29 April 2012

My First Open Course

I'm really excited to enrol on my first open course, "Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success" run by Dr Curt Bonk of the Indiana University.  A few weeks ago I subscribed to a couple of online magazines, eCampusnews.com and eschoolnews.com, and saw an article about an open course that had over 1000 subscribers within the first day or so - amazing!  Now, there are about 2,500 participants for this month long course which starts today.

The course is self-directed so you can spend as much or as little time as you want participating.  If you complete certain stages of the course, and participate in a number of activities set by the course providers, you can earn a badge.  The badge system is something I'd love to see developed recognised by more employers and institutions.  I've previously posted about Delta v. Masters v. Lifelong Learning  and the prohibitive costs involved in formal education that is sometimes not relevant to your own working environment.  It'll also be interesting to see how many people are still there, at the end of the course.

So far, apart from not being familiar with the Blackboard LMS, the main problem I've had is finding people to connect with.  This is expected with so many participants from all over the world in diverse areas of education.  I've so far joined a couple of groups and had some interesting conversations so I'm looking forward to making new connections.

On a final note, if you're involved in educational technology in any field I'd definitely recommend that you subscribe to the news magazines, ecampusnews.com and eschoolnews.com mentioned above.  Although the content is strongly leaning towards the US education system, there is lots of useful information about technology trends globally.

26 April 2012

BYOD Dogme for Kids?

I hate asking my teenage students to get their books and pencils out as much as they hate getting them out.  It's always the same "Do we have to?", "Oh no!", and the general look of disbelief on their faces as they transform into human snails and spend as long as possible doing this simple activity, causing chaos in the process, .  I often factor "getting books out" time into my lesson planning because it can seriously reduce the amount of time for learning!  

But try telling them to get their mobile phones out.  Not only does the whole room spring into life and there's a general buzz of speedy activity, they are also keen and eager to talk - and in English!

For a first BYOD lesson, I decided to digitalise a common TEFL activity using a mystery picture that the students had prepared for homework.  See my lesson plan here which can be adapted for different ages and levels.  I got the original idea of a mystery photo from a recent American Tesol Webinar presented by Shell Terrell .  American Tesol has lots of recordings of webinars - and they're free so they're well worth watching!

The students were so engaged and motivated that I was able to extend a simple questions and answers warmer activity into a speaking, writing and grammar review lesson all using student generated materials.  Students recorded their "presentations" using the voice recorders on their phones, took photos of the grammar review on the board, and photos of their writings at the end of the class.  So now they have revision materials too!

What was so good about this lesson was how it developed its own course led by the students. I realised it was a "Dogme moment" so decided to keep the momentum going and respond to the students by listening and watching them closely to see what happened next. As well as new vocabulary, we reviewed comparatives and superlatives and except for occasional instructions for putting phones away and getting them out again to do specific activities, the students were in control.  It was very exciting for me and one of the most enjoyable lessons I've had with a normally lethargic group.  The students seemed to enjoy the lesson too.

I learned a lot from that first lesson, especially how to manage the mobile phones being used and not used. At one stage, I told the students to put their phones under their chairs, to which half the class replied "go in the pocket!".

The lesson wasn't perfect and there was more L1 than I would have liked.  Also, on reflection, I would have organised the groups differently and finished the class remodelling their original presentations.  But we can always do that another day.

24 April 2012

BYOD (YL) (Bring Your Own Device (Younger Learners)) - Part 1

If you teach kids and teenagers, it can sometimes be difficult to engage them with the course book and the activities you prepare for them. Especially if you work in an academy and the learners have been to school all day so are often tired and obliged to be there by their parents.

Most younger learners and teens enjoy technology but it isn't possible or appropriate to to use computers all the time. Most educational institutions can't afford to provide learners with their own devices.  By getting students to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) you can incorporate technology into any lesson, whether it's book based, a role play, exam practice or if you're planning to do project work either online or paper-based.  In fact, that's how younger learners (and most of the rest of us) use their mobile devices in general - they take photos and videos of everything and anything, they play games and they communicate through social networks and texting.  Why not encourage them to do the things they do in L1 on their mobile devices in L2?  Not only will this make a lot of their learning more relevant, they will be using the language in an authentic way.  Get them to BYOD.

