April 29, 2007

Blogging with students (2)

Steve Herder asks a couple of questions:

Q1) How much L1 vs. L2 you use when getting the students set up to this point?
A1) I have used almost entirely L1 (theirs! not mine), throwing in some English words which I think would be useful to know (create, account, register, login, logout, URL, password, user name, ID, firewall, subject, body, upload, download, address, dashboard, post (noun and verb), entry, comment). This setting up is already taking much longer than I had anticipated. I want this over and done with as soon as possible, yet I don't want to rush it and have most students only half-understand, or not properly signed up.

Q2) Do you feel they are working with you during this process or are they somewhat resisting?
A2) "They" are not one entity but 27 or so individuals, so I can't answer for all of them. Most seem willing, as they are learning something new and I'm there to help out on the spot with problems. A few are slow and I think this is simply due to their inexperience and inexpertise using computers. During the last session, 1 student asked me how to change the colour and design and several students listened and then went quickly to their own "templates" and tried it out. This was satisfying: they are starting to take the ball and run with it, not just follow directions.

I'm assuming students see the blogs and the Y!Group as simply a class requirement, like having a quiz every week. I'm hoping that, through using these tools, they will eventually realize the independence that is being offered them, both by me and by the tools themselves. The discovery of how to change the look of their blog was one such realization, albeit a small one. It's not just how to change your blog's appearance, it's that the teacher hasn't mandated a particular look and the student is free to make any changes they like.

I'm also assuming it will take a while for this to sink in.

April 28, 2007

Teaching vocab

(Photo by seaworthy on Flickr).

I'm looking for vocab teaching activities. I really don't have time to make many materials, so I'm looking for stuff that's already out there.

I've insisted my students buy word-cards. I show them how I want them to use them, in class. I'm going to set a target for them of 20 new words per week, starting after the holiday (called Golden Week). I've been giving them breakdowns of the textbook units we're using (using VocabProfiler), showing them how the vocab breaks down into K-1, K-2, AWL and "OFF-LIST" types. We've covered some basic vocab info, so they now realize it makes sense to learn the most frequently used words first. They still only vaguely realize what this has to do with them ("doesn't the textbook, or the teacher choose those words for us?").

In class, I have them pick 20 words they don't know or are not sure of from the textbook, focussing on the first 1,000 most frequently used words (they have a copy of the VocabProfiler analysis in front of them). Using an example from the textbook, I point out how "new words" can (and should) include new meaning for words they already know. As several words that came up recently included words now used in Japanese, I pointed out that the meaning in Japanese of such words usually uses only one of several meanings of the original English word, and sometimes changes to a new meaning altogether, and therefore they should beware of "false friends".

I found this system called SAFMEDS useful for using word-cards.

Blogging with students


It is taking a lot longer than I had anticipated setting students up with the software and accounts I want to use in class. Students are simply not accustomed to blogging, creating accounts, creating profiles, the difference (in privacy and exposure) between a subscription-only Yahoo!Group and a completely public blog.

Last week, it took 90 minutes to get (most of) the students set up with a Yahoo!Group membership and their own blog (and hence Google account).

Yesterday's class objectives were
a) to post something on their own blog (have they remembered their Google ID? Their password?)

b) to create a Bloglines account (I considered using Google Reader, as they all have a Google account already, but I could not find a way to do it on the Google Japan page. I was in a hurry and not in the best condition, as I have since found how to do it.),

then c) add their classmates' blogs to their bloglines reader.

then d) visit their classmates' blogs (or read them in Bloglines) and leave a commment on at least 1 of them.

I also wanted to show them a video about RSS and one about online safety,
but we ran out of time, and only did a), b) and part of c).

I plan to use the blogs for sharing news stories and comments on those news stories; the Yahoo!Groups will be for sharing reflections and comments on the class itself, including problems and difficulties. I hope to have students who've discovered through their mistakes, for instance, what to do when you've forgotten your password, or how to find your blog when you've forgotten the URL, write help files (hopefully flash movies, but that's asking too much at first) which we'll store in Yahoo!Group's "files" section.

