“A dream within a dream!”
“A dream within a dream!” avatar

As we reflect upon the course we’ve all embarked upon over the last two terms, we are now asked to describe what our “dream” online composition course might look like. With our current level of technology, I would certainly be using a CMS that allows me the ability to build user friendly interfaces and has the flexibility to integrate a variety of support tools such as Zoom, Google Apps, Adobe Apps, Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS), and a few others that I’ve covered over the arc of the course.  The one area that I would focus on more, now that we’ve gone through the class, is how I connect and interact with my online students from start to finish. As mentioned last week, I very much like the idea of Gamification, in particular, giving multiple options to students for completing a particular task or assignment allowing them some control in terms of the deliverables they turn in.  One of the biggest challenges I had at the start of our program revolved around how to integrate the f2f experience into online teaching. Although I have not exactly solved that yet for myself, I do believe that your shared insights and our readings have provided me with tools that I think will go a long way in that direction. I’ve started to apply some of these into my hybrid class and am enjoying the results so far.

But, the prompt for this week asked us to describe our “dream” online class environment. So, let’s go there…

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
Christopher Nolan, Inception

The online Gamified class that I showcased last week is certainly interesting and I am looking forward to testing it next month. However, my dream online class is just on the event horizon. Virtual Reality has come a long way and has now moved into what is known as Augmented Reality. What’s next? Mixed-Reality technology! Soon, we will have the ability to have digital elements built into our actual environments. If this sounds a bit strange, I’ve added some links below that provide some insight into what this is and the potential it might have for education. So, my dream online composition class would be a mixed-reality classroom that students can access in their homes, or anywhere. Each week the lesson would appear on an old-fashioned writing table (and yes, with a weathered old brown leather satchel next to it)!  This week’s assignment might focus on Fitzgerald’s lyrical writing style in The Great Gatsby. Students are introduced to Nick who is sitting at the table, then opens the satchel and takes out some papers. He begins to read (as the rooms transforms into a circa 1920s environment filled with a slow jazzy background melody) the section of text that students are to analyze that week.  As the assignment/story unfolds, I would be able to scaffold all support materials I wish to share with the students into this environment allowing them to interact with it in real time.

Well, the prompt did ask us to discuss our “dream” class…so I am looking forward to trying this out as soon as it is available.  Anyhow, check out the links if you are interested in mixed-reality.

Augmented Reality VR Magic Leap Whale in Gym Elephant in Hands

CBS This Morning: Inside a company creating mixed-reality technology

Magic Leap Whale: Example of mixed-reality

Examples of Magic Leap’s Mixed and Augmented reality.

My Posts: 

Back in the Game – CLASSCRAFT

Equity – taking into account prior probabilities.


Back in the Day…

Equity – taking into account prior probabilities.
Equity – taking into account prior probabilities. avatar

As I explore this week’s discussion, I’ll start with Dr. Wood’s two-fold paradoxes.
But, since Dr. Wood and I share a love of statistics, a thought about math…

  1. We teach how we are taught

When I look back on my educational experiences, I consider myself lucky to having experienced a variety of educational methodologies. Reflecting on this I can see how my ever-developing teaching style has been forged from these experiences. Having grown up in Europe my educational institutions drew heavily from Piaget, Pestalozzi and Steiner. My American educational experience introduced me to new approaches and perspectives in educational instruction.  As part of that I’ve also endured the large format undergraduate lecture classes (where I was one among two hundred plus), however, many of my upper-division educators were amazing (UCSC) in how they challenged us to engage, question, think critically and examine the issues we face in our world.  They were builders of individual agency and through that helped empower students to reach new goals. Some of my teachers became mentors, and I ended up working on a research team for one of my professors. However, the experience that made the biggest impact on me was from a year that I had spent at a community college in an Anthropology class. Yes, I was (and still am) a huge Indiana Jones fan and that certainly had something to do with me taking this class initially. But to my surprise, this class uncovered some teaching style artifacts that would heavily influence me as an educator.  This educator’s passion and love of the art of teaching was palpable.  He brought the subject matter to life (no pun intended). This combined with interest in his students was truly inspiring. He was the type of teacher whose class you simply did not want to miss.  So, “we teach how we are taught…” and I continually try to strive to be like those teachers who have and continue to inspire me so that I can make a positive difference in the life of my students.

  1. We ignore the diversity we don’t see

I am an ESL educator so I have the good fortune to experience a tapestry of diversity and culture on a daily basis! I truly enjoy and appreciate the rich learning experience that such a class provides as students share cultural experiences from which I gain new insights. Having grown up in a small country, that speaks four national languages, certainly contributed to my understanding of the value of diversity and how it can strengthen us as a society.

