Nergiz Kern

Cut off from knowledge

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Cut off from knowledge
Sep 252013
 
uplink down

Uplink Down — by Small_Realm (flickr)

Two weeks ago, towards the end of the summer EAP course I was teaching, I walked into the staff room and as usual logged on to the Internet from my iPad to check my email: Failed! …Hm, I must’ve mistyped my password; try again… Failed!… Typed very carefully… … Failed! … Now, this was getting annoying…. I tried logging on from a networked computer: This account has expired!

Suddenly it hit me. A week ago, I had applied for the graduate library card they gave to alumni. This triggered my “expulsion” from the system as a student. I had graduated a while back and was expecting this but not before finishing the summer course as I also had access to the system as a member of staff. I was so unprepared to be so suddenly cut off that I felt tears coming up … Yes, I know, I didn’t expect that either.

I had had access to all library resources including e-books and journals for more than three years. When I saw a reference mentioned somewhere, I could go and check it out, and download it if it was interesting. And now I was suddenly cut off from all of this knowledge!

Once I had recovered from the initial feelings of loss and sadness, I went to IT services, who kindly gave me emergency access for two weeks, which I used to make a list of topics I was interested in and search for and download related articles, chapters, and e-books. This made me feel much happier for the moment, but I knew it wouldn’t last for long. And although I got another extension until October, I will be cut off, in the end, from most electronic resources (As a graduate, I do retain some access to electronic articles via JSTOR  and to the physical library when I’m in Manchester).

Importance of Open-Access

This made me realise how important open-access journals are, and I started bookmarking those of interest to me in Diigo (my open-access tagged bookmarks. Here is what I have got so far:

There is also the Directory of Open Access Journals, which lists (as the name suggests) open access journals.

Journals suggested by colleagues:

 

Can you help me expand my list?

 

Are libraries becoming digital… and is this a good thing?

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Are libraries becoming digital… and is this a good thing?
Sep 142013
 

Ebook between paper books (Source: Maximilian Schönherr, 2011, Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve been spending the last couple of days in the university library collecting information on various topics, but have only looked at one physical book. I’ve been downloading articles, chapters from ebooks, and occasionally even complete books.

The University of Manchester library spends 85% of its budget on digital content.

Advantages

For distance students, like I was when studying for my MA, this is good news because more and more material is available digitally, online. Also, in fields where there is a lot change and where new research and information is important, as in my field (Educational Technology), it is good to have access to the latest books in electronic format. Another advantage is that digital books and articles can easily be searched for keywords. And finally, for someone like me, who travels between and lives in different places, it is extremely practical to have all resources in digital format accessible anytime from all my devices.

That the University spends such a surprisingly high proportion of its budget on electronic resources might also reflect the fact that students increasingly use their computers to do research rather than the physical library and some “don’t know how to search a library  without a computer” (ECAR Research Study 6, 2005, p. 35).

(As an aside: the University of Manchester Library switched from the old card catalog system to a computer search system around 1991.)

Manchester Central Library, St. Peter’s Square before the renovation (Source: Ricardo, 2010, Wikipedia Commons)

But possibly there is also a more mundane reason, which is that universities are trying to save money. Although licences for ebooks can sometimes cost more than a physical book, libraries will not have to expand shelf space.

Downsides

There are, of course, also downsides of this development. Whereas complete articles can be easily located and downloaded in PDF format, with ebooks things are more complicated. Firstly, because of copyright issues, there are restrictions on how many chapters or pages can be printed out or saved as PDF, although one can view the entire book online.

This leads to other problems. While one is also not allowed to photocopy an entire book, it is easy to browse through a physical book and photocopy individual pages. Browsing or reading ebooks can be more challenging. The University library uses different ebook service providers (which is possibly decided by the book publishers rather than the university?). Each has their own layout and functions. If they offer note-taking or bookmarking functions, one has to create an account for each separately. Highlighting or copying text is not possible.

