Nergiz

Feb 022021
 

As teachers, we make all kinds of decisions pre-, while- and post lesson.

What is the impact of technology in the classroom on decision-making? 

And how about when the technology is not just used in the classroom but becomes THE classroom – such as with virtual reality?

These are some of the questions I explore in my second research blog post for Immerse.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Feb 022021
 

I like to take off time from work after the intensive summer pre-sessional teaching. In fact, this year, I wanted to take a kind of ‘sabbatical’ if that’s possible for a freelancer, and reflect on what direction I wanted to go and perhaps review my skills set and take a few online courses. Just then, I came across a Linkedin post by Ton Koenrad announcing the start of a MOOC for LSP (Languages for Specific Purposes). As ESP (English for Specific Purposes) is one of my main interests and I wanted to go back to developing ESP courses, this was the right course for me.

The 6-week course is the outcome of the EU project ‘CATAPULT’, which stands for Computer-Assisted Training And Platforms to Upskill Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) Teachers.

The course aims to meet the needs of 21st century LSP teachers by offering them training in both LSP didactics and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) integration. The course will enable them to develop some of the key competences identified in the CATAPULT project (see the common competence framework – CCF and here the research behind it).

This 6-week course is delivered by a team of European experts in LSP and Computer-Assisted Language Learning and comprises 7 modules.

(from the CATAPULT course website)

 

Assessment and levels of engagement

The course can be taken at three different levels: browser, tester or creator level. I decided to fully engage with it, so chose the creator level, which meant quite a lot of time investment. Assessment was included in each module in multiple ways, such as posting comments, taking quizzes, analysing course material, writing lessons plans, and completing a reflective portfolio.

Course outcomes

The main outcome is, of course, the learning. Having done mostly editorial work in the past couple of years, I felt I needed to review my theoretical and practical knowledge of the ESP field. The framework above is quite comprehensive, but makes the necessarily skills tangible. Throughout the course, we worked on all the competencies, and I feel much more confident again as an ESP course developer and teacher, and know where to look for support if I need it.

Another outcome is being part of a community of practice that is hopefully going to last beyond the course because part of the CATAPULT project is the development of a CoP platform called LinguaCoP.

And finally, the team have also created a platform to connect ESP teachers with potential employers or students: Linguaclick.

And this is my certificate 🙂

High motivation

As there was a specific start date, there were many participants from all around the world. This and the fact that input and interaction was diverse, and tutors were around and provided feedback and grades, let to high levels of engagement. Perhaps the badges and points received for work done and comments posted also helped with this.

I have taken a lot of online courses and MOOCs, but I can say this was easily one of best, and I would have readily paid for it.

Thank you CATAPULT team for developing this course, Ton Koenrad for announcing it, Cédric Sarré and colleagues for the valuable feedback throughout the course, and all the course participants for a valuable and enjoyable learning experience.

If you are a language teacher and already teach or would like to teach ESP, I can highly recommend this course. The next iteration starts on 1 March 2021 and you can register here.

Dec 282020
 
Ladybirds on drying plant

I was surprised to find a chapter on ‘Increasing Your Happiness Quotient’ in a book on Professionalizing Your English Language Teaching. Transitioning from a challenging year for many to a new one with lots of uncertainty, I felt this was worth reading and sharing.

This is a partial summary of the chapter by Christine Coombe and Neil J Anderson, who are also two of the three editors of this book.

The chapter starts with describing the development of positive psychology, which I won’t go into.

They then say that research suggests that three factors influence how happy we can feel, which I had already read elsewhere, and which I find very interesting:

Believe it or not, 50% of the level of happiness is in fact determined by genetics. Seems unfair, but they say that we ‘can lift our set point if we work at it or live at the peak of our range of happiness.’

10–20% of our happiness is determined by circumstances in our life, such as ‘age, gender ethnicity, marital status, income, occupation, and religious affiliation.’ Not much that we can influence there. To me it seems that whether any of these have a positive or negative influence might depend on which society we live in too. For example, in some cultures, older people are valued more, or being a woman is more difficult, etc.

