Tag Archives: Resources

Pronunciation 2.0

I don’t recall how I came across Rachel’s English but I was instantly impressed and have yet to explore its entire depth.

The first thing I found was the list of sounds represented by the phonetic alphabet.  There is also a sound chart that lists every sound a letter can represent.  Both of these have links to YouTube videos like the one above, which detail how to pronounce the sound.  I especially like the portion of the video that compares pictures of Rachel in profile as she pronounces the sounds with her teeth, tongue, and other relevant anatomical features drawn over top (for example, see the 3:50 mark in the above video.)  These photos are also available in the mouth positions section.  There are also other interesting exercises and a blog.

In addition to being a useful pronunciation resource, a lot of attention is paid to linking everything from various sections appropriately.  It doesn’t matter if you are looking through the sound chart or pictures of mouth positions; you can always link to the relevant YouTube video for a quick 5-10 minute tutorial on a given sound.

This is a useful site for students to work through on their own.  Perhaps more importantly it could be something teachers recommend to students to supplement classroom instruction.  If students are having trouble articulating a particular sound, email them a link to the video, then suggest they follow up with one of the exercises.  Working through some of these clear and informative tutorials might be just the extra help they need.


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How Safe Are You?


My dog, whose name is "12345."

The photo above is from a poster I see around Ohio State once in a while.  The caption reads, “Someone stole my password… now I have to rename my dog.”  I think it is an elegant way to state what is a very important message: choose a strong password.

What is a strong password?  One that cannot easily be guessed.  It’s easy to find lists of the most common passwords used online and, invariably, password and 123456 (or similar) is at the top of every list.  When I see this, I’m reminded of the movie Spaceballs, which was released in 1987.  In one scene from this Star Wars parody, Dark Helmet learns that the combination to the air shield around planet Druidia is 12345, which Dark Helmet observes is the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage.  The punchline, below, occurs when the air shield’s combination is revealed to President Skroob (Mel Brooks).

Besides being a chance to insert a gratuitous Spaceballs clip, what is the point?  Well, even before we’d ever heard of email, 12345 was a bad password.  Adding a 6 didn’t make it much better.

But even the brightest among us — celebrities — haven’t learned this lesson.  It seems like every couple of weeks, there is a story about how Paris Hilton’s phone, Sarah Palin’s email, or Lindsay Lohan’s MySpace, Blackberry, and Gmail accounts have been hacked.  All of these attacks were due to weak passwords, or easy-to-guess password reset questions (according to Wired, Tinkerbell – password reset answer, Wasilla High – password reset answer, and 1234 – password, respectively.)  Startlingly, trying the top 10 or 20 passwords (and their variants such as 123, 1234, 12345, etc.) could unlock as many as 20% of online accounts, according to John P. on One Man’s Blog.

So, maybe you’re not Lindsay Lohan, but you probably still have information you want to protect.  And gaining access to one account can probably lead to access to all of them.  So even if your Facebook isn’t important enough to warrant a strong password, what information in that account could be used to access your email and then your online bank account?

What makes a strong password?  When students set up their OSU email accounts, I direct them to OSU’s password policy, which requires passwords to be at least 8 characters and some combination of alphabetic, numeric, and punctuation characters.  Also, an OSU password cannot contain the same character three times or more in a row, fewer than four different characters, or easily guessed phrases and words.  You can even rate your new password at the top of the page to see if your password is acceptable.  1234 returns the message “Unacceptable – Your new password is too short.”  (Sorry, Lindsay Lohan.)

Still having trouble?  John P. has some good tips in his article.  One approach is to substitute numbers and punctuation in place of some letters in a word.  This can make your password exponentially tougher to crack.  For example, gobuckeyes could become g08uck3y3$.  But even a n00b knows we could do better.  Instead of starting with a word, consider taking the first letter of each word in a phrase or song to create an easy to remember, but seemingly random string.  For example, the first letter from each word in the first two lines of Carmen, Ohio would give us oclsopastamr.  Now substitute  numbers and symbols for a few of these letters and you have a pretty robust password: 0c1$0p4$t4mR.

(Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend using that or any of the passwords you read here because any one of the tens of people who read this could then guess your password, but you can see how a strong password could be generated.)