And even within the same service provider’s website, access can differ depending on the licence agreement with the publisher. Sometimes, up to 20 or 60 pages can be printed out; at other times, only one chapter. Sometimes, all chapters can be download but there is a warning that one is allowed to download only one. Some books can be downloaded but only viewed with Acrobat Reader and only for a period of time, after which Acrobat will not open the file. And, finally, there are those that allow an entire book to download and keep access forever.

I hope that access and other services related to ebooks will be unified in the future and, thus, make the experience more user-friendly. But even then, I would not want a “bookless library”.

Jun 212013
 

 

BC Innovations book coverThis is another new Britisch Council publication to which I contributed. My chapter (ch. 4, p. 87) is on Technology-integrated English for Specific Purposes lessons: real-life language, tasks, and tools for professionals.

 

There are many books on technology and education including books that cater to language learning and teaching. What is special about this publication is that it has chapters on primary, secondary and adult education (including ESP, EAP, and assessment). Also, all chapters include several case studies of technology used in real context by teachers around the world. In all three of the cases in my chapter on technology in ESP, the teachers use technology (such as Skype, web-conferencing tools, or digital cameras) to teach English which the students also use or will use in their professions:

 

  • Cornelia Kreis-Meyer teaches a German politician how to participate in interviews conducted in English via Skype.
  • Mercedes Viola teaches Uruguayan business people how to give presentations online in virtual conference rooms.
  • Aiden Yeh, teaches Taiwanese university students advertising English by having them create commercials using a whole range of hardware (digital cameras, computers) and software or web 2.0 tools (movie editor, wikis, blogs, etc.).

 

The main headings in my chapter are:

 

  • What is ESP?
  • A brief history of technology use in ESP
  • Benefits of technology use in ESP 
  • Technologies for ESP 
  • The internet: a source for authentic materials 
  • Learner autonomy (and the Internet)
  • A place for authentic communication (the Internet)
  • Mobile learning
  • Blended learning – integrating technology 

 

For a brief overview of technology/CALL (computer-aided language learning), read the Introduction by Garry Motteram. In chapter 7, Gary Motteram draws conclusions from the previous chapters based on a socio-cultural view of learning and he introduces the term “technical cultural artefacts” for digital tools that are repurposed by users in ways that the designers did not intend (such as SMS, the word processor, or Skype), and how this is related to how teachers and students use technology for language learning purposes.

You can watch here the recording of a short presentation of the book by Gary Motteram at the official publication launch.

The book can be downloaded as e-book (PDF) for free here or a print version can be bought here.

Book Chapter — Blended learning: Podcasts for taxi drivers

 ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on Book Chapter — Blended learning: Podcasts for taxi drivers
Apr 142013
 

BC Blended Learning book coverI contributed a chapter in this new British Council publication on Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation. My contribution (part 3, chapter 11, pages, 131-139) describes how I used podcasts in a blend of interactions and tools for an ESP course for taxi drivers.

The book looks at various case studies that describe how the  Blended Learning was used in the English Language Teaching context.

 

 

 

The main part of the book consists of twenty case studies, which are grouped into four areas:

  • Part 1: EAP (English for Academic Purposes)
  • Part 2: Teacher Development
  • Part 3: ESP (English for Specific Purposes)
  • Part 4: English as a Foreign Language/General English

The book can be downloaded for free in PDF format or purchased in print.

Academic Reading & Note-taking — On Print or on Screen?

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Academic Reading & Note-taking — On Print or on Screen?
Apr 112013
 

Annotated textI’ve been thinking about my EAP students at the pre-sessional course I teach in the UK in the summer and how to approach talking about reading and note-taking with them. I don’t want to say “teaching” because my students are mostly young adults and the majority already have  a first degree from a university in their own country, some already a Master’s. As they come from different educational backgrounds or “cultures”, it will be interesting to see how they have approached reading and note-taking so far (in their L1) and how this transfers to their practise in English (their L2).

