img_2551

Resources, tools, and training: Open educational practices for language teaching

Open educational practice: taking care in the design and creation of digital materials with a view to future sharing and repurposing, working towards a goal of sustainable development for (language) teachers.

I ran a workshop for language teachers at the University of Limerick covering a range of resources, tools, and networks to try and answer some of these questions.
  • How can teachers best select teaching and learning materials and adapt them to their own particular needs?
  • Which digital tools are most versatile, and how can they be integrated into learning activities?
  • And what can teachers do as their careers progress to try and keep up with technological innovation?

From open resources to open practices

We talked about the Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources, and how open resources lead to open practices. My own epiphany about openness came when teaching a course on technology in language education to a group of teachers of several European languages. The course encouraged participants to share teaching resources publicly, and some of my students’ selections – for languages I don’t speak – were picked up by colleagues at other universities.

work that would otherwise be invisible or lost to the wider community once a course assignment is completed here can be recovered and exploited by others

Read the full paper

I used Google forms for a background questionnaire to gauge participants’ interests and knowledge, then we used Padlet to share open resources collected by myself and others using the curation platform Scoop.it. (See the resources.)

One of the difficulties in supporting language teachers in integrating technology is the vast array of digital tools at our disposal. Conventional wisdom suggests focusing on pedagogical objectives rather than the affordances of tools, so we looked at a task I used with one of my undergraduate EFL students: a story slam based on the Moth format.

A storytelling task

In my university EFL class, I used the open resources from the Moth website to set the task and provide examples for my students. I think this makes a decent task because it meets most of the criteria for task-based language teaching: it’s a real-world activity (target language speakers do it), there’s a clear outcome (a story that meets certain pre-determined standards), and learners have freedom in the language they choose to use.

There are also opportunities for reflection and collaboration, because the Moth also has a transcription system where volunteers can check and correct automatic transcriptions of existing stories. Students used the audio platform SoundCloud and Google forms to allow students to record their own stories as they performed in class, upload and safeguard their recordings, and share with the teacher. I used the canned response gadget in the Labs section of Gmail to provide individual feedback to students, together with a link to a blogpost with ideas for work on pronunciation. I tried to encourage reflection with a post-task activity where students were asked to react to this feedback.

Incidentally, as I prepared my introductory lesson for my students using a specific Moth story, I cleaned up the machine transcription of the story so that my students could analyse the storyteller’s technique and language. In so doing, I made my own small contribution to the Moth project by leaving a full, correct transcription for others to use (either native-speaking storytellers or L2 learners). This provides an argument for openness in itself, and one which also suggests another type of task where learners perform this transcription checking task themselves, to work on listening and writing skills.

Most of the links to the activities and tools for this storytelling task are here.

Playing safe and playing fair

Of course, open education also imposes some particular requirements on teachers and learners. It’s important to respect learners’ privacy and make sure we have permission to share their work. With adults this can often be done simply using the following suggestions:

  • ask learners to create their own accounts on free platforms
  • allow learners to choose pseudonyms if work is shared publicly
  • offer the chance to share only with specific individuals (e.g., the teacher) or a restricted group of learners
  • remind learners to hide or remove files, or delete their accounts once the course is completed.

Similarly, both teachers and learners need to respect the intellectual property of others. Gosia Kurek and Anna Skowron produced a very useful guide to help language teachers understand what can be shared and how, as part of the LangOER project. This guide also has up-to-date references to places to find images that can be used freely without attribution, for example.

Going further for language teachers

The last section of my presentation (see slides above) includes telecollaborative platforms and some reflection on my experience in teacher education in this area. We didn’t get that far in Limerick, but in the interests of openness it’s still there.

It was great to hear about work in languages at the University of Limerick with Catherine Jeanneau, including a French-language debating team (another real-world task) and a very active Facebook page.