However, I understand that it remains a difficult challenge and needs to be at the forefront of our conversations, not only in the online environment but in f2f classes as well. In addition to the race and gender discrepancies, Dr. Wood’s examination of invisible factors, i.e., environmental pressures (housing and food insecurities) schooling experiences, and structural racism bring to light the increased importance of educators that are guided with Empathy particularly as front line civil rights workers.  That being said, it is a challenge to truly put yourself into the shoes of another person’s experience if you have not experienced those things first hand yourself.

  1. Equity Minded Educators – the 5B’s

Well, based on the 5b’s outlined by Dr. Wood, I am glad to say that I feel that I’m well on my way to being an equity minded educator.  But I’m fully aware that it is an ever-changing landscape and requires continuing education on behalf of us, the teachers. Below are some of the elements mentioned that I try to incorporate into my teaching to be more equity minded:

Be Intrusive

I teach both credit and non-credit ESL classes. For the f2f non-credit classes I particularly emphasize how important it is to be in attendance to avoid falling back.  I have found that placing this emphasis early in class, combined with setting clear expectations and individual accountability have provided good attendance results.  For my hybrid classes I monitor discussions and assignment submissions and follow up with students who did not submit assignments as well as those who partially submitted the assignments.  However, I realize that that might not be enough for all students.

I like Dr. Wood’s example of the “early warning system” to get students back on track rather then having them fall further and further behind. I try to do this, but can certainly invest more energy beyond emails (digital feedback) to make sure that I catch those students who are showing early signs of struggle to ensure they have the necessary resources and support.

Be Relational / Be Community-Centric

As part of the “early warning system,” I really liked the idea of holding office hours using WhatsApp or FaceTime. I know that several of you have done this, so; perhaps it is time for me to explore this so that I can bridge the gap I’ve expressed in my previous posts about that “human” connection.  As for setting up f2f meetings with online classes, I’ve not actually done that as an educator, but as a former student I pursued my online teachers and requested f2f meetings. At the time it was quite challenging because they were not really that interested in the idea of meeting their online students f2f. But, when I did meet them, it changed the dynamic and future online interactions in a positive way.

As for personal feedback, yes, I’m a big believer in that. We’ve covered this topic in prior posts so I’ll keep it short. As do many of you, I feel accountable to students to provide feedback that is personalized to the individual. It goes a long way to building trust and a strong relationship. Because my feedback is mostly in digital form (and I type fast) I can get through it even though it is time intensive. I’ve considered pulling from an archive of prewritten generic feedback statements, but in the end always start writing directly to a student. I know, finding a balance here is important.

Be Relevant

Ok, this post is getting too long so I will summarize how I try to have relevance that students can relate to:

  • In all my presentation materials I incorporate ethically diverse images.
  • I often have students write on a figure of importance in their native community. Finally, they present on those individuals and in the process educate other class members about the value and contributions of their culture to society.
  • The last book I used in my class was Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street.
  • Because I enjoy gamification, I often incorporate options for assignments and assessments allowing students to pick and choose the manner in which they wish to demonstrate the skills learned.

Be Race Conscious

I feel that I “infuse” race consciousness into my classroom and the assignments that we do.  I looked into the CCEAL site as well as the programs that are offered through CORA and am interested in learning more about Racial Microagressions.  If anyone has taken this certificate program, or others, I would like to hear your opinion on the program or the content.

hópverkefni avatar

Halló frá Íslandi!

For the next two weeks I will be testing the limits of distance learning. I am in a remote part of Iceland and have very limited access to technology and WiFi. So, I apologize in advance for any typographical errors (the keyboards are different here!) Naturally, I will do my best to communicate, but simply might not be in a region that will allow me any access via WiFi.

This week we are reflecting on Warnock’s discussion of collaboration in virtual groups through group posts and group work (Janet Wilson) in efforts to build and develop a sense of community (Cameron et al., 2009) in our digital classrooms.

Initially, I’ve felt that I had much more success with building strong teams that near the idea of building a true sense community within the f2f format. Naturally, with 9-15 hrs of face-to-face  communication time, I’m afforded many opportunities to observe non-verbal communications between groups that provide me some idea of how the group dynamics are developing. It allows me not only to observe behaviors among members of a group, but also among groups.

Although, I still have this ability of observation in my hybrid classes, I’ve begun transitioning most of the the collaborative components into the online space and have been quite pleased with the results.   Below are some of the ideas and tools that I’ve implemented with varying success in my efforts to build community in my digital classrooms.

Group Work:

Google Docs / Slides / Google Groups: Janet Wilson mentions her use of these products and I’ve spoken of them at length in previous posts. Yes, I think they are great for collaborative work and building a team environment. In all my ESL classes I spend some time teaching students  how to use this technology if they don’t already know how to use it.

Group Website Development: With the ease of today’s online web editing software, students are no longer required to know how to use HTML5 to code and build a website. I’ve used both

Weebly.com and Wix.com editors in which I create a teacher account that allows me to have classes and student account. One recent example where I used this for a collaborative project was as part of a character assignment for “The Great Gatsby.”  Teams were assigned a category, i.e., themes, characters, symbols, quote analysis, and then were required to write a page (build a web page within the group website) on their group topic. It appears to have been a good team building activity as some of the deliverables were amazing to see.

