Tag Archives: call

Phone Your Blog

phone

Who ya gonna call?

I’ve had this WordPress blog for about two years and have had blogs with Blogger in the past.  Both are good services, but I like the WordPress interface a bit better as well as the ability to have several static pages (inspiration, projects, and resources, for example).  Recently, WordPress announced a feature that Blogger had years ago but cancelled: the ability to phone your blog.

Once you’ve signed up for a WordPress blog, you can configure a special number that you can call and record a message that will appear on your blog.  I don’t plan to use this feature on this blog, but there are several reasons that this feature is mentioning.

First, this is a way to create digital recordings without any special equipment: no microphone, digital audio recorder, computer, mp3 player — just a phone.  The recordings can be downloaded, shared, and edited in the same way as any other digital recording.

Second, a student in an ESL class can make a recording and then others in the class can comment on it. This could be feedback on an impromptu speech topic, a dialog between two or more students, or any other oral interaction.  Comments could be based on language used, content, or both.  Many options are possible when it is this easy to share a digital audio recording.

All of this is possible with some content management systems (there are plugins available for Moodle, for example) but otherwise pulling all of the technology together to make this happen can be a bit of work, all of which is streamlined by simply calling your blog.

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Siftables: Perfect for the Sandbox

A colleague of mine, Kathy, and I have been discussing ways to create a language sandbox game.  This idea would be to create blocks with words on them that somehow interact in a way that demonstrates grammaticality.

Siftables work like colored blocks, but they can interact.

Siftables work like colored blocks, but they can interact.

Kathy’s oldschool.  She’s been experimenting with blocks of wood painted different colors which students can manipulate.  Great for kinesthetic learners!  We discussed cutting them into puzzlepiece shapes so that each block only “fits” other words according to grammatical rules.  At first, it seems like it would be possible to make nouns with square tabs that fit into square slots on verbs, and so on.  However, as complexity increases, this becomes exponentially more difficult.  Structures as complex as nouns modified by multiple adjectives would be prohibitively difficult.

What if a computer application could be developed that would replace the wood blocks with word tiles that could be manipulated with a mouse (or an interactive whiteboard!)?  Could the tiles snap together and repel each other like magnets according to grammar rules?  Could words be tagged for part-of-speech automatically within the application?  Could different categories of words (verbs, adjectives, adverbs, specifiers, etc.) be added and deleted with the check of a box?  Could students add their own tiles seemlessly into the pile?  Clearly, some intelligence would be required of the application to implement all of these features.

Siftables might just be perfect for an language sandbox.

Siftables react to each other. Imagine a word on each one.

As I was kicking all of this around, my friend Mike at Ohio University pointed me to siftables, which seem to be the synthesis of both ideas.  Rather than try to describe these brilliant little devices, watch the TED Talks video.

Not only could these little devices fit the bill perfectly, the way they interact could inform interactions in the language sandbox I’ve been envisioning.  Until we’ve all got pockets full of siftables to pass out in class, my $50 wiimote-based interactive whiteboard will have to do.  In the meantime, I’m hoping that having students drag word tiles across the screen will work almost as well for kinesthetic learners.

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MERLOT: Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching

Search MERLOT for online resources.

Search MERLOT for online resources.

I came across MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching) in a TELR workshop recently.  I’ve been thinking about how ESL classes could be moved online and MERLOT was suggested as a place I might find some learning objects (reusable components of an online course).

While it wasn’t quite as simple as that, I did find a number of good resources.  One qualification: like many online resources, MERLOT does have some dead links and out-of-date activities, but at least there were plenty to choose from.  Try a search for “English grammar” and you’ll find lots of materials and promising leads.  The bad news is that it all feels a little like Yahoo circa 1996.  Although there are options for users to rate items, this system is not widely used and, in some cases, possibly outdated.  Many of the materials appear the be the work of single teachers doing yeoman’s work to create textbooks from scratch (Net Grammar), clearinghouses for their online materials (Edict Virtual Language Center), and drill-and-kill exerices and quizzes (English Works!, Interactive Quizzes at Capital Community College’s Guide to Grammar and Writing).

Although MERLOT makes an attempt to organize these resources, one still has to do some pretty deep wading to find useful resources.  A search returns a list, like Yahoo once did.  What is needed is something more Google-like: an algorithm-based system for sorting the wheat from the chaff.  Even better would be a proliferation of intelligent CALL (ICALL) materials (like WERTi) that would include tools to create exercises from existing content.  This is more a criticism of ESL CALL materials in general, than it is of MERLOT.  Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.

Find something you like on MERLOT?  Leave a comment and share it.

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Intelligent ESL Materials – WERTi

The WERTi System.  Click to try it!

The WERTi System. Click to try it!

Many ESL professionals are familiar with the acronym CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning), but an interesting off-shoot is ICALL (Intelligent CALL). One of my favorite examples is the WERTi system, developed by Detmar Meurers while he was at Ohio State. (To try it, log in as “anonymous” and leave the password field blank.)

This system uses XML to create three activities based on Reuters news articles: Color, Click, and Fill-in-the-blanks. The first activity makes targeted words blue, raising the student’s awareness of the targeted structure. The second makes every word clickable. When the user clicks on a target word, it turns green; mistakes turn red. The third replaces every target word with a blank that students can complete. Correct responses are again green, errors red. If users give up and ask the computer to fill in the blank, the answer is blue. Originally based around Prepositions, I suggested to Detmar that articles might also be worth practicing, so Determiners were added (more on that in a minute).

The greatest thing about this system is that the computer is exploited to create the activities, the topics of which are selected by the student. And the number of activities is virtually unlimited.

The downside is that computers are not truly “intelligent.” Consequently, a few mistakes are made. Each page is marked up in XML using the Penn Tagset. But if a word is misidentified, this will error be reflected in the activity.

Incidentally, if you want to “hack” they system to try different grammatical features, you can add the tag from the Penn Tagset to the URL. So, to change an activity from determiners to superlative adjectives, change “pos_target=DT” to “pos_target=JJS” and voila!

Some features in the tagset are probably too uncommon to be worth including; Others may not be easy to practice using these activities. But, the idea that computers can generate activities from any page on the internet is really appealing to me.

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