Six things to know about an e-workbook

Well everyone it’s that time again on Six Things when I give a little commercial for Global. OK, actually a big commercial for Global. I’ve been quiet about it for six months (on this blog at least). But I had promised (threatened?) to tell you about the digital component of the course in a little more detail and now I can. Here are six features of the much talked-about e-workbook, the latest in self-study from my course Global.

1 It’s not a simple CDROM.

The e-workbook comes on a disc, it’s true. But it is unlike the recent CDROMs in a few different ways. First of all, it isn’t stuck in some little plastic envelope and glued to the back of the student’s book. We’ve found that many students don’t even touch those CDROMs, or they end up on the floor. Teachers don’t bother to show students how they work. So a little improvement has been to give the e-workbook an A4 pamphlet of its own complete with screen shots and explanations of how to use it. Like a technical manual. Also, you install the e-workbook on a computer and activate it (with an activation code). You don’t need the disc any more after that.

2 It allows different ways of working.

The e-workbook contains of course lots of interactive exercises for grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, pronunciation the lot. But we realised that not everybody wants to work on the computer all the time. So all the language practice activities are also available as downloadable pdfs, with corresponding audio files. Which means you can print and work. These pdfs aren’t screenshots, they are in fact a complete printed workbook with artwork and proper layout etc. There are more than 100 interactive activities and 80 pages of printable worksheets.

3 It has lots of extra audio, JUST audio

When I was learning German, I desperately wanted to be able to JUST LISTEN to things in German. Basically hear the words, the phrases and perhaps short little conversations. “Doing” listening exercises was helpful, but I didn’t want to do that all the time when I studied. So in the e-workbook we’ve put both. There are plenty of listening exercises (true/false, matching etc) but there are also a whole bunch of files of “just listening”. These include: word lists by category, useful phrases by function, mini conversations (to put words and phrases into context) and extracts from the literature in the book read aloud in an audiobook format. All of these have a feature that allows you to read the text on screen, with the words being highlighted as you read and listen.

4 It has an impressive video offering

We wanted to include video on the e-workbook as well. Lots of ELT video is… how to say… a bit crap. The settings look unreal, the production cost is not so high and it shows. So we decided to save on that budget and instead get great actors and a great writer to do very simple, almost improv theatre-like videos. Here’s an example of one below:

The video material for these was written by the extremely talented Robert Campbell, known for his great magazine iT’s for Teachers (check it out!). But that’s only HALF of the video material. The other half is the authentic material. For this it was like a dream come true: we managed to get the full backlist video archive of the BBC documentaries to choose from. So there is some incredibly good material on there. I’d include one here but we aren’t allowed to display them on the internet!

So in total there are 20 videos on the e-workbook. They are all short clips. Each video comes with a worksheet with comprehension and language activities for the student to do if he/she wants to. An additional bonus is that the teacher has the same 20 videos he/she can use in class, along with an extra 10 clips from the BBC (that follow on from the original documentary clips)

5 It supports mobile learning

Here’s the best part. All the video and audio can be downloaded and put onto any portable music or video playing device: an MP4 player, an ipod/pad/phone or any phone which supports audio and video files. So students can practice their English anywhere, at any time.

6 It has testing and reference tools

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a self-test machine that generates grammar and vocabulary mini tests (the student can choose a number of questions, or take a timed test). The questions will be different each time. And (running out of breath here) there is a reference section too with wordlists and definitions, grammar help, writing tips and a link to the dictionary. Oh, and for those schools big on Common European Framework there are all the language passport and dossier documents as well as self-assessment checklists too for students to build their own portfolio.

The e-workbook also keeps track of all the work done on it. You can create a pdf of your markbook, showing EXACTLY what you have done so far in any given session. This means that the teacher can ask students to email or print off a record of their work.

FINALLY… if your school is using a moodle or other virtual learning platform then the content of the e-workbook can be licensed directly from Macmillan and put onto your site (it’s SCORM compliant, which means it can work in a moodle).