It is not enough to teach classical note-taking skills

In the past pre-sessionals, I did emphasis the importance of note-taking when reading and checked during tutorials whether and how students were taking notes of what they were reading for their project work. Note-taking skills are also addressed and practiced in the reading lessons. Universities, moreover, often have special self-study or self-help pages, which students can be referred to. Additionally, there are websites such as UEfAP, that offer tips and exercises on how to go about academic reading, note-taking, and other skills.

However, none of the resources I have seen so far looks specifically at reading and note-taking skills for articles and books that are available in digital format. Also, none of them show what kind of digital tools can be used for reading and note-taking on screen. And finally, what kind of differences there are if any between reading and note-taking on printed/copied articles or pages and reading and note-taking on screen on the PDF document. This is, of course, not to say that there isn’t any research on this. There is, for example, plenty of research on reading online and the difference (e.g. cognitive) between reading online and on print, particularly when reading text with hyperlinks. However, although this is very interesting, in this post I am more interested in the practical or, if you want, technical side of reading e-texts.

My own experience

When doing my diploma course (DELTA), most of my reading and note-taking was on paper. I did do some research and reading online but the school was not subscribed to any online journals, all the books and journals were in print format in the school library.

As an MA student, I had the choice, which had me think about the best way of reading and note-taking.

Stage 1

I had access to plenty of online material, however, in the beginning, I printed out all the articles I was going to read in detail and proceeded to take notes on them with highlighters and pencil. On the front page of each article, I would, at the end, briefly summarize the article and/or write keywords so I could, at one glance, see what it was mainly about and when and where in my assignment to use this particular article. At this stage, it was extremely efficient. Towards the end of an assignment, when I needed a reference or information here and there, and, thus, only needed to dip into some articles, I read and highlighted relevant bits on screen, sometimes also adding some notes, which, however, took much longer than doing it with pencil on paper. Where the digital versions of printed articles came in very handy, though, was again when I needed bits of specific information and didn’t know exactly in which article there was anything relevant. I would simply search on my computer with the search tool called “Spotlight” (on Mac), which indexes all the computer’s content and is extremely efficient in finding relevant material. Once I had the search results, I would open the articles and could immediately see where the search term (word or phrase) was used and read around it. This saved me hours of searching and reading compared to printed articles or books.

Stage 2

The method above meant printing hundred of pages of articles and book chapters. So I started reading and highlighting more on screen using tools such as Preview (Mac; comes pre-installed), Adobe Reader (Mac, Win; free), and Skim (Mac; free).  Each of them has some different features and there functionality can change over time and, but all of them have similar annotation tools such as highlighting text with color; adding notes and symbols; and drawing circles, rectengulars, and other shapes around text. Some save the annotations separately and allow one to export them, others overwrite the original PDF file. It is more a personal preference which of them one chooses to us.

Annotations Skim

What I didn’t like

After using this method for one or two courses, I noticed that I missed the “third” dimension: the possibility of browsing quickly through pages and seeing my annotations almost at one glance, making different stacks, and, most of all, having a visual image and memory of what is where.
So, I went back to printing and annotating on paper…

Stage 3

Because of circumstances, I lived away from home when doing my dissertation. This meant I had no easy or free access to a printer. So, I adopted a “no paper” policy and didn’t print out out even a single page, not even when proofreading (which did worry me a bit). But it went surprisingly well this time. Perhaps because I had got used to working digitally over time, and because I had, now, an iPad and the GoodReader app (~£3,20/$5.00), which, combined with the free version of Dropbox (which I had been using since the start of my MA), helped me organize my reading and allowed me to read and annotate my articles anywhere I was and synch between devices (in this case my iPad and MacBookPro).