And as a quick coda to the session, we looked at Plickers, a paper-based clicker app that allows learners to respond to multiple choice questions by holding up QR codes which the teacher records using the app on their phone. Results can be displayed in a browser at plickers.com and projected for the class to see. I like this tool for myself because I don’t always have internet access in class. For the secondary school teachers I train, it can be used in schools where pupils are not allowed to use phones in class. In Limerick, however, the teachers were working with adult learners who all had smartphones with wifi access: they showed me Kahoot, which offers similar opportunities for their teaching context.

References

Kurek, M. & Skowron, A. (2015). Going open with LangOER. PDF

Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources PDF

Whyte, S. (2014). Bridging gaps : Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education. Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité – Cahiers de l’APLIUT, 33(2):143-169.

.

Text to speech in language education

This post is my response to the first assignment of the open teacher education course identified below.

Pronunciation: text to speech

Open Educational Resources (OER) and Automatic Language Processing for Language Learning

PRONUNCIATION assignment

In up to 500 words, write down your experience with the OERs proposed. Have they been useful? Do you think they will help your students learn more successfully? Why?

The OERs are these:

http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.html
http://text-to-speech.imtranslator.net (available in multiple languages) http://www.fromtexttospeech.com (available in multiple languages)
https://text-to-speech-demo.mybluemix.net (with expressive SSML)

1. Natural readers https://www.naturalreaders.com/index.html

I put in this text from Google news and tried various accents.

A surprise victory for the government at this late stage seems unlikely and would be met with head-scratching in No 10, which has already conceded that parliament should be consulted at the end of the Brexit process.

Mike (US) and Graham (UK) miss No 10 (“no ten” instead of “number ten”) and intonation on head-scratching is off (head SCRATCHing instead of HEAD scratching).

I’m not sure I understand why we would want to hear it read by French or Italian speakers. How is this engineered? Is it sampled from French speakers reading English text, or does it just apply algorithms for machine reading of French to English text? I suspect the second. I teach English to French speakers so am certainly used to French-accented English, but nothing like “Alain” reading about Brexit (to hear him, paste my inset text above here and choose “Alain”). I defy anyone to understand “Juliette’s” version without a transcript.

I teach mainly French learners of English in higher education contexts in France. Some of them are future secondary school teachers of English facing national teacher entrance examinations which place high value on phonological and morphosyntactic accuracy in planned monologues. I have discussed some of the pronunciation problems I see in this post Improving spoken English: intermediate/advanced. I’m not at all sure how I would exploit text-to-speech tools with these students. They can get better information on phonemes and word stress from online dictionaries, and the suprasegmental information in the samples I’ve heard here don’t seem reliable enough to be useful.

2. IMtranslator http://text-to-speech.imtranslator.net/

I thought this was quite impressive. I typed in conversational French and the translation was pretty accurate, intonational contours less so perhaps.

untitled

3. Text to speech http://www.fromtexttospeech.com/

Next, another resource from text to speech, using the first paragraph of a CALL article (Gonzalez-Lloret, 2011):

The potential of CMC for L2 development resides mainly in the possibility that learners have to engage with other speakers of the language, including L1 speakers, which is especially important for the acquisition of not only linguistic resources but also social and pragmatic competence. As Thorne (2006) states “the use of Internet technologies to encourage dialogue between distributed individuals and partner classes proposes a compelling shift in second (L2) and foreign language (FL) education, one that ideally moves learners from simulated classroom-based contexts towards actual interaction with expert speakers of the language they are studying” (p. 3).

This tool creates an mp3 which you can link to (how long is it stored?) or download. My WordPress won’t accept this file type so I put it on SoundCloud for convenience:

Of course you can just visit from text to speech and do your own cut-and-paste with choice of speaker (that was British “Emma”). Or try French “Gabriel” (set to fast; there are 4 speeds) for another surreal experience.

To my ear “Emma’s” is a pretty good rendering – no obvious errors in intonation that would mislead the listener. But I’m struggling to imagine uses in the language classroom. I might use it if I wanted to have an article read to me during a commute, for example, though the time and planning required to convert and save the file to a device might not be worthwhile. If learners wanted more aural input, better to use authentic sources, surely, of which there is no lack.

