“It’s Alive!” – Mary Shelley, 1818
As I share my thoughts on these two chapters, I reiterate here that I have taught hybrid and onsite classes but not an exclusively online-only class as of yet. To service my classes, I’ve used a number of CMSs including Blackboard and Canvas. However, since I began to discuss the Google suite of digital classroom products, I will continue to share those experiences with the group. Also, I embrace Warnock’s recognition of the value and importance of digression in responses on message boards as they further conversation.
Warnock starts his conversation in Chapter 7 by examining the hard copy book, old-fashioned, perhaps, but a surprisingly resilient medium. There is just something magical about being able to turn a page without concerns over the rapidly dropping power bar in the upper left corner of your e-reader (requiring a $50 cable to function). This must sound strange from someone who claimed to be a technology person in previous posts. Let me explain: imagine if you will this true scenario. I was all about e-readers when they first hit the scene, but experience is the teacher and I did not enjoy this particular experience. We purchased a number of the classics including Orwell’s 1984 only to get a notification from Amazon shortly after downloading, notifying us that our copy had been removed and that it would be replaced with an updated version. Unfortunately, the updated version had some text revisions not in the original—a bit ironic given the subject of that particular book. Needless to say, I do enjoy printed text on paper to capture the authors’ original intended meaning. But I digress, so my point is, for my onsite and hybrid classes I do enjoy being able to provide students with at least one tangible experience. I usually provide information to students about the books in my initial email communication prior to the start of the class. For IEP classes, the schools will generally provide the books and make them available to the students in advance.
We’ve established my admiration for books, but I equally enjoy the cornucopia of materials I can bring in from the web to augment my class reading assignments and in doing so “create a different kind of ‘reading’ experience for students.” (Warnock, p.62) Multimodal texts, including but not limited to Anna Marie Alessie’s list of Facebook, snapchats, youtube videos, podcasts, blogs, wikies, NPR articles, NYT articles, cartoons, magazine articles, and Ted Ed clips, all have found their way into my classroom as source material. For example, for one assignment I wanted to have my international ESL students better understand the environments in which the story was occurring. I assigned groups to set out on a quest of discovery as they explored, using 360-degree VR videos, these locations: Andalusia, Tarifa, Tangier, the Sahara Desert, and the pyramids of Giza. These types of videos allow you to move through an environment and explore it. Some move with you, others you can simply move around in. Through my CMS Google Classroom, students linked to Google Cardboard, an application for a cost-effective VR experience, which utilizes students’ cell phones. I provided all the 360-degree videos and organized them on the CMS. If you do not wish to make these VR glasses, you can also use an iPad with similar results.
Students then were assigned a descriptive writing assignment shared with other groups via message board. It was a fun experience and it brought the settings of the story to life as additional characters.
Side note: Google Cardboard viewers can either be purchased relatively cheaply, or they can be made by the students using a downloadable kit (https://vr.google.com/cardboard/manufacturers/).This option still requires the purchase of lenses which you find out once you’ve made the first box!
Warnock also provides us with some considerations and recommendations when using digital materials including the durability of digital links. I have made it a practice to try, whenever possible, to capture the videos I wish to use and transfer articles into PDFs so that I have them archived in case web links go bad or disappear.
Warnok outlines a number of suggestions to help us ensure that our students are actually participating in the assigned readings and discussions. I have certainly used quizzes, usually in the form of a Google Form document using multiple choice or short answer formats. I can control the time that the quiz is published and accessible as well as time that they have to complete the assessment. Since it is digital, they use their phones or iPads to take the quiz and they receive their results immediately following the quiz. I also use Google docs for my group ESL vocabulary activities, i.e., each student is responsible to identify, for example, 5-8 words that they are not familiar with and provide a definition, the POS, as well as use it in an original sentence. Then, they also have to go through the document and write an original sentence for each of the words their peers chose and defined.
Another way that I measure how engaged they are in reading is to evaluate their responses to their peers on our Google Group message board. I often will take the conversation further by asking a secondary or tertiary question from a response that I ask all students to respond to. I have used student-made videos for projects but have not done much with voice threads and chats. I’m looking forward to reading about your creative uses of those technologies!
Chapter 8 has been one of the more insightful chapters for me as I consider best practices to capitalize on the medium of message boards as a tool to facilitate class communication. Back in the day, I was a bit skeptical of on-line message boards, particularly in comparison to a discussion in my f2f classes. However, the more I worked with it, both as a student and teacher, I the more I came to realize the treasure trove of opportunities that it afforded its users.
Warnok draws on the works of social constructionists to emphasize that “the dialogue between him and his students “builds the knowledge of (his) writing course most effectively” (pg. 68). I have come to understand this in time through my own experiences with this medium of communication.
These asynchronous message boards provide participants not only more time to reflect and analyze their thoughts and those of their peers, but afford all members an opportunity to contribute and communally find and share their voices. As a teacher, I find that I get to observe something truly unique as I observe the group engaged in constructing their own perceived social reality through language and discourse. As an ESL educator, my classrooms are filled with a wide range of nationalities, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds and it makes me proud to see students who tend to be quiet in class take a risk and break the willingness to communicate (WTC) threshold as they share their voice and views through the medium of a community message board.
So, I have come to believe in M.M. Bakhtin notion that the activating principle of engagement resides in the response between individuals as “it creates the ground for understanding, it prepares the ground for an active and engaged understanding” (pg.68).
Guideline 22: assume different voices and roles
Guideline 23: stay involved
Guideline 26: future technologies
Summing up the last three guidelines I’ll address, I found the discussion on the different roles/voices interesting and will certainly expand on the roles I feel I am actively using. As for guideline 26, I could digress further but will spare you and save that for another time. I am very interested in what virtual and augmented reality holds for language learning and am actively exploring these worlds for use in my classroom! 🙂