Personal Learning Networks – the what, why and how from darren elliott on Vimeo.

A presentation at the 4th International Wireless Ready Symposium, Nagoya, February 19th 2010.

A good starting point for twitter. I’ve made a list of ELT professionals and educational technologists worth following… there are many more out there too, but these might get you started. Don’t forget to include a decent bio in your profile so that potential followers know you are a real person, not just a robot, a pornographer or a marketeer.

The reading and research for this presentation can be found on my diigo social bookmarking page – the PLN list and tags should yield most. I particularly recommend the works of Warlick, Downes and Seimens (all of whom are on the twitter list, too)

There are some great listservs in yahoo groups. I’ll start you off with the webheads group, and follow with ELT dogme. Both very different, but very lively. A tip – set to receive a daily digest.

If you are looking for blogs, onestopblogs has a good selection. Choose the ones you like, put them in your google reader… tweeters on twitter may have blogs of their own, check the profiles.

If you want something more involved, join a ning! Bloggers in ELT is a favourite of mine, Classroom 2.0 is very active.

But your Personal Learning Network should be just that  –  PERSONAL. Take your time building relationships with real people, don’t be afraid to turn off or cut out when things become distracting rather than helpful, and have fun!

A serious question on twitter this week, which I couldn’t answer in 140 characters. So, here is the full answer.

Don’t you just love being pigeon-holed? I’m a gen Xer, who grew up on three kinds of video – game, nasty and pop. Before me, the baby boomers. And after? Generation Y – the millennials. Students in university now, and young teachers in training, are the so-called ‘digital natives’. For them, traditional teaching methods are boring and inaccessible. We need to reach them differently, through the technology they are used to. Otherwise, we are doing them a disservice.

Or are we?

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good gadget. I’ll happily tinker with internet tools for hours on end. I am not afraid of technology. I agree that, in general,  “the youth” are more techno-literate than the old. But not all of them. And more importantly, not necessarily in the ways that we understand.

The myth of the generation gap

I know, I know… you can prove anything with statistics. And who knows how reliable these are? But it does seem that a lot of online social networking is being driven by those who should be old enough to know better. A third of tweeters are over 45 years old. The largest single group of facebookers are in the 45 – 54 age group. And yes, we can see that the very young are becoming more involved… but the so called digital natives who are supposed to be permanently plugged in? Not so much….

Where are you?

Of course, it could be that we digital immigrants are looking in the wrong places. We are getting all worked up about our brand-new web 2.0 when the kids are already on 4. The statistics which are most easily accessible are for North American teens in mainstream education contexts. But that is not who I am teaching – and if you are reading this, probably not who you are teaching either. Facebook means very little to my students. Twitter, even less. That is not to say that they are not using technology, but they are unlikely to be using the same technology as English speaking teens, or old people like you. In Japan, the most popular social software is mixi, and there is probably something similar in your local context. However, that in itself is a very limiting view of “digital nativism”

What does it even mean to be comfortable or proficient with technology?

Being comfortable with technology and willing to use it spreads far beyond internet tools, and the boundaries are blurring all the time. As online applications become more difficult to categorise (what is a ning?), so does the hardware which supports it. If you can watch movies on your computer, listen to music through a usb in your dvd player, and send emails from your mobile phone, what kind of crazy mixed up world are you living in?! But the mistake we make is to assume that all young students will be equally capable across the gamut of technology. This is simply not the case, either on a global to local scale, or within a classroom.

On a global to local scale, Japanese students do not react to technology in the same way as (for example) British students. I have never seen an interactive whiteboard (in use) in Japan. Wireless access is still quite uncommon. The mobile phone is quite a different animal, and the true technological and communications hub for the average Japanese person.

Critics of the technophiles often point out the unfair disadvantage that poorer nations have in educational technology, but Elwood and MacLean’s (2009) comparative study of Cambodian and Japanese students and their attitudes towards technology demonstrates that the relative strength of the economy does not necessarily correlate to techno-proficiency. Although availability and opportunity and age are factors, they are not the only factors.

Within the classroom differences are equally marked. In the academic year just gone, I had students who routinely recorded class discussions on their mobile phones for review, and used their phones to post to the class blog. I had students who put together very impressive powerpoint presentations without my input, and some who independently uploaded documents to the internet for classmates to check between classes. We made videos and animations together, and wrote online book reviews. On the other hand, I had students who could not format a word document correctly, who couldn’t send an email online without help, who couldn’t download pictures or comment on blogs. I thought the young people were supposed to be fluent… aren’t I supposed to be the one speaking with an accent?

A quick look on google scholar will toss up a number of interesting articles about “digital natives”, and the uncritical acceptance of the idea that “all kids are good with computers, so we should cater to them”. To be fair to Marc Prensky, who coined the concept in the first place, he himself has more recently talked of a cross-generational “digital wisdom”. Perhaps the best of the rebuttals is Bennett, Maton and Kervin (2008), who talk of the ‘moral panic’ of this generation gap. Teachers who don’t join in are lazy, out of touch or scared. True? Some of them, yes. But not all of them

So why use technology at all?