In our course assignment, we were encouraged to experiment with different versions of sentences “to see how grammar affects voice outputs.” Here we see that the US voice distinguishes between the lexical verb have and the modal have to /hæftə/

  • learners have the possibility to engage with other speakers of the language mp3
  • learners have to engage with other speakers of the language mp3

You don’t seem to be able to retrieve this information from the Collins dictionary (have) so this gives the tool an advantage over a traditional learner dictionary in this case.

(On another note, you need to refresh the page (click the banner icon) for each new query; you can’t just cut and paste new text in the window.)

4. My blue mix

The tool was developed by IBM presumably for commercial purposes (see description). Here I listened to British and American voices reading English, and a French voice for French. I thought the French sounded better; is French intonation easier to imitate, or is my ear for French less discriminating?

There’s a feature called “expressive SSML” that tweaks the output in prosodic terms, in the example for customer service ends:

The Apology mode seems to place more emphasis (volume, length, pausing). Uncertainty has more pausing, Good News more pitch variation.

Another Voice Transformation features shows variation along different parameters: glottal tension, breathiness, strength, pitch range. Eleven of the 13 voices are female, and only two (female) are transformable in this way. It feels a bit Ex Machina.

Developers can use the tools to customise their own voices and specific texts.

Again, it’s not obvious to me how either the demo or the tool could be used for language teaching and learning beyond awareness-raising. I suppose lower proficiency learners could compare intonation in native and target languages, and more advanced ones could record themselves and compare with the synthetic voices. The tools seems to be ranked in order of sophistication, with perhaps the IBM demo the most convincing. It’s certainly interesting to see how these tools have developed in the past decade or so.

References

González-Lloret, M. (2011). Conversation analysis of computer-mediated communication. Calico Journal, 28(2), 308-325. PDF Calico

OER and automatic language processing for language teachers

I signed up for an open course run by TELL-OP, an Erasmus+ strategic partnership, which seeks to exploit corpus expertise and digital affordances to encourage e-learning of languages. The website puts it thus:

TELL-OP is a Strategic Partnership that seeks to promote the take-up of innovative practices in European language learning (Data Driven Learning, DDL) by supporting personalised learning approaches that rely on the use of ICT & OER by bringing together the knowledge & expertise of European stakeholders in the fields of language education, corpus & applied linguistics, e-learning & knowledge engineering in order to promote cooperation & contribute to unleash the potential behind already available web 2.0 services to promote the personalized e-learning of languages in the contexts of higher & adult education, in particular, through mobile devices.

TELL-OP partners include these people and institutions, and – fittingly, I think – I found the course via Pascual Pérez-Paredes on Twitter.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-09-21-52

The course is taught by Dana Ruggiero (@Dana_Ruggiero) on Moodle and covers

  1. introduction and pronunciation
  2. vocabulary acquisition
  3. interaction
  4. writing skills
  5. reading skills

In a spirit of openness, and because the first assignment seems to cry out for what we used to call Web 2.0 tools, I’ll try to blog my course participation.

I am already behind.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-09-10-50

Why history of ELT? An autobiographical view

From an online discussion of the history of ELT with Friederike Klippel

Richard Smith ELT

Over the last week, Friederike Klippelscreen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-14-03 and I have been leading an online screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-15-49discussion for IATEFL’s Research SIG on ‘Views of ELT history’. It’s not too late to join in! This discussion is a kind of preview or taster (an advertisement, basically!) for the Pre-Conference Event we’re facilitating for ReSIG in Glasgow on 3 April: ‘Researching ELT history: A hands-on workshop’:

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-13-46 Advertisement 😉

Our online discussion began with us swapping stories of how we got interested in ELT history. Here’s the story I shared, slightly edited, followed by some reflections on it:

So, how and why did I personally first get interested in looking into the history of ELT? It’s not a kind of research that many people are engaging in, still. My interest was first stimulated around 1993, after I’d been teaching English in Japan for around seven years, and at a particular university in Tokyo for the…

