Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Week 11: Exploring Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs)

Online education keeps growing at an accelerating rate, everyday we find online courses and degrees available in universities and colleges worldwide. According to Godwin-Jones (2003), language professionals have welcomed the new teaching trends that the Internet has introduced. First, they tended to use tools such as e-mails, discussion forums and chats, and then they started to use recent innovations such as blogs, wikis, posts and RSS feeds, which still are the order of the day.

However, online education shows two sides, a negative and a positive one. The negative side is that the learning experience could turn too personal and individualistic, that is to say, when taking a distance course, for instance, students could not have the opportunity to share their ideas and learning experience with other classmates but only with their teacher. And on the positive side, students could be part of a community of practice, which could be set and developed for the purpose of language learning and where students will definitively have the opportunity to interact with each other.

Staying on the positive side, there is much that can be said about the new Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). New VLEs not only allow people to take control of and manage their own learning but they set a new trend within the self-taught arena. That is to say, individuals can decide when, where, how long and how to learn using some of the many Web 2.0 tools available on the net.

For instance, in my personal experience as a student of the German language I have downloaded many podcasts with I-tunes to learn German. In these podcasts you can listen to lessons given by a native teacher who makes you repeat sentences to improve your pronunciation. So, I set up a self-teaching plan in which I decided to listen to my German podcasts downloaded in my I-pod when I am stuck in traffic jams in rush hours in Caracas, for as long as I am stuck in traffic. And this is just a tiny example of the many opportunities available on the net for individuals to manage their own learning experience through the use of Virtual Learning Environments.

Godwin-Jones, R. (2003). Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-Line Collaboration. Questia: Language, learning and Technology. Vol. 7. Retrieved on December 11, 2009 from http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=LjQVXBXhj9T4RQbLnBFky7W21Hy5kVnSJD1JNKG7GTLHxhLQGWqy!-799558367!1699119870?docId=5002623298

Week 10: Web-based lessons, design and evaluation

Web-based Lesson plan
Topic: Grammar: Passive voice
Text: Now 'Big Brother' targets Facebook
Aim: To identify the passive voice and show students how to use the web to fulfill assignments.
  1. Students will identify the formula and the uses of the passive voice.
  2. Students will identify four different kinds of passives: agentless passives, passives with get, causative passives and stative passives.
  3. Students will identify the difference in the use of the passive voice in the English and Spanish languages.
  4. Students will use the web to look for texts to identify different uses of passive voice.
  5. Students will identify how passive sentences are translated from English into Spanish.
  6. Students will identify the techniques used to translate the passive voice.
Web sites used
Steps for Students
Pre-online activities (Warm-up)
  • On Wiziq.com the professor will do a power point presentation that will include a review of the passive voice formula, the different uses of the passive voice, the four different kinds of passives, the difference in the use of the passive voice in English and in Spanish, how passive sentences are translated from English into Spanish, and the techniques used to translate the passive voice.
  • This presentation should be interactive, namely, students will ask questions and make comments while the teacher is presenting.
  • The presentation should last 40 minutes.
Online activities (Body)
Break: There will be a break of 10 minutes.

Follow-up activities:
  • Students will translate the passive sentences they previously found into Spanish.
  • This part of the session should last 20 minutes.
Assignment: Students should search the web and find two texts in English with at least six passive voices. They should post the texts in a Wiki set by the teacher, underline the passive voices and write the translations of the sentences into Spanish.

Now 'Big Brother' targets Facebook
Minister wants government database to monitor social networking sites by Nigel Morris, deputy political editor
Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Millions of Britons who use social networking sites such as Facebook could soon have their every move monitored by the Government and saved on a "Big Brother" database.

Ministers faced a civil liberties outcry last night over the plans, with accusations of excessive snooping on the private lives of law-abiding citizens.

The idea to police MySpace, Bebo and Facebook comes on top of plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit made by everyone in the United Kingdom. Almost half the British population – some 25 million people – are thought to use social networking sites. There are already proposals under a European Union directive – dating back to after the 7 July 2005 bombs – for emails and internet usage to be monitored and added to a planned database to track terror plots.

But technology has moved on in the past three years, and the use of social networking sites has boomed – so security services fear that that has left a loophole for terrorists and criminal gangs to exploit.

To close this loophole, Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, has disclosed that social networking sites could be forced to retain information about users' web-browsing habits. They could be required to hold data about every person users correspond with via the sites, although the contents of messages sent would not be collected. Mr Coaker said: "Social networking sites, such as MySpace or Bebo, are not covered by the directive. That is one reason why the Government are looking at what we should do about the intercept modernisation programme because there are certain aspects of communications which are not covered by the directive."