Not feeling creative enough to make your own password?  Another approach is to use one of several password generators available online.  For example, grc.com has a page that generates strings of random characters each time the page is loaded.  Take as many as you need to create a strong password.  Another resource is onlinepasswordgenerator.com which generates 10 passwords at a time and can be configured to include numbers, punctuation, and capital letters, depending on your needs.

One final concern is having to remember passwords for so many different accounts.  Consider creating a simple algorithm that will alter the password slightly for each account.  For example, once you’ve committed 0c1$0p4$t4mR to memory, you could use 0c1$0p4$t4mRe for your email account, 0c1$0p4$t4mRb for your bank, and 0c1$0p4$t4mRfb for your Facebook account.  By adding the letters to the middle of the word and including the number of letters in the name of the account, each individual password would seem even more random, but all of them would be easy for you to remember.

I hope this post helps to make the internet a safer place for you.  If you recognized any of the passwords I’ve included here (especially the ones near the top), go update your accounts.  Or, change your dog’s name.


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Top 5 Technologies I Should Be Using

2 kids wearing 3D glasses.

Last week, I listed the top 5 technologies that you should be using if you are an ESL teacher in 2010.  Today, I present the list of the next 5 technologies I need to explore and possibly add to my bag of tricks.  If you have experience with them, leave your opinions, suggestions, and tips in the comments.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the (near) future:

1. Google Wave – Occasionally billed as the Future Of Email, Wave combines email, IM, and the collaborative parts of Google Docs.  Watch the full Google demo video or the lower resolution abridged version to get the idea.  This is one of those really cool technologies that leaves you asking, “So what do I do with it?”  I hope to have answers to that question soon.

2. Zorap – Like Wave, Zorap combines several disparate elements into one collaborative space.  From what I’ve seen, a space can be set up for many users quickly and easily.  That space can then be used for audio, video, and text conversations and files and documents can be shared to the group.  See the demo for more.  For a free application, it integrates a surprising number of interesting options for remote learning.

3. Ning – A social network akin to Facebook, but it’s not Facebook.  There are many existing nings for topic areas such as The English Companion Ning (“Where English teachers go to help each other”) and Classroom 2.0 (“the social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and Social Media in education”).  Plus, you can create a Ning for a topic that you like or a specific group of people, like the students in your class.  Because it’s a closed system, Ning may be more useful to anyone who can’t (or doesn’t want to) use Facebook or other social networks with their students.

4. Screenr – A free, web-based screen recorder.  Just drag a frame over the part of your screen you want to capture and Screenr will record a video of what happens inside that frame until you tell it to stop.  Great for creating demonstration videos or capturing a presentation.

5. Prezi – When I first saw Prezi, I thought it was just another slide sharing application.  Since then, I’ve seen some slick, remotely controlled presentations that use Prezi to great effect.  One of the best features is the ability to smoothly zoom in and out on portions of the presentation.  One large document can contain everything from headings to footnotes with each part zooming and snapping into place on the screen as it is selected.  This works equally well if the presenter is guiding the presentation or if an individual wants to explore it on his own.  For example, take a look at this Grammar Review Prezi.  You can use the arrows to go forward and back within the presentation, but you can also take control by zooming in and out, dragging the page around, and clicking on the text to zoom to a specific point.  Once you get used to this style of navigation (or, rather, every style of navigation simultaneously) many interesting ways to structure and organize information become possible.

Bonus: Sikuli – I’ve used applications with macros before, but Sikuli’s approach is unique because it can create a macro for any application using your computers GUI.  Think that sounds geeky?  Then the demonstration video might also be a little intimidating.  The gist of it is, you can automate almost any multi-step task on your computer, just by writing a simple script for Sikuli to follow.  While I can’t think of any tasks that are repetitive enough that I’d actually save time by learning how to use Sikuli (and, frankly, I’d rather play Bejeweled myself, thank you very much), the potential of this application is intriguing.


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The Reverse of Homework

young woman doing homework on her bed

Is it time to take the "home" out of homework?

An idea I’ve been thinking about for a while recently came across my Twitter feed: The Reverse of Homework.  A little digging brought me to the original article (edit: no longer freely available) referenced in the tweet.  Essentially, the idea is to take the lecture portion of a class and put it online.  Class time can then be used for problems and activities that had been relegated to homework.  While not everything in an ESL context can be put online, there are some areas where this strategy can be used.