View original post 884 more words

itiltwebinar_tag

ITILT: Interactive Teaching In Language with Technologies

Abstract

iTILT, Interactive Teaching in Languages with Technology, is a professional development project to support interactive approaches to language teaching with classroom technologies.  The project builds on a previous project involving 44 teachers of 6 languages at 4 different educational levels in 7 countries, all using the IWB for language teaching. An open educational web resource was developed which includes over 250 video clips of IWB-mediated language teaching practice (http://itilt.eu); we also published a collective volume with case studies of IWB use in language education (Cutrim Schmid & Whyte, 2014) and a research monograph focusing on collaborative action research in a task-based framework (Whyte, 2015).

The new three year project moves beyond the IWB to focus on developing effective teaching and learning of second languages with a wider range of new and emerging interactive technologies (such as tablets, smartphones and video). It involves supporting teachers in task-based approaches to technology integration though observation, reflection and sharing via an online community of practice.

We will briefly present ways to exploit iTILT’s currently available resources in teacher education and continuing professional development (Koenraad et al., 2013) and report on the interim results of the new project, including examples of technology-mediated language tasks.

LPM Saarland: Links to slides, resources, and activities from webinar, 21 November 2016

itiltwebinar_tag

Shona Whyte, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, France.
Ton Koenraad, TELLConsult, Netherlands

Outline

  1. iTILT: interactive technologies in language teaching itilt.eu

ITILT logo 600DPI RGB PNG

2.Task-based language teaching

  • Criteria for TBLT
  • ITILT video examples (video selfie exchange, video report, video communication)

3. ITILT 2: Interactive Teaching In Languages with Technology www.itilt2.eu

ITILTnewLOGOillu

 

 

 

 

LPM Saarland: Links to slides, resources, and activities from webinar, 21 November 2016, including

  • presentation slides
  • 90 minute webinar recording (Adobe Connect)
  • video feedback activities with participant input (Padlet)
  • links to participant background questionnaire (Google Forms – see below)

Learning to teach second language pragmatics

Shona Whyte
Aisha Siddiqa
TESOL France, Paris, 19 November 2016.

Abstract

With the growing global networking and cross-cultural communication, interest in the teaching and learning of second languages has also increased. However, the bulk of research in interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) has revealed that foreign language learners, despite their grammatical and lexical proficiency, frequently fail to approximate target-like pragmatic norms (Bouton, 1994; Bardovi-Harlig, 2001; Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003). Awareness of pragmatic norms is crucial as its absence can lead to cross cultural miscommunication (Beebe & Takahashi, 1989a).

ILP research also shows that learner’s pragmalinguistic knowledge develops relatively slowly (Schauer, 2004; 2009; Barron 2002). But evidence suggests that it is amenable to instruction (Rose, 2005; Cohen & Ishihara, 2013). Both instruction (e.g., see Bardovi-Harlig & Mahan-Taylor, 2003 for review) and feedback to learners (Belz & Kinginger, 2003) can accelerate this process. Yet in spite of the need for pragmatics instruction and the existence of pedagogical models, ILP is rarely a major component of teacher training programmes (Vellenga 2011, Vasquez & Sharpless, 2009).

The present study, as part of a larger project on ILP development in French secondary schools, seeks to address some of these gaps in literature by focusing on teacher training for teaching pragmatics to English as foreign language (EFL) learners. As part of their teacher education programme at a French university, fifteen pre-service teachers participated in the study as part of a classroom research course. The course focused on

a) multiple research methods and data analysis techniques and various pragmatic aspects including

b) ILP awareness-raising via authentic materials including TV series/films and corpus data, and

c) the design and implementation of activities to teach both pragmalinguistic and sociopragmatic dimensions of request strategies to EFL learners (aged 11 to 18).

The participants worked in groups and prepared six lessons. The data for our study include

  • lesson plans and teaching resources for the student-teachers’ lessons
  • video-recordings of three classroom activities
  • learner focus-group discussions and video-stimulated recall interviews with teachers and tutors
  • audio-recorded class presentations of the participant teachers
  • a pre-study oral production task to assess the participant teachers’ knowledge about requests strategies.