I'm hoping that the existence and use of the Yahoo!Group will
a) help them see how their blogs could be used in a similar way to share information with their community/class,
and
b) prompt them to learn from each other, rather than just from the instructor; and hopefully to see how the technology makes learning from each other simple, quick and preferable to an environment where the instructor is the source of knowledge (certainly of the knowledge that matters).

Yahoo groups (2)

Yesterday brought up 2 other issues to consider when using Yahoo!Groups in class: firewalls and web-access.

Everyone signed up (or I signed them up) ok. They got their welcome message from Yahoo!Groups and the one from me. But nothing after that. Messages they send to the group get stopped by the firewall. Everyone got a message titled (in English) Barracuda Spam Firewall, but the content was all garbage characters, completely illegible.

I asked about this today and was told that students need to add the yahoo group to their white list. How do they do that? "They'll get a message from Barracuda. The instructions are all in there."
"Erm, I think they already got that message."

The other issue is web-access to the group's messages. To ensure maximum privacy, I had switched this option off when creating the group. Now that no-one in the group was getting each other's messages, at least until we learned how to add the group to our white list, perhaps we could at least read the messages via the web. Perusing the group settings, I couldn't find a way to change this setting (this in Yahoo!Japan).

I also, belatedly, realized that signing students up directly means students do not get a Yahoo!Japan ID (unless they happen to have one already). If they had one, they could sign in to the group and read and send messages that way.

April 26, 2007

Yahoo groups: things to bear in mind


Last year I used Moodle as a repository for class-related materials and files, and for communication with students including their feedback on what we were doing.

There were numerous, mostly trivial, problems, mostly technical. But the biggest problem was the large amount of time it took to manage. I have therefore decided not to use Moodle this year. I would, however, like to hear students' feedback on what we are doing, as well as encourage them to reflect on their learning and to share those reflections with their classmates.

So I've decided to use Yahoo!Groups. This forum includes a "briefcase" where files can be uploaded and stored, so that covers most of the Moodle functions that I used last year.

I've already written about one difficulty
with Yahoo!Groups, altho it's not Yahoo!Groups' fault.

Here are some other problems and things to bear in mind. This list will help me better prepare next time, and might be of interest to others thinking of using this platform:

1) When creating the group, you can decide whether the messages and the members are readable on the web. I chose "no" for both options, as I wanted the maximum privacy. I'm glad I chose this (see #4) below).

2) Is it required? After assigning 1 class to sign up as their homework, I checked the membership to find no-one had done so. Thinking this was because of not being sure what to do, in the next class I told them to tell me their email address and I would sign them up. To which 1 student asked "Is it compulsory, then?" In this particular class, I'm not in a position to make it compulsory (it's not written in the syllabus). This is something I had not made clear from the beginning. I had to revise my position.

3) Signing up: There are 2 ways to get students signed up: a) if you know their email addresses, you just type those in directly. Students get sent an email asking them to confirm that they wish to join. They still have to click the link or reply to the confirmation email to complete the registration process. This way is by far the easiest, as you know that all the students who respond to the invitation email must be students in your class. AND you know their names (i.e. you can match a name to the email address, see b) below).

b) if you don't know their email addresses, you give the students the email address or the website to visit to sign up. They sign up, but 99% of them won't think to add their name. In order to ensure the privacy of the group (I typed up the instructions for joining on a handout and passed it out in class), I now have to send an email to everyone who has applied to join asking them their name before approving their application (in order to be sure they actually are students in my class). Amongst this lot there are (always) a few who have typed in an erroneous email address.

4) After they are signed up, the first assignment is to introduce yourself to the group. I've just read the first half-dozen intros from one class: without exception they all have written their precise date of birth and their blood-type. This is a private group (as I mentioned in #1 above), but still, what's to stop a less than scrupulous, web-savvy student from using this info to google another student, or even guess their password? Many people in Japan, to judge by the warnings posted on ATM machines, use their date of birth as their password (in fact, until this year, our computer centre assigned students their date of birth as their initial, temporary, password for logging in to the uni LAN; students were told to change this as soon as possible, but many did not).

I'll probably be posting more about my and my students' use of Yahoo!Groups this semester.

Digital natives?


(Graphic by Wesley Fryer on Flickr.)

A lot has been written about youngsters these days as digital natives, i.e. people who grew up in digital environments, using digital devices, as opposed to "digital immigrants", i.e. the older generation who grew up in a different age and have adopted these devices later in life. (Marc Prensky was, I think, the first to use this metaphor, see here).

So there I am in class, the old fuddy-duddy, surrounded by kids who weren't even born when I came to this country, and I ask them to sign up for a Yahoo!Group. It takes them about 30 minutes to work their way through the sign-up page (they are all Japanese natives and the instructions are all in Japanese). Many are incensed that the cute ID they dreamt up is taken. It takes some of them a full 10 minutes to share their indignation with their neighbours: not only is their ID taken, but, man what a drag, that means they actually have to think up a new one! Can you believe it? I can hear some muttering "I'm fed up!" I'm starting to feel the same.

For the true-grit ones who make it through, the final page tells them an email has been sent to the email address they used to register with and that until they reply to that, the registration process isn't quite complete (this is all written in the students' native language). With this email open in front of them, what do I hear? "Teacher! Teacher!! Wadda we do now?"

(Sigh) "Why don't you check your email. You might have received a new message."

They check their email, not without effort. It's obviously not something they do a lot (these students may be cell-phone natives, but not computer natives).

"Oh! I got an email!! Now wadda I do, teacher?"

(Me): "Errrm, well, I think the email tells you what to do."

My bad. The email does tell them what to do, that is correct. The trouble is, that's not the only thing it tells them. It also includes a bunch of potentially useful information, like the address to email messages to the group, etc. I tell one girl the instructions are in the email, then watch, slack-jawed, as she scrolls to the end of the message at top speed, saying "Where? Where?" Maybe she's a very fast reader? It's all a blur to me.

Digital natives. Yeah, right.

Update: I told my better half about this, and here's what she had to say:
The students are not confident. Even if they read the message and the instructions, they're not sure that they understood correctly. Rather than make a mistake, they want to be told exactly what to do. That way they are sure. They're just not confident. What you should say is, "Follow the instructions in the email."

April 25, 2007

Cultural differences in self-introductions



In a comment to my previous post, Cleve reported:
One technique I try to do with the "state the class objective" slice is to borrow a page from the marketing book and frame the objective in a way that Ss feel is important - (simplistic) example with my adult BE Ss: instead of saying "today we'll be working on the conditionals" I'll say "After today's session you'll be able to discuss future scenarios for your marketing plans when you have a presentation..." which is more meaningful to them.
Because the situation in this week's class was introducing yourself, Cleve's comments reminded me of a big difference between Japanese and English-speakers when it comes to social introductions. Perhaps it's because Japan is more of a collectivist society, but one of the first things I had to learn when I came here was how to "do a self-introduction", which is always to a group, often a large one, like, the whole school.

Conversely, Japanese are generally poor at small-group social interactions. At a party where I invited both Japanese and non-Japanese, most non-Japanese stood around chatting and eating and drinking in small groups: the Japanese teachers from my school came right in, sat down at the only low table and ensconced themselves there for the duration of the evening, calling loudly for beer and food at irregular intervals. At another similar party, a Japanese guest came in, took his plate and cup, then stood around embarrassed, completely incapable of insinuating himself into a group. He gave up after 10 seconds, handed me his plate, said "Some other time" and left.

A "party" for Japanese is a chance to bond (and bitch) with your co-workers, not an opportunity to mingle and meet new people.

Here: introduce yourself to this lot.

April 24, 2007

Slicing teaching

I didn't think a great deal at first about Dan Meyer's idea of teaching being an art/science that can be sliced into very (infinitesimally thin) slices, but as time went by I found myself using the concept more and more.
Here's one thin slice that immediately helped me understand what Dan was on about:
In my first year, I realized I often phrased my instructions as questions, tossing out weak mandates like "Would you guys please get down to work now?" because I wanted to be liked. I worked at balancing kindness and firmness ("I need you guys to work quietly now.") so that we could work and learn more.
After reading Other People's Children, I reflected on the possible differences between Japanese pedagogical rhetoric (teacher-talk) and that of a white, Western, middle-class male. I reflected on this some more when a colleague returned me a short piece of Japanese I'd written and which he'd proof-read for me, saying, "Use the short form of the verb, not the long form. It makes you sound kinda feminine." Hmmm. So I started implement that change in my teacher-talk right away. It seems to be working. At least, I notice when I lapse and don't use it, I get these looks like "Does he seriously expect us to do this?" When I use it, there's no debate.

