Tag Archives: online

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Flickr is Saving the Whales

humpback whale flukes

Flickr is a popular online photo sharing website that allows users to attach information to the pictures such as keyword tags, date, time, and location the picture was taken, and even the kind of camera that took the picture.  Although pictures can be made private, many are uploaded publicly.  This online public database is now being used to help save the whales.

I first came across this project on the CNN website.  People are using pictures of whales, particularly pictures of their tails which have unique markings that can be used to identify individual whales, combined with the date and location information of the pictures to track whales’ migration.  One whale that was tracked via Flickr was found to have a longer migration route than any other previously recorded migration route.  These citizen scientists are helping further scientific research.

Crowdsourcing solutions to problems is no longer uncommon, particularly via games.  Newspapers have made a game out of combing through online documents on government spending, thereby turning readers into investigators.  Fold It is a game in which players twist and untwist actual molecular structures to further science in ways that computer modelling cannot.  Jane McGonigal has created a game called Evoke that challenges a community of players to share and evaluate solutions to the world’s problems.  The U.S. Navy has adopted a similar approach to fighting piracy.

Can language teachers and learners make use of crowdsourcing?  Of course.  Forvo.com, a pronunciation dictionary created by users, is one example.  Creating an online dictionary that includes pronunciations for every word in a language would be a nearly impossible task for one person, which is why it took a crowd of hundreds to create Forvo (which includes pronunciations for scores of languages.)

Can language teachers create similar games for language learning?  Perhaps.  Julie Sykes has created a location-aware game called Mentira which sends students into an actual Spanish-speaking neighborhood near the University of New Mexico campus to solve a fictional mystery set decades in the past.  Students who have finished the game are now involved in writing and rewriting it to add more detail and different possible outcomes.

Given the game-like nature of language learning (learners learn skills to level up) there are lots of options for teachers– from encouraging students to become involved in the above activities to creating new games for students.  If you know of other examples, leave them in the comments.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

Know Your States

map of US game

I don’t recall how I first came across the Find the States game on jimspages.com, bit it has become one of my go-to sites for demonstrating interactive whiteboards.

The game is simple: states appear in random order and the user is asked to place them on an empty U.S. map.  Scores are tabulated based on how many miles away from the correct location you place each state.  Some states are much easier than others.  For example, it’s relatively easy to line up unique features on the coastline, but very difficult to place Colorado without any of the states that border it already in place.

This game is simple, but it demonstrates the use of IWBs quite naturally while providing a fun geography challenge.  Can you average less than 100 miles of errors in your placement?  Less than 10?  Give it a try.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

Forvo

Storefront sign that says "pruyn pronounced prine"

Good pronunciation resources are hard to find.  I’ve previously written about Rachel’s English, an excellent resource for the mechanics of pronunciation including sounds, mouth positions, and sound charts.  But sometimes students just want to know how to pronounce a certain word.  Enter Forvo.com.

Of course, students could reference any good dictionary (paper or online) for an explanation of how to pronounce a word, but online dictionaries often require a subscription to hear pronunciations.  Forvo makes its audio available for free.  Users can also create an account and upload their own pronunciations of words, which is how it has grown to almost 80,000 English pronunciations.  (Many other languages are also available.)

Like many other web 2.0 websites, a community has grown around the process of expanding the website.  Other examples of this phenomenon include Wikipedia, on which groups of users debate and define editorial policies and solicit help from each other; and Flickr, which allows users to tag photos so that all pictures uploaded to the site are easily searchable.

Forvo incorporates both of these features.  Users can posts words they would like to hear pronounced.  Pronunciations can also be voted on so that if there are multiple pronunciations available, the best pronunciation appears at the top of the list.  Pronunciations can also be tagged so that users can find interesting groups of words such as nouns, past tense verbs, mathematical terms, male names, and many others.

Words have been pronounced in British, American, and other English accents.  For each word, you can view the biography of the user who pronounced it to find out where they are from.  If you find a user you particularly enjoy, you can follow their RSS feed to find out when they have added pronunciations.

Because of all of these features, the website can be a bit overwhelming at first.  But once you get used to the layout, the site is a very useful resource.  Students can use it to listen to assigned vocabulary words or to explore pronunciations of new words.

Teachers can create an account and upload their own pronunciations for students, which would make them very easy for students to find if they search for their teacher or for a tag their teachers use, such as the name of a textbook, course, or school.  Once they become accustomed to the site, students might also be interested in uploading pronunciations in their native languages, thereby expanding this resource for language learners around the world.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

Interacting With Video

hand in monitor

#edtech #esl YouTube annotations provide a discussion space layered onto each video.

In my previous post, Interactive Videos, I shared some examples of YouTube videos that incorporate some new interactive features of the site that overlay buttons and links that can take you to a different segment of the video or to a different video or website entirely.

These kinds of pop-up messages have been crowding onto YouTube videos since this feature became available.  If used gratuitously, they are annoying, but when used to add supplemental information, they can be quite useful.  As one example, take a look at the video tutorial for making the above image.  It’s a straightforward and informative two-minute video.  At about the 1:30 mark, some red text appears that seems to be essential information that was omitted in the original shooting of the video.  Adding a quick note is a simple solution that does not require reshooting the video.

But there must be more we can do with these tools.  I’d been thinking about some different ways to incorporate these techniques when I came across a presentation made by Craig Howard at the Indiana University Foreign / Second Language Share Fair.  The page includes a recording of the presentation, a handout that summarizes how to annotate YouTube videos, and a link to an example video, which I’ve included below.

The nice thing about this approach is that a video, in this case a video for teachers-in-training to discuss, can include the online conversation layered right over top of the video.  Comments by different speakers can be made in different colors and the length of time they are displayed can easily be adjusted as appropriate.  Of course, everyone involved needs to have free Google or Gmail accounts to sign in, and the video must be configured to allow annotations by people other than the person who uploaded it.

The ability to integrate video materials and online discussion so seamlessly opens up some interesting potential for interacting with videos in new and interesting ways.  I’ve recently looked at some options for online bulletin boards / sticky notes, including Google Docs, but incorporating this style of discussion directly onto the video is fantastic.

I’m still kicking around different options for making YouTube videos more interactive.  If you have other examples or ideas, please share them in the comments below.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Interactive Videos

mocap character

When I hear the phrase interactive videos, I think of people covered in florescent mocap pingpong balls or choppy, Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories like Dragon’s Lair.  And there are those.  But, it seems that some creative tinkerers have pushed the envelope with some of YouTube’s interactive features and come up with some interesting results.

How can they be used with ESL and EFL students?  Well, in addition to viewing and interacting with the videos and then discussing or reporting on the experience, students could be challenged to determine how the videos were made.  For the more ambitious, students could make their own videos using the same techniques.  Some of them, like the Oscars find the difference photo challenge would be relatively easy to remake.

For more interactive videos that will get your students talking, watch 15 Awesome YouTube Tricks.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized