Auf Wiedersehen, not goodbye!

In German we have this wonderful word that means, until we meet again (in the Fall). So, it truly is not goodbye.  First and foremost a special thanks to Curry and Sullivan and the team for helping us navigate through the adventures of online teaching.  Secondly, thanks to all of you, my classmates, for your creative insight and feedback. I’ve certainly learned some great new methodologies, practices and ideas that I plan to implement into my online teaching.  Thank you and I wish you all a wonderful summer and I look forward to part two!

Below are my reflections on our class discussions:

“The Cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.” JC
“The Cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.”   JC avatar

Once again I will point out that I have not yet taught an exclusively on-line class, yet. However, I have begun the process of migrating my onsite strategies into the online instructional environment in the form of a hybrid class or an onsite class heavily supported with a content management system.  As I reflect on teaching the writing process for this week’s assignment, I am going to discuss how I approach a writing assignment for one of my Adult ESL intermediate reading and writing classes.  Although this is a f2f classroom, it is an example of a class I support with an online classroom. I integrate the use of content management systems to expose students to the online environment, as many of them are unfamiliar with using these types of interfaces. Not only will this benefit them in future classes academic /non-academic courses, but it also is a useful workforce skill.  So, that means all materials including support articles, presentations, videos and other additional resources can be found online in the virtual classroom. I also require them to use the message board for responding to prompts as well as discussions.

As the language is still challenging for many of my learners (not to say that it is not for some of our more advanced learners), the thought of having to put their ideas on paper can be a frightening endeavor, to say the least. So, my first challenge is to create an environment in which they feel they will not be embarrassed. In Teaching the OWI Course, Warnock provides us with an example of high-stakes vs low-stakes writing environment.  With the diversity of my students’ backgrounds and educational levels, it is essential for me to create a low-stakes writing environment allowing them to explore and engage with the writing as they learn to incorporate academic writing conventions into their texts. My secondary focus is to guide them along the process of writing as I work with them on content, fluency, finding their own voice, peer review/feedback and revisions.

As mentioned above, for many the thought of putting ink on paper (or keyboard stroke to screen), it is something is something to be dreaded.  My first challenge is to try and overcome this and get students motivated enough to actually be excited about sharing their ideas on a subject and to write them down.  In any new writing assignment I focus on strong pre-writing activities aimed at providing learners with confidence-boosting experiences and essential vocabulary.  As I do this, I try to find subjects that will allow me to incorporate some of the students’ backgrounds so they can activate their prior knowledge and draw information from a familiar place as they take on these new challenges.

Below is a sample of one class in a larger unit on narrative writing.

Assignment: Narrative Writing Assignment

Telling Stories to Incite Writing – Re-telling a story, Summarizing.

The Cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.”
Exploring the Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell)

  1. The pre-writing activity begins with a question prompt, What makes a hero?
  2. I ask students to work with a partner to discuss their understanding of the word hero and what defines it. I often will post a prompt like this online on our message board (Canvas or Google Groups) prior to the class meeting so that students will have responded to it prior to the lesson.
  3. We collectively explore some of these ideas that students have presented and then I ask them to work in small teams to create a graphic organizer, mind map, or other diagram to visually express the idea of the question prompt. Students then share their maps either f2f or post them online, to which other groups are to respond to and provide some feedback or ask questions.
  4. I follow up on this pre-writing activity with a secondary prompt, “the cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.” Having already worked on the ideas of what defines a “hero”, students often make a correlation between these two prompts in their responses.
  5. Following this, I introduce the theme of the writing assignment, to explore the Hero’s Journey in literature and culture. My introduction draws on, naturally as a total Star Wars geek, Luke Skywalker, but also Frodo, Indiana Jones, and the wizard boy himself, Harry Potter! We then explore the arc of the Hero’s Journey as defined by Joseph Campbell.
  6. We then analyze written synopsis of character development in Star Wars (and some Pixar movies) and we work on identifying the transitions that occur to the hero. Students use a Hero’s Journey worksheet to take notes of the transitions as they try to identify them.

  7. The following videos are either posted on the CMS (or shown in class):
    1. Ted Ed: What makes a hero?
    2. Netflix’s Myths & Monsters: Joseph Campbell & The Hero’s Journey      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwnxYXOTy94
    3. Every story is the same:

Students are then asked to think of a hero in their own culture and using the Hero’s Journey worksheet, map evolution of that character’s arc.  This worksheet then serves as an outline for them to work on their first draft of the narrative writing assignment, writing about a hero from their native culture.

The class goes on from here as we work through the writing process, planning, organizing, writing, editing, revising.


The Book is Not Dead!
The Book is Not Dead! avatar

“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.

Guideline 18:

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.

Guideline 19:

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.

Google Cardboard

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.

Guideline 20:

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.

Sample of Google Docs and Google Forms

Sample of Google Docs and Google Forms

Sample of a Goolge Classroom Reading and Vocabulary Quiz Assignment

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!

Guideline 21:

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!  🙂

Level up; You Get a Badge!
Level up; You Get a Badge! avatar

Thoughts on Translating Teaching Styles and Preparing for Online Instruction…

Once again, this week we are presented with many good ideas, thoughts, and caveats for consideration as we work on translating our teaching styles into the online environment. Beyond the tools at our disposal in this digital environment, S. Warnock goes on to help us understand some of the intricacies to be carefully measured in preparing our class syllabus to make the online teaching experience a good experience for both student and teacher.

 Thoughts on Chapter 5: “Make sure that your electronic self’s availability is in accord with the schedule your atom self wants to keep” (Warnock, p.41) For me this not only speaks to how we respond to students electronically, but to how we set the parameters Warnock outlines in Chapter 5. Although I do love technology, I am not a fan of social media or the chat function for communicating with students. So, email remains my primary form of student communication (still better than carrier pigeons – although that might be more fun.) For me, I’ve always used a special account for all student communications as to not get messages lost in the barrage of general emails. Whenever possible, I tend to like the internal email accounts associated with the schools where I teach. Yes, I check multiple accounts, but I look at it like different filing cabinets keeping everything organized. I like Warnock’s note on message rules, and have started to spend some time at the start of class to discuss email etiquette as it already has become a lost art; no subjects in the subject line, no class names, even at times no student names associated with their communications. Then there is the expectation of immediate responses. “Yah, but I sent it to you at 2:30am!” So, I have a 24h response window and I make it clear that I will not respond after 7:00pm on weekdays.

Thoughts on Chapter 4:  I have read Paulo Freire’s work and certainly believe that individuals, through learning, can empower and remake themselves. Many of you have cited the use of Socratic Seminar discussion as one way for us to challenge our learners to engage with material in a critical manner and to reflect and judge the assumptions underlying ideas and actions. But, as also mentioned “participants carry the burden of responsibility for the quality of the discussion” and at times it just does not play out the way we had envisioned. Megan mentioned literature circles, which I’ve also enjoyed implementing. I will continue reading your posts as I’d like to learn more about all the ways to expand on these interactions.

As I read Chapter 4 in Warnock’s book, one topic peaked my interest above all else. I noticed the same curiosity in Heather’s and Megan’s posts, even though Warnock barely touches the surface of this subject. So, what better way to open my discussion than with a quote from Ready Player One (opening this week):

“I’d renamed my avatar Parzival, after the knight of Arthurian legend who had found the Holy Grail.”                                                  ― Ernest Cline, Ready Player One

Yes, I would like to explore Games and Simulations with all of you in this week and get your input and feedback on what your experiences have been with this.

I’ve been fascinated with this for some time as I too, like Jade, continue to hone my ability to create a better “student-centered approach by designing lessons that try to create a sense of discovery.” I have found that game-like environments for learning are well suited to help support the student-centered model. Gamification can not only enhance the online experience but allows us the ability to design lessons that are focused on student choice and discovery through game elements like quests. In one of our previous posts, we were discussing learning styles and Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as we design our lessons. I feel that applying game elements to non-game environments can encourage higher participation and motivation due to their ability to allow for self-discovery. So, I’ve tried to incorporate aspects of gamification into my curriculum (note: as part of the curriculum and not necessarily exclusively). Granted, my experience using this has been at the advanced IEP levels that are mostly filled with what Prensky (2001) defines as ”digital natives” so I experienced little resistance to the format as learners were already quite familiar with the interface.

Just to clarify, I am not talking about expansive MMORPG’s (World of Warcraft or Minecraft) but rather online gaming environments that are limited to the class and a “room” environment created by the teacher. A good example here is Classcraft (https://www.classcraft.com).

Now I certainly understand that the online gaming platform might not be attractive to all teachers, but soon we will be talking about augmented reality that will afford us the opportunity to superimpose computer-generated content and have our students interact with it in the real world, either in the classroom or in an online environment. So I believe that gamifying a lesson or curriculum (whether using a digital game or old-fashioned game) can provide powerful differentiation opportunities to support student learning.

Now, in all fairness, it is very time intensive for the teacher to start this type of project at first. So, the same message holds true that Warnock and Curry have asked us to consider for online teaching, start small and don’t let the technology overwhelm you. I started with one or two small elements, and now am moving into slightly more complicated games like Classcraft to expand my online class activities. But gamification does not necessitate a gaming environment. You can create your own “gamified” lesson or curriculum without all the fancy stuff. If you are interested in what gamification is, Gabe Zichermann is a great resource. He’s got some TED Talks, many books, and online information that can provide a good overview of what it is and how it can be implemented.

I have rambled on way too long, so with that I conclude. Look forward to your thoughts on the subject.


Mobilis in Mobile
Mobilis in Mobile avatar

Hello Fellow Colleagues,

As all of you have also experienced, I’ve had my share of adventures through the labyrinths of educational technologies, all promising new bells and whistles to serve our learners and us better. Initially, to help me provide digital content to my learners, I created my own websites, eventually moving over to institutionally supported CMS systems. Here I’ve dabbled with Blackboard, Moodle, Edmodo, Google Classroom and now have set a new course for adventures in Canvas. Collectively, they remind me of the motto on the Nautilus, Mobilis in Mobile, technology moving amidst constant change. Just when you think you might have learned the ins and outs of a system, a better one arrives. I like technology so I’m always exploring new tools, but it does get a bit overwhelming at times to determine what will actually work and what just looks interesting but will be too difficult to evaluate the educational impact. So I’ve come to embrace the “less is more” notion expressed in Warlocks’s ninth guideline to “keep it simple and effective.”

I wish to share with you some of my experiences as they pertain to how I approach building my online-hybrid classrooms. I usually try to evaluate them by looking at design tools, content creation tools, and content management systems (CMS) available to me.

  1. Design tools:
    These include tools that allow you to create your own interface either through direct HTML5 coding, or through the use of digital composers, i.e., website builders (WordPress, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace) that offer users a variety of templates and a friendly interface with easy drag and drop features. These allow you to effortlessly link/post content to a variety of sources including social media applications. I’ve enjoyed using these design tools for hybrid classes as I feel they allow me the greatest amount of creative control; however, there are limitations with content privacy.
  2. Content creation tools:
    Whether using web builders or an existing CMS infrastructure, I use lots of different tools to help build and design my content for classes. Since many of you use these I won’t go into much detail on them other than to list them. I use Keynote, PowerPoint and Prezi for in-class content presentation. I usually use the first two and then convert them to PDF and upload/link to the virtual classroom, blog or CMS. I try to have students also use these tools for their presentations, or choose a number of other programs that are better suited for social media integration.

    1. Smore and Pinterest: Great for brainstorming ideas and creating digital flyers/posters and/or image archives. Smore allows you or students to create great flyers without requiring much in the way of design skills.
    2. YouTube: I create class channels in which I can link content into my HTML/CMS sites or have students upload video projects to the account.
    3. Storybird: As an ESL educator, I’ve enjoyed using this tool that allows students to create their own digital picture books. I usually have two members in each team, as they search through the extensive art archive to find images that work for their creative story development. Stories can be long or short based on story design and then they can easily be converted to an eBook format for presentations. Additionally, they provide a classroom interface allowing you to easily review projects, set assignments, have students respond to stories via blog, and story publishing tools. I’ve used it for teaching intermediate ESL writing classes as well as intermediate German.
    4. Easelly: This application is ideally suited for creating infographics that I’ve used for students to graphically represent their essays. They visually demonstrate the flow of ideas and overall structural cohesion of the writing.
  3. Content management systems CMS): As mentioned earlier, I am relatively new to CANVAS. What I’ve seen so far I’ve liked and find that the benefits outweigh the weaknesses. Most of my experience has been with other CMSs. One of the schools I teach at uses Google Classroom exclusively (for hybrid classes):

    Google Classroom: The interface is straight forward and simple to use. The teacher interface allows you an overview of all of your online classes. Each class consists of three essential pages:

  1. Stream page: used for all communication of assignments, questions, or announcements (not email).
  2. Student page: Allows for teacher/ student interaction and discussion.
  3. Class resource page: Presentations and additional information can be posted for students to access.
  4. Additionally, there are email and calendar features integrated into the site.

The true benefit of using Google Classroom has been the ease of use of all the Google Suite applications because they integrate seamlessly into the site. I’ve listed the ones that I use regularly:

  1. Google Docs: Great for individual or collaborative writing assignments. Allows synchronous user editing.
  2. Google Forms: Create multiple choice or limited response questions that are helpful as a digital study guide. Students get instant feedback and can access forms on any platform.
  3. Google Drive: Google’s version of Dropbox. A place that holds all Google-created documents and allows you to share those documents by placing them into student folders.
  4. Google Slides: Another alternative to PowerPoint and Prezi, seamlessly integrated into the Google platform. Students can easily create and share their presentations. They can play on any device at any time (given a good WIFI connection).
  5. Google Hangouts: Platform for creating video or text discussion groups linked to the Google Classroom site.

I have enjoyed using the system because it is quite flexible and adaptive. The price for accessing all of these systems is setting up a Google email account. As most students already have such an account, they can access all of these applications at no cost. There are video and photo applications and many more that can be integrated to expand on lesson content creation. Above all, unlike other CMS systems, I’ve been able to use this with students from around the world as it requires only an internet connection and a PC.

See you next week!
Bentley  🙂

Unit 1: Framework for Teaching On-Line
Unit 1: Framework for Teaching On-Line avatar

(I’m reposting the first week into the blog (rather than the feed) as I was not able to access the blog until today!) 

Unit 1: Framework for Teaching On-Line

Hello Everyone,

About Me: I am delighted to be part of the Writing with Machines group and look forward to our exploration of effective on-line teaching tools and strategies. So, who am I? Well, I was born in Switzerland, moved to California when I was ten, graduated from USCS (go banana slugs!) with a degree in political science and moved back to Europe to work for a multinational electronics corporation. After five years, I moved back to the US and worked as a VP for a non-profit educational science center for many years. I then decided to change things up a bit and got my M.S. in TESOL from CSUF. For the last few years I’ve been teaching credit and non-credit ESL instructor at the community college level, at Intensive English Programs, Business English workshops, and as a world language educator, at the middle school level, for beginning and intermediate German.

As of yet I have not taught an exclusively on-line class, but rather a hybrid model. I just recently migrated to using Canvas, but have used other platforms including Google Classroom.

Technology and me: For the most part, I love technology however; as I was born prior birth of the World Wide Web I would be defined as a ‘digital immigrant’ as compared to what Prensky (2001) refers to as digital natives (those who have not known a time without the internet). Yes, as a child I still went outside to play in the sun!

In particular, I truly enjoy the creative and artistic aspects of technology; I’ve worked as a graphic designer and am very familiar with all of the Adobe Creative Suite products. I enjoy building web sites, editing film and video/sound projects and digital photography. I’ve even taught classes in Photoshop, Illustrator, In Design and Premiere. In the past few years I have been interested in elements of gamification, specifically those that provide opportunities for students to engage with the content in a variety of ways. One of these issues, also addressed by Warnock, is

Goals for my soon-to-be online course:

Having a technology background I thought I would love taking on-line classes. Although I’ve had a few that were good, I would say the majority of them fell short in a number of ways. Naturally, I will try to learn from those negative elements in efforts to build on them and avoid making the same mistakes that left me feeling less that excited about the class. These included:

  1. The Feedback Loop: I completed an online World Language Education teaching class (with lots of writing), and although the content was interesting, we waited and waited for instructor feedback on assignments. In one instance, students began to communicate with each other over the lack of feedback, asking each other if anyone had heard from the teacher. Turns out in this particular instance, the teacher was traveling and had not been “near wifi”. Then all at once we got our graded materials back with a one sentence of constructive feedback.In the online/hybrid classes that I teach, I try to respond to students on a regular basis (within 24h) however, much is still done in student conferences. I am looking forward to learning more about the range of tools available to us to respond beyond message boards, word/pdf editing tools and emails.
  2. Respect diverse talents and ways of learning: In the introduction, Warnock speaks of the “humanistic potential” of online writing courses by providing access to individuals who might be challenged to otherwise partake in a course. I fully support this notion of online teaching, however, I am looking forward to learning strategies of how we might address different learning styles in an OWcourse. In the regular classroom, I can easily change direction in the midst of a lesson. I can adjust content according to Gardner’s theory of multiplies intelligences and allow students to complete tasks using different skill sets, i.e. kinesthetic, logical mathematical, interpersonal, etc. I look forward to learning how all of you approach this online to allow for alternative learning styles, “teachable moments”, or inserting content to bolster student success based on the needs of the particular students.
  3. Content Presentation: As a web designer, this is naturally something I am very interested in. I’ve seen many online classes that feature the “I’ve placed everything I could possibly think of on this page to help you succeed” approach. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced that this only has helped students to get lost in a labyrinth of not-so-helpful information. In Curry’s video clip he presented a sample site (ENGL 100) featuring graphics, key access points to guide learners to essential information, and negative space (white space). I look forward learning more about how the principles of visual hierarchy of information (Hick’s law/Fitt’s law) will be viewed by our authors in terms of online class content presentations, and then hopefully applying it to my site.

Best regards,