GoodReader also allowed me to send the annotations to myself via email. I created a copy of my dissertation outline file with all the headings and sub-headings and would copy and paste the highlighted sections  from the articles into the appropriate sections in my outline. When I was writing a particular sections, I had this document open and could easily read and transfer the information, paraphrase, summarize, or copy from there (if I wanted to directly quote someone) into the actual dissertation text file.
(WRITING: In a different post, I will describe how I went about writing my dissertation and which tools I used for that.)

So, this is how I went about reading and annotating (electronic) articles and books. I’ve talked with other colleagues on the course and know that many, just like I, started experimenting with different ways of note-taking using different sets of tools while doing the MA course.

My Students

Last year, all my international students on the pre-sessional course in the UK had a laptop and a smartphone, and more had iPads compared to the previous year. However, only one student in my main class showed me electronically annotated articles. All the others had their notes in their paper notepads. Whether this is a conscious preference or whether they don’t know how to use their devices to annotate PDFs I don’t know but want to find out this summer and spend some time to explore with them ways they can use their devices to read and annotate.

How to go about integrating “electronic” note-taking skills?

I’d love to hear from other colleagues how they go about making students aware of such note-taking tools and how they integrate practising using these in their (EAP) classes considering the restricted time available.

 

CELTA, DELTA, Master’s — Reaping the Benefits?

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on CELTA, DELTA, Master’s — Reaping the Benefits?
Mar 272013
 

European honey bee extracts nectarThis is not going to be an in-depth discussion of the merits of the Diploma (DELTA) and/or MA or which one is better. It’s a very short  account of my teaching career based around the qualifications I have gained over time to show how, in my case, getting formal qualifications has affected my teaching career.

Original training and work

  • Photographer (apprenticeship)
  • Bilingual secretary (French, English – German)
  • Co-founded and manager of a digital imaging studio

Teaching English

1. No formal qualification

I gave private lessons to people of different ages and levels in Germany. I also taught at a language school in Brazil.

If you want, my qualification was based on having being a learner of English myself for many years observing how others teach and were taught, and how students feel about being taught in different ways.

2. CELTA

After I did my CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), Immediately got opportunities to work as a freelance in-company language trainer in Germany.

I’m sure there are still many English teachers around the world whose only qualification is to be a native speaker or “good at English”, but I believe the CELTA or similar formal qualifications are really the minimum if one wants to be taken a bit more seriously as a teacher.

3. DELTA/MA (student)

The DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and MA in Educational Technology and TESOL opened doors to University language schools in the UK and Turkey.

What also played a role, though:

  • My experience in developing and teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) courses including some that where similar to EAP (English for Academic Purposes);
  • It also helped that I myself was an MA student at a UK university and knew what was expected of international students;
  • It definitely helps to have taught a variety of courses, different levels, and ages;
  • My overseas teaching experience — a plus for EAP jobs at universities; something that seems to be highly valued or even required by BALEAP.

In short…

… job offers and opportunities have been based on a combination of my formal qualifications plus my teaching experience (informal qualifications). Other factors, such as speaking several languages, nationality, etc., might have played a role but have never been specifically mentioned to me.

Typical development?

I’m wondering whether this is a very typical career development for English teachers who came to their teaching profession later in their lives. Did getting the CELTA, DELTA, or MA had an effect on your career?

Tools: WordPress & the Suffusion Theme

 Technology  Comments Off on Tools: WordPress & the Suffusion Theme
Mar 092013
 

Wordpress-logo-hoz-rgb

I first used WordPress for my first teaching website. I went straight into hosting the website myself. Back then I had no idea what I was doing and was just following the instructions and tutorials I found online. At that time, WordPress was also not the most user-friendly, lay-person kind of tool. Not for a complete novice like me anyway 🙂

However, when I took an MA course on Multimedia Courseware Design as part of my MA in EdTech and TESOL, I learned that one could do much more with WordPress than I had thought was possible and it wasn’t that difficult either. I used it to create this course for city planners, for example. So, when I decided to create a complete new presence for myself and my work online, WordPress was the tool I chose.

