Category Archives: Professional development

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.

 

Participation and the Digital Divide

Grand Canyon National Park Cloud Inversion: November 29, 2013
http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/upload/trip-planner-grca.pdf

I’m currently in the process of researching an essay on the ‘digital divide’, essentially looking at what different commentators believe that it is, whether it is widening or closing and what it’s implications might be for educators and school systems. Today’s post will reflect on the differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of technology in an educational setting, and in doing so illuminate some of the issues surrounding the gap.

A very basic concept of the digital gap is the difference in access to technology, specifically between lower and higher socioeconomic groups (Wilheim, Carmen & Reynolds cited in Eamon, 2004). In an Australian setting this was a significant issue in the early 2000s, with approximately one third of households lacking internet access, although this situation has improved somewhat with ninety-seven percent of households with children under fifteen having access (ABS, 2016). Despite this, various commentators argue that the digital divide has not gone away, but has rather become more complex in nature. McCollum (2011, p. 53) argues for a redefining of the digital divide, maintaining that the simple presence of computers in classrooms, (however dysfunctional), has not sufficed in closing the digital divide. He highlights that as opposed to being less digitally engaged than their more privileged peers, children from low-socioeconomic groups are more likely to game, network socially or access videos online. Furthermore, they are more likely to use smartphones to access online materials, using the same devices for homework tasks. Evidently, such children are disadvantaged in the non-educational quality of what they choose to access online and in the devices they use to access information that are ill-adapted to study.

This evidence has several implications. An earlier understanding of the digital divide may have lent itself to the argument that poorer children would, on the contrary, benefit from limited exposure to technology. The fact that they have even more exposure to aspects of the internet which have arguably the least educational benefit, at the expense of more educational activities, highlights a serious disadvantage. Smartphone dependence, although fostering a type of digital competence, is unlikely to equip disadvantaged students to use computers in the way that they will be expected to in further education and in the world of work. For example, these students could struggle to undertake research which requires managing several documents at once, using referencing programs and word processing. More advanced IT skills, which youth surveys have shown as being perceived to be key to employment prospects, may also be limited (Eamon, 2004, p. 94). Failure to access online media can equally exclude students from low-socioeconomic groups from civic participation, leading to disadvantage in terms of political awareness and civic participation (p. 94). In this light, it is clear that the digital divide has not dissolved over the past few decades, but that it has changed its form. Current and future teachers, therefore, face a significant task in attempting to remedy the disadvantages perpetuated by these more recent findings.

References

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). 8146.0 – Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2014-15. Retrieved August 23, 2016, from http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8146.0

Eamon, M. K. (2004). Digital divide in computer access and use between poor and non-poor youth. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 31(2), 91–113.

McCollum, S. (2011). Getting Past the “digital divide.” The Education Digest, 77(2), 52–55.

 

“A teacher who is not reflective can be transformed…”

(Killen, 2013, p. 127)

10078740256_1c286d3710_oFlickr: Liz West, “Frog pond”

When I did my CELTA four years ago there was some focus on reflective teaching and the numerous workshops I attended with TESOL France reiterated its importance. Essentially teachers need to figure out what went well and why, so that they can improve on different points in future lessons. Admittedly, although I would reflect throughout my CELTA course and after lessons that had been observed, writing a reflective journal after each lesson hasn’t been one of my priorities in my teaching career up to now.

Being a social creature, (as all the teachers I know are), it is always a real pleasure for me to have a chat with my colleagues about how my lessons are going. I think this is quite helpful for me, but there are definitely a couple of problems with this being the only kind of real reflection going on. Firstly, I’m not sure if this provides the kind of deep and systematic reflection that is necessary to change my teaching in any radical way. Secondly, the fact that I haven’t been putting my thoughts on paper makes it impossible to track my progress from week to week and compare lessons over time. Both making changes and keeping track will be really important to polish everything up before my teaching pracs this year.

Beginning this week, I’m going to make a point of finding five to ten minutes at the end of each day to squeeze in some meaningful, written reflection. Hopefully this way I might just pick up on a few things that need fine-tuning, (as well as the ones I already know about).  I think a journal will be the way to go, (some things I might not yet be ready to share with the big wide web), but I’m also committed to reviving my blog and consolidating some of my thoughts this way. I’ve seen the error of my ways and am on the road to being the deeply reflective teacher that I aspire to be!