The last 30–40% is where we have the most influence on our happiness, and this is determined by ‘how a person thinks and acts’. (p.56)

‘what we think will make us happier, only in reality has a small effect. We often overlook the true sources of happiness.
Many individuals have the false idea that success will bring happiness. But actually, the opposite is true; happiness brings success.’

(p.56)

The authors then list ten factors that influence our happiness quotient and which we can use to increase our happiness, which I will only briefly list here:

  1. Forming close relationships
  2. Identifying a life purpose and living accordingly
  3. Personal routines or practices, such as exercising, laughing, practising a hobby, eating healthily, decluttering, etc.
  4. Personal characteristics, such as living in the present, being grateful
  5. Volunteering (improves satisfaction about one’s live by 24% based on the level of altruistic activity according to Williams et al, 1998).
  6. Use of your funds and material possessions to help others
  7. Leisure activities and hobbies, particularly going for a walk, but also reading, listening to music, photography, and even watching a good TV programme.
  8. Sleep well and sufficiently long (people who sleep better are 31% more satisfied with their lives than according to Abdel Khalek et al., 1995)
  9. Professional practices, such choosing a job we love, or at least finding something in it that makes us happy, such as helping our learners to reach their English learning goals.
  10. Being in a state of flow, i.e. absorbed in the activities we are doing.

Taking these factors into account, the authors finish the chapter with five practical suggestions, which sound straightforward enough:

  1. Practising gratitude, by for example keeping a gratitude journal
  2. Living life by thinking of others, e.g. calling or writing to people, thanking or complimenting them.
  3. Living our lives intentionally by taking initiatives and not just being observers and letting life pass by.
  4. Drawing on happiness resources (they mention happify.com, but I guess everyone will have their own favourite resources).
  5. Living in the present and being happy now, not thinking it will ‘magically’ happen at some time in the future.



Whoever reads this (or doesn’t 🙂 ),
I wish you a 2021 with
increased happiness!

Dec 262020
 

A quick search on the internet will show that it’s probably both. We are all born creative, but are educated out of it, and then have to re-learn it as adults, for example how to draw.

My attempt at blind contour drawing: an exercise to improve observational skills and hand-eye coordination. It’s also an example for setting artificial limitations.

To be innovative needs creativity. As most companies and entrepreneurs want to be innovative, they will aim to be creative, create an environment that is conducive to creativity, and either higher creative people or train their staff to be creative if they believe it is a learnable skill.

Today, I listened to Episode 8 of the podcast by LearnJam (one of my favourite companies to work for) on innovation. I’m not going to try to summarise it, but I have taken a few notes, which I would like to share. It’s worth listening to the whole 45-minute conversation.

My notes

  • creativity in a company – not something unstructured and just for fun, but something that has value for the company
  • creativity can be learned
  • innovative climate at a company – what is the reaction to failure and mistakes, punishment or a frame of mind that accepts mistakes as ‘lessons learned, how we move forward’
  • sometimes innovation is like Apple’s iPhone – completely new, big leap, but more often it is like Amazon – small, incremental improvements that lead to a great success in the future. The first type of innovation is extremely rare, but by making everything a little better each time, you can also innovate over time
  • cognitive bias: familiarity bias: ‘It’s working, so leave it and continue doing it the same way’ OR ‘If it’s not broken, break it.’ Look at your processes and procedures, or products. Perhaps it’s working/selling, but if we spend a bit of time and think about how to do it better, perhaps we can improve it and either save time or improve the product.
  • So, innovation is not about making huge sweeping changes. It’s not really about breaking things especially if there are repercussions for everyone involved, it’s about making ‘micro changes’.
  • So, how do you train people to become creative? Give people structured ways of thinking: tools, processes systems, such as design thinking, divergent and convergent thinking, imposing artificial limitations (read this article for more on how limitations can increase creativity), etc.

Nick mentions an innovation adoption theory, which is explained clearly and entertainingly in this short video.

Are you interested in finding out more about innovation and creativity in entrepreneurship?

All the above ties in very well with the information in this course by the University of Bristol on FutureLearn I took not long ago (Well, I have to admit I sped through it in two weeks just before the course ended): Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise (it will run again in February 2021). If you don’t have the time to work through the whole course, there is a plethora of links and downloadable resources, such as related videos, articles, exercises and materials that you can bookmark and go back to when you have time or when they becomes relevant.

