Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Classroom technology: pre-sessional 2016
Jul 012016
 

This is my main classroom this year. The seating arrangement has changed into a horse shoe at the front for whole class activities. The seats at the back are used for break-out sessions / group work. On the teacher’s desk, there is a computer and screen with camera, a visualiser, a podcast recording device (the round microphone behind the keyboard, and the small screen with which everything is controlled. In the room, there are 6(!) whiteboards, a projector and large screen. There’s also wifi (throughout the campus) so that students (and teachers) can use their own devices.

All students in my classes have smartphones and laptops, only one or two have a tablet. This hasn’t changed over the six years that I’ve been teaching on these pre-sessional courses.

IMG_2681 IMG_2680 IMG_2679 IMG_2678 IMG_2677

Workflow tip: How to change default save location for screenshots on MAC

 Materials Writing, Technology  Comments Off on Workflow tip: How to change default save location for screenshots on MAC
May 122016
 

One of the most-used functions on my Mac for work is taking a screenshot (using the shortcut Shift-Command+4). Particularly when I do editorial or writing work and have to communicate to others what part of a webpage I have a question about or what needs to be changed on a website or an activity, etc., usually the most efficient way is to take a screenshot, annotate it and send it to together with the question or feedback.

What’s been bugging me though is that on Mac OSX, the default location where screenshots are saved is the desktop. With the number of screenshots I take, my desktop always looked cluttered. I understand there is a good reason behind having the desktop as the save location: the screenshots can be located very quickly, for example if I want to send them as email attachment.

So, I was looking for a solution that allowed me to keep my desktop clutter-free but also allowed quick access to the screenshots. I thought easy enough, I’ll create a screenshot folder on my desktop and there surely must be a system setting where I can change the default save location… … … No? No! I actually had to search on the Internet how to do this and it turned out I needed to do it with a Terminal command, nicely explained here.

Eh voilà!

Screenshot of screenshot folder

How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Teacher Development, Technology  Comments Off on How to NOT set up a role-play if your students have smartphones
May 082015
 

There’s is a very nice role-play activity which our coordinator shared with me in my first year teaching a pre-sessional summer EAP course and which I like to use with my students in the last speaking lesson of the course (unfortunately, I don’t remember the book it comes from).  It’s fun, but also very useful as the role-play situations are authentic: student and librarian, student and accommodation officer, student and head of department, etc. There are no scripts. For each role, there is a role description, which they have to read carefully. Then, the pairs can sit together and prepare their role-play deciding who says what.

However, I didn’t like how students wrote down the complete dialog and tried to memorise and act it out. The dialogues were hilarious and we all had a great time, students did use the language well and it was speaking practise. But it didn’t feel authentic and it didn’t really show how good students where when they had to reply spontaneously. So, I changed the preparation part a bit the following year: I didn’t tell the students who their partners would be! This way, they could prepare for their role, but they would have to listen carefully to what the other person was saying and they would have to react spontaneously. Ingenious! Or so I thought.

When I had given each student their role-play card making sure pairs were not sitting next to each other, I started monitoring and helping where necessary. But I noticed that something was going on; the students had all started using their smartphones. First, I thought they were looking up words in their dictionaries, but that wasn’t it. When I asked them what they were doing, they said they had found their partners and where preparing their role-plays! I felt like a fool! We all laughed about my failed attempt to set up the role-play with surprise partners 🙂 I asked them to switch off their phones, so a bit of the surprise element was there in the role-plays. It was a lot of fun, as usual, but they could also show their real speaking skills. So, I had saved the situation, but learned a lesson too.

This happened a couple of years ago. Although, I was aware of social media apps and was using some tools myself, and although I knew that students were sometimes messaging during class, it didn’t occur to me that they would use it as they did for this role-play task. For them, it was the most natural thing to do, though.

Why I wanted to share this story

– We often discuss which tools we use in class and which we don’t, or even whether we use technology in class at all or not, but there is also the students and the technology THEY use. We need to be at least aware of how they use their tools they bring to class, whether it’s their electronic dictionaries, or their smartphones and tablets.