Another "slice" is telling students at the outset of each class exactly what that session's objective is. I did this last semester. I haven't done it this semester yet. It's easy for me to dream up good ideas like this; it's harder to gather the data to then assess whether it's a strategy worth keeping or not. Would a strategy like this translate into actual immediately measurable results? I didn't gather any data (other than the usual semi-annual student evaluations which were no worse and no better than previous years), which in turn did not inspire me to continue this practice.

I'll have to re-think my lesson plan so that it includes more regular assessments of teaching/learning objectives. The only trouble is... that's hard work! (Damn!).

April 20, 2007

Dictionary training

I adapted Rob Waring's paper "How to get your students to use their dictionaries effectively" (OUP, 2001) and created a worksheet for my university EFL students to help them become more familiar with the various functions and uses (and limitations) of their dictionary.

Rob Waring stresses that it is best if all students have the same dictionary when you give them this kind of dictionary training. These days, tho, almost every student has one of several types of electronic dictionary, so getting everyone to buy or use the same type is unrealistic.

It takes about 40 minutes to work through the worksheet, though your mileage may vary.

With just a little editing, it could be used as-is for EFL students other than Japanese.

Class records and filing

Over the years I've used several different ways of keeping track of exactly what the students and I did in class, but I have yet to be completely satisfied with any one system.

I have used hanging files to keep the loose-leaf handouts and student homework, but what about extra copies of handouts that I need to keep for the inevitable few who were absent that day and will (guaranteed) ask me for the handout the following class?

I also want a good system for keeping a record of what we did and what handouts/materials were used in each class. The best I found was a 1-page template that listed what we did, my comments and notes (on how the activities went down, high-points, low points, problems, etc), what handouts I used, what background music I used (so I don't use the same 2 weeks running).

I think the reason I didn't stick with it was simply that I didn't match it with a satisfactory complementary system of keeping all the handouts and extra pieces of paper that go with each class. I usually end up throwing everything into one file for that class, but it quickly becomes unwieldy. I also keep my attendance sheets in that file.

Anyone want to share a system that works for them? I'll post the template I mentioned above, when I can figure out where it is.

A month-long dive into web-based apps

Wired News editor and Mac-user Michael Calore used nothing but Google Apps for a month. Here's his report.

At first, he's ecstatic, then he starts to see cracks in the system...

The first major stumbling block was Google Talk, the web-based chat client. I could chat with other Gmail users, but I couldn't connect to my co-workers on AOL Instant Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. Something about the way our proxy servers are configured was blocking Google Talk.

I tried a few hacks that I found online, but they didn't work. After two days, with a cold feeling of isolation creeping in, I gave up and went back to Adium. Not Google's problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Problems With Microsoft Office: Google Docs & Spreadsheets threw a wrench into the works, too. Since the rest of my co-workers continued to use Microsoft Office on the desktop, if I wanted to share a spreadsheet or document with them, I would have to export the file to my desktop and mail it.
Well, not if your co-workers used and shared the document in Google Docs. And you can always download a Google Doc as a PDF, Word Doc or RTF file. I don't see the problem, frankly.

Bye, Bye Drag and Drop: In Gmail especially, the loss was palpable. To attach a file to an e-mail, I'd always just drag it from the desktop onto an open message. But not in the browser -- there's a whole heap of clicking and menu navigation involved.
He obviously needs Lifehackers Greasemonkey Firefox add-on for Gmail.

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"2-channel gives Japan's famously quiet people a mighty voice" - Wired

I'd never heard of 2-channel, but I'm interested in anything that gives Japanese people a voice, so I clicked on the link to this wired.com article. If you live in Japan, and/or are interested in social networking in this country, read on. Here are some excerpts:

The 2-channel forum is a Japanese internet phenomenon. This single site has more influence on Japanese popular opinion than the prime minister, the emperor and the traditional media combined. On one level, it serves as a fun, informative place for people to read product reviews, download software and compare everything from the size of their poop to quiz show answers. But conversations hosted here have also influenced stock prices, rallied support for philanthropic causes, organized massive synchronized dance routines, prevented terrorism and driven people to their deathbeds.

