Tag Archives: content

Bulletin Board 2.0

pushpins

An article in our student newspaper on Pinterest.com caught my eye this morning.  It is described as an online pinboard for sharing photos, recipes, and other content.  Content is shared when users pin content from someone else’s pinboard onto their own.

In this way, Pinterest is a bit like Tumblr or even Twitter in that content can echo around and be amplified as more users repost it.  Interestingly, most (if not all) of the content is image-based.  In some ways, this is limiting because a recipe is actually a picture of food that you can click on to get to the site that originally posted the recipe.  In effect, Pinterest actually feels more like a different interface for photosharing websites like Flickr.  There are lots of interesting boards that are pictures organized by color or by different topics.

From a quick glance, it seems like Pinterest is a very good internet meme incubator.  I’ve already been sucked into looking at pictures (and the blog posts they link to) that include hilariously ugly knitted shorts and a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made from over 4000 Rubik’s cubes.  There are also plenty of funny and inspirational signs and slogans as well as the requisite cute and funny pictures of kittens and puppies.

Could Pinterest be useful to ESL students?  Perhaps.  It could provide a way for them to store and organize web content that can be shared within the classroom community.  It’s very smooth and clean and the opportunity to interact with the site-wide community could be interesting.  And the site terms and conditions prohibit nudity and hateful content, which can be reassuring for teachers.  If a course is not using a web-based course management system, Pinterest could be a quick and interesting way to build a community that could generate some interesting discussion.  But is it the next Big Thing?  Probably not.

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History For All

roman colliseum

How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC.  Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular.  But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history.  Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history.  And, the whole series is available on YouTube.

In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development.  He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season.  The contrast is striking.  One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles).  Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.

The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long.  The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it.  I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.

The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization.  This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved.  The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.

Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames.  And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind.  Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.

The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim.  This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust.  This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.

In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here.  It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery.  There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class.  And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor.  Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology.  And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes.  The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.

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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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Virtual Lectures

lecture hall

Occasionally, students in our program ask if they can take regular university classes in addition to our full-time intensive ESL program.  In a very few cases, we have arranged informal course audits through which students may sit in on courses as a way to supplement their learning.  In addition to the language input, this arrangement can be a good way to introduce international students to American academic culture.

Recently a student approached me about his interests in sitting in on a few lectures.  His primary interest was in becoming familiar with the English vocabulary in his field of study.  He was already comfortable with the content in his own language, but was nervous about learning all new terminology in English.  In the end, actually sitting in on a class was not a good option for this particular student.  Fortunately, there are a couple of good online alternatives that I could recommend: YouTube’s EDU site and iTunesU.

YouTube.com/edu hosts thousands of lectures from institutions across the U.S.  Not all of them are lectures — and it’s easy to get sucked in to videos of marching bands and football games — but there are lots of options available.  Search for “physics lecture” and you’ll get over 4000 videos.

iTunesU.com takes a similar approach, but it is tied in to Apple’s iTunes music store.  This means it is very easy to put videos on your iDevice (iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc.) to watch on the go.  The bad news is that you need to install the iTunes application to access them.

Both locations offer hours of free content from some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.  Of course, many of the videos are just recordings of lectures, which may be somewhat dull.  And sadly, that may be very good preparation for American academic culture.  But, if high level students are looking for content rich input, these sources will provide a wealth of options.

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