– Even teachers who like to use technology and who train other teachers in using technology can make mistakes. But it’s hardly ever a disaster as long as one has good rapport with the students and talks about these things in class.

What I learned from this

Since then, I’ve always shown more interest in what kind of apps my students have on their phones and we talk about this at the beginning of the course. Since then, I also try to manage the use of smartphones in class better by, for example, telling them at different stages to put away their smartphones (even if they insists they need the dictionary!). Am I always successful? No! But I’ve come to terms with this. If I see how teachers or other professionals “multitask” or chat with others during conferences webinars, or meetings (including myself) and “claim” this helps them focus, I don’t think I need to manage my students’ use of technology one hundred percent.

 

Do you have a story to share about a “failed” attempt to manage your class due to technology? What happened? How did you react? How did your students react? What did you get out of it?

Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses

 EAP, ESP&EdTech, Technology  Comments Off on Wow your students, not! — Technology in pre-sessional EAP courses
May 072015
 
Another pre-sessional EAP summer is approaching. Once the intensive course starts, there is hardly any time to reflect on what I’m doing in the classroom. So, I want to look back a bit, in a couple of blog posts, at how and for what purpose I have integrated technology in the course in the previous years. But before doing that, I want to list what kind of technology or tools are available where I work and try to come up with criteria for using technology in pre-sessional EAP courses. Finally, I hope that these reflections will help me to look ahead and think about any area where I could or should do things differently this summer and decide whether technology can help with this.

Unpredictable availability of technology

What makes it sometimes a bit difficult to prepare to integrate certain technology  in pre-sessional courses is that we are not in the school or environment that we are familiar with. Even those of us who have taught at the same university for several years are assigned different buildings and classrooms, and they can all have a very different set of technology that is available. There can be classrooms with just a blackboard (yes, black, with a small “b”!). In many science buildings/classrooms, for example, they prefer the blackboard for certain things. If you are lucky, there will be both black and whiteboards, but no other technology, no access to wi-fi due to the location of the classroom.
Then, there are what I call the “standard” classrooms with a large whiteboard, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, integrated CD-player and loudspeakers, and broadband wi-fi for everyone.
At the highest end, you will have a large classroom with several whiteboards, possibly even blackboards, a computer connected to the internet, a projector and screen, and broadband wi-fi for everyone, and a visualiser, plus thick curtains that you can shut automatically when showing something on the screen.
However, all students (and teachers) have access to quite a lot of technology outside the classroom: broadband wi-fi on campus, lots of computer clusters, scanners, printers, … and, of course, the technology they bring with them: smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops.
Here’s a simple list of some of the technology I’ve used in the pre-sessional courses:

HARDWARE

  • whiteboard
  • blackboard
  • IWB
  • computer
  • CD-player (mostly integrated in the computer)
  • projector + screen
  • loudspeakers
  • Wi-Fi
  • visualiser
  • computer clusters
  • smartphones (the students’)
  • iPad / tablet (mine or the students’)

SOFTWARE

  • MS Word (or other word processors)
  • presentation tools (PPT, prezi, keynote)
  • PDF viewer
  • internet
  • GoogleDocs
  • email
  • Blackboard
  • Turnitin
  • video and audio player on the computer
  • Youtube or other video sites
  • screencasting software (e.g. Jing)
  • electronic or online dictionaries
  • apps for the iPad (to view document, take notes, record audio)
  • apps or tools that my students use
As you see, nothing extraordinary really. So, this is not about the latest “toys” that you can wow your students withs. In fact, if there is one thing I would like teachers who might read this to take away is that this is not about wowing students at all. I would even say that the less they are aware of the technology the better. I don’t want to draw attention to the technology, I want them to be interested in the content, the language, the ideas, etc. If I can accomplish this by using technology fine, but if this can be accomplished in a different, non-tech way, that’s fine too. A simple example: After a couple of weeks, certain tasks become repetitive, or students simply get tired, which is absolutely understandable in a relatively long, intensive course. Sometimes, a simple change of setting helps them to focus again or to make the same task more interesting. For example, I tell them they can do a discussion or group work task outside if they want to, on a warm, dry day. Sometimes, we go to the library for tutorials, so when I talk with one student, the others can do research or continue writing their essay, or can give each other feedback on their writing.
At the same time, we use technology to do certain tasks: During the tutorial, we might look at a student’s writing on my iPad and talk through it. Students might be using the library computers to find books or articles for their essay. Other students might be using their laptops to write their essay. The technology is just there to do certain tasks, nothing extraordinary. So, this would be on criteria for me. I’ll list this and others in no particular order below.