"2-channel stirs the naked heroism that lives in every individual," says Keisuke Suzuki, the author of several books on Japanese internet culture. "This can be dangerous, but in a community where you can't ordinarily express your true feelings because of its restrictions, it's really important."




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April 19, 2007

Blogging about blogging - learn from a pro

Darren Rowse is a professional blogger. Here he writes about how he various blogs grew and why. Some useful tips and info, even for me who isn't and does not (as yet) aspire to be a professional blogger.



Darren's entry is short but sweet. Here are some sample:

What you do the day after you get on the front page of Digg is in
my opinion just as important (if not more) than what you did to get on
the front page itself...



it’s the most basic post I’ve ever written - however sometimes basic is what people are after...



Write for real people - after all, it’s not just the web 2.0 crowd who surf the web.

Distraction - out of the mouths of babes

Steve Olson posted a link to this funny list of incomplete proverbs that a first-grade teacher gave to her kids to complete. I'm not sure I believe these were all written by first-graders, but who cares?!



"Better to be safe than ....Punch a 5th grader."

is the first one, and they just get better.





April 15, 2007

Teaching vocab

I'm trying to figure out how to best teach vocab to my uni students.
I've been playing with the Vocab profiler, and have input the first unit of all the textbooks I'm using, and separated out the 1k words, the 2K, the AWL ones, and the off-list.

I also want to give some basic dictionary training, adapting Rob Waring's suggestions. I think that should cover me for tomorrow, he-he-he.
I'm also going to give them Nation's 1K vocab level test, and another one next week. Most students know about 1,500 - 2,000 words I would say, but their knowledge is spotty, and needs reviewing.
I don't just want to focus on reviewing the top 2,000, tho, I want to move on to AWL, particularly in the fields my students are majoring in (Economics, Informatics, Engineering).

Just because I have them, I want to assign Rob Waring's receptive test AND productive test. Well, it would be a more accurate measure (for me) AND it would, ok, might, bring home the point that there is a difference between the two, and which one to focus on is more a matter of personal goals than course requirements (is it realistic to require students to master 5,000 words of productive vocab when they and I both know they are highly unlikely to ever need English in their lives ever again after graduating?).

At my present rate, I'll be doing dictionary training and vocab testing on the top 1,000 words for the next 3 months....
I'm getting lost in the forest.

April 14, 2007

Safety online revisited

A while back, I posted about some "safety online" videos that Quentin D'Souza had posted. One of them shows a photo of a girl lying on a bed; the photo is posted on a bulletin board, and every time someone pulls the photo off the board, it magically reappears there. The moral: once you post a photo of yourself online, it stays there for pretty much eternity.

Today, I came across the case of a naturalized German historian who has trouble travelling freely, due in part to malicious defamations posted on his Wikipedia biography page and on Amazon.com as "reviews" of some of his books about a contentious period in Turkish history. Food for thought.

April 11, 2007

Blogging tips and assessment

Some useful tips on good blogging practice, from Idratherbewriting. Nothing revolutionary or outrageous, just common sense, but it works as a useful reminder.

#10 spoke to me: "archive by topic rather than date", unless yours is a purely personal journal. "Date archives mean little to readers."

Following his own tip of linking abundantly (#8), idratherbewriting includes links to some interesting sites. One of the first ones I clicked on (Creating Passionate Users) included this thought-provoking tip:
Parelli Natural Horsemanship sells horse-related products including saddles, bridles, ropes, etc. But you have to pay more to learn how to use them properly. Much, much more. Users are paying anywhere from $200 to $1000 for home-study kits including booklets and DVDs. Yes, horse training is not the same as using a project management app--clearly the markets and context are different--but the main point is the same--people place an extremely high value on quality learning and support materials... FYI: Parelli has one of the largest, most loyal passionate fan bases I've ever seen... Characteristics of World-Class User Learning Materials

1) User-friendly
Easy to use when, where, and how you need it.
2) Based on sound learning principles
i.e. users actually learn from it, not just refer to it.
3) Motivational
Keeps users willing to push forward to higher "levels"

The following pictures are some examples of how Parelli does this. The only thing you need to know to understand the examples is that the Parelli system groups a set of skills and knowledge into "levels". Founder/creator Pat Parelli designed levels into his program based on the success of the martial arts belt system and video game levels. In other words, he knew that the levels --key achievement milestones with clear rewards--are more motivating than just, "here you go... keep going."
Hmm, "just 'here you go... keep going.'" In my EFL classes, am I offering more motivation than that? I've bookmarked the entry because there's more in this post that I might use to improve my teaching.

