An Interview with Nicky Hockly from darren elliott on Vimeo.

I was very happy to talk to Nicky Hockly at the JALT National Conference in Nagoya, Japan in November 2010. She gave a fantastic plenary – well-paced, useful and pertinent – and if you get a chance, see her talk! If not, then this fifteen minute interview will have to do ; D

We talked about the online teacher training company Consulants-E, the obstacles teachers face in implementing technology, mobile learning and all manner of other geeky stuff.

You can follow Nicky on twitter at @TheConsultantsE , and I also recommend How to Teach English with Technology and Teaching Online

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I was fortunate to meet Dr. Stephen Bax at the JALTCALL conference in Nishinomiya, Japan recently. This is the third conference I have attended and, as usual, it was well worth the trip. Dr. Bax gave a keynote talk about ‘normalisation’ in educational technology, which was informative, engaging and relevant. We talked about his keynote as well as other work he has been involved in throughout his career. If you can, seek out his articles on ‘normalisation’ if you are at all interested in educational technology.

As mobile learning takes off, it’s inevitable that the big publishers are going to want in on the act. The question is, will they do a good job? Oxford University Press have started fairly gently by adapting existing print products for the iTunes store, and have very kindly gifted me a number of iPad apps for review. In today’s post I would like to focus on their dictionary apps.

The first is the Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary, (ALD) which I suppose we ought to look at as both a dictionary and as an app. As a dictionary, I like it – the definitions are clear and there are plenty of authentic (at least, they look authentic) example sentences. Words are also marked with symbols to indicate their ‘importance’ – a key shows that the word is within the Oxford 3000, and AWL indicates that the word is on the Academic Wordlist. Both lists are based partly or solely on corpora, and are worth taking the time to explain to students as part of dictionary training.

As an app it has strengths and weaknesses. The best way to look at it, I think, is in comparison with two other dictionaries I frequently use. One is the combined Deluxe Oxford Dictionary of English and Oxford Thesaurus of English which I bought for myself some time ago. At nearly forty quid, It’s not cheap by any means, but I find it pretty handy – especially when I sit down with my Guardian crossword. The other is a Japanese / English dictionary called Midori which I use as a learner of Japanese. Let’s look at the features in comparison.

Sound

Midori has none. The deluxe plays words in isolation, but the ALD wins here with it’s bank of audio example sentences. This can be downloaded for use off line, or not, depending on your memory space, at no extra cost. Both American and British banks are available.

Lists and Folders

One of the problems I have with dictionaries (as both a teacher and a learner) is that it’s very easy to look up a word, use it, and instantly forget it. These apps all allow book marking for later review with varying degrees of success. In the ALD, users can save words to a list, but that’s all. If you are good at reviewing at the end of the day, and transferring such information to organised notebooks or flashcards, then great, but otherwise it’s not especially helpful. The Deluxe is more useful, in that it allows the user to create and save words to certain folders. This way a user can organise lists to review in their own way… and as a teacher I can create lists to pull up in particular classes if I anticipate vocabulary ahead of time. Best of all though, by a clear margin, is the Midori app. Users can create their own folders, and the app will take your saved lists and turn them instantly into two sided flashcards. It also has a number of ready made lists, including sets of characters learnt by pupils in each year of elementary school, and sets for each level of the internationally recognised Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Perhaps this is not a like for like comparison – translating dictionaries and monolingual dictionaries are not really the same thing. Nonetheless, I feel that an app should offer something which its paper equivalent can’t apart from portability and novelty.

Navigation

All three dictionaries have a ‘jump’ function, enabling the user to press a word or character within a definition and leap on to the entry for that word.  The Deluxe lets readers switch between the thesaurus and dictionary for the same word.  All three dictionaries will also automatically save your history, so if you know you checked a word yesterday you can pop back and find it again. As well as keyboard entry, you can look up words on Midori by using your finger or a stylus to write characters directly onto the screen. Japanese lends itself to such input methods, of course, but it might be a useful feature for students who want to check their handwriting in English!

Other Settings

Midori is plain black and white with a hint of red. But the OUP apps are far more customisable in terms of style, font sizes and colours. The ALD can also be adapted to show or hide certain aspects of definitions.

If you are looking for an English dictionary (and I think it’s a pretty important tool for a teacher) then I would certainly recommend both the OUP offerings. The features they have are generally well done and, compared to the cost of an electronic dictionary,  these are very portable and user-friendly. Both are compatible with iTouch, iPhone and iPad.

However, this is a hard review to write, as I realise my criticisms are not about what the apps do badly; rather, what they might possibly do but don’t. The best app developers are fully exploring the opportunities mobile learning affords. Features like jump navigation and audio examples are great compared to paper dictionaries, but nothing new to my Japanese learners used to electronic dictionaries. Whilst the OUP dictionaries are very nice looking, easy to use, and functional, neither will change the way you learn. A dictionary like Midori, on the other hand, might. A dictionary with the best features of all of them would absolutely blow your socks off!

 

I’ve had my new toy for a couple of months now, enough time to play around with it in various teaching contexts, on a few long and short trips, and in two different countries. I say toy because, if I’m honest, that is mainly what it is – I mean, it’s a luxury item, something I wanted rather than needed, and something which makes my life more fun rather than better. Nonetheless I have found myself doing a lot with it, and with certain reservations I would recommend it.

