Making Changes

May 25, 2011

At the moment I have been very busy finishing my last assignment before I can actually start the dissertation process.  I have to say that I’m very anxious about what lies ahead.  I really need to change the course which I developed as it has too many tools to cope with and I need to think of tasks which will be suitable for the learners needs.  With not much time left to pursue my research I now need to restructure my course so that it is more manageable in the short time frame which I have. This is all very new to me and I suppose I was naive in thinking that I could incorporate so many tools into a short course. Furthermore, I don’t have any experience teaching online so this will be a challenge and I fear that it will become a very stressful experience.  However, I’m sure it will be an immense learning opportunity and at the end of the process I will have a great insight into teaching online.

I recently got in touch with Isil Boy who has a very helpful blog, offering many different ways to incorporate web 2.0 tools into practice and provides advice on how to use technology effectively to support language learning. Isil was very encouraging and offered me some advice which I need to seriously think about:

 “I was just wondering about the number of the tools you used. Especially Second Life is a big challenge. Or, if you want to use more tools, creating a Mini Ning Network would be good to collect all the works on one place, and you can see all the members with their individual pages. Considering wikis, I use pbworks and embed “groupboard” for online chat and whiteboard, which is free 🙂 Maybe you can use it to make it available for synchronous communication. Finally, you can use #andy hashtag to chat with students.”

This advice was a wakeup call and made me seriously consider whether I should make drastic changes to my course.  I’m now starting to really question whether my course expects too much from the learners.  Moreover, I don’t want anxiety over the use of technology to distract them from the learning experience.  I’m particularly nervous about teaching in Second Life as it is new to me and I’m taking a big risk including it in my course without much experience.  I decided to contact Heike who is continually supportive and encouraging.  She has agreed to meet me in Second Life to show me around and offer me advice and tips.  I’m really grateful that Heike is willing to offer her time and I’m sure this will relieve some of my anxiety.  I’m interested in discovering the benefits of language learning in Second Life and really don’t want to erase it from my course as I think it is an exciting place for students to learn and offers a great potential for language learning.

Isil Boy: http://isilboy.blogspot.com/

Heike Philp : http://www.virtual-round-table.com/profile/HeikePhilp

It’s truly amazing how things can change from sending an e.mail or a quick tweet.  The buzz of rapid response takes a shape of its own and can become overwhelming and almost impossible to control and reign  in.  Once it’s out in cyber space there’s no knowing how it will develop.  I started the week with two potential participants and ended up with  too many to choose from.  Although I should be pleased about this and embrace the influx of response I instead started to panic.  I wanted to interview all potential participants but realised this would not be impossible so I decided to conduct a questionnaire on survey monkey.  This meant that I could decide from their responses who would be the best suited for the course.  Please check out my questionnaire here: Andy’s questionnaire.   If you have students who would be interested then please give them the link.

Since receiving responses to my questionnaire I am unsure whether students will be able to dedicate enough time to the course and whether their internet connection and computer will be powerful enough to use Second Life.  I am also concerned about the logistics of making sure that all students will be able to meet together in Second Life due to the different time zones and whether there are restrictions in certain countries to actually access Second Life.  More importantly I’m apprehensive about whether my course will be able to satisfy the diversity of participants individual  needs and expectations from the course.

I should be rejoicing rather than panicking about the amount of interest in my course.  I’m sincerely grateful for all my friends on Facebook spreading the word and in particular Gabriela, Sunny and Tracy who have been extremely supportive and managed to find me several interested candidates.  Sunny sent my e.mail to over 400 students at her University in China and I was floored with the amount of e.mails sent to my inbox.  Thankfully the questionnaire I created has made it more manageable to choose.  Since making this blog available for everyone to see I have had an immense amount of support and was really grateful for Nicky Hockly and Shelly Terrell for spreading the word and tweeting about my blog.  It’s astonishing how twitter is such a powerful tool to create a buzz and connection with other practitioners.  It really makes you feel that  there are people interested and the sense of community encourages me to continue.


Is it possible to make a course for busy people?

How difficult can it be finding participants for a new innovative on-line course?  I thought it would be a breeze but I was proven to be very wrong.  I reckon my first problem was believing that my snapshot of a course was innovative.   When you finish creating a new course you feel very proud of what you have achieved and tend to not be as critical as you perhaps should.  The more I step away from the course the more I see changes that need to be made.  However I view it as a template which can be adjusted depending on my students needs.  I firmly believe that it needs to be flexible and will only work if it adopts a learner-centred approach which takes into consideration sociocultural factors.  I think this is exciting as instead of following a book I can develop tasks around my students and cater for their interests.  At the moment I’m still trying to confirm participants to take part in the course and assist with my research project.  Initially I contacted my friends in Japan as I believed they fitted the bill for my course.  I was looking for busy office workers who would not have the time or energy to attend an English classroom but had the enthusiasm and drive to practice English. Living in a context where English is not used, it is very difficult for them to continue to learn English and develop fluency. I think that learning over the internet can make this possible and that the advancement of mobile learning means that English can be learnt on the move at a time which is convenient for the learner.  I sent out several e.mails emphasising that this course would be flexible to their needs and stated that it would cater for people with busy lifestyles.  With this in mind I was very disheartened when I only received a couple of replies that said they were too busy to take part.  Since then I have contacted ELT friends who have been very supportive and have also tried to spread the word and used their contacts from previous jobs teaching English around the world to try to find some willing participants.  Again nothing happened and I was starting to panic.  Luckily this panic subsided once I was introduced to Elizabeth who has been unbelievably helpful in gathering me some very enthusiastic German students.  I recently interviewed some over Skype and I started to feel that the my research could actually go ahead.   It seems that the dissertation will be full of ups and downs and I need to accept that this is all part of the process.