Phew! Well, that’s it. And yes I KNOW this was a commercial plug but it IS my baby after all. So consider this like looking at a bunch of baby photos and making nice noises like “ooohhh” and “how beautiful”… 😉

Published in: on June 16, 2010 at 9:32 am  Comments (9)  
Tags: , , ,

Six scary things about the internet

The internet can be a big bad place. Recently I seem to have come across several warnings about web use and computers, some I knew about and others I didn’t. I’ve collected six scary things here that can form part of a discussion on online and computer activity or just generally serve as an awareness-raising reading for teachers and learners moving into the virtual environment.

1 Flame wars and smack talk – The internet is said to have a disinhibiting effect on people’s communication, meaning that they will sometimes say things in online discussions that they would never dream of saying in face to face communication. This hostile and/or insulting behaviour is called flaming, or sometimes smack talk. When users fight fire with fire it descends into a spiral, also called a flame war.

2 Internet addiction disorder – There is some disagreement as to whether this is a separate disorder or rather just a symptom of other disorders (e.g. gambling or porn addicts who go online). Apart from the obvious – wanting to be online all the time – symptoms include fatigue, lack of sleep, irritability, apathy, racing thoughts… uh oh this is feeling close to comfort I’ll stop there 🙂

3 Creepy Treehouse syndrome – What a great name for a syndrome. This has been defined as a place online that adults built with the intention of luring kids in (by Jared Stein, see a more detailed exploration here). In education circles, some people refer to the Creepy Treehouse syndrome when a teacher for example “forces” students to join twitter or Facebook and become friends or followers. Needless to say, this is rather hotly debated (see here for example)

4 Trolls – Internet trolls are unpleasant people who post insulting, inflammatory or irrelevant messages in online forums or on blogs or other public areas. The prime motivation of a troll is to disrupt communication or provoke an emotional response. If a troll is baiting you online, you are giving them exactly what they want by rising to it.

5 Facebook depression  – This one is a bit tenuous, but I need to get my six in so here goes. According to one study of teenage girls in New York the ability to share problems and personal issues to such an extent is causing, or at least aggravating, depression. The problem with online places such as Facebook is that it allows one to discuss and cover the same problems over and over again. You know, really wallow in it.

6 Narcissism and web 2.0 – Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic, call web 2.0 the new Wild West of narcissistic culture. They say the overwhelming message of social networking sites is a focus on the individual and, often, the superficial. Two arguments they make that made me think were the following: 1) the internet makes it very easy for you to be someone you’re not (usually better, cooler, more attractive )and 2) a lot of internet communication is through images and brief self-description placing attention on the shallower aspects of the person (your carefully selected photo, your quips, your blurbs). Ouch!

So, I wonder… do you think learners and educators should be aware of these things, and to what extent? Are these real fears or exaggerated horrors about modern technological life? Post a comment if you feel like it.

Published in: on February 11, 2010 at 9:32 am  Comments (14)  
Tags: , ,

Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology

technology attitudes

Hello again! Grab a coffee for this post, as there is plenty to read but I’m sure it won’t leave you indifferent! Six Things is joined by Gavin Dudeney, whose name will already be very well-known to many of you out there in cyberspace. Gavin’s a teacher trainer, award-winning author and edu-technologist. When he’s not travelling the world giving workshops and sessions on integrating technology into teaching he can be found in Barcelona. He has also been quite active in quite a few heavy discussions online about all of this. How heavy? Well, see below to be up on the debate!

Gavin Dudeney’s Six Attitudes to Technology  [ And Why They’re Tosh ]

There’s a battle going on out there: on blogs, on Twitter, in Yahoo Groups, on sites like the British Council Teaching English site and elsewhere… a battle for our hearts and minds, a battle between the technophiles and the technophobes (or, sometimes techno-sceptics). It’s the battle for your time, your teaching approach, for your commitment to a cause… it’s the “is technology good or bad?’ battle.

People who know me will be no stranger to my views, but since I was so kindly invited by Lindsay to contribute to SixThings, here is my cogent, extremely intellectual and totally correct view on the other side…

1. It Breaks All The Time

A popular one, this – as if that were true, or indeed a reason for not using it.

One of ELT’s greatest writers refers to technology all the time with the use of the word ‘faff’. As far as he’s concerned, there’s just too much faffing – you spend more time trying to get it to work than it does actually working and enhancing your teaching. Take a look for the word ‘faff’ on Wikipedia.

“to dither, futz, diddle, ‘I spent the day faffing about in my room’.”