I was positively surprised to find out that the new WordPress version (3.51) was by far better, more flexible, and easier to use than previous version I had worked with. There is almost no limit to what one can do with it. And not only is it free but there is also a very large user and support community, and there are javascript banks, plugins, and themes for free (and obviously also paid versions) as well.

Themes

Now, for non-techies or people who don’t know how to code, the flexibility of WordPress is to a great measure related to the theme one uses.

I’ve tried many different ones but each time, there was something I wanted to change but couldn’t without going into the code (I understand some code and can manipulate it but cannot code much myself). Then, I stumbled on a different kind of theme…

Suffusion

When I was going through the themes on WordPress.org, I came across the Suffusion theme but dismissed it immediately. As you can see on the theme page, it does not look interesting at all. But then, I saw it being recommended on “best WordPress theme” lists and got curious. This is when I found out that there are regular themes and themes that are more like frameworks which allow one to build one’s own theme. This sounded difficult but it turned out that no need for coding was necessary. Suffusion simply gives one a huge amount of options to choose from in an nicely organised interface. It takes a bit of playing around to find one’s way around but the main “problem” is not the interface but deciding what one wants as there is literally no limit 🙂

Although Suffusion is free (donations are obviously welcome and well-deserved), support is great, by the theme designer but also by other users, of whom there are many.

Rather than searching for different themes each time, I will use the Suffusion next time when I need a WordPress theme again.

More on WordPress and courseware design

This was only to briefly introduce WordPress an the Suffusion theme. I am planning to write more detailed posts about WordPress and WordPress Networks, what one can do with it, and how it can be used to design courseware.

Social Media — A Love Hate Relationship

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Social Media — A Love Hate Relationship
Mar 092013
 

Keri majakasWhen I joined the ELT community online some years ago, I was extremely happy as I didn’t have a real staffroom experience. I was mostly on my won working as a freelance teacher. The community, particularly the Webheads, and then, the developing Twitter community have given me a lot. I learned heaps about educational technology, for instance.

Then, I removed myself a bit from it all…

One reason was having overdone it. For some time, all my work was online. I was also very active in the community, designed and moderated online courses, some alone some with online colleagues, and I used  Twitter excessively.

Another reason, as mentioned previously, was my being busy with MA coursework and reading,, working full-time, and having neglected my personal life.

But yet another reason was the that I started to feel like the community was “suffocating” me a bit. I don’t believe this has much to do with the people I interacted with; they are all lovely, generous, kind souls. I rather think that it was becoming a bit like how a young person might feel about their family, who they love but who they also feel they need to escape from for some time to see the world, to meet people outside the familiar circles, to have different experiences not filtered through the family culture, etc. I needed to break out of it all for a bit. Socialising is a good thing including in one’s professional life but it was becoming too much. I have an introverted side, too, and need to be alone with myself occasionally. More importantly, it seemed that suddenly discord started to break out in the community here and there over what someone had said or hadn’t said on their blog or elsewhere… and I was certainly not interested in any of that.

At the same time, I have to admit, I was also a bit tired of everything and everybody being so awesome, incredible, brilliant, marvelous all the time.  And then there were the “thanks for followings”, “thanks for retweetings”, “thanks for ffs”…. Not that any of this is bad. To the contrary, it shows what generous, kind souls educators and others online are.

Also, the flood of information on Twitter and elsewhere is fantastic (there you go, another of those superlatives), and when I started with Twitter and blogging, I hadn’t started with my MA yet, so I had the time and the will, interest, and energy to follow up conversations and links to resources and articles. Later, I didn’t. Also, I didn’t have much need for random information streaming into my view from Twitter. I had more than enough to read for my MA courses and to interact in the course fora.

Over the past two years, I reduced my online activities drastically to the essential bit. It was lovely to be friends on Facebook with many of my online colleagues, but even here, I had my phases of inactivity.

So what?