In exchanges with the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Tom Brake, he insisted: "I accept this is an extremely difficult area. The interface between retaining data, private security and all such issues of privacy is extremely important. It is absolutely right to point out the difficulty of ensuring we maintain a capability and a capacity to deal with crime and issues of national security – and where that butts up against issues of privacy."

Facebook boasts 17 million Britons as members. Bebo, which caters mainly for teenagers and young adults, has more than 10 million users. A similar number of music fans are thought to use MySpace.

Moves to include the sites in mass surveillance of Britons' internet habits has provoked alarm among MPs, civil liberties groups and security experts.

Mr Brake said: "Plans to monitor our phone and email records threaten to be the most expensive snooper's charter in history. It is deeply worrying that they now intend to monitor social networking sites which contain very sensitive data like sexual orientation, religious beliefs and political views. Given the Government's disastrous record with large IT projects and data security, it is likely that data will leak out of every memory stick, port and disk drive when they start monitoring Facebook, Bebo and MySpace."

Isabella Sankey, policy director at Liberty, said: "Even before you throw Facebook and other social networking sites into the mix, the proposed central communications database is a terrifying prospect. It would allow the Government to record every email, text message and phone call and would turn millions of innocent Britons into permanent suspects."

Richard Clayton, a computer security expert at Cambridge University, said: "What they are doing is looking at who you communicate with and who your friends are, which is greatly intrusive into your private life."

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said yesterday that it was considering lobbying ministers over the proposal, which he called "overkill".

A Home Office spokeswoman said the Government was not interested in the content of emails, texts, conversations or social networking sites. She added: "We have been clear that communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence."


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Week 9: Communities of practice: Facebook

Social networking sites
Social networking sites are part of the new Internet revolution. Facebook, MySpace, Friendster and Bebo are the most famous of these sites. Members can set up their own profile telling people their name, hobbies, and what they have been up to. People share photos, video clips and their relationship status. The services are web-based and provide a way for users to interact, chat, message, email, and blog.

What is facebook?
According to Douglas Jasch, Facebook was created in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerburg and his two roommates. It was a free social networking site for Harvard University students. Within one month 6,000 people had joined up, so the developers extended its availability to all universities and schools in the USA as well as some universities in the UK.

These days anyone can join, and Facebook is the most popular social networking site in the world with 350 million members. One of the reasons Facebook is so popular is because it is more exclusive than other sites. While anyone on the net can see your entire profile on MySpace, on Facebook all you can see is someone’s picture until you are accepted as a friend. On MySpace people have a lot of strangers as friends, whereas Facebook is filled with family, workmates and friends, which gives the site a sense of community.

Drawbacks: Face-book or Gossip-book?
By checking your friends profiles you can keep up-to-date on where they have been going out, what they did on their holidays and even what mood they are in, and that is actually what facebook is all about. However, you can also see either what they have written to other people you are not friends with or what these people you do not know have written to them. And this can give way to gossiping.

Tips: Try to keep your virtual community as real as possible, be very picky and refuse friend requests from people you have seen just once in your life, do not hesitate on eliminating old acquaintances (namely, people you went to kindergarten with and with whom you do not have anything in common anymore). After all, facebooking should be fun, and it is really an invaluable service for keeping in contact with friends and family, especially when they live in other states and/or other countries.

Educational Uses
Facebook has been used by teachers who have created groups for their students to join them. These groups work like the yahoo groups, where students can post about different topics suggested by their teacher. Another useful facebook accessory for learning English is the posting of videos. Rather than using YouTube or emailing videos to students, the teacher can upload videos to his/her Facebook profile for all students to view.

Jasch, D. Facebook & social networking. Think in English magazine. No. 104. Year VIII. Madrid: Ediciones Mejora, S.L.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Week 8: Webconference "Social Networking 2009" in AVEALMEC and ARCALL

AVEALMEC (AsociaciĆ³n Venezolana para la EnseƱanza y Aprendizaje de Lenguas Mediados por el Computador) and ARCALL (Argentine Association of Computer Assisted Language Learning) are two Latin-American associations interested in promoting the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the language classroom. They joined forces to organize the first regional event from November 5th-8th 2009 to help spread the word on the role of ICT in the language classroom.

This first online forum called Social Networking 2009 offered 12 video-conferences through the web tool Wiziq. It focused on “social networks and their potential to create communities of practice to share, communicate without barriers and enhance the teaching-learning process in the language classroom” (http://avealmec.org.ve/moodle/file.php/1/Social_Networking_2009revised.pdf).

