Tag Archives: communication

Online Bulletin Boards

bulletin board

Most schools and classrooms have bulletin boards, but what is the online digital equivalent?  If you are using a course management system, there are lots of tools built-in that approximate this experience.  But if not, there are various options that offer lots of options for interaction between users.

They can be used asynchronously so that people can leave messages anytime and the conversation happens over a long period of time.  They could also be used in real time so that users can interact in a very visual environment.  Messages can be various sizes, color-coded, and dragged around so they can be grouped together in various ways.

Wallwisher

One online bulletin board is Wallwisher.com, which allows a user to create a wall to which other users can add “sticky notes.”  It’s quick and easy to use, but unfortunately it appears to be a victim of it’s own success — in my recent experience the site is not loading quickly, possibly due to being overwhelmed by a large volume of users.  If these issues can be worked out, Wallwisher will be a very useful tool.

Stixy

A very similar tool is Stixy, which allows sticky notes and other items (photos, documents, and dated to-do list items) to be posted on the wall.  Clicking on an item opens a menu with lots of options for color, font, as well as placement (in the front or in the back, relative to the other notes).  You can also lock certain notes so that instructions or introductions, for example, can’t be moved around like the rest of the notes.  And the site doesn’t seem to have any problems loading due to demand.  Yet.

Squareleaf

This site also allows the creation of sticky notes, including very small word-sized stickies, which could work very well on an interactive whiteboard as a way to make fridge-magnet-poetry dragable words.

Google Docs

In addition to the sticky-specific applications above, it’s worth noting that documents created in Google Docs can be configured to be edited by a group of people.  Create a new document and use different colored boxes in place of stickies and the same effect can be achieved.

More

For information on these tools and others, visit The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness which includes several examples that you can test drive.

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Walking Through Caves

cave

Games present an interesting environment in which students can learn and practice a language.  The Cave is an interesting game that was created for a Sony Pictures movie back in 2005.  I came across it on a recent timely post on Digital Play — just in time for Halloween and just after 33 miners were rescued from a mining collapse in Chile.  (Obviously, a teacher will need to determine whether this is an appropriate game for younger students.)

Digital Play is a great resource for online games for students because each one is couched in a simple lesson plan with suggestions for whether the game is appropriate for a classroom, computer lab, or independent use. Interestingly, Digital Play includes a walkthrough — a solution to the game — in the form of a diary account of the only survivor, which they player can become upon completion of the game.

Many games have walkthroughs available online.  Most are created by users or fans and some are created collaboratively as the game is solved.  Walkthroughs are very popular with the latest cutting edge games that can take tens of hours to complete, but solutions are available for almost every game.  Just Google the name of the game along with terms like walkthrough, solution, or help.

The way the walkthrough used in the case of The Cave is a very creative solution.  It can serve as additional reading for students to support their understanding as well as assisting students in completing the game.  Walkthroughs can also be good resources for teachers who want to support students that get stuck on one part of a game.  In a language classroom, getting stuck actually presents an opportunity for students to interact with each other by making requests and helping each other, so a teacher jumping in with the solution should not be the first resort.  In fact, it has been argued that walkthroughs ruin the experience of a good game because it can be too easy to look for the answer instead of working to solve the problem for oneself.  But, for teachers who are nervous about using games in the classroom, it’s good to know that solutions are available.

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Helicopter Parents in ESL?

helicopters

How often do you see these?

I read an interesting article in Time magazine this week called Can These Parents Be Saved? It’s about helicopter parents, parents that hover over their children, and the growing backlash against this style of parenting.

My wife and I, parents of two girls under 4, have discussed our parenting strategies for longer than our kids have been alive and lean heavily towards the backlash side of the debate.  We intend to avoid scheduling dance classes, and soccer leagues, and art classes, and piano lessons (at least all at the same time) so that our kids will have some time to be bored, to daydream, to create their own games.  As the article points out, this down time can help brain development and be useful for developing “leadership, sociability, flexibility, resilience” and more.  Anecdotally, the recent generation of over-scheduled kids now entering college tend to lack problem-solving skills and creativity, possibly as a result of their parents making too many decisions for them.

I think helicopter parents are well documented and widely discussed, particularly in higher education in North America, but I wonder how widespread this phenomenon is in ESL and EFL?  Of course, the answer likely varies as much as the field does.  For example, I teach in an intensive ESL program at a major research university.  Most of the students in my classes are over 18 years old and live without their parents.  If the parents want to be helicopters, they have to do it via email across an ocean, and it doesn’t typically affect teachers in our program directly.

Although I don’t yet feel the need to brace for an influx of helicopter parents and their precious offspring, I wonder if my colleagues in other areas of ESL and EFL do. Do other ESL teachers encounter helicopter parents, or is this parenting style a product of U.S. (or perhaps Western) culture?  Where do parents of generation 1.5 students fall on the helicopter spectrum?  What kinds of parents to EFL teachers in other countries typically encounter?

Communication technologies such as cell phones and webcams have been blamed for the rise in this behavior, or at least enabling it, because before these technologies, it simply wasn’t possible for parents to keep such close tabs on their children.  As these technologies spread around the world, will helicopter parenting follow?

Care to leave a comment?  I’d like to read it.  If not, I hope you enjoy the Time article.

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Everyone’s All a-Twitter

Twitter.com

Everyone's on Twitter, or will be soon, it seems.

Twitter is exploding in the way that the Web did at the start of the late-90s bubble.  Remember when every TV commercial had to include “www”?  Twitter is becoming ubiquitous in popular culture and, by some accounts, may not survive the coming wave of new users.

So what is it?  Twitter is a form of microblogging (there is a 140 character limit) which is akin to updating your Facebook status.  Many people use it to update friends on what they’re eating for lunch and other vapid topics.  But there are more constructive ways to use it.

One way to describe the various kinds of tweets (Twitter messages) is David Silver’s thick or thin analogy.  The more layers of information a tweet contains, the thicker it is.  Thick tweets can convey a remarkable amount of information in 140 characters.

For example, tags can be used to create channels of discussion.  Search Twitter for #calico09 and you’ll see all of the tweets related to the 2009 CALICO Conference that include that tag.   In this way, another layer of discussion can be added to the typical attend-a-session / discuss-it-in-the-hallway routine.  In fact, I had the experience of discussing a question raised in a conference session during the session via Twitter.  The same question was asked 20 minutes later, after the presenter had finished.

There is also power in the network.  A friend who is a webmaster often posts messages about trouble he’s having with various projects.  Because he has about 100 mostly like-minded followers (you can choose to follow others’ feeds and others can choose to follow yours), he often receives a useful response from this community.  These feeds can also be added to blogs and other webpages, as I’ve noted before.

By retweeting messages (rebroadcasting a tweet you have read, typically inserting RT at the beginning,) information can spread very quickly.  For example, after tweeting about my presentation on Interactive Whiteboards at CALICO, it was picked up by someone following the topic who retweeted it so that it could be read by the hundreds of people following his feed (but not mine).  So, my message (a thick one, with links to resources,) which was only read by my two dozen followers, became available to hundreds more.

If nothing else, Twitter’s 140 character limit is an excellent exercise in self-editing.  If you’ve read this far (all 434 WORDS!), you know I can use the practice.  So, as the popular media continue to become enthralled with Twitter, consider some of the ways it can actually enhance communication.  Or, just tell the world what you had for lunch.

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