Does that suggest to you a problem with the tool or approach, or a problem with the person? My father used to say ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I think this is a clear case of that happening (though I should probably replace ‘workman’ with ‘workperson’)  …

You can minimise the faff by learning a bit about computers and other peripherals and how they work. We do the same with plenty of other things – few of us would dream of going to class and helping a learner with, say, the present perfect, without knowing something about it. It’s called preparation.

Make sure your own computer is well-looked-after and protected against viruses, etc. Make sure you have the right adaptors and cables. Check with event or class organisers what kind of projector, sound system they have. Arrive early to try things out. If you do all that then things should be fine.

I have over six computers running at home – they work fine. I have a web server that has not been rebooted for months – it works fine. I’ve over twenty installations of Moodle running globally – they work fine.

In Greece last week and in Cork the week before I had no Net connection for talks I was giving. I had planned for that, and had an offline version of my talk which was just as creative and engaging, even for the audience – the feedback was grand (and people have been in touch since then to show me examples of work they have done with learners as a result of tools and approaches we examined in the sessions). Is it too much to ask people to be prepared, adaptable and professional? I don’t faff – why do you?

2. It’s Unproven Pedagogically

Detractors go to extraordinary lengths to dig up research that appears to give weight to their argument that there is no real bulk of evidence that supports any significant advantage to using technology. Of course, this is a mug’s game – for every report someone can dig out that says ‘X had no significant impact on Y’, one can dig out a report that says the opposite.

There’s plenty of evidence that technology works in certain situations when used well, etc., etc. but of course you can find the opposite too. There’s little evidence to suggest that many approaches or ‘states of mind’ in teaching significantly enhance the learning – but it beggars belief that we are seriously invited to take some ideas on faith but not apply the same leeway to technology. You can’t have it all your own way, people.

If you want evidence to counteract that old report from 1994 that concluded that doing T/F exercises on a BBC Micro had no great impact on teenage learners of Russian in Dalston (sample of four over ten days) and on which you base your theories that ‘it really isn’t much good, you know’ then why not search the archives of EuroCALL or similar organisations, ones that actually do the relevant research. Of course, you should expect the same rigourous appraisal of any approach, method, etc. that you espouse…

3. It’s Boring And Not Interactive

One of the greatest myths is that technologies in class are not very interactive, that really it’s like doing exercises on the screen. And of course it can be. People who have this opinion are usually people who haven’t been teaching for a decade or so, who last used a computer in class when they had sixteen colours, no sound and the only thing you could do on them was manipulate text, and who haven’t moved beyond that phase.

Just to get them up to speed, perhaps they should consider what computers actually can do these days; sound, animation, video, collaboration, production, conversation, communication… With blogs, wikis, live voice chat (with video) and a whole host of other tools you can actually provide opportunities for learners to speak to people they WANT to speak to, rather than people they’re FORCED to speak to by dint of being in the same room.

If you use technology in the ‘noun’ way described by Prensky then of course a lot of learners are going to find it boring and not very interactive at all. But if you get some training, use some imagination and explore the options, you might get round to using it in a ‘verb’ way and people might actually interact, create, talk, communicate and – yes – learn.

That old Hebrew proverb (don’t confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in different times) should be a pointer here. But I’d change it a little: don’t confine your learners (or trainees) to your memories of what computers used to be like the last time you were a practising teacher or used one in class. Times have changed, have you?

4. It’s All Porn & Paedophilia

Another one that had me laughing recently – another disingenuous attempt at picking away at the value of technologies. The author of this particular post claimed that when he was taking his learners to the ‘Internet Room’ (even the use of the phrase ‘Internet Room’ should date the class) they just spent their time surfing for porn.

And that does raise a lot of questions:

  • Why was your class so boring that they felt a need to do that?
  • Why did you have such little control that they could do it?
  • Didn’t people use to look for rude words in dictionaries?
  • Haven’t kids always looked for pictures of naked people?

The fact is, of course, that if you can’t use technology in a stimulating way – if you can’t engage your learners… if you can’t control their natural urges to ‘bunk off’ then you really shouldn’t be in a classroom, either with or without technology. As I  pointed out in this discussion, when this teacher’s kids were looking at bums and things, mine were involved in email penpal exchanges with kids their age in the US, and regular real-time chats with kids their age in Poland.