 Personal Learning Environment:
Before and after Twitter
by Prof. Graham Stanley (UK - Spain)

I saw the recorded version of the conference Personal Learning Environment: Before and after Twitter given by Prof. Graham Stanley on November 08th, 2009. According to Prof. Stanley, a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is a system that helps people take control of and manage their own learning. As his presentation showed, the rise of Twitter (http://twitter.com) and other Web 2.0 social networking tools has made it easier for teachers to manage their own learning and professional development and communicate with others in the process, and it has also offered students the opportunity to build their learner autonomy outside the classroom.

In his conference, Prof. Stanley showed some examples of how students being part of different social networks and communities of practice (like Twitter, for instance) have been encouraged by teachers to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Twitter, which began at the end of 2006, has moved to the center of Prof. Stanley’s Personal Learning Environment.

In February 2009 Twitter was said to be the most visited Web 2.0 tool. Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends through instant mobile updates, namely, SMS messages of 140 characters, no matter where you are or what you are doing. According to Prof. Stanley, people blog less since they twitt on Twitter.

On my personal experience, I have not had the opportunity to use Twitter as a learning or a teaching tool because I do not have a cell phone with Internet access (neither have most of my students), and due to my working and studying schedule, I have no time to tweet. However, I do not rule out the chance of applying Twitter in the near future for learning and teaching purposes.


Communities of practice:
A social discipline of learning
by Prof. Etienne Wenger (USA)

What is a Community of Practice (COP)?
According to Etienne Wenger (2009), a community of practice is a group of people who:
  • (a) shares challenges, passion or interests,
  • (b) interacts regularly,
  • (c) learns from and with each other, and
  • (d) improves their ability to do what they care about.
For example, a group of doctors who want to help each other to work together is a community of practice.

Wenger (2009) also mentions that the key word in any community of practice is to share; people share their knowledge and impressions on a subject with other people interested in the same topic. Knowledge is defined by Wenger as a way of living in practice. Something that is very important is that a community of practice does not separate knowledge from the people who do the knowing, and from the point of view of teachers, they should bear in mind that learning should be fun and teachers could achieve that by including their students as if they were their peers.

In his conference, Wenger (2009) also remarks that since we are social human beings, he put forth the concept of a social discipline of learning which according to his research has three main aspects, namely:
  1. The domain: which is the negotiation of what a learning partnership is about, that is, how people agree on which topics they are going to discuss.
  2. The community: which is who a community of practice will decide will be part of their group. Who should be part of your community if you want to make progress on something? For instance, will you allow your bosses to be part of your community?
  3. The practice: which has to do with people recognizing that they can learn from others; members of the community recognizing and respecting other members as practitioners.
The role of technology in a community of practice
Nowadays in a community of practice technology plays an important role because it enables new kinds of partnerships that can include people from all around the world. But to introduce technology in a social community of learning, one has to understand the potential of technology to really profit from it.

What can communities do to learn together?
There are a number of things people can engage themselves in when they are part of a technological learning community. Prof. Wenger (2009) points out that there are informal and formal activities people can share to learn from each other (e.g. field trips) and with each other (e.g. reading groups) using different platforms and web 2.0 tools according to their needs, for instance, they can open a yahoo group, set a blog, and use a wiki, among others. Communities certainly adopt these technologies because they solve some of the issues that members of a group face in trying to be a community.

My personal experience in a community of practice
On my personal experience, I started being part of a community of practice when I started my ICT in ELT course of the Master’s the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language that I am taking during the winter semester 2009-2010 in the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.
Our community of practice is formed by 10 students, who are all teachers of English as a Foreign Language (including myself) and our Prof. Evelyn Izquierdo, who is an English teacher as well as an ICT professor.
Our community of practice was born when our Prof. Evelyn Izquierdo set a Yahoo group where we all registered and introduced ourselves to our community. Then, we created blogs on blogger.com where we started not only to post our weekly reflections on the topics discussed in class, but also to read and comment the posts of our classmates. To be part of a community of practice has certainly been a very gratifying and excellent experience :-D Thanks to all of you (classmates and Prof. Izquierdo)!