(Check out the neat, simple, graphics Parelli uses, which exemplify blogging tip #5 "present your ideas visually". They reminded me of another "tips" post by math teacher dan meyer on how not to use Powerpoint. Be sure to click thru the links. I love the post-it-photo-presentation. And Miranda July's presentation using her kitchen appliances is hilarious.)

I got fired up about vocab acquisition after reading Paul Nation. I think vocab acquisition could provide some clear milestones for students. I also was impressed by math teacher Dan Meyer's ideas on assessment, and his article on the subject got me thinking. One of the problems I think my students have with learning English is the apparent slow pace of progress and the difficulty in getting clear, "milestone"-like feedback on how they are doing. With motivated students, this isn't a major issue (tho still an issue), but with students who a) are not sure whether they are interested in English or not, and b) will likely have almost no chance to use English after they graduate (and know it), little sticks and carrots like these become more important (and I can't make up my mind if a "milestone" is a stick or a carrot).

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April 08, 2007

Bloggy thinking?

Harold Jarche points out that blogs are good for conversations, but not so good for longer, more sustained thought, and his own entry is a good example.
Homework is only one activity that lacks evidence to support its continuance. Subject-based curriculum, age-based cohorts and reliance on unsound models like Bloom’s Taxonomy to measure learning outcomes are other examples.
Oh, really? There are good reasons for looking critically at these pedagogical methods, certainly, but I'd like to see more evidence that these are "unsound models" before I make up my mind. And where is the evidence that NOT assigning homework is a "sound model"?

Oh, I forgot, this is a blog, where you can throw out such comments and not have to provide any supporting evidence. Is this kind of gratuitous criticism (and how hard is it to knock homework?) part of being a good conversationalist, or just another nail in the coffin of rational debate?
Finally, I’d like to quote Shawn, at Anecdote, on the importance of conversation, “… most learning comes through interacting with people. Learning richness increases as multiple perspectives are described, discussed, challenged and explored.“
Actually, Shawn writes, learning is social—it benefits from conversations. Not quite the same thing. And I'd disagree that MOST learning comes throught interacting with people. I think this idea may be a distortion of ideas from Vygotsky and Bakhtin who (if I remember rightly) suggested that even reading or thinking are in fact dialogues or dialogic activity.



In fact, this suggestion kind of contradicts what Shawn writes in the previous paragraph: people don’t think they’ve learned anything until they’ve reflected on what happened. Reflection can be prompted or encouraged by others, but other people are not necessary for reflection (and therefore learning) to happen.



And even if it is true that most learning comes from interacting with people, it doesn't necessarily mean that interacting with people provides the best or most efficient or effective kind of learning.

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April 06, 2007

Vigilantism a poor response to cyberattack

Wired magazine has an interesting article on cyber-attack and possible responses, particularly a wartime and peacetime responses:



Last month Marine Gen. James Cartwright told the House Armed Services Committee that the best cyberdefense is a good offense... The general isn't alone. In 2003, the entertainment industry tried to get a law passed (.pdf) giving it the right to attack any computer suspected of distributing copyright-protected material....  Of course, the general is correct. But his reasoning illustrates
perfectly why peacetime and wartime are different, and why generals
don't make good police chiefs.



Read more.

Plagued by students plagiarising?

I've been using Snagit, a Windows program that takes screenshots including grabs of scrolling windows, and they send me a newsletter every now and then. Today's a link to a website that allows you to input some (student-written) text and see if it's been plagiarised or not. I've no idea how it works, or if it's reliable, but am just passing on the info.

Three times while I taught English composition at the college level, I failed students for plagiarism.

They were heading that way ... they hadn't turned in the rough drafts for points, they waited until the last minute to turn in anything at all, and the writing styles were dramatically different than anything they'd previously done.