Innovation and creativity in language education

Both creativity and innovation are important in EdTech, material design, learning experience design and teacher development. Here’re a few books that you might want to check out if you are interested in this topic, and all of them are available for free:

Innovating Pedagogy Reports – Open University annual innovation reports in collaboration with different partners each year. From the website: ‘This series of annual reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teachers and policy makers in productive innovation.’

Creativity in the English Language Classroom – A British Council publication. ‘The focus of this book is on practical classroom activities which can help to nurture and develop our students’ creativity.’

Creativity in English Language Teaching – by the ELT Council, Malta. ‘This book presents the views of a group of teachers, trainers and researchers, all of whom share the belief that creativity needs to be an intrinsic aspect of English Language Teaching.’

The Image in English Language Teaching‘All of the papers in this book urge teachers to use images critically and creatively, and encourage students to resist the passivity they might feel towards images. Every single contribution is meant to help both teachers and students become more active viewers and more visually literate.’

The Innovations in… series by the British Council, for example, Innovations in learning technologies for English language teaching

Some questions to think about

  • How important is creativity in your field and for you personally?
  • Do you believe creativity and innovation can be learned?
  • Have you tried to improve in this area? What did you find out? What worked for you?
  • Do you have any resources on creativity and innovation that you’d like to share?

Dec 232020
 

In my first research blog post for Immerse, I looked at research into teachers’ perceptions of using technology in their lessons in general and virtual reality and augmented reality more specifically. What are the challenges that hinder teachers in integrating technology into their lessons? What opportunities do teachers see in using VR or AR, and what would help them make the most of these technologies? Read the blog post here.

Dec 122020
 

I’ve used several (social) bookmarking and content curation tools, apps and platforms (e.g. Diigo, del.icio.us, netvibes) over the years.

My criteria

This time, I was looking for an app that was

  • visual and visually attractive
  • easy to learn and use
  • quick to add content or links to
  • available online in different browsers and as an app for different systems
  • embeddable on my website

I had a few other features on my wish list, such as different privacy settings, being able to add notes, etc.

I looked at many different tools (e.g. Scoop.it, Flipboard, Pocket, Pinterest, Padlet), which all had their advantages, but also things I didn’t like for my purpose.

My shortlist

In the end, two were left on my list: Elink.io and Wakelet. In fact, Elink.io was my favourite because it really allows to create visually appealing pages and is very flexible. But I had to admit that it was a bit like a top-notch swiss-knife when I only needed the basic three-function one, which also meant quite an investment of time to learn to use it. Also, it is mainly used by marketers rather than educators.

I was up and running with Wakelet in no time at all without having to read any instructions. It also helped that there were no templates to choose from…

Additional features and fenefits

Two other extra benefits Wakelet offers to educators are:

  • It allows for social content curation, which is great if you want to use it for collaborative work with your students or collaborate with other teachers)
  • Like on Pinterest, you can browse other people’s public collections, follow them, bookmarks or share their collections.
  • They support educators (e.g. with this guide) and there’s a large teacher community.

I’d love to use Wakelet with students for project work and for teacher training, but for now, I’m using it to curate and share content on my website.

How I use it

On my Virtual Reality page, you can click on any of the topics you are interested in and it will lead you to the page with the curated links on that topic. Whenever I add new content on a particular Wakelet, it will update on its page on my webiste automatically.

Final note

If you don’t have a website or blog, or don’t want to embed your content, you can simply use Waklet on its own online or on your smartphone or tablet, and share content by sharing the link to your Wakelet profile or any of your public spaces and collections.

Nov 012020
 

I’m very interested in using virtual reality environments for teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) or ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes). However, the problem is that it would take a lot of time, effort and cost to develop such course in a virtual world from scratch. This is one of the reasons, I believe, why even after so many years, there are still only a handful of language educators in virtual worlds.

My approach in the past, therefore, was to use existing places (in Second Life) to teach English, rather than buying land, learning to built and script, etc. This wasn’t and isn’t feasible for most teachers.