A preliminary analysis of the data reveals that the novice teachers, despite some initial difficulty, used authentic materials quite effectively to engage pupils in discussion and reflection on request behaviour. The tutors appreciated the focus of the activities on pragmatics and confirmed that pragmatics is rarely a focus in curriculum despite its importance. However, the learners’ responses varied across classrooms and teachers.

The presentation gives main findings regarding student-teacher classroom implementation of lessons on English requests, with implications and recommendations for French EFL instructional contexts.

Keywords

interlanguage pragmatics, EFL, secondary schools, France, language teacher education.

Requests: a speech act

A request is a directive speech act whose illocutionary purpose is to get the hearer to do something in circumstances in which it is not obvious that he/she will perform the action in the normal course of events (Searle 1969). By initiating a request, the speaker believes that the hearer is able to perform an action.

The structure of a request may consist of two parts: the head act (the actual request) and modifications to the request (external or internal).

The perspective of requests can be emphasized, either projecting toward the speaker (Can I borrow your notes?) or the hearer (Can you loan me your notes?). Since we must take into account many factors when we make requests (e.g., age, social distance, gender, and level of imposition), speakers often employ different strategies (linguistic and non-linguistic) to minimize the effects of our request on the other person

Request strategies are divided into three types according to the level of inference (on the part of the hearer) needed to understand the utterance as a request. The three types of requests include:

  1. direct requests
  2. conventionally-indirect strategies (CI)
  3. non-conventionally indirect (NCI) strategies (hints)

Direct and conventionally-indirect requests comprise a continuum of different strategies. Read more …

Félix-Brasdefer
(See also Blum-Kulka et al 1989)

 

References

Key readings

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (2003). Teaching Pragmatics. USA: Office of English Language Programs of the U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from http://www.usconsulate.org.hk/pas/kids/pragmatics.htm

Bardovi-Harlig, K., Mossman, S., & Vellenga, H. E. (2015a). The effect of instruction on pragmatic routines in academic discussion. Language Teaching Research (Online), 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362168814541739

Bardovi-Harlig, K., Mossman, S., & Vellenga, H. E. (2015b). Developing Corpus-Based Materials to Teach Pragmatic Routines. TESOL Journal, 6(3), 499–526.

Online resources

Request lessons: americanenglish.state.gov

Elicitation resources for requests (Cartoon oral production task)

Teaching Pragmatics

Editors: Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig Rebecca Mahan-Taylor
Teaching Pragmatics is a collection of 30 lessons that can help English learners use socially appropriate language in a variety of informal and formal situations
usconsulate.org.hk

Corpora

  1. Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE)
    http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/micase
  2. US corpus available on the Lexical Tutor website
    http://www.lextutor.ca/conc/eng/
  3. Santa Barbara Corpus of Spoken American English
    http://www.linguistics.ucsb.edu/research/santa-barbara-corpus
  4. BRITISH NATIONAL CORPUS
    http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk
  5. CORPUS OF AMERICAN SOAP OPERAS
    http://corpus.byu.edu/soap/
  6. BYU-BNC: BRITISH NATIONAL CORPUS
    http://corpus.byu.edu/bnc/

Further reading

Bardovi-Harlig, K. (2001). Evaluating the empirical evidence: Grounds for instruction in pragmatics? In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 33–60). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Mahan-Taylor, R. (Eds.). (2003). Teaching pragmatics. Washington, DC: United States Department of State. Retrieved from http://americanenglish.state.gov/resources/teaching-pragmatics

Barron, A. (2003). Acquisition in Interlanguage Pragmatics: Learning how to do things with words in a study abroad context (Vol. Volume 108). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: John Benjamins Publishing.

Barron, A., & Warga, M. (2007). Acquisitional pragmatics: Focus on foreign language learners. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4(2), 113–127.

Beebe, L., & Takahashi, S. (1989a). Do you have a bag? : Social status and patterned  variation in second language acquisition. In S. Gass, C. Madden, D. Preston, & L. Selinker, Variation in second language acquisition: Discourse and pragmatics (pp. 103–125). Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters.