This is a call to all ESL practitioners to assist me in giving my course a rigorous evaluation so that I can give it a brand spanking make over before going live in June.  This is my first attempt at making a course on-line and I really need all the constructive criticism you can provide.  I’m going to conduct the course in June and use it as a platform to reflect on the process of e-moderating.  Again It’s my first time teaching on-line so I welcome any support and advice during the process.  I’m hoping to post regularly and use my reflections to support my dissertation.  I really want to explore the process of e-moderating and hope to improve my practice as the course develops.

I recently received a very kind e.mail from Russell Stannard who gave me some very important pointers to think about:

  • Good idea to allocate a reader/readers to each blog. So the students who make a blog always know they are writing for someone. I suggest at least one reader but preferably more.
  •  I am not so sure that I would have used a Wiki as well as a blog. I think that sometimes brining in so many tools can be a bit confusing. So I bring in blogs into one of my courses and then Wiki into the second module rather than introduce them in the same module.
What do you think?  Do too many tools spoil the course?  and should I replace the Wiki and concentrate on the blog?  Wiki or no Wiki that is the question.
I’m really interested in what everyone thinks.  Please could you take the time to look at my blog below and offer any advice.
ESL Imaginarium On The Go…… 

I also wonder what your opinions are on the following questions:

  1. What are students beliefs and perceptions about learning within an online language learning community?
  2. What role does the teacher have in supporting and facilitating an OLL community?
Thank you in advance.  I would be very grateful if you could spread the word and hope you can follow my journey.

Stay Focused

May 12, 2011

I met my with my dissertation tutor to discuss my ideas and proposal for the dissertation.  She was very encouraging and gave me some great advice.  We decided that instead of relying on participants for feedback  that I would instead focus on my own thoughts and reflections as a form of data.  I was unaware that this would be a possibility but I thought that it would be highly beneficial to concentrate on my feelings throughout the process.  This is where this blog takes centre stage.  I intend to use this place as a factual log which will detail what I do and what happens when I take certain actions.  It will become an introspective account which I intend to critically analyse  and consider how what I actually do in practice relates to theory.  This journal will focus on evaluating Salmon’s five stage model of an e-moderator(See below).  As this is my first time as an e-moderator I will use her framework as a scaffold to accompany me through the process.  I’m really interested to see how accurate her model is and notice if it can effectively translate into a language learning setting.  My title will be ‘A critical evaluation of an e-moderation process’.  It’s now time to make sure I can actually get some participants.

To do list:

  • write 2 pages of literature review
  • Get participant confirmations
  • Start reflective blog
Salmon’s Five Stage Model
Salmon, G. (2004) E-Moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online (2nd ed.).  London: Routledge.

I  previously kept a blog called eslimaginarium which I used to release my creativity and explore the use of video clips to stimulate interesting activities.  Throughout my year at University I realised that my blog did not have any clear pedagogic focus and it lacked any knowledge of language learning theories.  I would like to return to my blog and actually connect the activities to sound pedagogic principles. In my second term at University I decided to choose on-line language learning as my option course.  This course was influential in my decision for the dissertation.  As part of the course assignment I was required to create an on-line course.  I found this to be highly stimulating and I constantly wondered how it would actually work with students.  This is when I thought about using it as part of my dissertation.  I thought about how I could use it to research how effective an online language learning course could encourage the development of a community of practice?  I made a research poster to clarify my proposal and share my thoughts with tutors and peers.  Check it out here: Research Proposal Poster

I needed to find out more information about the topic so I decided to contact the professionals.  Here is what I sent:

I’m really interested in how effectively an online language learning course can encourage the development of a community of practice amongst efl learners. I will attempt to answer the following questions:
What are students beliefs and perceptions about learning within an online language learning community?
What role does the teacher have in supporting and facilitating an OLL community?

I was wondering if you have any ideas on references or similar studies which you could recommend.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your time.

From this e.mail I found that there is support everywhere and people are genuinely willing to help me on this journey.  Here are some of the professionals who encouraged me to continue with my topic:

Nicky Hockley’s teaching online‘ book offers some very engaging activities which encouraged me when developing my online course.  Her website is a constant inspiration and I hope I can attend one of the highly recommended teaching online training courses which the Consultants-E offer.  Nicky’s  recent appearance at the IATEFL conference was a resounding success and added some fuel to the technology debate.Nicky suggested that I contact people doing online courses via online teachers’ networks such as the British Council ELTECS lists, or the Webheads list.