So, when I came across this video from Arizona State University on Linkedin a couple of weeks ago, I was really excited, not because of Hollywood, but because I think some of us educators might be able to piggyback on this kind of thing. For example, they want to use the world shown in the video to teach biology. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the language department could use the same world to teach EAP or ESAP. I assume that language departments around the world don’t have the budget to build immersive virtual environments such as this one just to teach an English for Biology, or Architecture, Medicine or History course. However, if a university can built virtual reality environments for certain subjects, we language teachers could use the same material or course content and create a language course and activities for that subject area. This would not only save money, time and effort, but it would help integrate the language learning with the international students’ subject courses and support them better.

As I also like project-based learning, I could imagine another type of collaboration between different departments and subject areas. Many universities now offer degrees in Virtual and Augmented Reality, and often students have to work on projects developing VR environments or apps as part of their portfolio for assessment. Some projects could be on building environments or apps for the language department. Or an interdisciplinary collaboration could bring VR development students together with EdTech and TESOL students (like I was) and have them work together on VR for language education projects – a win-win-win situation for the students from the two disciplines and the university.

(For more details about the ASU project, go here.)

Oct 302020
 

Bestias11

Cave paintings – One of the first means of visual storytelling?

Storytelling is probably as old as humans existence.* All good storytellers try to immerse their audience in their realistic or fantastic stories, bring their characters to life and generate emotions in their listeners by all kinds of means: simply using their voice, describing a scene, making accompanying sounds with any kinds of instruments available, dressing up, playing suitable tunes, showing images or films, and using all the other tricks of the storyteller’s trade.

Can we then agree that VR technology is simply a continuum of what has existed for a long time and just allows us to use another technique (or trick) to help us feel present – immersed – in a world that is not our current physical world? Perhaps there is one important difference, though: in an interactive VR environment or virtual world, we are not just told an immersive story, we can actively take part in it, which can contribute to the feeling of really experiencing something – even more, creating an experience – rather than just being a ‘consumer’ of a story. Imagine just watching a film versus being able to jump into a scene and interact with everything in it and thereby impacting on and changing the story!

If storytelling has such an important place in human existence and experience, and VR can help us make stories more immersive, experiential and participatory, we need to keep this in mind when using VR in education and planning lessons or immersive experiences that we hope will lead to better learning. If we could manage to convey our learning content as stories, that would be a great success. This is not a new idea, of course, but one that is particularly important when using VR technology, for which immersion is cited as one of the main raisons d’être. 

When we take our learners to a location in an immersive VR app or virtual world so they feel more immersed, for example to a café to practise ordering food, and we tell our students, ’Today we will practise ordering food in a café’, we’d be taking away from the immersive experience. It’s the same as telling students in a physical classroom, ‘Today, we’re going to practise using modals for politeness’. How engaging is that? How much positive emotional engagement will this create?

Instead, we can in many cases pack the grammar point or functional language into a kind of story. So, for example, before the café lesson, tell a simple story: ‘Today is my birthday, so I’d like to take you all to a café […] Let’s go!’ You can make your story as short or as elaborate as you want. Depending on your context, the length of time available and how your course and lessons are set up, you could really go into it with more preparation before the VR session to raise expectations, increase motivation, and spark your learner’s imagination right from the start. You could show them a picture of the place you want to take them too. Tell them it’s one of your favourite places and why. Perhaps tell them what kind of foods and drinks they offer in that place, when it opened, what makes it special. Elicit from them what kind of foods and drinks they like, where they usually like to go to celebrate, etc.

Another example: Let’s say the lesson is about learning/reviewing the names of colours. How can you introduce this lesson better than saying, ’In this lesson, you will learn/review the names of colours’?

How about saying, ‘I’m planning a party. I want to decorate my room. Look, here are balloons. Which  colour do you like best?’ Or ‘Give me the red ballon’, or ‘Where is the blue ballon?’, etc., depending on what language your learners already understand or can use. At the end, you can say, ‘Thank you for helping me decorate my room’ and ‘You’re all invited to my party’.

So, as you can see, making a lesson into a story does not need to be difficult or time-consuming. You don’t even have to change your lesson plan, just introduce it slightly differently and embed it in a simple story.

