Adaptation and Change

Conference Planning, Technology

Change takes time. I’ve come to realize that making changes within any educational context is a time-consuming endeavor. This is true for the educational conference context as well.

2015 is the first year that we’re implementing all online registration and payment for both the fall conference and MinneTESOL membership. We are using a program called Wild Apricot that offers a lot of functionality. However, I’m starting to feel like the program was not built with organizations like ours in mind. It is not uncommon for administrative staff to register and pay for teachers at a school to attend the conference. I don’t know that this process has ever been without its fair share of issues, but this year seems especially problematic for these groups. Whether it’s invoice issues or not being able to access member accounts because admin staff often aren’t members themselves, I’ve been spending a good part of the last week troubleshooting.

A couple of things have come to mind as I’m going through this process. First, I’m thankful for my experience in customer service. It seems that my days in retail were not good for nothing. That being said, I’m not getting paid for this service, and it is sometimes difficult fielding the issues with tact and grace. Also, growing pains are part of the deal. Yes, our registration software has some issues. Yes, some people will get irritated with our move to online registration and payment. But, I think it’s part of the territory. The conference and organization have grown a lot in recent years, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. From a community standpoint, if we can approach a time when information is widely and easily available to teachers, administrative staff, and anyone else interested in learning more about our conference and organization, we’re on the right track.

I think we’ve come a long way in the last few years, and we’ve still got some growing to do. I think there will come a time when people will appreciate the efforts everyone involved with the conference and professional organization has made toward updating and making what we do more accessible. I think there will come a time when the new technology and changes we introduce won’t seem so scary. Changes and adaptation take time.

Sometimes I have to remind myself to be patient.

Thoughts on: Using Google Drive to facilitate writing workshops


Over the last couple of weeks I have used Google Drive to facilitate writing activities during our day in the computer lab. We have one day per week in the lab, and the students always seem to have a little extra pep in their step when we use the computers in class. At the level I’m teaching, the students have just moved past writing simple sentences and are working on improving their basic paragraph writing. We have written paragraphs together in class and they’ve written paragraphs on their own as homework, but I thought it might be interesting to utilize Google Drive during our lab time to allow students to practice typing and formatting their paragraphs while also having the opportunity to interact with other students’ work by giving and receiving feedback online.

Allowing students to work on their paragraphs in real time while the teacher or other students provide feedback seems to have brought a larger awareness of their writing and each student’s writing process. It’s interesting, as the teacher, to watch students write their paragraphs in real time to see how which aspects they focus on first and which aspects of writing are sort of after-thoughts. One student I have likes to type all his sentences without capital letters and punctuation, and he goes back and adds them later. Other students type everything and then format the paragraph (double-spacing and indenting) at the very end of their process.

Google Drive

Google Drive (Photo credit: Doroty cielu)

Through Google Drive, I am able to highlight mistakes easily (usually in yellow) without necessarily divulging what kind of error they have made. The students are usually very apt to correct the mistakes immediately, and they often do not need further instruction. I just delete the highlighting once it’s corrected. There are occasions where students do not understand what kind of mistake they have made, and during these instances, either myself or another student is able to explain their ideas in the chat bar on the side of the document.

With regard to the chat bar, my students said they found it quite difficult to ask questions of other students via the chat. However, they seem to be improving, and I can’t help but wonder if that simple communication is helping their basic reading comprehension skills. All of these thoughts are based on my own intuition, not research, so I’m saying this with a hint of skepticism. Since engaging in the “no talking, use chat” method of feedback during these activities, my students seem to slow down and take their time reading the feedback that they receive, whether it’s from me or another student. While giving feedback on student writing, I was able to highlight mistakes or areas of interest and add comments on the side that give further explanation. For some of our activities, I asked students to type their paragraphs the day before we were in the lab so they could work with my feedback on our lab day. I’ve been rather amazed at how quickly they are picking up the language used in the feedback. Even if they don’t understand every word in the feedback, they are almost always able to understand and make the appropriate corrections.

In addition to typing full paragraphs and doing peer review online, we have done a few activities where the students have to work together to type simple sentences as well. Today we did an activity where students were asked to write sentences about someone’s schedule, answering the question, “What is she going to do?” We have been focusing on using the “be going to” construction to talk about the future tense, and this activity was meant to provide an opportunity for students to write sentences using that construction while reading information from a calendar. They were also supposed to focus on using the correct preposition before dates and times (at 4pm, on May 9th). The students were split into two groups of three students each (yes, my class only has six students this term). Each student had a copy of the same calendar, but each student had different events on different days of the month. Each student had to write three sentences (one for each even on their calendar) and then the students could work together to correct any mistakes they might have made.

