I have recently started a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with the University of Florida. It’s free, open access, and for me non-credit. The first ‘assignment’ is to write about why you are taking the course and what you expect to gain from it. One simple and practical answer is that I want to find out more about elluminate, as I may be using to run a course myself at some point fairly soon. I also want to work my way around the resources and figure out which tools fit for which purposes. It is fascinating how fragile and yet how robust a course constructed entirely in the ether can be, something akin to a spider’s web… Google Docs, Elluminate, Twitter, Youtube, Blogger and various other applications, websites and software are all threaded together to make something which is exceedingly intricate and yet surprisingly sturdy. We shall see.

But this course comes at an interesting moment for me personally. I am preparing for a workshop I will be at this coming weekend, based on a presentation I did a year ago, and at the same time thrashing around a paper on the same theme. I can tell you the what and the how of personal learning networks with increasing certainty, but I am losing my grip on the why. Hence the existential crisis. I should stress that I still believe that personal learning networks are a ‘Very Good Thing’, but I am just unsure what exactly they are good for, and to what extent. I have a few inkings, but these also raise questions.

  1. I have a feeling that teacher development ceases at a certain point, provided that a teacher remains in the same context / position for an extended period. That is not to say that ‘old’ teachers can learn nothing new – there should always be tweaks, refinements… even new approaches. But major epiphanies and shifts in beliefs become less likely over time. This is reflected in the balance between available research devoted to development in novice and ‘expert’ teachers. Given this, I imagine that there is a shift in emphasis in the way that teachers use PLN’s, from self-learning to self-motivation. A feeling that what one is doing is valuable becomes more important for teachers as they enter their late career, to avoid burnout, bitterness or simply going stale. Being a part of an active community and taking on a role as mentor to less experienced colleagues can thus be mutually beneficial.
  2. PLN’s serve both autonomy and collegiality – autonomy in that they are self- initiated, self – constructed and self – maintained, collegiality in the way they allow for collaboration and mutual support. According to research, autonomy and collegiality are both very important elements of successful teacher development, but within institutions and in formalised programmes the balance can be hard to strike, leading to abandonment (enforced autonomy) or pressure (enforced collegiality). PLN’s can circumvent some of these problems by offering both greater control and greater opportunity for meaningful cooperation.
  3. PLN’s are extremely social, and can be quite high maintenance. The amount of off-topic banter, chat and sharing which tends to take place is higher than one might expect, although if one considers the PLN as an emulation / extension of a staff room, it is probably comparable to that which takes place in daily face-to-face interaction with professional colleagues. This may explain why ‘Facebook‘ is, for me at least, a far more useful PLN tool than ‘Linkedin‘. The ‘Personal’ in PLN doesn’t only refer to the unique and personal nature of each particular network, but also to the personal input one has to engage in to be accepted as a trusted member of the network. This in turn can be very tiring, and may lead to burn-out in itself.
  4. Connectivist theories propose that members of a network do not have to learn themselves, but that the network as a whole will synthesize shared knowledge to move understanding forward. Knowledge can thus be stored in ‘non-human appliances’, not internally, as in constructivist theory. This leads me to two further questions. Firstly, I am not sure whether connectivism is the entirely new theory it sometimes purports to be, but simply Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development writ large – in both, the understanding takes place outside of the participants and relies upon a sharing of knowledge. More important, though, is the distinction between skill and knowledge. In some fields learner-participants have a need for and access to huge banks of knowledge, but their own full, personal understanding is not necessarily important. This is a suitable model for thinking about the ways in which advances in medical science research may be made. However, contrast this with the knowledge / skills required by a surgeon in practice. This learning must be internalised and available to be drawn upon instantly. Donald Schon talks about ‘knowledge-in-action‘, the sub-concious application of knowledge by an expert practitioner. I suppose the point is that teachers cannot rely solely on a PLN and that teaching skill needs to be practised, reflected upon, and polished. We require a combination of constructivist and connectivist learning to be a successful modern teacher.

What is interesting for me as I think about these things in early 2011 is that I have been in a position to write about and present on the same topics over the last five years or so. Thus I can track my own thinking from 2007 on to 2008 (and again) right up to 2010, via two separate blogs and whole bunch of tweets in between…

I have a feeling that this blog post might be quite an important one for me personally, as I try to pin down my thinking and pack it up in a handkerchief as I meander down the path towards a possible PhD (because everyone else is doing them, and I think I’d get a kick out of being ‘Dr., and, you know, what the hey…). If you have stuck with it thus far, thank you. Does it make any sense?