Of course, there is a lot more to storytelling. The best stories are those that are created and told by learners themselves. For some ideas for this, have a look at my blog post ‘Photography and storytelling lessons in virtual reality‘. 

*If you want to learn more about the development of storytelling from cave paintings to VR technology, you might want to check out this free online course by the University of Lancaster, which has a unit on the history of VR.

Oct 272020
 

As a (former) photographer, I love using images in language classes, so I really like the snapshot function in Second Life. You can download snapshots, or send them directly as email. This is like when you travel and send emails with updates to family and friends. Being able to do this while you’re still in the virtual world makes the experience feel more immerse than saving the snapshot and writing the email after leaving the virtual world. It is also a more authentic activity for many people now who like to take a snapshot with their smartphone when they are out and about and immediately share it via a messenger app or social media.

I used this functionality of SL a lot when teaching there. It gives learners the opportunity to share something they have experienced with their family and friends  – just like they would if they were on a trip or holiday. Also, it gives them a real reason and motivates them to use the language as they do want to share what they have experienced – there is an emotional connection.

Even if the virtual world you use does not have a camera/snapshot function, learners can always take a screenshot (just beware of permissions and copyright issues, particularly if the images are to be shared publicly (I blogged about this in the past, but I’m not sure whether anything has changed in the meantime). I have to find out whether it is possible to take snapshots or screenshots in VRs when using a headset!

Using these snapshots in a story is another possibility. Learners can be asked to create and write stories. They can enhance their stories with snapshots they have taken. This could be made into a project-based activity by having groups of learners co-create and write a story and publish it as a blog post or even a simple ebook, which they can then share with others.

Another possibility for a project-based activity using VR snapshots is creating comics or cartoon stories, using one of the many comic creation tools that are available online. This was made with Canva.

(Images taken in the Village of Ahiru http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Ahiru/95/103/29)