Flickr: Design that connects
by Carla Arena (Brazil)
"Flickr is about stories; stories that are about us."
Prof. Carla Arena

“We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. That has always been true. But personal narrative has become more prevalent, and perhaps more urgent, in a time of abundance, when many of us are freer to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our purpose.” Daniel Pink

What is Flickr?
Flickr is a very popular image and video hosting website developed by Ludicorp, a company based in Vancouver that launched Flickr in February 2004. In 2005, Yahoo! acquired Ludicorp and Flickr and all content was migrated from servers in Canada to servers in the United States (Wikipedia).

Flickr accounts
Flickr offers two types of accounts: Free and Pro:
  • Free account users are allowed to upload 100 MB  images a month and two videos. Also, if a free user has more than 200 photos on the site, they will only be able to see the most recent 200 in their photostream. The other photos that were uploaded are still stored on the site and links to these images in blog posts remain active. Free users can also contribute to a maximum of 10 photo pools and if a free account is inactive for 90 consecutive days, it will be deleted (flicker.com).
  • Pro accounts allow users to upload an unlimited number of images and videos every month and receive unlimited bandwidth and storage. Photos may be placed in up to 60 group pools, and Pro account users receive ad-free browsing and have access to account statistics (flicker.com).
What is Flickr about?
In her conference, Prof. Arena (2009) presented Flickr as more than just a photo-sharing space, but one of the first and most powerful web 2.0 sites that really promotes interaction among people online because it connects people through the stories they share with their pictures, and "its power lies in us, and in the fact that we can be there, and we can upload part of our story everyday" (Arena, 2009).
Prof. Arena (2009) also mentioned that Flickr holds a lot of potential in online education because it helps us connect to ourselves and with each other.”
Advantages of Flickr
Prof. Arena (2009) mentioned some advantages that Flickr offers teachers and students:
  • First, Arena remarks that as teachers we can show our students to make good use of visual literacy through Flickr because any image is very powerful and it says very much about anyone, "just by looking at a simple picture we can know a lot about a person."
  • Second, Flickr gives us the opportunity to tell stories through images; the power of narration and showing others who we are play an important role; and
  • Third, it takes little time to create a slide show.
Educational uses
Prof. Arena suggests that one of the many uses Flickr can provide teachers is to create groups with their students and ask them to post their photos and to comment their own photos. By doing this, teachers can as well promote picture description using Flickr.
Teachers can also encourage their classes to become part of intercultural groups with students of other countries and/or other schools around the world. Namely, teachers can ask their students to post their photos according to a specific topic, which could be clothing, food, or holidays, among others, so that the posting of pictures could become an intercultural mosaic of images that can represent our countries and our cultural diversity.

Prof. Arena’s personal experience with Flickr
In her conference, Prof. Arena showed some examples of how she has made use of Flickr to create communities of practice and learning groups. For instance, she was part of a group in Flickr called Flickr 365, whose idea was to take, upload and share everyday one photo about anything in their lives, and with that picture they used to tell a story reflected within the picture.
They also used to have topics, to post pictures concerning the topic and to comment the pictures.
This was important for Prof. Arena because it not only showed her who she was but also told others who she was. And nowadays when she looks back she can see where she started and where she is heading to.

My personal experience
Before watching the recorded conference of Prof. Arena, I did not know that Flickr existed. This conference definitively shed light on the concept of visual literacy and showed me that Flickr is a very useful tool that I can put into practice with my students. I thank Prof. Arena for her insightful remarks about this topic!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Week 7: Second Life

What is Second Life?
According to Wikipedia, Second Life was launched in 2003, and it is a virtual world developed by Linden Lab, whose company’s founder is Philip Rosedale, and its headquarters are based on San Francisco, California, but there are offices in the UK, Singapore and other American cities.

Educational uses
As students, Second Life gives us the opportunity to meet native speakers of English in order to interact with them to practice and improve our English.
As English teachers, Second Life offers us the great opportunity to meet teachers of other English-speaking countries, and to organize and participate in discussions with them. It also gives us the great chance to give online lessons!
As students of the Master’s the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language, we have experienced having three online lessons with our teacher. She has taught us little by little how to use the tools to create boxes and to sit on them, and how to create cards to write short assignments when in class.

The first time I heard about Second Life was a year ago on the radio, namely, some educators were discussing about their advantages and disadvantages. I have just named some advantages in the area of English learning and teaching. On the other hand, the drawbacks I have experienced myself are that it takes time for users to know the tools well and to use them correctly to profit from the experience of learning and/or teaching. I felt frustrated many times because I did not know how to walk, talk, change my clothes or my appearance, among others.
However, I can happily say now that I have sorted out some obstacles, and I have even managed to take a picture of myself in Second Life. You can see it below!
This is a picture of me in Second Life!