18 November 2012

ACEIA 2012

Nick Saltmarsh, Flickr
Another year and another successful ACEIA event in Seville. ACEIA is the organisation for language academies in Andalucia, Spain and holds the second biggest teacher training conference in Seville every year.  There is a huge range of presenters and talks to choose from so there is always something for everyone.

First of all, one of the reasons the conference is always such a great success is because of the hard work of the people involved in the organisation, all volunteers, who give up their weekend and a significant amount of time before and after the conference, to make the day such an enjoyable and successful event.  Thank you to everybody involved - it really does make a difference to have friendly, helpful and efficient people to help out for any problem, large or small.  Thank you all!

This year, I did a version of my Blogs presentation for teachers interested in starting a blog with lots of practical tips and ideas to get started.  I had a great audience who participated enthusiastically by asking lots of questions.  It's always difficult to know what to focus on in this type of session because there is a range of language teaching experience as well as technical experience.  I try to gauge what I need to focus on more by asking if anybody has any questions, with an eye on the clock, and responding to what the audience needs.

After doing my own presentation, I had the opportunity to see some other talks.  John Hughes has some interesting ideas for using video in class and, as well as learning something, I've got three activities that I can use in class on Monday - that's always a good thing when you give half your weekend up to go to a training conference.

After some great video ideas, I went off to see my colleague, Jacqui Toon, who gave her first presentation at an organised event, Craft in the Classroom.  As I'm not a particularly crafty person I was hoping to pick up some simple ideas.  I wasn't disappointed.  You can see her blog here with lots of ideas and templates to download - as well as video tutorials for those non-crafty people (like me) who feel like giving it a go.

Finally, I was ready for a bit more technology so went to see Nicky Hockly.  As ever, Nicky is very forward thinking about using ICT in the classroom and, in this talk, highlighted the life and social skills, as well as English skills,  we can help students develop by using ICT.   Her blog,  eModeration Station, is packed with information and ideas for online teaching, mLearning and any kind of technology use in the classroom.

So, another year over and looking forward to the next one:-)

04 November 2012

Addicted to Grammar Practice

It's been a while since I wrote about mLearning but last week it suddenly became a hot topic at work.  It turns out that one of my colleagues found out that his teenage students are using their mobile phones to do online exercises for homework. So, I did some investigation (especially at Nicky Hockley's e-Moderation Station blog) to find out what's happening in the world.

When I last wrote about this, only about six months ago, my students were horrified by the idea of using their precious mobile phones to learn English.  The reasons at the time were they didn't have/had a limited Internet access, didn't have Smartphones or hadn't thought about using them for anything other than SMS messages or What's App with friends. I limited mLearning to using the camera, voice and video functions for in class and homework activities.

This week I downloaded a few Spanish learning apps to try out language learning apps first hand.  I'm an advanced level Spanish learner so the first thing I noticed were that most apps are aimed at the beginner to intermediate level, with lots offering grammar and vocabulary exercises. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of apps available but three that I really like are:

  • Busuu (free version)
  • Babbel (free version)
  • Spanish Class (paid version)
These all have English language versions too.  It's difficult to say which is the best as they would all suit different needs, ages and types of learners.  I've been using Spanish Class (I like it so much I paid for it!) to review Spanish verb forms and learn a bit of vocabulary.  Spanish Class suits me because of its flexibility.  You can pick and choose what you want to practice in any grammar or vocabulary exercise so you can easily grade it to your own level.  Busuu and Babbel organise the exercises into levels for you.  All three have listening and speaking practice - although not the best features - and Babbel also has a PC version where you can buy online courses.  I would recommend all three to my learners, depending on age, level and needs and, of course, I'd recommend downloading the free version before deciding to pay as well as spending some time looking at other apps available.

After one week, I can't say I'm an mLearning guru but there's one thing I do know - there's something addictive about doing repetitive grammar and vocabulary exercises on a mobile phone.  It passes the time while you're waiting for someone, having a coffee, watching something boring on the TV or any spare few minutes you have.  I had wondered about how much learning actually takes place in such short and sometimes distracting circumstances.  Well, I've already learned/remembered a few things I'd forgotten from basic Spanish and I like the short sharp bursts of learning that make it easier for me to remember grammar points and vocabulary.

For me , I've discovered an easy, convenient and pleasantly enjoyable practise and revision tool.  Boredom isn't really an issue because you only need to spend a few minutes here and there doing exercises.  It's the perfect tool for young people (who, we are told and in many cases have noted, have shorter attention spans) and busy adults trying to improve their language skills.  Combined with guidance from a teacher, mobile apps for language learners give learners exposure to the language between classes when and where they can or want.  Frequent short periods of learning is better than no learning at all.  In my opinion, this can only be a good thing.

03 November 2012

Wiggio - a social network with a difference

It's been almost three months since my last post but since the beginning of the academic year I've had so many different projects going on that I haven't had anything to talk about! 

One of the things I've been doing is using www.wiggio.com with a small group of Intermediate level adult students as part of a pilot blended learning course.  Wiggio is a free group working platform that is clean and simple to look at, and intuitive to use.  Although there are dedicated social networks for educators, such as Edmodo, what I like about Wiggio is that it has a range of inbuilt tools that are ideal for language learners.  Remember, this is a free platform and here are just some of the features it includes:

  • folders
  • create documents
  • to-do lists
  • calendar
  • video and voice notes
  • chatroom
  • meeting room
  • email and SMS functions
I'm using it as the forum/virtual classroom on the course (the course involves 70% online study and 30% face-to-face study).  The students love it and regularly start up mini conversations as if they were chatting on Facebook.  The only difference is they're using English to communicate.

As a teacher using it instead of an LMS, it does have it's drawbacks.  It's not an LMS/CMS and when I need to supplement the course with my own materials, it's not as easy to organise them in a student friendly way.  I've been creating folders relating to each unit then uploading supplementary materials or links to the folders.  This seems to be working well for now, but I keep a copy of everything on my PC so that they are available for the next course.  I haven't found a way to move uploaded materials from one "group" to another yet!

If you're looking for a way to get your students to work together between classes, on projects or homework assignments or to contact you, this really is the answer.  All you need is an email address to join up.  You can create as many groups as you want and assign permissions so you can control what your students can do (if you want to do that) or let them have free rein of their group and see where they go with it.  The best thing of all is you don't need to spend time showing your students how to use a range of voice, video and other tools to help them with their learning.  It's all built in to Wiggio.