 

 

Teaching for Retention

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Unlike the 17 year-old me who started university eight years ago, this time around I have a lot more motivation, as well as some pretty effective study and time management techniques. In my spare time over the last few weeks I’ve had my head stuck in one of the the course textbooks, (Killen, 2013, Effective Teaching Strategies: Lessons from Research and Practice), for the professional practice paper starting late next month. It led me onto another surprisingly interesting book by Willis (2006) which focuses on how teaching can be made more effective in order to help students retain information and explains in basic terms how brains operate.

Essentially, learners need to be ready to learn, (have had enough sleep, aren’t stressed and have their interest piqued), before teachers even try to teach them anything. Then it’s essential to present information in a variety of ways to engage as many of their senses as possible. Ideally students will also be able to interact with new information on personal and meaningful level so that they are more likely to retain it in their long-term memories. Willis also emphasizes the importance of repetition and the importance of taking syn-naps, (or brain breaks), to allow information to sink in.

This week I’m going to make sure that my students are engaged at the beginning of each lesson, through a 5-minute game, a picture or a new seating arrangement. It’s also going to be important to keep my students’ concentration at a maximum by breaking up activities with short breaks, followed by some kind of consolidation activity. Although I am usually quite good at giving information both verbally and in written form, it’s going to be a challenge for me to use more images/symbols in my teaching and to encourage my students to do the same thing in their learning.

It’s only Saturday, but I’m already looking forward to getting back to work on Monday to put some of these concepts into practice and see my (sometimes forgetful) students through a new lens. In the meantime I’ll get my head back into that book!

 

 

The Fundamentals of Online Teaching: Course on hold

On hold

I just received the following email:

Dear Kirstin,

We want all students to have the highest quality learning experience. For this reason, we are temporarily suspending the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” course in order to make improvements. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. We will inform you when the course will be reoffered.

I knew they were having some difficulties organizing groups for the assignments etc. but I am very surprised indeed that they’ve ended up suspending the whole course! Perhaps there’s a certain irony in a course on online education being closed down owing to course design problems. I think this also highlights the inherent difficulty of having to plan an entire course before it has begun, with limited opportunity to change it as it goes along. We can see by this example that this can be a challenge even for the experts. Luckily this is a free course that isn’t required to fit into any university schedules.

The readings from the first week were really great, so I think that while I’m waiting for the course to come back online I’d like to take some time to reflect on them in more detail and think about how I can better integrate the ‘teaching by doing’ principle into my classes.

If you’d like to sign up to the class (although I’m not quite sure when it will start again) you can do so here

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.

Fundamentals of Online teaching: Planning and Application

2013 has arrived with an excellent variety of new Coursera courses to be followed. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to investigate this site you really must! You’ll find free online courses, provided by top universities. One of the courses that caught my eye was the one that I will be blogging about for the next six weeks, ‘The Fundamentals of Online Teaching: Planning and Application’. In the ESL sphere online teaching is becoming more and more common, in response for demand for more convenience and lower-cost courses. Converting traditional teaching practices and materials, however, to an online application is no easy feat. At this year’s TESOL France conference, I had the pleasure of attending English360 founder Jeremy Day’s talk on ‘blended learning’ programmes. What I took away from it was that although e-learning isn’t necessarily ideal for teaching all receptive and productive skills, that when learners are ready to invest their time outside of class, teacher contact time can really be optimized. Perhaps by the end of the course I may be convinced that a well-designed online course can substitute face-to-face language learning?

This week I look forward to revisiting some educational theories (this time in the context of online education). I will keep you posted as to my discoveries and thoughts.

UPDATE:

For the course we will be working in groups of 21. Firstly we tried to organize the groups by having each person enter their name in a spot on an Google spreadsheet. Somehow this was deleted and chaos ensued. Now we’re just figuring it out through forums. I think this provides an excellent example of something to think about when you’re designing an online course (especially of this size!).

TESOL France Colloquium Reflections: getting in touch with my inner redneck

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the 31st Annual TESOL France Colloquium in Paris, where I met some amazing educators, attended some excellent talks and took away many things to think about. I had a nice train trip back to Dijon, which gave me some time to stare out the window at the rolling rural landscapes and reflect on my teaching, my motivation and my career. And as I can’t bring myself to put the wealth of ideas that were shared with me aside, I would like to share them with you and reflect on what they mean to me and they may affect my teaching.

