Category Archives: Motivation

Lifelong learning in the digital age

 

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John Watson, Fallen David (2005). Retrieved from www.flickr.com/photos/john/28599366

Teachers are tasked with the huge privilege and responsibility to shape their students into lifelong learners, giving them the skills and curiosity to continue learning on their own initiative beyond their formal education. Howell (2012, pp. 39-43) outlines the significance of lifelong learning as recognised in various policy documents, notably the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008), which acknowledges the speed at which technology is developing and the necessity for young people to be ‘highly skilled’ in its use. Such competence is essential for the reasons outlined in my previous post on the ‘digital divide’, notably to maximise students’ employability and aptitude for student-centred tertiary study, in addition to shaping the ‘active and informed citizens’ envisaged by the declaration.

The digital age has certainly facilitated independent and lifelong learning, with constant connectivity and information on demand meaning that any information is available at any time. Whereas twenty years ago a large portion of the population was limited to physical books and television in obtaining information, this is no longer the case for the vast majority of the Australian population. The internet equally facilitates online communication with co-collaborators domestically and internationally for only the minimal cost of the connection, lending itself to collaborative learning. Evidently, the technology will continue to evolve and increase the already seemingly endless possibilities for online learning.

Although students can already access information online and learn in a less formal way, online materials that are specifically created for education provide engaging ways of integrating technology into the classroom and ideally peaking students’ interest to the extent that they are likely to revisit them in their spare time. In this way, students will adopt the habit of accessing and interacting with educational content from home, therefore accelerating their learning and setting them up for lifelong curiosity. Examples of such content include online games, for example the enjoyable and somewhat addictive Corporation Inc to teach various economic concepts and financial literacy, and Vicki Hollett’s One Minute English YouTube series to present grammar and vocabulary for learners of English as a second language in an engaging way. For upper school students, particularly the gifted and talented, content can be taken from MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) or the more user-friendly Coursera site, which runs free online University courses (many of which are introductory). The essential element here is selecting content that excites students and clearly explaining or showing how the content can be accessed from outside the classroom.

 

Expecting students to become lifelong learners without providing a role model is, however, a more challenging task. For this reason, and many others, teachers need to continue their professional development throughout their careers and ensure that their students are constantly aware of it. For example, teachers could briefly tell their students about a professional development day when they return to school or show them a book they are reading. Even online courses which are unrelated to teachers’ specialisations could spark interest among students. As such, teachers need to be active in lifelong learning themselves and open with their students about their learning.

In summary, available technologies and particularly internet access are gifts for educators in terms of encouraging lifelong learning. Teachers need to grasp such technologies and engage learners by integrating them into their lessons and encouraging follow-up after class, as well as sharing their personal learning experiences with their students.

References

Barr, A., Gillard, J., Firth, V., Scrymgour, M., Welford, R., Lomax-Smith, J., . . . Constable, E. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians. Melbourne: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs.

Howell, J. (2012). Teaching with ICT: Digital Pedagogies for Collaboration and Creativity. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

 

New Year – New Projects

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Although I don’t have any new year’s resolutions involving diet and exercise, (although perhaps I should), the last heavenly three weeks that I spent with my little boy Hugo, swimming at the beach and walking the dog, have given me the clarity to figure out some plans for the year. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and enroll at Curtin University to do a Graduate Diploma in Education (secondary) and hopefully get into a different kind of teaching.

We’ve bought a block in our dream destination, Margaret River, and should have a slab very soon. The beaches there all look like postcards, the vineyards are fabulous and every person we have ever met down there are really friendly. In some ways it has a really European feel about it and makes us feel like we’re back in France. It’s a great place to raise kids and there’s even a new primary school that is going to be built within walking distance of our place.

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Flickr: Robert Young, Vineyard

Unfortunately, from what I can see, there isn’t much of an ESL scene, which means I won’t be able to do exactly the same kind of work I’ve been doing for the last four years. After toying with some radical career changes involving a whole new three or four year degree, I’ve decided that I would love to be a secondary school teacher. Hopefully with some patience and perseverance I will be able to find some work in the region, and enjoy it as much as I do teaching adults.

Another project that has me fascinated at the moment is the Country Teaching Program and the Remote Teaching Service. Essentially, teachers are encouraged to work in country towns all over the states for one year or more and incentives depend on the remoteness of the school. I think it would be a great adventure for my family and it would be really satisfying for me to put my ESL teaching experience to use in an Aboriginal community. I am also sure that some materials-light teaching in a small school will give me some really valuable experience that will make me a better teacher.

Flickr: Georgie Sharp, "Horseshoe Range"

Flickr: Georgie Sharp, “Horseshoe Range”

For the moment I’ll keep my head in the course textbook and enjoy being a student some of the time, rather than just having a teaching role. I’m expecting some really good things from 2016 and hope that the things I learn will get me ready for adventures in years to come!

