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.

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Remaining relevant: Skills for the 21st century student (and

Reflection, Technology

Wowzers! It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken the time to create a post. While my brain is constantly reflecting on my own teaching and different aspects of education, I have been preoccupied with specific educational endeavors, namely: my final Plan B paper and teaching portfolio to finish my degree. I still have some revisions to work on, but I hope to defend near the end of January. 🙂 I’m also between semesters right now, and I’ve kind of taken up non-teaching activities to relax and enjoy my time off. I started making a quilt, and it seems to be shaping up quite nicely!

Now, down to business. I came across this post by Tom Whitby in my RSS feed the other day, and I think he raises some interesting and salient points about the use of technology in education. Tom suggests:

It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The discussion about whether instructors should use technology in their teaching has been happening as long as technology has been around. I imagine educators and administrators discussed whether it would be beneficial to use individual chalkboards with students when that was the cutting-edge of technology, and the discussion will undoubtedly continue as new technologies that can impact they way students learn is developed. However, Tom explains:

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating.

This might be debatable, but it is my perspective that the role of teachers, in any discipline, to prepare students for the world they will be part of and communities they will live within after leaving our classrooms. It’s important to remember that students leaving our classrooms are not necessarily entering the same world that we entered when we left the classroom so many years ago. Which leads me to believe that instructors also need to remain connected to the outside world for themselves as well. How can instructors adequately prepare students for a world that they themselves do not understand or participate in? That’s not to say that teachers need to be experts in every field or realm of society, but to have a basic understanding of social and professional communities as they exist can only benefit instructors and students.

I think Tom sums it up nicely when he says:

If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well.

This is also true for adult learners. It is my opinion that remaining relevant for our students (and ourselves!) should be a primary professional objective. Since our students will most likely be required to effectively employ skills related to technology (the abilities to curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create), instructors should practice these skills as well. When considering the use of technology in your classroom, it could be useful to integrate these essential skills into the learning objectives and consider whether or not your lesson adequately prepares students to use these skills after they leave your classroom. Both teachers and students should be lifelong learners who critically evaluate new technologies and aren’t fearful of employing them to be more effective learners or members of professional or educational communities.

Some Thoughts on MOOCs…

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Independently of the collapse of the Coursera class earlier this week, I had been thinking about the efficacy of MOOCs. I am enrolled in my first MOOC (also a Coursera class), and I’m finding it to be somewhat less beneficial than I was anticipating. While the content is interesting, and I had hopes of engaging in meaningful discussions about the use of technology and the philosophies behind technology use, my expectations have fizzled out for a couple of reasons.

The first thing I find unattractive and very inefficient is the sheer number of participants in the class. Yes, “massive” is part of MOOC, but there is really something left wanting when each discussion forum has 2,000 posts about the same topic. How many times can the same thing be said? Is it really worth posting to the discussions if your thoughts have probably already been posted at least a dozen times? While the discussion forum allows a large number of people to discuss topics at length and break off and have smaller discussions (should you choose to do so), the whole thing reminds me a scene where rats are scrambling for the last piece of cheese in an inescapable hole in the ground. PERHAPS WRITING YOUR THOUGHTS ON TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM IN ALL CAPS WILL MAKE IT STAND OUT ENOUGH FOR PEOPLE TO READ AND COMMENT. Then again, it’s 1,500 posts in, so it will probably never be looked at, let alone commented on and engaged with.

There may be something to gain from simply observing the discussions that other people have on the forum, but the more I tried to interact with the subject and participants, the more irritated I became.

With regard to the failed Coursera class, I came across this interesting blog post by Debbie Morrison that addresses some other issues that face the MOOC community. The analysis is very thorough and thought-out, and there are some great resources for further reading on the topic of MOOCs and online education.

 

On the other hand…

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Office Space

Office Space (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Sol, there can be some really amazing perks to utilizing technology in the language classroom. It’s great to be able to show students authentic language via Youtube videos. It’s great to be able to create a class wiki where students can interact in English outside of class. It’s great to be able to create a link where students can see what their homework is for the week. There are many great things about using technology. However, it is easy to forget how dependent upon these tools one might become.

 

The office printer/copier has been malfunctioning this week, so all the teachers in the office have to use a couple backup printers that are far less functional than the broken printer used to be. With some patience, we’ve all managed to get by so far, for the most part. This morning the backup printer/copier started jamming like a band from the 60’s and I inadvertently printed like 50 copies of the handout I was trying to copy. Then, when I finally thought I had it under control, the machine developed some kind of phantom jam in which no paper was actually jammed.

 

I felt like I was in a scene from Office Space.

 

Needless to say, the experience got me thinking about how dependent upon technology I have become in my teaching. Could I teach a class entirely paper free? Could I teach a class entirely technology free? Perhaps I should consider contingency plans a little more fully before putting all my eggs into the technology basket.

 

Icebreakers and Planning for a New Term

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With the start of a new year comes the start of a new term. I am teaching the same class I taught last term (Intro Reading and Composition in the IEP), but this semester I will be teaching the course on my own. Every class I’ve taught has been with a co-teacher. While there is something nice about sharing the work load and having someone to bounce ideas around with, I’m looking forward to planning and executing every aspect of this class on my own. “On my own” will of course involve a certain amount of collaboration with teachers across the level and skills, but this single reading and writing course is mine.

While having taught this class before allows a certain insight into the potential issues that may arise over the term, there is still a great unknown blob hovering over the planning of the term. How many students will enroll in the class? We won’t know until after registration next week, and almost all the students will be new since the class is the lowest level offered in the program. Last semester we initially thought we would have about five students, so the plan was to do some one-on-one meetings with students during the first week of class. My co-teacher and I had grand ideas of getting to know each student personally during the first week and catering the whole term to their progress. About four days before class was due to start, another seven students enrolled and we were up to twelve. While twelve is still a fairly small class size, it forced our plans to change.

While writing my class syllabus this afternoon I got to thinking about the first week of class. I’ve always loved the first week of a new term. Everything is new and exciting! Students from different cultural backgrounds and first languages meet and try to convey the details of their lives in a foreign language (English). Meanwhile, the teacher tries to hold in her excitement just long enough to set some ground rules and get to know the new group of students.

Enter: the icebreaker.

What are some icebreaker activities that you have found most useful during the first day of a new term?

From what I can tell, a good icebreaker should:

  •  engage learners. Learners should feel engaged enough to participate in English with minimal anxiety. Of course there is a certain level of anxiety while using your second language, especially when you’re with a group of people you’ve just met. The icebreaker should help alleviate some of that tension.
  • create a comfortable environment. Along with learner engagement comes a welcoming, comfortable learning environment for the teacher and students.
  • promote language production. While the icebreaker activity can be all fun and games, and not all good icebreaker activities need to involve speaking, there is typically a certain level of communication required to create bonds among the group. Additionally, the language produced during the icebreaker can be a useful first impression of the proficiency levels of the students in your class. By focusing on meaning and the task instead of form, the students will perhaps create less moderated language that can give you a clue as to where they may be proficiency-wise.
  • be fun! While all the previous bullet points are benefits of using good icebreaking activities, it almost seems like any activity that wasn’t fun would be a waste of class time. By asking students to do something fun while producing language (or not), student affective barriers go down a bit, and everyone will get off to a good start to the new term.

While using technology and online resources may not be the most ideal option in every classroom situation, there are a couple resources/tools that I have come across in my search for online teaching tools that may be appropriate for icebreaker activities. As with any technology being used in the classroom, it is important to consider the tools that your students have access to. The opportunities and options change with the availability and abundance of technology and quality internet. Onward!

The first tool is eQuizShow. This website provides a template to create Jeopardy-like games. Perhaps this tool would be more appropriate for a review session than an icebreaker, but I think there could be potential for icebreaking greatness, especially with higher proficiency learners.

Another interesting idea is the photo scavenger hunt. This activity doesn’t require any particular online tools, but it does utilize a camera, whether it’s digital, on students’ phones, or one of those old one-time-use ones (remember those?!). With more advanced students, this activity could be created to include a presentational aspect in which students report their findings on some kind of wiki or blog created for the class. Come to think of it, this might be an interesting weekly or bi-weekly activity for students to engage with each other outside of the classroom (small groups).

Anyways, my quest for a fun, engaging, collaborative, team-building activity that involves online technology continues…