Technology helps with this too - I used Google - but there's also www.turnitin.com, which detects online plagiarism. It searches through 120,000 student papers a day to find copiers. (You can learn more about it here.)




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Safety online

The indefatigable Quentin D'Souza has created a SplashCast Channel that shows public safety videos on the subject of online sexual predators and cyber-bullying. Pretty interesting videos. There were 6 at the time I visited. Could be useful resources for teachers and parents.





more than 99% of our learning is nonconscious? Brain-based learning

Jay Cross, online champion of Informal Learning, quotes Clive Shepherd who quotes research by Dr Donchin at the U of Illinois, from 1986. This is not new news. The question is, are teachers wasting their time?  Not a bad question to ask, and not just once, either, but what about assessment? If 99% of learning is unconscious, and if that means that most of what's learned in your class is not in your lesson plan then (assuming the teacher makes a valid assessment tool) that would show up in the assessment result.

“Most of what’s learned in your class is not in your lesson plan; in other words, there’s a documented, enormous and profound differential between teaching and learning.” [from Brain-based Learning by Eric Jensen] …if the majority of what we learn in the formal context of the classroom is nonconscious, i.e. not necessarily what the teacher planned for, then it puts a whole new slant on the debate about how much work-based learning is formal and how much informal. Now the usual figures quoted are 20% formal to 80% informal (Jay Cross’s book Informal Learning has a chapter devoted to the accumulated evidence on this), but it would seem that most of the 20% is informal as well!

So, are our efforts at controlling what people learn doomed? Are those hours spent preparing learning objectives wasted?
Only if a teacher just makes objectives but doesn't bother to check if those objectives are attained or not.





I followed Clive's link to Eric Jensen's website, and read some more about brain-based learning. Here are a couple of resources on this subject I've found useful. It's an area I found myself growing increasingly interested in.

  1. Ed Nuhfer's excellent Nutshell Notes

    especially

    1. Engaging more of the brain in more of the students


    2. Education! So, What's the Brain Got to Do With It?



    3. Brain-based Learning 1 – Optimal Environments?




  2. Thinking About Teaching and Learning: Developing Habits of Learning With First Year College and University Students by Robert Leamnson

April 05, 2007

Distraction - thought for the day

The Farr Feed introduces me to the blog of a photographer buddy, who asks



I’ve taken a few “self portraits” over the years. I put that in quotes because the concept is implicitly squirrelly. Where’s the self? How is it a portrait?



Whoah! Just taking a picture is such a philosophical act!

April 04, 2007

Making a commercial for your class

Dave Warlick likes using the ad for the game Civilization IV. Then he asks,

What if you had a commercial for your text book?  What if you made a commercial for your textbook?  Could You?

What if you had a commercial for your class?  What ifyou made a commercial for your class?  Could You?


Timely thought, as I've started a new intensive EFL class and need to pitch it to students, erm, tomorrow. I won't be burning the candle at both ends tonight fiddling with Powerpoint or ComicLife or whatever, but it sounds like a fun and valuable project. Maybe I can delegate it?



Personal Learning Environments

My friend Aaron has been banging on about these for over a year now: PLEs or Personal Learning Environments.



Justin Medved's post on this subject comes via the NextGenTeachers' blog. Be sure to click on the link to Ray Sim's Personal Learning Environment map, and read the three (1) related (2) posts(3) on Ray's blog Sims Learning Connections. I like the graphic mindmap. I want to make one, too.



In steps the Personal Learning Environment or what I like to call your PD TREE.

If you had to map the sources of your own professional development, what would the root system that feeds your learning look like?

Where do you look to gain new knowledge and information that helps you become a more informed citizen?

What mediums does this information come in and how much control do you have over it?

Who, what and where are your main sources for current information that help you develop and improve as a teacher?

Where and how do you enhance your own skills?

Are these not good questions to ask all teachers to reflect on?

Ray Sim’s over at Sims Learning Connections recently shared his own Personal Learning Environment and I found it really impressive. More importantly it is an example of what is POSSIBLE with today’s access to information.


I just blitz-bookmarked all the blog refs as PLE on delicious. It's particularly interesting to see how PLE differs from PKM and LMS, how the thinking has evolved. Also, see Aaron's post on why he prefers PLE to "e-portfolio".