Even the most irrationally technology-fearful teacher must surely recognise that the learners resorting to looking for naked body parts is more a reflection of the power of technology to stimulate (!) and the teacher’s inability to use the technology properly, than any actual weakness in the technology itself. We’re back to our bad ‘workperson’ again…

And of course the bad teacher’s experience with technology was also an ideal opportunity to discuss safe surfing, safe online practices and the role of naked body parts in education as well as the dangers of giving away too much personal information online. But I suspect that this didn’t happen either – you have to know the details in order to share them…

5. It’s Bad For People

Another popular meme – this usually means something along the lines of:

  • I read an article in 1997 that said watching telly for seven hours a day is detrimental and that therefore equates perfectly to modern media such as Web 2.0 [ ummm…. ]
  • I just read an informal report on kids’ attention spans and apparently they’re really short and rubbish and this is all down to Twitter. [ watch a kid play a computer game for twelve hours if you wish to see a decent attention span ]
  • I read somewhere that staring at a screen for eight hours a day can have a negative impact on your eyesight [ well duh! ]
  • I think it’s terrible that my child plays on the PSP for four hours a day [ so do I. Do you have a point to make other than something along the lines of how bad a parent you are? ]
  • Kids who grow up using computers can’t hold pens properly because their hands develop differently and bones never grow properly [ I heard this one in Hungary last year…. no comment ]

Of course most things can be bad for people when they’re done to excess. Those of us who espouse technologies are also quite capable of teaching without them, with nothing, with other tools, etc. We are the balanced lot. Teachers who refuse to even consider and try out technologies (where they have them) are actually unbalanced, for all sorts of reasons. Writing technologies off because you know nothing about them, have not experienced them and have never taught with them does not make them bad tools.

6. It’s Not Fair

No, it’s really not – not fair on your learners, some of the time.

Look, it’s a question of respect-  it’s not that people are attacking you for not engaging with technologies, it’s more that people are enquiring where this blind refusal to try them comes from (I suspect it mostly comes from the points and attitudes above)…

It also comes from things which are often out of the control of teachers: lack of equipment, lack of support, lack of training, an inability for curriculum setters, examining board, school owners, teacher trainers, DoSs, etc. to move beyond the 1980s and of course the chalk-face teacher is the greatest victim here.

But what confuses me is that teachers make their own opportunities for development when they’re not getting it instutionally: they read, they pay for their own courses, they travel to conferences (if they can) and they make every effort to keep up-to-date. Why not with technology? The answer’s right here – nobody takes it seriously in our ultra-conservative profession, and that’s why we’re destined to be a few steps behind business, and destined to short-change some of our learners.

And why is it ok for you to use technologies for your professional development and for your teacher training, but it’s no good for the ‘poor teachers’ or their charges. Where did this one rule for you and another for the learners come from? There’s no democracy in some ELTlandias.

If all the detractors who spend so much of their time moaning about how unreliable, porn-laden, boring, troublesome, unfair, blah, blah, blah technologies are spent the same amount of time on their teaching, writing, etc., our profession would be buzzing.

As it is, we’re old hat… moribund…. laughable…. so non-nerd we’re the new nerds that people like to snigger at. I can help – if you faff all the time or can’t think of anything creative to do with technologies or your learners are always looking at naked bodies, please get in touch. No fee…

Gavin Dudeney is the author of the award-winning book How to Teach with Technology (written with Nicky Hockly) and The Internet and the Language Classroom. He is co-founder of The Consultants-E, an online consultancy providing courses and training for teachers. You can read more from Gavin over at his blog, That S’Life.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments (84)  
Tags: , , , ,

Six technological inventions teachers REALLY want to see

 

We are now fully into the conference season, and there seems to be no shortage of talks and presentations about teaching English with technology. I’m not an anti-technology teacher by any stretch of the imagination, but I occasionally find myself longing for certain gadgets that teachers would REALLY find useful. I mean, Second Life and Interactive Whiteboards are great and all, but imagine how the following gadgets I’ve dreamed up would improve your teaching life!

1 Mute ™. Mute is a simple handheld device that looks like a remote control for your television. It has a big red button on it. Extremely simple to use, all you do is point Mute at a class and press the red button. It will silence the class immediately. Press the red button again to allow talking. Mute even has a single-user function, which means you can just “turn off” a particularly chatty student.