Presented at the Chubu Junior and Senior High School Seminar 2010

First of all, a guide to the five kinds of digital camera I discussed. The ‘traditional’ camcorder, the pocket camcorder, the mobile phone, the digital camera, and the webcam.

A Field Guide to Digital Video from darren elliott on Vimeo.

Then a digital video checklist of things to consider when choosing a camera for a job.

Activities

 

Transcriptions can be a simple way of noticing errors, reflecting on strategies, checking gaps in knowledge and reviewing language. Here is an example video transcription worksheet to give you an idea. Students can transcribe conversations, role plays or even monologues, although I think they should be unscripted initially. Research suggests (see Lynch, below) that transcription can be beneficial as part of a task process.

You may prefer to put the students behind the camera too, in which case you will need to train them in the use of equipment. If all your students have video facilities on their mobile phones, you could have them record short videos over the weekend to discuss in class on Monday – playback through the phones themselves makes this a fairly simple job for the teacher. These could be project or topic related, or you could give the students free reign to express themselves.

If you would like to be even more ambitious, you could release the students to make and edit documentaries, interviews, skits or commercials. You could exchange video messages with students in other countries, remake scenes from movies shot for shot, make news reports or create weekly soap operas. With the tools and the time, let your imagination run wild!

Recording and watching your own classes, or those of colleagues, can also be useful. Check Ruth Wajnryb’s excellent ‘Classroom Observation Tasks’ for ideas.

Links

Vimeo is the video hosting service I use. The pro service is cheap, has a massive 5GB weekly upload limit, can be password protected, and looks great. It is also free of the awful commentary one comes across on youtube, with a great community of artists, animators and film makers. Students can visit the site directly and watch the video just by typing in a pre-agreed password. No registration or log-in required.

Dropbox provides free online storage, back-up, and synching between computers. Premium services are available, but if you can get your friends to sign up to the free package you get free bonus storage. Your students don’t have to sign up to anything, you can upload video files and send students a download link by email. Very simple.

WordPress is a great blogging platform (this blog is a wordpress blog) to which you can directly upload video, as long as it not too large. Some services allow you to post by email. Each of the four student blogs I am administrating this semester has a unique email address. I give this email out to the students and they can post text, photos or videos to the communal blog to share. A great way to collaborate on projects, and to stay in touch over the long summer holiday.

There are absolutely hundreds of digital video formats available, some rare, some very common. This list helps you figure them out, and free software like Any Video Converter will help you convert them if necessary.

I have bookmarked a lot of stuff which turned up during online research here at diigo … have a look around!

Further Reading

Allan, M. (1985). Teaching English with Video. Harlow, UK: Longman

Geddes, M. & Sturtridge, G. (Eds.) (1982). Video in the Language Classroom. London: Heinemann.

McGovern, J. (Ed.)(1983). Video Applications in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Pergamon.

(Three fantastic books. Not only are many of the ideas and activities still relevant today, but issues such as format incompatibility and teacher techno-fear seem to have quite a history….)

Brewster, M. (2009). Lights, Camera, Action. English Teaching Professional, 64 (September), 59 – 62.

(Some really great practical activities, highly recommended)

Shrosbree, M. (2008). Digital Video in the Language Classroom. The JALT CALL Journal, 4/1, 75 – 84.

(Slightly more technical, also practical)

Grayson, K. (2010). Flippin’ Out. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, March, 35 – 38.

(Useful overview of a number of handheld ‘pocket’ camcorders, although already dating fast!)

Lynch, T. (2007). Learning from the transcripts of an oral communication task. English Language Teaching Journal, 61/4, 311 – 319

Stillwell. C., Curabba, B., Alexander, K., Kidd, A., Kim, E., Stone, P. & Wyle, C. (2010). Students transcribing tasks: noticing fluency, accuracy, and complexity. English Language Teaching Journal, 64/4, 445 – 455.

(Two of many articles exploring the value of transcription)

Xtranormal is a site I have championed around the blogosphere before. It allows users to make animated movies by clicking and dragging icons, and converts text to voice in a variety of computer generated accents. If you have time, it is a great way of creating skits with students. We can work on body language, study the relationship between spelling and pronunciation, explore topics which are hard to talk about face to face, or just have a lot of fun!

A guy working for Best Buy in the US made a video about dumb iPhone users, which has now been seen by more than a million people. It’s rather rude (so don’t watch it if you don’t like swearing).

I was excited to see the tool used to make a big hit like this. The site is running a little slower due to all the extra attention generated by this video, and good for them! It’s a great idea, and in the past has always worked well. This has been a great opportunity for them to pull in a lot of new users.