Nicky created a mind map last year which I would like to consider while I carry out my online course:

Shelly Terrell’s ‘teacher reboot camp‘ is another blog which I find to be highly influential.  Shelly suggested some very helpful webinars taken from the virtual round table site  Her 30 goals challenge is an excellent way for teachers to constantly develop their practice within a supportive community.  I particularly want to develop a Personal Learning Network(PLN) which I believe will give me some much-needed support and guidance through the dissertation process.  Check out her video about establishing a web presence:

From Shelly’s links I discovered Heike Philp.  She was very insightful and we had a nice discussion over g.mail.  She suggested that I research whether the live synchronous component use in SL could make a difference to participants sticking with the course.  It is something I would love to pursue but I’m unsure I will have enough time and participants to research this.

I was very worried about changing my direction of dissertation topic, however with such a response of supportive e.mails I am more assured with what I want to research and I feel that my journey will not be in isolation.  It is wonderful to know that I’m surrounded by such a caring and insightful community.

I’m not alone

May 10, 2011

The word ‘dissertation’ has been on my mind for most of this year, however I never really comprehended the stresses that it would entail.  Initially I wanted to focus on exploring the  potential for using video in the esl classroom as a strong pedagogic tool used to foster critical literacy skills.  I was really excited and decided to contact the practitioners who have continued to inspire me throughout my teaching career.  Both Jamie Keddie and Kieran Donaghy continually provide me with creative ideas for using video in the classroom and stimulate me to become more innovative with my activities.  I contacted them both by e.mail and they replied with very helpful advice and were more than willing to correspond and assist me throughout the dissertation process.  Although they were both due to present at the marvellous IATEFL conference they still found the time to respond to my mail and it made me more enthusiastic to pursue the topic further.  Kieran provided me with some excellent resources and some encouraging advice.  He kindly said that the

“idea of doing your dissertation is a great one. There’s loads of scope, and it’s relatively undeveloped theme. In my opinion, visual literacy and cineliteracy will grow enormously in importance in the next few years, and it’s a very interesting area to be involved in.”

I continued to search for more literature and found some presentation notes to Jane Sherman s IATEFL 2010 lecture titled, ‘Where is video now‘.  They were exactly what I had been searching for and  after a google search I found out that Jane had also written a book titled  “Using authentic video in the language classroom.’  I was ecstatic and attempted to contact Jane to ask her for some advice.  She was quick to reply with a very kind e.mail and gave me an article which she had written, including a reference list which would be the perfect start for my literature review.  Jane was extremely kind and stated that it was:

“So nice to hear from someone who’s into video – it’s really due for a comeback.  It’s amazing that everyone approves of it but it’s really underused – at least that’s my experience”

After such overwhelming kindness you would think I would be crazy to not pursue my initial topic.  After such a warming response I decided to send an e.mail to all the language schools in Edinburgh asking for permission to carry out research however there were no reply’s.  Furthermore, I was still undecided as to whether I should concentrate on the teachers views or the students and how I would actually collect data.   I decided that my topic was not focused enough and I was discouraged by the lack of response from the language schools.  I suppose I should have been more pushy but my topic started to change due to another passion which I will talk about in my next post.  I will never forget how kind Jamie, Keiran and Jane were and I hope that maybe I can pursue this topic further another day.

Spreading the word

May 10, 2011

Thankfully my perseverance paid off and I started to receive some encouraging e.mails from practitioners and potential participants.  Two friends in Japan were very interested in taking part in the course and thought that it would be an exciting experience but at the same time they  were concerned that it may take too much time to contribute.  I replied by reassuring them that it would be a flexible course and was purposely build for busy people who don’t have much time to practice English due to their demanding lifestyles.

As you all know the Royal Wedding this month was an occasion celebrated all over the world.  I have to say that I was amazed at the surge of royalist support and instead of joining this joyous atmosphere I decided instead to spend my time wisely working on my last assignment with the royal snoozefest on the tv in the background.  While this event was happening my father was attending one of the many street parties occurring all over the world in celebration of the Royal wedding.  With a background of champagne flowing, dainty cupcakes and copious amounts of red white and blue bunting my father talked with Elizabeth who is an ESL teacher with over 30 years experience teaching in Germany.  From this chance encounter I have been in daily contact with Elizabeth and she has provided me with several interested Germans who are looking forward to participating  in my course.  It is these moments that put some much-needed energy back into your project and I am now starting to feel that my research is  becoming a reality.

Finding participants

May 10, 2011

In order for this research to commence I first need to find participants.  The past couple of months I have contacted many people in the hope that I can find some likely candidates to take part in my online course.  I decided to use ‘facebook’ to contact my friends in Japan and also asked other EFL teachers if they knew of anyone who would be interested in joining the course for one month.  It has been a very stressful process and I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to find some participants.

Here is my original message which I send to several people:

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