In my own intermittent attempts in grammar classes, I’ve run into some of the issues described in the article, most of which had to do with students’ adjustment from the traditional homework paradigm.  But the benefits included students being able to review the material as much or as little as they chose (which may also constitute an “issue”) and having much more class time to answer the most difficult, challenging and interesting questions which students often run into by themselves at home and then forget to ask the next day.

Another benefit is that this approach can accommodate multiple learning styles.  When I was in college, I had trouble doing the background reading for lectures, but found it easy to read the material after the lecture.  Similarly, in language classes, I would rather build my knowledge by attempting things and making mistakes because I have to find the reason for learning a particular structure or set of vocabulary before I am motivated to study it.  My teaching often reflects my own learning style, but I recognize that not everyone prefers to learn the way I do.  Reversing homework allows students to prepare for the activities by listening to the lecture in advance or to attempt the activities and then go back and use the lecture as a resource.

The biggest downside is that it can take a long time to develop and adapt lectures to an online format.  But, if they are developed in a modular way, components can be shared and reused, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel each time a course is taught.  By combining original resources with preexisting resources, students may be given a wide variety of options which they can use to meet their goals and the goals of the course.

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Image Size and Resolution

over stretched image

Think this image looks good? Click on it to see it actual size. Yikes!

I made a presentation at Ohio TESOL last week about how to make better PowerPoint presentations.  I’m going to add the audio to my slides by the end of this week (currently, you can only view the original slides sans audio).

Overall, the presentation was very well received.  In fact, I even inspired some people to overcome their fear and give PowerPoint a try.  One such brave soul emailed me the following question about blurry images, which I think is worth sharing here.  It’s a problem that many beginners face when adding images to PowerPoint presentations as well as print documents.  You won’t be an expert until you can fix it.  My response follows.

I loved your presentation last week on PowerPoint.  Being technically challenged, pp has never been at the top of my list to try.  But, after listening to you last Friday, I have put together a small presentation for a listening and speaking one class.  My question is…After I paste and stretch photos from Flicker, they are blurry.  I realize it is probably a simple click, but I cannot find it.  Please help!

I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation and I’m glad you’re diving in  and trying things out in PowerPoint.  I think this is a really good way to learn this technology.

image stretched 900%

Stretching an image to 900% of its original size will result in a blurry or pixelated image.

The issue you’re dealing with is a common one.  It has to do with the size and resolution of the original image you’re trying to add to your presentation.  When you are in PowerPoint, double-click on the image you’re working with to pull up the “Format Picture” menu.  Choose the “Size” tab at the top to see if you’ve stretched your image past it’s original size.  If the height or width under “Scale” is more than 100%, you will probably experience some blurriness or you will start to see all of the pixels that make up the image.  (To really see this, try using a really small image from a website and stretching it to fill your entire slide.  It will get really, really blurry and pixely.)

flickr picture

Click on "all sizes" to find larger versions of images in Flickr.

So, that’s the problem, but what’s the solution?  Well, you need to start with larger original images.  Once you find an image in Flickr, you will see an “ALL SIZES” button right under the title of the picture.  This will take you to the original picture and often give you several different size options.  By choosing the original, you can usually find a version large enough that you will be able to stretch it to fill your slide.  I suggest you double-check after you stretch it though (double-click again to pull up the Format Picture menu) because if it’s more than about 110% of the original size, your picture may look stretched when projected onto a screen even if you don’t notice any problems on your computer.

Something else to consider is the file size of the picture you use.  If you just need a small picture, try to avoid using the largest size.  Using larger pictures increases the size of the file for your final presentation.  While finding room on a hard drive usually isn’t a problem for new computers, on some machines PowerPoint can get bogged down and run slowly if many large photos have to be loaded for every slide.  So, if you only need a little picture in the corner, try using a smaller size image.

I hope that’s pretty clear.  Give it a try and let me know if you’re still having trouble.  Incidentally, I hope to upload an updated version of my presentation complete with audio in the next couple of days.  Watch for it here: http://www.slideshare.net/eslchill

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Crowdsourcing Meta-Resources

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

A Google Spreadsheet of TED Talks.

I came across a blog post on The History Teacher’s Attic which organized TED Talks by educational discipline and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  The interesting part is that the post is based on a Google Docs Spreadsheet containing information on every TED Talk through July 29, 2009.  The thing I like most about this post is the potential in this spreadsheet.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk introduces his $50 interactive whiteboard.

Johnny Lee's TED Talk.