Criteria for technology use in pre-sessional summer courses

  1. needs to me “normal” or normalised (aim is not to wow students but to help do something better or easier, not to distract them with the tech)
  2. no training needed (there is no time for training other than for a brief explanation; this is also connected to the first point)
  3. no sign up required (other than maybe for tools which I think they might continue using, but I really try to avoid this. There might also be a policy at some schools where teachers can’t simply ask students to create accounts or sign up to a website or tool without the school’s consent).
  4. used in a way or for tasks that are authentic (for example, they will use a Word processor and it’s comment or track changes function after the course when continuing with their studies,so it’s good for them to get used to this in the pre-sessional course as the objective of the course is not only to help them improve their academic English, but also ease them into the academic life at a UK university).
  5. help make a task easier (sending drafts by email and for me commenting in word processor is easier and more efficient than asking students to print out each draft and hand it to me, etc. However, I know teachers who prefer printed drafts, so this is my personal choice.
  6. accessible to all students
  7. available for all computer systems (which the students use)
  8. free (no fees for the students!)
  9. available on the university computers or accessible online, or my students have their own (if I want to use them in class)
What are your criteria? Why?

Using the iPad during tutorials to talk through drafts

 EAP, Technology  Comments Off on Using the iPad during tutorials to talk through drafts
Oct 122013
 

Last year, I started used my iPad during one-to-one tutorials with my EAP class. This is what happens:

  • First, students send me their draft by email. I add some written feedback with the comment feature of MS Word and send it back at least one day before the tutorials.
  • Students go through my feedback/comments, make changes, prepare questions for the tutorials.
  • Some students prefer to print out their draft with my comments but not all, and they don’t have to.
  • During the tutorials, I sit in a nice, quiet place with my students, and we have 10-15 min together for any questions they might have.
  • When it comes to talking about the draft, I open the student’s draft on my iPad and we go through the text looking at some of my comments and I answer the student’s questions or they explain to me what they have changed, what they meant, etc.
I was using DocsToGo for this. When I added a comment, which in Word is a coloured rectangular box on the right side, it is indicated in DocsToGo as a yellow square within the text with my initials: [NK]. If I want to see what the comment says, I need to click on the square bracket and the comment text pops up. Although this works quite nicely, it is not very efficient when there are lots of comments as they all look the same and I or the student first has to click on one to see the comment text.
A student's draft with my comments indicated in yellow

A student’s draft with my comments indicated in yellow

Then I saw that one of my Chinese students who had an iPad had an app, Office2 HD, that showed the comments just like in MS Word. So, I immediately bought it and have been using it since. It’s much more efficient as one can quickly scroll through the comments and find what one is looking for. This way, the precious tutorial time is not wasted searching.
The same draft displayed in Office2 HD

The same draft displayed in Office2 HD

As always there is no perfect solution. I found out that neither of the two apps, nor the Dropbox app always show the formatting of MS Word documents correctly, especially if it isn’t just flowing text but if there are titles, centralised text, content pages, etc. This makes it difficult to use the iPad to comment on such things as formatting, page numbering, layout, etc. This and the fact that typing and commenting is faster on the laptop/desktop means that I still use my laptop/desktop to provide most feedback but don’t need to carry the laptop to work for tutorials and some other tasks.

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”.

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.

 

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.