Oct 252020
 
Now you’re thinking this is either clickbait or an arrogant person writing. But it’s neither…well perhaps a little of the former 😉 I’ve had many roles in my professional life starting from photographer, digital imaging editor, to teacher, to digital course materials designer, teacher trainer, content and copy editor, and my new and equally exciting role as research program manager. Once I tasted teaching and the feelings that if brings with it, though, I’ve always felt I needed to go back to the classroom after a break. When I’m not in the classroom, I miss teaching. I miss MY students – past, present and future. When I’m asked what I do, my spontaneous answer is always ’I’m a teacher’, then I might add other roles. Full-time teaching drains me, and I also like working on different things and then when ready, go back and give my full in the classroom again. Thinking about it, all the other roles either help me to be a better teacher or help others to be better teachers too. I’ve been long feeling the need to write this blog post, but what triggered it today was this music video. I was looking for something to listen to while writing some other blog posts, but when I read the singer’s comment, I had to write this now. Here’s a summary of the comment (which is the first one under the video if you want to read it yourself in Turkish or using a translation service): At secondary school the singer wasn’t good at school and thought even of giving up on his life. Then came his hero, his geography teacher, into his life. His teacher used to ask him frequently to sing this song for him and would praise him and take time to chat with him. This treatment motivated him to work harder and do better at school, just to please his teacher. One day his teacher and his wife visited them in their house in a poor area of Istanbul. He listened to his teacher praising him to his parents and telling them about all his positive sides, which he wasn’t aware about himself. They then told them about their ideas of how they would like to support me or how the parents should support him (I didn’t understand this part well). Their good relationship continued until the teacher was transferred to another city. But thirty years later, his teacher saw him as a successful artist and send him a message via social media, so they’re in touch again. Although many students have told me that I was ‘the best teacher I’ve ever had in my life’, I’ll often think they just want to me nice to me. I don’t think or am aware that I had such a great impact on anyone’s life, but I think every teacher in their heart hopes this to be the case. I don’t think many of us would secretly or openly hope and dream to be remembered for having taught a specific grammar point or piece of knowledge or skill. I think deep down we want to have a positive impact on our students lives, something that changes their lives to the better, something that brings out the good in them, something that makes them believe in themselves…perhaps even something that goes beyond that and we hope they in turn will go ahead and have a positive impact on others, on the world. Of course, we have to be good at what we’re teaching, but the people we’re teaching or training (if we are trainers) need to feel that most of all we care for them – whatever their background is, whoever the are, no matter how good or bad they are at what we’ve been teaching them, no matter how much they like or dislike our subject, or how much of a nuisance they are in the classroom, and no matter how much or how little they have been able to pay us…Show them you CARE for them! In return, they will care for you, for your subject, for their lessons, their grades, for improving, and they will REMEMBER and care for OTHERS. I remember a lot of my students and frequently think about them. The adult technician I lost my patience with once due to his constant complaints and disruptions, and sent out of class…then regretted it…This was a professional with his colleagues in the same class and we were in their work place! What was I thinking?! After class, I went to see him and apologised, but he said I was right. We talked a bit and developed some mutual understanding. It was my early days as a teacher and I developed a better understanding of adult learners after this incidence. After that, he was great to have in class and was very nice when me met after class too. The vocational high-school student who persevered as the only one of his class until the end in the extra weekend lessons I was providing them with, despite having to work after school. And he made it! Got the job he wanted, has been travelling the world and doing other great stuff. And I’m still following him on social media and it makes me happy. The problematic pre-sessional student who was always late, dressed oddly, never wanted to work with anyone except two more mature students, and who I’m ashamed to say I started dreading to see. It turned out her parents had been putting extreme pressure on her so she had left home young to study abroad in different countries, had had difficult times and had to become mature and develop confidence early in life. My attitude towards her changed and seeing and feeling that I cared made her change towards me and the class too. The future engineering students who had been learning English for many years without much success felt demotivated and felt they’d never learn English and it was all so complicated. I showed them a visual overview of a seemingly complicated grammar point that I had created for MYSELF when I was learning English. And the least hopeful, least interested and most naughty (to a point that made me feel uneasy sometimes to have him around) looked up, his face brightening up and understanding showing in his eyes and exclaiming: ’Teacher, this is so clear, so easy! I understand this!’ The retiree student I had once in Germany who was mostly taking the English classes as a hobby and to keep herself occupied with interesting things. I’d often just go for a walk with her with my notepad and pen in my pocket. We’d walk and talk and I’d take some notes. Back in my flat, I’d provide her with a bit of feedback. But she was a religious person, so the best help I provided her with was to suggest she joins the Anglican Church in our town, which she did. She became a very active member and once she invited me to her birthday to which the pastor and other community members were invited too. Not only did her English improve considerably, but she had made new friends and found a new role in her life. The pre-sessional student who I thought was the least interested, who wrote to me to ask whether he could keep in touch by email and since has been updating me infrequently but regularly on his studies, progress, achievements… There is one student, however, I also remember but with sadness. He was one of the students who I was providing with extra English classes and who was graduating from a vocational high school. They were being interviewed by a prestigious company for internship placements. The school had invited me to show me their school and sit in on the interviews if I wanted to. When I arrived, they had just finished interviewing this one student. The interviewer told me he hadn’t performed well, he lacked confidence and so wasn’t chosen. I then found out from his main teachers that he felt ashamed of his family background. Because of this, he had no self-confidence. He was one of those quiet students in my class, the kind that is neither distracting nor very well-performing, so don’t generally catch our attention. To this day, I regret not having learned more about his background before and helped him built self-respect and confidence, and not having acted on that fateful day for him. I could have asked to conduct an interview with him myself, or I could have at least talked to him and told him that his family deserves respect for feeding them and sending him to school, and that he deserves respect for being a good student. I haven’t seen him or any of the other students again. It was the end of school and my course. I hope he has overcome his lack of self-respect and lack of confidence and made it to where he wanted to get and is happy. I wish I had been THE person, the TEACHER who helped him with this, and who he would remember later in his life, like the musician, whose story about his teacher’s impact on him above made me finally write this blog post. My students have impacted on me a lot and they have helped me become a better teacher…and for some, perhaps I am really their best teacher. Now the song above is a sad one and it fitted the singer’s mood back then, but I want to leave you with a more upbeat song. This impromptu performance is not only mood raising and makes me smile, it also shows the artist’s skill, and his personality comes through: I’m eager to hear your stories. Why are you the best teacher? Which students and moments do you remember?