Belz, J., & Kinginger, C. (2003). Discourse options and the development of pragmatic competence by classroom learners of German: The case of address forms. Language Learning, 53, 591–647.

Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural pragmatics: Requests and apologies. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Blum-Kulka, S., & Olshtain, E. (1986). Too many words: Length of utterance and pragmatic failure. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 8, 47–61.

Bouton, L. F. (1994). Can NNS skill in interpreting implicatures in American English be improved through explicit instruction? A pilot study. In L. F. Bouton & Y. Kachru (Eds.), Pragmatics and language learning, (Vol 5, pp. 88-109). University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign: Division of English as an International Language.

Cohen, A. D., & Ishihara, N. (2013). Pragmatics. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Applied Linguistics and Materials Development (pp. 113–126). London, UK: Bloomsburry Academic.

Faerch, C., & Kasper, G. (1989). Internal and External Modification in Interlanguage Request Realization. In S. Blum-Kulka, J. House, & G. Kasper (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies (Vol. XXXI, pp. 221–247). United States of America: Albex Publishing Corporation.

Félix-Brasdefer, C. Speech acts: requests. Discourse pragmatics. http://www.indiana.edu/~discprag/spch_requests.html

Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. (S. Blum-Kulka & J. House, Eds.) (Vol. XXXI). United States of America: Albex Publishing Corporation.

Kasper, G., & Dahl, M. (1991). Research Methods in Interlanguage Pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13, 215–247.

Kasper, G., & Rose, K. R. (2001). Pragmatics in language teaching. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (pp. 1–10). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kasper, G., & Schmidt, R. (1996). Developmental issues in interlanguage pragmatics. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18, 149–169.

Rose, K. R. (2005). On the effects of instruction in second language pragmatics. System, 33(3), 385–399. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2005.06.003

Scarcella, R. (1979). On speaking politely in a second language. In C. A. Yorio & K. Perkins (Eds.), On TESOL ’79 (pp. 275–287). Washington, DC: TESOL.

Schauer, G. (2004). May you speaker louder maybe? In- terlanguage pragmatic development in requests. EUROSLA Yearbook, 4, 253–272.

Schauer, G. (2009). Interlanguage pragmatic development: The study abroad context. London: Continuum.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siddiqa, A. (in preparation). The acquisition of politeness strategies by young EFL learners in France: An exploratory study of interlanguage pragmatic development. Doctoral thesis, UMR7320 Bases, Corpus, Langage. Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.

Siddiqa, A. (2016). A developmental pragmatic study of politeness in EFL: learning to make requests in French secondary schools. 3rd International conference of the American Pragmatics Association, November 4-6, 2016, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Siddiqa, A. (2016). Opportunities for developing L2 politeness strategies in EFL classrooms in France. ESSE, Aug 2016, Galway, Ireland.

Siddiqa, A. (2015). Beyond “classroom English” Colloque international du LAIRDIL: Regards pluridisciplinaires sur la créativité et l’innovation en langues étrangères, December 2015, Toulouse, France.

Siddiqa, A. (2015). The use and acquisition of politeness strategies among EFL learners in France: An exploratory study of interlanguage pragmatic development
The Ninth International Im/Politeness Conference, Athens, Greece.

Taguchi, N. (2011b). Pragmatic Development as a Dynamic, Complex Process: General Patterns and Case Histories. The Modern Language Journal, 95(4), 605–627. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2011.01246.x

Vasquez, C., & Sharpless, D. (2009). The role of pragmatics in the master’s TESOL curriculum: Findings from a nationwide survey. TESOL Quarterly, 43, 1, 5-28.

Vellenga, H. (2011). Teaching L2 Pragmatics: Opportunities for Continuing Professional Development. TESL-EJ, 15. Retrieved from http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume15/ej58/ej58a3

 

 

Top tools for learning 2016

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 17.20.58

I recently responded to an online poll of educators’ tools for learning and saved my responses to kick off a class on learning technologies for language teachers.