From my perspective, students were more easily able to notice mistakes that others had made during this activity than they typically are when we work with pencil and paper. Once again this is based on my intuition and perceptions, but perhaps this is due to the fact that each student was working in the same document, and their own sentences were right next to those of the other students. If one student felt confident in his writing, and he saw another sentence that didn’t fit the construction pattern, he was likely to highlight the mistake. Once again, there were instances where mistakes were not noticed by the students and I highlighted them in the text.

After our Google Drive tasks, I had a brainstorming/discussion session with the class about how they feel about using Google Drive for these types of writing activities. I asked them to think of things they liked, things they didn’t like, things they thought were easy, and things they found difficult about using Google Drive. After the discussion, these are some of the ideas we came up with:


  • students can work together
  • students can help each other write
  • students can practice spelling
  • students can correct friends’ sentences
  • students can open Google at home
  • teacher can correct mistakes and answer questions via chat
  • students can joke between friends on chat
  • each student had his own color when typing
  • students can work together from hom


  • writing changes quickly
  • we had to make a rule about waiting to edit until everyone was done typing (so students weren’t correcting unfinished sentences)
  • some students found it difficult to know where to save files & where to open them (navigating files)


  • making sentences
  • asking questions


  • asking for help with spelling (How do you spell….?)
  • using chat was more difficult to communicate than using voice

My students all said they enjoyed the activity, and while I can see them getting bored with any activity implemented too often, their level of involvement and motivation did seem higher than more typical writing workshop activities.

I can’t help but feel that the students may also benefit from the exposure to Google Drive, as our particular university has recently adopted Google Apps quite extensively (from email to the cloud). It seems very likely that they will encounter such programs in their future education, whether that is at our current location or another American university.

Through these activities facilitated by Google Drive, I feel that my students have gained some valuable experience in giving and receiving feedback. Working on these activities has also focused our attention on the language being used and the language forms we’ve been covering in class. One of our class learning objectives for this term is to be able to read other students’ writing and respond (in a basic way with teacher support, and I think these activities have allowed us to achieve that learning objective.

Thoughts on: Meeting with students via Google Hangouts


Midterms sort of snuck up on me this semester, and I told my students on Thursday that the midterm exam would be on the following Monday. We reviewed everything we’ve studied this semester on Friday by playing a jeopardy game and working on a review packet together, but I wanted to offer my students another opportunity to ask questions and get answers before the test on Monday. I decided to hold a Google Hangout today (Saturday) from 1pm to 2pm where my students could come and ask questions about anything we’ve been studying. I didn’t have high hopes of participation, and I made the event totally optional, but I had one student RSVP on the Google+ event and show up this afternoon.

It was a great opportunity for him to ask questions about the review materials we had been working on in class, and I could have another chance to measure where this particular student was in his understanding. The idea came to me after my boyfriend had a Saturday hangout for one of his online classes. It seems like a great way to offer students additional support, even though it means giving up an hour on the weekend.

Even though only one student took advantage of the opportunity, it was an enjoyable experience, and I would definitely consider doing it again in the future. Perhaps I can give midterm reviews/grade updates via Google Hangouts to avoid scheduling difficulties with meeting in person on campus.


Wiki Project: Pictures make everything more fun


We worked on our class wiki today in the computer lab. My students had been asked to finish their profiles last week, and only one or two students did as much. I was feeling kind of discouraged about their seeming lack of interest in the wiki, but today revitalized my hope that the project may be a success after all.

One issue that students were facing was a lack of motivation and sometimes the technology to access the wiki outside of class time. During class today we did some online practice with parts of sentences and then I showed them how to take pictures with Photo Booth and upload them to the wiki. Everyone immediately got either super excited or super frustrated with the task. The students that had more previous experience with online social media tools that allow for pictures to be uploaded took off with the task and proceeded to take a series of great photos of themselves and our class. The students that seemed to have less experience with social media and computers in general became frustrated, probably because they felt left behind. With a little assistance, all the students managed to upload a picture to their profile and the level of engagement with the wiki increased overall.

Photo on 2013-02-06 at 11.40


Wiki Update


Last week I implemented a wiki into my Intro Level adult ESL class. I pitched the idea to the students the previous week and tried to explain that we can interact on the wiki in a less formal way than we do during class time. I set up profile pages for each student to edit and make their own, and I set up discussion pages where we can post topics of interest and talk about them together. We spent our computer lab day last week exploring the wiki and editing our profiles. So far, only one student has added pictures and finished his sentences on his profile.

I know that some of the students have just arrived from their home countries and they have yet to get their own computers, but I’m sort of surprised at how slow the involvement has been so far.

We will spend our lab day next week working on posting and commenting, but I hope I can convince my students to engage with the wiki outside of class time.