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The second-to-last talk I went to during the conference was by David O’Hanlon, a Paris-based teacher originally from Australia. Although he now finds himself teaching in Parisian Grandes Ecoles, his experiences include teaching in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border. His seminar was called ‘Getting in Touch with your Inner Redneck – Narrative to Advantage in the Classroom’. David suggested that teachers should be proud of their origins and their culture, and the worldview that they have as a product of this culture. This is something to be celebrated and exploited in order to make the classroom experience the most authentic it can be.

Not every class needs to end in a role-play.

The discussion questioned the one-size-fits-all nature of the traditional teacher-training philosophies, where lessons tend to follow a set pattern and students are asked to take on a certain role or viewpoint for the purpose of creating a debate. David O’Hanlon argues that this is not necessarily desirable for two key reasons:

  1. On commonly raised ‘controversial’ debate topics, the class will often have homogenous views and the student representing the ‘unpopular’ view will lack arguments and will be resigned to losing the debate from the beginning.
  2. If we had a more authentic topic, or if students were debating as a group with a teacher who was presenting genuine arguments, students would be readier to participate and give detailed and real responses.

I agree that people will always argue more effectively if they are convinced of the argument themselves and that in the context of language learning, the opportunity to speak should be maximized. Another advantage of this is the relationship that can be created with a teacher when talking about real and engaging topics from our own viewpoints.

And so this idea of having an ‘inner redneck’ is not to imply that every English language teacher is uneducated, bigoted and with farming roots. I think New Zealanders and Australians in particular (even though most of us are city folk) tend to identify with our rural countrymen, especially when we are abroad. We take pleasure in the simple things and David O’Hanlon stresses that we shouldn’t be ashamed of this, but rather take pride in it.

Perhaps the best example of inner-redneck denial is Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime-minister. Contrasting the thick and unashamedly Australian accent of the present PM Julia Gillard, Rudd was always very polished. He was scholarly, spoke fluent Mandarin and touted progressive policies like digital education and official apologies to the Aboriginal people. The image he tried to convey though (be it intentionally or not) of sophistication, intelligence and forward-thinking, I think left Australians thinking that he wasn’t ‘comfortable in his skin’. I wonder if this is a special down-under phenomenon from our colonial past, when British was better and our inferiority-complex had people imitating accents and traditions, (see Heavenly Creatures 1994). A leadership style like that of New Zealand’s John Key (who loves rugby and barbecues, and occasionally offends minority groups) can create a warmer rapport.

In the interests of connecting with students, making them comfortable and trying not to alienate them, it could be helpful to be true to ourselves. We don’t hear any accents like mine on any of the sound recordings that we use in class (except one ‘Australian’ on the Business Result Upper-Intermediate DVD), but I’ll try not to talk any differently than I normally would just to imitate the CD. While I don’t agree with doing things ‘just so they’ll like me’, I hope that being true to myself and my values will help students to do the same.
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Writing in Mandarin

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Mandarin is a language that I have been interested in for some time. I had the opportunity to learn it for a few months at high school, having lessons after school with a friend’s dad, but unfortunately I didn’t continue. So now I’ve decided to take it up again, drawn not only by the melody of the spoken language and the art in its writing, but also the increasing significance of Mandarin (in a similar way to English) in the international world of business.

Although I haven’t yet found myself a teacher, I’ve started with some books (accompanied by audio) to get me started with the writing. They are very useful, with a description of the parts that make up each character and the stroke-order for each. I find it very relaxing to take the time to practise the characters and very satisfying when I feel that I’ve almost mastered one. But there is always a difference between the character in the book and the one I have on paper; It has the same feel as a child writing their name for the first time. They can follow the lines approximately, but tend to give a laboured look.

In my Mandarin-writing mediation, I started to think about the time and practice that it takes to learn to write even in your first language and then about the difficulties that immigrants must face when they first arrive in a country and can’t read and write the local language. Finding toilets in public, reading a map and filling in forms would all be complicated tasks. In my teaching career so far I haven’t had the opportunity to work with any students who were not familiar with the Latin script; my students have principally been French, and the Chinese students that I taught during my teacher training were already very familiar with the alphabet.

Being a new arrival in France though, I have encountered some illiteracy during my integration process. Before the immigration medical exams held at the prefecture, we all had to fill in a form with our name and contact details. I was sitting at a table with a group of Somali women who couldn’t yet write their names. Luckily in France new immigrants have compulsory French classes as part of the new integration policy and I imagine that there is some support given to those who cannot read and write in French.

So I will continue with my Mandarin, although I don’t have the advantage of already knowing the alphabet as I did when I started learning French and Spanish. Hopefully this way I will understand a few signs when I visit China one day.