 

 

Living and teaching in Perth, Australia – An update

After spending an amazing three and a half years in France, my husband and I have come back to Australia to make the most of the beach, the sunshine and the family. As I wasn’t initially doing any teaching work, (I took some time off and then tried some call centre work for a few weeks), my blogging and Linkedin activities were on hold for a few months. I missed teaching and having the opportunity to get to know students and see them develop from day to day and week to week., but was delighted to get a phone call from the PIBT at the beginning of the month inviting me to come and teach. So I can happily say that I am back in action and looking forward to being able to share my new teaching and learning experiences with you.

My new position at the Perth Institute of Technology (PIBT) at Edith Cowan university

Let me begin by telling you how much I love my new job! The staff are all lovely and we even have morning tea on Fridays. The Mt Lawley campus is really beautiful at this time of year and I can have my lunch outside at a picnic table underneath the blossom trees. My class is also a real pleasure to teach and because I see them for 14 hours a week, I really have the opportunity to get to know them. This means that my classes can be adapted to what they need and what they respond best to. The other great thing that has struck me, as compared to my students at the business school in France who only had a few hours contact time per week, is the progress that I see from week to week. These students are preparing for an IELTS exam which they need in order to be able to take various courses at Edith Cowan university. One of the most important skills that they will need for both the test and their tertiary study, and the fact that they have sufficient time to write in class means that I can give them the feedback they need.

Another great thing about teaching English to international students in Australia is that, rather than having a monolingual class like I did in France, I’ve got a real mix of nationalities and backgrounds, (Indian, Vietnamese, Saudi and Chinese). Although students do sometimes speak their L1 during class in small groups, most of the time they have no choice but to communicate English during the class. The mix does bring with it a new set of challenges though. Having taught exclusively native French speakers who tended to make all the same kinds of mistakes, this is a whole new ball game. There are different aspects of pronunciation to work on for each group and the majority of students who don’t use the same alphabet in their first language, which can mean that handwriting, capital letters and spelling aren’t always a strong point. My project this weekend is to dive into Michael Swan’s Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interfererence and Other Problems and try to get a better idea of what I’m dealing with.

More happy news – A new Australian on the way

In other news, I’m delighted to announce that my husband and I have our first baby on the way! Baby will be coming late February, in the heat of the Australian summer. With a Kiwi mum and a French dad, this little Aussie is going to have a lot of travelling and language learning to do! I’ve been reading quite a bit about bilingualism in children and I suppose that this will be something that I’ll be researching more and blogging about in the future. With everything I read, I become more and more amazed at how clever kids are and how well they can take on information to adapt to new situations. I’m almost inclined to organize a Chinese au pair who will speak only Chinese to baby so he doesn’t need to work anywhere near as hard as I do to learn the language as an adult. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted!

 

Week 1: The Fundamentals of Online teaching: Teaching by doing

This is my second post on a Coursera course I’m currently doing on online course design and teaching. This week the focus is on teaching theories and in particular the importance of having students learn in a hands-on way. Our first assignment was to reflect on some excellent articles and videos provided to us on teaching with technology.

When I first began reflecting on ‘learning by doing’ I thought of baby cheetahs learning to hunt. They learn by hunting themselves and if they don’t do it correctly there won’t be anything to eat. Perhaps this can be applied to business language learning: if you can’t communicate effectively it can be very difficult to do your job!

 

Here are my reflections:

The first article ‘The Trans-classroom Teacher (Lowes 2008)’ had me thinking very deeply about the process of adapting a course from a face-to-face format to an online one. It reminded me of ESL veteran Thomas SC Farrell’s plenary session at last year’s TESOL France conference ‘Reflecting on Reflective Practice’ when he encouraged us to consider very closely why we do what we do in the classroom. This is equally as important for the big things as the small things (the words we say, the gestures we make and the order of activities). I was unsurprised at the teachers’ reports that this reflection led them to make changes that significantly improved their face-to-face classes too. ‘Brain-based learning’ (Clemons 2005) reiterated the importance of structuring materials into ‘chunks’ in order for students to integrate these into their spatial memory. My attention was drawn in particular to the importance of emotions in learning and students’ tendency to close-up when they sense anxiety, threat etc. As a language teacher, it can be challenge to teach in a way that is sufficiently intense and varied enough to peak students’ attention while being careful not to make students feel anxious or threatened. This is something that varies between students, so teachers’ adaptability is paramount. I wonder if a one-size-fits-all online system will be able to address this for all students?

‘What we learn when we learn by doing’ (Schank 1995) was a scathing criticism of rote-learning and teaching for the sake of teaching and reminded me of the importance of teaching what is immediately useful and in a meaningful way. For me, this is particularly relevant in the context of adult learning and English for business. Motivation is natural when the student needs a particular language to do their job and when the motivation wanes the first question to be asked is ‘Is this material immediately relevant?’ The students at Carnegie Mellon West seem extremely motivated and can see straight away how the skills they are learning are applicable to the work environment they will soon enter.

Overall, I really appreciated having the opportunity to reflect on the question of doing vs reading/listening in learning. While it isn’t something new for me (as teacher-training has been centred on ‘doing’ for some time now), these resources are a fresh reminder of the importance of taking a step back and really putting this into our courses.