But unfortunately, in the parlance of the internet, they seem to have gone for the epic fail. In their recent site updates, they have made the site more difficult to use and more difficult to understand. So what do I want?

1. Make it searchable

It used to be. But the search functions – movies, users… and even help forums, are all gone. How am I supposed to find the best videos to show as examples? How can I dig out my students’ videos? How do I find an answer to my particular question? Even this blog is searchable. Who ever heard of a site that wasn’t?  There are a lot of xtranormal videos on youtube, but most of them are pretty filthy (it is pretty funny to make cartoon rabbits do Lil’ Wayne tracks in computer voices, I admit). Filtered searches onsite would help educators and students. As one of my students said when presenting the tool to the class last week ‘We can’t show you an example because they all have bad words in’.

2. Make it easy

To be fair, xtranormal is ridiculously easy to use. The final product you see above probably took very little time to make, and the more familiar one gets with the application, the quicker it is. However, at the moment the user is offered three options at the bottom of the screen when it comes to saving the movie – preview, save or publish. What is the difference? Well, that depends on which of the packages you have signed up for… to make it even more complex, the ‘quick tips’ guide refers to the ‘action’ and ‘it’s a wrap’ buttons, which no longer exist. Five options for saving a movie?

3. Make it payable

I am very grateful for all the hardworking developers out there who make basic versions of their work available for free. If I use them enough (like vimeo and flickr) I am happy to upgrade and pay for premium functions and storage. That seems to be the standard model, and no one can complain. But when a site suddenly changes it’s pricing policy (as ning tried to do) a lot of people get irate. So imagine how irritating it is when a site keeps their pricing policy totally hidden. I am signed up for a free text-to-movie package with xtranormal but it wasn’t until I tried to publish a movie that I discovered I would have to pay. A new screen pops up telling me I don’t have enough points to publish, and that I should buy a bundle. There is nowhere on the site (that I can find) to explain exactly what the pricing package is. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right?

4. Make it friendly

Reports are that people attempting to pay at this point are experiencing great difficulty. Customer support is perfunctory, with pretty flimsy answers to my questions so far..

I feel a bit mean picking on one particular application, but unless it improves I will be looking around for an alternative next semester. I’ve written about technology checklists in previous posts – any of you have feedback on this particular story?

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I talked to Larry at the JALTCALL conference  in Kyoto about his career, technology, the future of higher education and had a great time! Please enjoy!

His presentations, via Prezi, are here… and worth a look.

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an interview with larry davies from darren elliott on Vimeo.

www.livesofteachers.com

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an interview with joy egbert from darren elliott on Vimeo.

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Joy Egbert was in Kyoto, Japan for the 2010 JALTCALL conference and gave the keynote speech on student engagement. In this interview we talked about that, teacher training, creating ‘flow’ and ‘micro-flow’ situations, and working in limited technology contexts. Joy has a book coming out this year on the last topic, which I am very much looking forward to reading.

I had read a little about flow and the name Csikszentmihhalyi (which Joy can not only pronounce, but spell without reference to notes) but it was good to hear about the relationship between flow and teaching from someone who has been working in that area. Check google scholar to find Joy’s articles. But in the meantime, watch Tina Weymouth playing bass in this clip… that’s flow, I think ; D

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The Japan Association of Language Teaching is over thirty years old now, and currently numbers around three-thousand members. One of it’s larger special interest groups is the CALL sig with an internationally peer-reviewed journal, and last weekend I attended it’s annual conference.  Paul Lewis, one of the co-chairs and someone with a longstanding involvement with the sig, details the history of the conference here.

What is the JALTCALL Conference? from darren elliott on Vimeo.

As well as making two presentations of my own, I did a few interviews, went to plenty of great presentations and plenaries, and met a lot of very nice people. Like most conferences, this one had a theme, and I thought it would be interesting to reflect on it as I walked around the campus. The question is “What’s your motivation?”, and like most conference themes it is open to interpretation.

jaltcall 2010 – what’s your motivation? from darren elliott on Vimeo.

So, what is your motivation?

Two workshop prezis from JALTCALL 2010 at Kyoto Sangyo University, Japan, May 29th – 30th 2010.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice

Video blogging and Podcasting: Interviews with English Language Teaching Professionals

As you can imagine, there is a fair bit of overlap between the two sessions, so I chose to use the ‘flavour of the month’ presentation tool to make one big slide with two different pathways. It was really fun mapping it out… I am not sure if it helps me think differently, in a less linear fashion, or if it just panders to the mind’s natural inclination towards multiplicity. But this is my first paper run through….

Anyway, I am not sure whether it is such a bad thing to have ones thoughts marshalled into straight lines by PowerPoint or Keynote. Something about Prezi does scream ‘Big Fat Gimmick!’, but let’s enjoy the whizz bang fireworks while they last.

Because I hate decontextualised slides so much (one of the greatest dangers to academic discourse today, I’ll venture, is the proliferation of mute online slideshows, stripped of the only thing which gives them a life) I have recorded a run through with commentary so you know what all the pictures mean. It’s forty minutes condensed into twenty, so it’s both too long to watch online and not long enough to make any sense. Apologies for the mumble, everyone else is asleep and I really ought to be myself.

Parallel Learning: How online teacher development informs classroom practice from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I made this using iShowU HD, which works very nicely. Screentoaster also seems good, but a bit more obtrusive.

If you were at either of the sessions in Kyoto, thanks! Questions or comments are very welcome.

I very much enjoyed the recent ‘ten blogs’ deal doing the blogosphere rounds, and I also love the monthly round ups that Shelly Terrell and Karenne Sylvester (and others) often do, but I got to thinking about all those other blog posts that are going to waste….

Maybe they appeared before the blog took off. Maybe they were eclipsed by an important event or meme, or perhaps they just didn’t catch the eye in the google reader as they passed by. There is a whole library of great writing and thinking out there which, for whatever reason, has been missed.

So, how about some homework for the weekend?

1. Have a look through the archives of your favourite bloggers. You can usually find archives in the sidebar, click a tag or category, or search for keywords in a search box.

2. Find a piece you like but haven’t noticed before and leave a comment.

3. Link to it on your blog, or tweet it.

What do you think?

These are mine….

Vicki Hollett is always interesting, and I love to read what she has to say whenever she comments elsewhere, too. This one about compliments is facsinating – particularly the advice for Asian students.

English Raven has been going long enough to accumulate a sizeable archive, and Jason seems to be haring along at quite a clip lately…. a new one every day. I liked this one as I have been thinking lately about the effects of personal circumstances on teacher development.

Someone else who has no off switch is Alex Case. He very helpfully republishes lists of his own favourites from time to time, but I want to know if you are past your TEFL peak  like I am.

The aforementioned Karenne is yet another prolific blogging superstar, and I had plenty of fun browsing the back catalogue of Kalinago English. This one compelled me to respond… never mind the width, feel the quality.

Over to you, and have a fun weekend’s pottering! I’m off to Osaka for the JALT PanSig conference… interviews, tweets and reports to follow.

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This is the audio version of my video interview with Hayo earlier this year.

I’m by no means a gamer*, but I was fascinated to hear Hayo address the question ‘Do computer games really contribute to language learning?’ as keynote speaker at the 4th International Wireless Ready Symposium in Nagoya, Japan. The answer? They can, but…..

I meant to ask a little more about the institutional obstacles to success in incorporating technology into language learning. One thing Hayo alluded to in his talk was the difficulty in controlling who and what learners come into contact with in the online world. Here in Japan the age of majority is twenty, so technically many of my students are still children! My personal preference would be to give them a little training in online ’smarts’ and let them free, but I realise life is not so simple and that we have a duty of care. How should we approach this problem, then? Do you think fears about security / ‘bad’ language / inappropriate content are justified? Or that firewalls and filters just end up shackling us?

It was great to finally meet Dr. Reinders and he gives a great interview here, despite being on a nine-hour time difference from his home in London. I first came across his work when I started looking into self-access learning and learner autonomy, and we discussed these topics too. For all things ‘Reinders’ I recommend his website “Innovation in Teaching”. As well as many, many fine articles you can find a clip of Hayo on Pakistani breakfast television…..

*apart from ‘Urban Dead’, but that’s more about my love for zombies than my love for computer games

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This is a podcast version of the video interview available here.

If you have ever taught children, you may well have come across the ‘Let’s Go!‘ series, now on the third edition and a multimedia behemoth! I met with Barbara, one of the authors, at the ETJ Chubu Expo in October 2009 and she was kind enough to give this interview. She is delightful company and I wish I’d left the camera running because we talked for as long again after I turned it off. She has a lot to say about teaching children and professional development in particular, but we also touched on a few other topics. If you haven’t already, you should check out Barbara’s blog and have a look for her on twitter (@barbsaka ). Being in this part of the world opportunities to meet members of the online ELT community are limited, so it is always especially enjoyable to catch up with someone as lovely as Barbara… even if it is only a few times a year ; D

If you like this, please subscribe via iTunes as there are plenty more on the way.

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