Which Model?

Mine is wi-fi only, and 64GB memory. My university campus doesn’t have wi-fi, so it means I have to be a little better prepared for class – not that I was unprepared before, but I had greater flexibility with a laptop plugged in via an ethernet cable. I miss not being able to call up youtube videos, google images and the like on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, I don’t miss carrying my MacBook Pro up a very steep hill every morning.

In the UK, wireless coverage is far more widespread – you can check up in pretty much any cafe or pub. For Japan, I may pick up one of these mobile routers – very cheap minimum monthly plan, but handy for emergencies.

I can live without the 3G, but I am glad I got the largest memory available. I have a lot of audio and video, as well as quite a few books, and it’s nice not to have to keep deleting and re-synching.

Classroom Apps and Applications

The main reason I held off on the first model is that it didn’t have video mirroring, which the iPad 2 does. That means that whatever is on the screen of the device can be beamed through a projector or shown through a TV, with the right adaptor cables. This is great for showing video clips in class – I use handbrake to rip my own dvd’s onto my mac, and it is also handy for converting other files sourced from the internet. From the laptop, I can easily synch them onto the iPad. One video app which has a lot of potential is the TED+SUB application. Many of the subtitled videos are available to be saved and played offline, too. I have also loaded up all my class cd’s – one less thing to forget when scrabbling around before a lesson, and also easier to use in mp3 format with a touch-slider control.

The first essential app is Keynote. You may have used the desktop software in presentations or class before, but I really love the way it is set up in the iPad version. It’s so easy to create nice looking slideshows, with animations, audio/visual inserts, or different design features. I like it because it allows me to pace the class according to the mood. Rather than writing three discussion questions on the board, for example, I can put each one on a slide and reveal them one at a time. The same goes for new vocabulary, or images, or example sentences, or whatever it is you want to show. It saves paper, and looks neater than my scruffy handwriting. One drawback is that I haven’t figured out a way to save the files into folders on the device itself yet, although they are so quick and easy to knock up that I’ll probably just delete them and remake them as necessary. Those that are worth saving can be exported in several formats and saved externally, them synched back onto the device in the future.

The two other apps I have used the most so far in class are both dictionary apps. The first is the Oxford Deluxe Dictionary and Thesaurus, very expensive for an app, but for an English teacher probably worth it. I’ve found it very useful as a dictionary training tool, for pointing out differences in usage, and for demonstrating pronunciation (with the audio). The other dictionary is Midori, a very effective Japanese / English (and back again) translating dictionary. Lower level classes in particular tend to rely on their translating dictionaries, (although I try to encourage and support other methods) and it helps me to make sure that they are saying what they want to say. As an aside, it’s great for my personal study. I can input Japanese via the keyboard or with a stylus directly onto the touch pad – so I can even look up complex Chinese characters.

One more reference tool which has come in handy is All of Wikipedia, as you can imagine it’s a huge file but when I am offline it can be handy for checking up on random ideas or questions which come up in class. A very useful tool for a wi-fi only, 64GB iPad 2. If you have wireless access, Qwiki presents information via audio, text and pictures. It also detects your location to offer you encyclopedia entries which may be of particular interest, although to be honest the best use in class might be spotting the inaccuracies! I am still tinkering with maps, but World Travel Atlas seems to be the best so far.

With only one iPad for a class of twenty to thirty, and no wi-fi, there have been no fundamental changes to the way I teach. If I had several iPads and wireless classrooms… now THAT would be something! Imagine students video recording each other and uploading the videos to a class blog, solving puzzles, doing research together….

I have been teaching a professional couple, informally, on-and-off, for several years. In the past, I used a notepad with a piece of carbon paper in a ‘dogme’ style lesson – I noted the ‘emergent language’, we worked on whatever we needed to work on, and at the end of the class I gave them the top sheet and kept the carbon copy myself. However, they are very tech savvy people, now each with an iPad! I am set up on the wi-fi in their house and we are figuring out together some of the things we can do. One app they put me on to is Note Taker HD. Using a stylus, we can write directly onto the screen, insert images or links, save as a pdf and share on dropbox or via email. Another which could be fun is Dragon Dictation, a very clever (and free!) app which transcribes whatever you say (as long as you are wi-fi connected). It could work for presentation or pronunciation practice very well.

Finally, GoodReader is another essential app. It’s a pdf reader which I’ll talk about it more in part two of this review, but in class I have used the highlighting and annotation functions on conversation transcripts, to show particular features of conversational English. It works well in conjunction with audio downloaded from elllo, an excellent free resource in its own right.

I am still exploring the possibilities for classroom use, but I can say that the device itself has a fundamentally different feel to using a laptop or desktop. By removing the keyboard and mouse and interacting more directly with the screen, it feels far more intuitive and responsive… there seems to be one less layer of mediation between what you want to do and what the computer does. Because of that speed, flipping between a video and a text document, then zooming on to a thesaurus page feels far more natural and the flow of the class is less likely to be interrupted.

In part two of the review I’ll talk more about the out-of-class applications, for research, for admin (and for fun!). Until then, I’d love to hear what you’ve been doing with your new toy!

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?