These are my picks; here’s why. (They are all free.)

Getting started

LastPass

LastPass is a password manager that saves your passwords online and lets you access them from one master password (the *last pass*word you’ll need from now on). It can generate secure passwords, but I don’t risk this (if you have connectivity problems you can’t retrieve these from memory). Instead I create my own passwords with a keyword system and save them to LastPass.

I suggest this as my first tool for learning because it’s the obvious first hurdle to using almost any platform, tool, or application and I find until students or trainees are confident logging in and out of multiple sites it’s difficult to build up confidence or expertise.

An associated tool is Xmarks, which lets you synchronise bookmarks across browsers and devices, which I also find useful for moving between machines, though if you share computers it might not be so relevant.

Google apps

Once you have your password manager set up, my next recommendation is Google Drive, where you have e-mail (Gmail), online storage (Google Drive), online wordprocessing (Google Docs) and spreadsheets (Google Sheets), as well as Calendar, Slides, and Forms (for online surveys, questionnaires, and tests). Also worth a look are Sites for building your own websites or getting learners to do so, and Communities for working with groups.

I find these work well for planning my teaching, administration (attendance, grades), giving feedback on student writing (Docs), or collecting links to sound files, for example (Forms). We have run telecollaborative projects on G-Drive, using a private folder to save student-teacher video selfies, with sub-folders for class tandems to share their learners’ productions and prepare collaborative papers and presentations.

If you have multiple Google accounts it’s worth associating one account with one browser (work gmail on Firefox, home gmail on Chrome, for example) to avoid problems signing in and out. I have never found the offline functionality anything close to effective, so only for use with good internet connectivity.

Writing and feedback

Google Docs

As noted, Google docs is useful for your own writing, but also for use with learners. They can edit their own documents, prepare translations in groups, or submit work for evaluation and you can set access to private (sign-in), public (no sign-in) or an intermediate option with files accessible via link (no sign-in).

I find the Docs interface (there is also one for Sheets, etc) less easily navigable than Drive. Also be aware that you need a computer for full functionality – on smartphones and tablets comments are not accessible, for example.

Evernote

Evernote is very useful for taking notes offline and saving all sorts of bits and pieces which you can tag and sort into Notebooks or leave unorganised to search. The search function is great and it works offline. There’s an app for your phone but the free version limits the number of devices you can connect.

Collaboration and sharing

Dropbox

After Google apps perhaps the single most useful tool, Dropbox lets you save files and synchronise across devices. I use it to save teaching materials (slides, handouts) but also for collaborative research writing with colleagues in other countries. Accessible offline, syncs in the background, usable like a drive or folder on your own computer.

One thing to be careful about: the default drag and drop which copies a file from one drive to another in other circumstances moves the file on Dropbox. So if you download a file from a shared folder you delete that file for others. Doesn’t work well on an external drive; you must save your local version on your local hard drive.

Weebly

This free website platform lets you make your own website with images, media, and other links very easily and intuitively. It has the advantages over Google sites of a) letting you create classes with your students’ names and e-mails, and b) making comments on pages easy to see.

Audio and video

VideoLAN

For language teachers, you need the digital audio player VLC, which plays any format you can imagine.

SoundCloud

This open platform is a good place to share audio files, which you or your learners can upload and save privately, share to a select audience, or open to the world. With adult learners you can outsource the recording (smartphones), uploading (SoundCloud), and sharing (Google Forms) so you can focus on the feedback.

Social media

Twitter

I use the microblogging site to find and communicate useful resources for teaching (educator blogs, tools, pedagogical resources) and research (conference and journal calls for papers, new publications).

Scoop.it

I save the references in my tweets to curated sites to help keep track, though the service for the free version of Scoop.it has fallen off and it may not be worth starting there now.

Low-tech classroom teaching

Finally, special mention for technology you can use in class without technology: with Plickers, learners hold up paper cards to answer pre-set or spontaneous multiple choice quizzes, and the teacher records them via smartphone.