Before charging ahead and inviting your students to BYOD, I'd like to share my experiences with introducing BYOD with my class of 10 students aged 10-14 (yes!), and beginner/elementary level English.
  1. Speak to your IT department/guy about student wifi.  IT Departments are always very wary about giving free access to a network for security reasons (quite rightly) but ensure that the password is not too complicated.  When we are asking 10 year olds to connect their mobile devices to a network it needs to be easy enough for them to manage.
  2. Check who has mobile devices.  It's important that none of the students feel that they cannot participate because they don't have the device.  I offered my own mobile phone to the one student who didn't have a mobile phone.  I've asked my school to get a set of six cheap 7inch Android tablets for students who do not have their own mobile devices and they agreed to this.  You might want to investigate this too.
  3. Classroom management is important.  At first, students are very excited and want to show you and their classmates their phone.  Make this into a presentation style activity getting them to describe the phone, what games they play, when they got it, who bought it for them, etc.  I have found putting students into groups of 3 or 4 works well.  Assign a "leader" or "director" depending on what you are doing.  Give them clear instructions on a handout or on the whiteboard.
  4. It's useful to get the students to use the Bluetooth function if they don't already know.  Allow them some time to figure it out for themselves and help each other.  This way, they can send their photos/videos to your mobile device so you have copies of everything and you can keep them all together.
  5. Alternatively, setup a secure wiki or blog where students can upload their own materials.  If you're dealing with younger children, make sure you have parental permission to take photos/videos and put them online.
  6. When you are not using the mobile device, tell students to put them in their pocket.
  7. You do not have to rely on your students having Smartphones.  There are lots of activities you can do using basic mobile phone functions such as voice, camera and video.
  8. For Smartphones, choose activities that do not rely on a single operating system (iOS, Android, etc).  You will find that students have different phones so if you want to use apps, make sure that they are compatible with all systems, or there are suitable alternatives
Remember, any activity can be adapted to use with a mobile device, even if it only involves taking a photo of some writing, or recording an interview.  Students will love the variety, and it can be used later for revision.  I'll be following up this post with some BYOD activities I've been using with my students.

05 April 2012

Finding Android apps for Education

If you've got an Android device and wondering where to find the latest apps you can use with your students or yourself, then www.androidzoom.com is a great place to start.  It's a search engine for Apps organised into categories so you can head straight to a category and save time looking for what you want.

www.android4schools.com  by Richard Byrne, the teacher behind the fabulous www.freetech4teachers.com, has also created a blog giving a more detailed description of educational apps and tips on how to use them.

04 April 2012


dayzipping.com is a neat little website that suggests and describes day trips in a wide (and growing) selection of cities.  Information includes main attractions, information about the attractions, maps, distances and time.  The few cities I've looked at are easy enough to read for good pre-intermediate+ students with a little bit of help.

What I like about this site is it's simplicity.  Everything is clearly laid out with pictures and maps and there is some great vocabulary for describing attractions and places. There's also an Android app so students can use their mobile devices to read or plan a project.

This website is a good starting point for students to create a "dayzip" about their own or an imaginary town or city.

Be Funky - Photo Editor

Befunky.com is a great photo editor that you can use on your computer or mobile device (Android or  iOS).  All you need to do is upload your photo to the website and you have a wide range of editing options - including speech bubbles - even in the free version.  If you (and/or your students) are using mobile devices, you can upload existing photos or take a new photo and upload it to the website.

Ideas for using in class:
  1. Find a photo on the Internet to represent a vocabulary word and write a sentence using the vocabulary.  Use for revision.
  2. Take photos of classroom objects, student possessions and write short descriptions of them.
  3. Take close-up pictures and students write clues.  Play "What is it?"
  4. Take photos of marked class or homework.  Students edit the photo to reflect their mood and write a brief  "reflection" on their work.
  5. Find and edit photos relating to a topic.  Students discuss why they chose the photo and edited in the way they have.
  6. Describe a photo and compare and contrast photos (Cambridge exam style speaking and/or writing practise).
  7. Have a photo festival and students write reviews.
 Have you got any more ideas?

Digital Story Telling - Fotobabble and Blabberize

www.fotobabble.com and www.blabberize.com are two simple digital storytelling tools that you can use with students of all ages.   Here's a Blabberize created by one of my students.


www.fotobabble.com is simpler and quicker.  You upload your image, or link to a URL on the web and record a message of up to one minute.  There's also an iPhone app so you don't have to spend time transferring photos from camera/mobile to computer.  Android and other mobile users keep an eye on the site - they say apps for other platforms will be coming soon.

www.babblerize.com has a fun "mouth" feature but as far as I'm aware there aren't any mobile apps yet.  With Blabberize, you upload your photo then add a "mouth".  You can record a message of up to 30 seconds, and you can also upload wav files.  When you play the Blabberize, the mouth moves.

Click here for a lesson plan to create the Blabberize above.