I think I’m mainly writing this for myself but I also know that this kind of experience with social media and online communities is very typical. It makes me smile when new members join the community and dive into social media enthusiastically and can’t stop praising all the benefits. It’s true; it’s a blessing. But there are pitfalls, which are not always mentioned in teacher training courses on social media. One lesson I have learned is: It’s important to occasionally allow myself to remove myself from the community, take “creative” breaks and look elsewhere for inspiration and ideas, and then, go back to the community with perhaps a different outlook on and approach to things.

Is Blogging in ELT out?

 Teacher Development  Comments Off on Is Blogging in ELT out?
Mar 082013
 

A well-known teacher trainer in our field has recently commented that blogging in ELT might not be in anymore, that fewer teachers continue blogging.

I myself had had a rather long break from many of my online activities but particularly from blogging and Twitter. Doing an MA while working full-time and working on other non-teaching projects, I simply had no time left to keep up with everything in the (excessive) manner I had done before.

Twitter

I won’t go into details here why I almost entirely stopped using Twitter. There is a lot to be said about how Twitter can be used for a teacher’s own development and for language learning. Here, it shall suffice to say that I used Twitter extensively for two years or so and did find it enriching then. Now, it’s simply not a tool that meets my current needs. I believe that in different phases of our professional lives, we need different tools but that the choice of tools is also very much a personal choice. I might write more on this in a separate post.

Blogging

I started blogging in 2008. It was a personal blog but set up for the purpose of trying blogging for the first time to see how it worked and whether it was something that I wanted to use with students. After this initial experience, I’ve created several blogs, some personal but most for professional purposes.

My first professional blog was Teaching in Second Life. I started it to reflect on and share my experiences learning to teach in the 3D virtual world of Second Life. As it is a niche topic (still) in ELT, it has never drawn the masses and many comments  but, over the years, I’ve received many emails from teachers who have used the information for their MA or PhD dissertations. I rarely update it  because, 3D worlds are  not my focus at the moment. There is, however, still a lot going on in 3D worlds in terms of teaching and teacher training. So, occasionally, I will hopefully find the time to add new posts.

Another reason why I completely stopped blogging in the past one or two years is that I only had the Teaching in Second Life blog to write about my work and professional development. I had always wanted to create a “hub” (including a blog) for all my online activities, materials, and websites but simply didn’t have the time to set this up. Now, after finishing my MA, I’ve created this hub.

Is blogging out?

I don’t think that it is? I believe that among the many tools and activities that have emerged on the Internet, blogging is here to stay as one of the “staple” tools. However, just like with Twitter and many other tools, when they are new, many people want to try them out. Then, some stay with a tool and some move on.

There are also different types of bloggers. Some teachers set out to blog a certain number of times a week.They also try to keep up with reading other blogs and commenting on them regularly, as this is supposedly what blogging is mostly about.  However, for many, including me, as much as this might be desirable, it’s not sustainable. I guess it also depends on one’s purpose for blogging. In my case, I sometimes like to reflect publicly or share information or discuss ideas, but I don’t depend on “traffic”, though I’m always happy, of course, when visitors come.

Blogging and other types of writing

My Teaching in Second Life blog helped me a lot when I wrote my first published article Starting a Second Life. The article was basically a summary of my blog, and the posts, which I wrote immediately after my lessons in SL, helped me “remember” essential information. The article basically wrote itself.

However, with all the blog posts and micro-blogging I was doing (including following links on Twitter), I also sometimes thought that this kept me from writing articles or book chapters, simply because I didn’t have time for it all; and, at least in my case, I need to have long stretches of focused time to write longer academic pieces.

I guess, in my case at least, it’s a balancing act to, on the one hand, keep up with developments in the world and engage with the community and, on the other hand, to take a break and isolate myself a bit in order to reflect silently and write in different modes.

Hello again (online) world!

So, after a long break from most (not all) my online activities, I’m now planning to come back to it slowly, in a more measured pace, and with occasional breaks to retreat into my own world.