2. Exam-eeze™. Exam-eeze is a software programme that marks exams for you, including pieces of writing. Not only will it do the marking, but it will also add nice friendly bits of praise (e.g. “very nice bit of writing here! Is that true?” or suggestions for the student “you should review past tense forms”). All you do is scan in the exams and let Exam-eeze do the rest. It will even enter the marks into an Exam-eeze Mark Book for future reference.

3. Report-eeze™. Report-eeze is similar to its sister programme Exam-eeze. Report-eeze is equipped to write any boring reports you have to do for your school and can do these in any of the fifty languages available. Report cards for students, group reports, progress reports, class logs, letters to parents, incomprehensible reports for quality control purposes at your school… Report-eeze will do it all.

4. Teacher teleport™. Are you a business English teacher? Tired of spending your days on buses, metros, trams or in cars running from one end of the city to another to do your classes? Teacher teleport will instantly transport you from one location to another, along with all your gear (laptop, ipod, pack lunch, coursebooks…). Beam me up, Scotty!

5. Virtual Substitute Teacher™. Forget your avatar in Second Life, imagine you could have one in real life! With Virtual Substitute Teacher (VST) now you can. VST creates a three-dimensional hologram of you that will cover your classes when you can’t face going to work. It can be programmed with up to twenty standby lessons. Your students, colleagues and even your director of studies won’t even notice the difference.

 6. Pure Genius™. If you’ve ever been under pressure for your students to succeed in an external exam, then Pure Genius is the product for you. Pure Genius is a small black box with a single on/off switch. Switch it on and it emits a series of radiowaves that increases students’ attention, reduces their stress and improves their performance on exams.  With the use of this box, your classes will consistently do well both in internal and external exams. You will be the most sought-after teacher at the school, the darling of the director of studies and the envy of your colleagues. It’s just Pure Genius.

I have now patented the names of all these products and am just waiting for financial backing to begin development. In the current economic downturn this may take a little longer than originally expected, but I am confident. Technology will find a way!

Do you have a fantasy technological advance that would ease your workload, rather than increase it? Post a comment.

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 11:41 am  Comments (30)  
Tags: , , ,

Six things to do with Interactive Whiteboards

iwb

Ahh… the interactive whiteboard. Judging by the coverage this is getting at conferences and so on, I’d say it really represents the next frontier in language teaching. I still have yet to work with one seriously (the only time I’ve used one was at a demonstration) but I can see the advantages if used correctly. Teachers have told me “yeah, IWBs, great…but we have nothing to use with them, no activities, no material”. This is where someone like Daniel Martin comes in. He has written a book called Activities for Interactive Whiteboards. I grabbed a hold of him at the last TESOL Spain conference and asked him for half a dozen ideas for a newbie like me. Here they are…

1. Work with text. Type text, then select the virtual pen application and set the color to the same background color on the screen (typically white). Run the pen over the text, thus hiding it and giving the visual impression that nothing is there. Then select the virtual eraser and drag it over the hiding text thus revealing it. This is a very useful trick for fill in the gap activities, for instance.

2. Work with videos. Find a short video from a website, play it and, as you play it, annotate –or have a student do it- key vocabulary to be found in that footage around the edges. Then your students, in pairs, may tell each other what they just saw using the help provided by the annotations.

3. Record students’ work. Present some grammar and have your students write sentences on the board to exemplify the grammar points covered. Then print some handouts with the personalized sentences or post the file to your blog or website.

4. Work with pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. Google any concrete noun being dealt with in class that your students may not know (dome, frame, thorn, eyelash, etc.). Then have your students explain their meaning to you in English.

5. Work on writing. Keep a classroom blog and then encourage your students to submit their writing samples. This is a good opportunity for showing good examples of work (make annotations on the board as you display those samples and perhaps print some copies later as well). Give real purpose to writing assignments. That way they can be accessed and read not just by everyone else in the class but in fact by the whole world.

6. Have fun. Find language games online and use them in the classroom. 

 

activities_for_interactivecd

Daniel Martín is an English teacher, teacher trainer and author of the book Activities for Interactive Whiteboards, Helbling Languages.

Published in: on March 25, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , ,