just for the class). Then I found the student had not yet joined the class, so I did have to write the student privately to explain that he was not a member of the class until he joined the blog. I can't imagine why he thought he could be part of the class without joining it. That's a new one - and something to address in future letters to new students.

Now I need to find a few "PLN for newbies" links and decide how to organize hosting student PLNs on the blog. I can add pages, but we don't have an unlimited number available. I think each student can put PLN in a post and then edit as needed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

more literacies, networks, knowledge, etc

I'm doubling up on PLN related open / online courses. Too tired to come up with a name both right and clever. Do enough and I may even get a handle on them - if only on the acronyms. 

Platforms are another issue. I remember D2L from when it was a study skills and how to learn site. LMS (Learning Management Systems) are becoming increasingly complex and admin oriented, more about micromanagement and surveillance. I first used WebCT (if memory serves) around 2001 or 2002, creating and loading most of my own course materials, all of which went into the belly of the beast. Course back-ups only opened in WebCT through the university account. You leave, your course material stays. 

Now the trend is for colleges and universities to subscribe to WebCT pre-loaded with course materials as well as automatically upgraded, adding (imo fake) "social media" features. Why would an informed student want to keep a private personal blog shared with not just instructor and classmates but sysadmin to boot?

LMS can be seriously clunky, some more than others. The more intrusive, the clunkier. UC Davis' course listserv did everything I needed, and the Tech in Teaching program was developing a nimble LMS DTA or Distance Teaching Assistant, designed for flexibility and customization. Now they've gone to one of the commercial systems.

I still think online and hybrid classes could run just fine on a collection of free applications, e.g. a blog, a web based/archived email group, microblogging for short notices, document sharing, chat for office hours. That opinion also has more than a little to do with edu punk leanings, which is why I'm giving all this a spin, including the PLN/PLE. Forget e-portfolios though. No more evaluations, which is what that particular artifact is for. I prefer the network approach because it can allow weaving in community, academic advocacy, learning materials (whether for local or global users).

My current, sort of related project (obsession) is filling gaps - teaching materials, course pages - as best I can. Portfolio but as memoir and biography.  An electronic CV for someone no longer on or in the market, which means I am free to do it my way. If it the self-paced study group works, I'll think about putting up something self-paced (that I already have material for) for community use.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PLE as subset of PLN

PLE as subset of PLN, originally uploaded by catspyjamasnz.

I've been mulling over the difference between ePortfolios, PLE's and PLN's. This clarifies the distinction - for now at any rate. Maybe I'd add that ePortfolios (which somehow seem less open-ended) are another subset, an artifact representing the network or demonstrating learning outcomes (an arbitrary fixed end-point).

#PLENK2010, #evomlit

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Language learning methods

Here's an interesting article titled "On the mortality of language learning methods" that discusses how methods for learning foreign languages appear, prosper, disappear, and then reappear.

Over the past century many different methods or approaches have been applied to the teaching and learning of foreign languages. Since the 1960s, for example there has been a shift from approaches that concentrate on learning grammar, vocabulary and on translation, to approaches the emphasise communication, especially speaking. The same thing also happened in the second half of the 19th century.

Much research has been undertaken into language learning and teaching, but as far as I can discover, no single approach or method has been found to work significantly better than any other, in spite of claims to the contrary by the inventors, founders and promoters of particular methods and approaches. 

Moreover, each new development in technology, whether it be the phonograph, radio, television, computer or internet, is expected to transform the way people learn languages. However this doesn't necessarily happen.

le plus ça change, plus ce la même chose!

Study Habits

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits is the title of a very useful article that has just appeared in The New York Times. It's worth a full-read, but here are some points that struck me in particular:

Vary What You Study

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

Don't Just Study In One Place:

Students should study in multiple locations because:

The brain makes subtle associations between what it is studying and the background sensations it has at the time, the authors say, regardless of whether those perceptions are conscious. It colors the terms of the Versailles Treaty with the wasted fluorescent glow of the dorm study room, say; or the elements of the Marshall Plan with the jade-curtain shade of the willow tree in the backyard. Forcing the brain to make multiple associations with the same material may, in effect, give that information more neural scaffolding.

Use "Tests" To Help Students Learn

…cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

In one of his own experiments, Dr. Roediger and Jeffrey Karpicke, also of Washington University, had college students study science passages from a reading comprehension test, in short study periods. When students studied the same material twice, in back-to-back sessions, they did very well on a test given immediately afterward, then began to forget the material.

But if they studied the passage just once and did a practice test in the second session, they did very well on one test two days later, and another given a week later.

"Testing has such bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test," Dr. Roediger said. "Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have."

I'm not a huge fan of tests, but I do often ask students to take a minute to write down what they remember about a topic we have discussed at an earlier time and that will apply to what we will be doing that day.  Then I'll have students share with partner.  Perhaps I should do this sort of activity more often?

I'd be very interested in hearing your reactions to the article….

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Planning Learning Destinations

I send this handout, titled "Goals and Levels," to new students applying to a class. "Where are you starting from/" and "Where do you want to go?" are crucial to planning any trip. You must answer both before addressing routing, strategies, means, etc and answering the question. "How do I get there?"

The example learning destination here is for ESL, but the methods and strategies apply to any field of learning.  

The article + quizzes from About ESL ( is very appropriate for students thinking about joining a class. Understanding reasons for studying English and learning goals help prepare for starting a new class.

But you still need this understanding and to reflect on why you are studying English and what your goals are. They may not be the same as when you joined the class. Following these tips will help you understand your English learning strengths and weaknesses so you can continue to get the most out of this class. 

The Most Important Question: Why?
The English learning goals quiz is not a serious quiz with scores or grades. It will help you understand your English learning needs. Just answer a few questions and you'll get feedback on what kind of a learning might be best for you.

The "Important Questions" article provides a deeper look at questions to ask yourself about your learning goals before you begin the class. By understanding the answers to these questions, you will have a better idea what type of exercises and topic areas will be important to you. This could make the difference between taking an ESL course or an English for Special Purposes ( i.e., business or computer) course. 


People learn English for many reasons. Unfortunately, people often think that there is only one way to learn English (or any language for that matter) and that the same things are important for everyone. 

This is not true.
Depending on your English goals, you can understand your reasons for learning English well, and then better plan your learning strategy. Take this ten question quiz to discover what kind of English learner you are in order to help you understand what is really important - and what not so important - for you. At the end of the quiz, you will find out what kind of learner you are and can follow the links to areas of the site that will help you learn what you need! Now, begin the quiz...
• Important questions about learning objectives
It's a good idea to take a few level tests from time to time to check your level and progress. The review tests listed cover all the major learning points for each level. Begin with a test you think is right for your level and take note of the questions you answer incorrectly.

If the test is too easy, congratulations! Try to take the next most difficult test. If you pass the advanced level test with more than 80%, you may want to consider taking an English course that specializes in your English learning objective - for example a Business English Writing course.
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