First, most TED Talks are fascinating (Johnny Lee’s talk introduced the world to the Wii-based $50 interactive whiteboard) and authentic audio resources for advanced ESL students.  Having one central resource with overviews of all talks, is very useful for an ESL teacher.

Second, Google Docs can be very useful tools for collaboration.  Because they are cloud-based, anyone can access and edit documents via a web browser.  By opening up the document for anyone to edit, the work of compiling all of the information can be distributed to many people.  For example, this list of educators on Twitter spreadsheet was crowdsourced, meaning many people did a little bit of work to build what is a pretty extensive list.

The US Presidents mashup.

A mashup of US Presidents.

And once the spreadsheet has enough information, it can be mashed up in useful new ways.  For example, this mashup, created using MIT’s Exhibit, makes the information in the TED Talks Google Docs spreadsheet sortable and searchable.  Other examples include Flags of the World, which combines flag images from Wikipedia and a Google Map, and US presidents, which includes a timeline, map, images, and facts about each president such as religion and political party.

So, at this point, I’m ready to begin the new project of collecting and compiling some of my favorite resources into larger, crowdsourced, mashable meta-resources.  I’m going to start with a wide-open Google Docs spreadsheet, and then try my hand at different mashups.  But, before I begin, here are some questions I’m trying to answer.  (Feel free to supply your answers by commenting on this post.)

This American Life has great audio.

This American Life has great audio.

First, what resource(s) should be compiled?  TED Talks seem to be relatively well covered, but how about a similar resource for This American Life episodes, stories from The Moth live storytelling events, YouTube videos (EDU or otherwise), or other resources?  Should the meta-resource be targeted to ESL / EFL teachers or all educators?  And finally, what information should be included?  A link to the resource, the title, duration and a synopsis are obvious details, but what else?  Maybe keywords or tags as a way to organize them, the goegraphic location of where the story takes place, a warning system for language or content not appropriate for the classroom, and links to related resources in case students want to explore particular topics further.

So, consider this a call to action.  I’m going to solicit lots of feedback and then begin.  Once underway, I’m going to solicit more help.  With a little crowdsourcing, we can grow some really interesting and useful resources.


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Teach Like a Dandelion Not a Mammal

(cc) http://www.flickr.com/photos/28481088@N00/434872938/

Teach like this.

I was still thinking about Connectivism when I read “Tech Is Too Cheap to Meter: It’s Time to Manage for Abundance, Not Scarcity,” Chris Anderson’s article in Wired magazine. The article is an excellent interpretation of how the increasing ubiquitousness of technology has changed our relationship to it. The central metaphor here is how two very different organisms, dandelions and mammals, reproduce.

Dandelions reproduce by scattering as many seeds as possible, a tiny fraction of which will take root and grow. Fish, and many other kinds of animals, reproduce this way too. By contrast, mammals in general, and humans in particular, typically produce far fewer offspring and work much harder to ensure each one survives. Technology has become so cheap that it, too, can be scattered everywhere. This has the potential to change everything from business to education.

One example from Anderson’s article is the medium of video. Broadcast television, the traditional way video is viewed, operates like a mammal. Each television show is research, cast, scripted, piloted and refined before it airs because media companies need to be certain their shows will be watched millions of viewers in order to attract advertisers. But YouTube, which is free, behaves like a dandelion. Countless videos are posted, the best of which are viewed millions of times, while others may never be viewed at all.

Anderson inludes lots of other examples, but I really got to thinking about how to teach like a dandelion. This brought me back to Connectivism. One issue that I think Connectivism addresses nicely is that students can make connections to knowledge that are appropriate for their own individual learning style. For example, listening to two people talking on a YouTube video may be very useful for auditory learners, while visual learners might prefer to see a chart outlining a topic or idea.

I often use a course management system (CMS) with my classes and post links to a variety of resources for my students. For example, when teaching grammar, I often post copies of my presentation materials, notes I make in class, practice quizzes, YouTube videos, and other resources. But what if I posted more? And what if I encouraged my students to post more? Maybe we could break out of the CMS by devising a common tag based on the course number, and we could all tag resources using a social bookmarking tool like Delicious.

Another important aspect of Connectivism is that the teacher should teach students how to evaluate resources. In a dandelion-like world, where countless resources come floating at you on the wind, this will prove to be an essential skill. The technology that will enable this shift in teaching already exists. But will teachers and students, most of whom are mammals, be ready for it?


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