WikiStory: The idea here is simply to use a Wiki for a collaborative project. A friend suggested this to me who was doing a 3-word story assignment where students each had to only add three words at a time to their story. My approach was a bit different; I used it to have students respond to plot lines in assigned readings and discuss potential meanings with each other.

Appear.in: I have not yet used this application, but a colleague of mine likes using it so I plan to try it out in the near future. In a nutshell, no registration or download is required and it offers a free version that allows up to 4 individuals to video chat. It also has screen-sharing capabilities. If any of you have used it, please share your evaluation of it with me.

Group Posts:

Survey Monkey: I’ve used this to get group conversations started, especially if it appears to be a group not inclined to jump right in to chatting on message boards. This allows me to control the initial discussion by asking a number of questions to all students, collect their individual feedback, and then (while respecting their anonymity) share their ideas without identifying them as new questions to the group, which are then answered in a message board or chat setting.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on collaboration and the tools you love integrated into your digital classrooms.

Back in the Day…
Back in the Day… avatar

With a warm moment of nostalgia, Warnock reminds us of the longstanding notion of the writing teacher persona, “sitting in a café with papers stacked neatly on a table, quietly reading, and then writing comments by hand” (p124).  All that is missing is the tanned classic leather satchel to complete the image in my mind’s eye. It is a nice thought and I certainly remember those days.

I do enjoy the integration of technology and I fully support Warnock’s notion that the digital landscape affords us many new opportunities to explore writing and student engagement.

The integration of digital tools has fundamentally changed how we can operate and interact with learners.  Whether you are teaching an F2F class, hybrid, or fully online, I have seen teachers at all levels integrate many of these wonderful new technologies by necessity.  That is, in many ways this new paradigm for teaching was inevitable given that more and more of our students are “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) and we strive to continue making our lessons both real and relevant for them today.

For my F2F classes, I give the option for students to write by hand and/or by computer (most use computers).  For my hybrid classes I integrate the Google suite/ Adobe products through a CMS. For both types of classes, I have always provided my global commentary in a digital format because I type over 100 wpm and my handwriting, well, based on what I’ve been told of my penmanship, I could have been a doctor.  Naturally, I still collect papers and write notes in the margins, but I try to do as much as I can digitally.  Macros and rubber-stamping have not worked that well for me as I tend to enjoy writing personal remarks to each student.

I actively implement many of the ideas presented by Warnock in regards to grading/ quizzes and rubrics. In particular the use of quizzes to provide a structure for students as they work through the materials.

Now that I’ve established my fondness for technology, there is one thing that truly remains a challenge for me and takes me back to the days of having a leather tanned satchel filled with essays in a café. That is, the face-to-face exchanges and the information that transpires when people interact with each other directly. I know that there are many great tools out there that we can use from voice threads to videoconference, but for me they still fall short. Perhaps it is rooted in my Waldorf education experience, but I feel very strongly about face-to-face social interaction for humans. So, there is my dilemma and I look forward to learning from all of you how I might be able to bridge that concern.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking:
I have not used this tool as of yet, but I’ve heard much about it and I can’t wait to try it. I’m excited to see what I might be able to do with it and how my students respond. I’ll gladly provide my thoughts on it soon.  Is this the same program that the writing center is using?

Skype/ WhatsApp / Zoom:
Of all of these I’ve found WhatsApp to work the best for students and me. It’s free and all that is required is a WiFi signal to connect anywhere on the globe.  They all allow you to add documents to the conversation, etc. etc. and provide an opportunity for face-to-face communication.

Google Suite:
Google Docs / Google Groups / Google Voice (text/call) / Google Hangouts (video/chat/text) Synchronous editing is great for student collaboration and for editing documents with students. Has features for editing directly or simply making suggestions (like notes in Word). Google products can be integrated into your CMS if features are not already built in.

Inserted Spoken Comments:
Yup, have tried this.  Never quite got into this one. Just seems a lot easier to type a comment in the notes / margin.  I do like the idea of recording global summary feedback on writing projects.

I know some teachers give out their personal phone numbers. I don’t.  I’ll gladly text or have a call with a student, but we’ll use a 3rdparty provider like WhatsApp or Skype.

I have created podcasts in the past, particularly as a world language educator, but have not yet applied the technology to my writing classes. Podcasting is best suited for long-form content but I’ve used it for 10-15 minute introduction and overviews of projects and lessons. I’ve also used it successfully (I thought) for literature reading review projects. Although podcasting does not solve my issue with the lack of the face-to-face teaching component, I do think it goes a long way in building a genuine connection with your audience instead of one that might feel a bit lackluster and distant.


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  🙂