It is fair to say that not all young people are comfortable with all technologies. We might assume that they will become so after time, and as teachers we need to keep up. However, the rate of technological change and the demographics of uptake suggest that, now and in the future, most teachers and students will adopt new technologies at about the same time – when they make the mainstream TV news. People who are more adept at new technologies, and absorb them into their lives, may have an edge…. but why is it my responsibility to introduce such tools? I am an English teacher. Just an English teacher.

In a tweet? My answer is this.

It is wrong to assume that my students can only respond to technology, just because they were born in 1990 in an economic powerhouse.

Bennett, S., Maton, K. and Kervin, L. (2008),  ‘The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence.’ British journal of educational technology Doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.200700793.x

A presentation at the Japan Association of Language Teachers conference in Shizuoka,  21/11/2009.

Choosing the technology that works for you! from darren elliott on Vimeo.

You can download a copy of the handout here. I’d love to hear your feedback on the presentation itself or, better, any of the technology you are using. How do you check out whether it’s right for you or not? Any questions I missed? Have I neglected issues important in your context?

I’m not sure where I sit in the whole digital native / digital immigrant scheme of things.  I am old enough to remember my parents having a serious discussion about betamax and VHS video. And when the VHS arrived (my father would point to his prescience) it was linked to a ‘remote’ control by an eight foot lead.  I also grew up with a 48k ZX spectrum, later upgraded to the 128k with built in cassette deck (!), and spent many happy hours listening to the high-pitched screech and whine of ‘Jet Set Willy’ loading up.

Does this make me a digital native, or an immigrant? Am I of a strange generation which could go either way? What worries me is not that future generations will be different (it was ever thus), but that I myself am changing. I’m sure I used to be able to concentrate for longer, I used to get more done….

I’ve spent the afternoon re-joining twitter and beggering about with it to get it synched up to various other blogs, feeds and whatever else. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I have a feeling I’m missing out on something but the constant drip-drip-drip of information might not be what I need. So I thought I might jot down a few ideas about unplugging…

Turn off your wireless connection.
I used to type my essays with an electric typewriter. If I hadn’t been such a lousy typist and hadn’t spent so long waiting for tippex to dry, I would have stuck with it. The temptation to play urban dead when I turn on my computer is almost overwhelming. But whelm it I must….

Listen to records.
I didn’t even have to dust off the record player – it’s never been out of service. CD’s started the problem of the twitchy finger, mp3’s made it worse… now I struggle to listen to a whole song. But put on an LP and sit in a comfy chair and listen to the entire album, getting up once to turn it over and you will have time to absorb some of the things you’ve been cramming into your head.

Read books.
The ones made of paper.

Leave your phone behind.
Sometimes it happens by accident, and for the first half an hour it’s terrifying. But then, nothing much. I even know people without a phone, but that’s taking it a bit far.

Get a clockwork alarm clock with brass clappers.
Because using your phone as an alarm clock leads to all kinds of midnight mischief. You wake up in the night and take a quick peek to see what time it is and before you know it you are checking the football results.

Drink more tea.
I know it’s full of caffeine, but it still seems more civilised than coffee. Especially if you sit down and drink it whilst looking out of the window, reading the paper or doing a crossword.

There is more to know now than at any point in history. Tomorrow, there will be even more. Don’t even think about next week. Do we really need to know all of it? I’m sure I’ll be playing with my phone on the train to work tomorrow, checking tweets. I might even learn something useful. But I’m not putting away my record player just yet.

Screen shot 2009-09-19 at 07.42.09

It seems somewhat solipsistic to write my first post about other blogs I’ve kept, but I suppose to some extent all blogs are exercises in solopsism, so here goes nothing….

My first blog was an attempt to set up an online teacher development group. I tried far too hard with all the wrong things (using particular applications, stipulating rules for participation) and not hard enough with the really important things (writing quality content, and often). I’m probably a little hard on myself there, it was a noble endeavour… and anyone interested can read more about it here. We did gather a truly diverse group of people, from all over the world, who then proceeded not to talk to each other.

What I did learn from that experience is that there are existing networks for that kind of thing. That groups form organically out of the discussion, rather than discussion forming out of artificially created groups.

My second blog is ongoing, and has been much more successful. At least, I judge it to be more successful by rather arbitrary means. This one is the blog I manage for my students, and through this blog I have learnt to relinquish control. The blog was set up originally to deliver media and content to university students, English majors, and to give them a collaboration space. Of course, it evolved pretty quickly once it became apparent that the students weren’t watching the videos, reading all the articles or listening to all the music I’d tracked down for them (at least, not as much or as many as I’d hoped). Although I’d never seen myself as a controlling teacher, I realised that it wouldn’t work unless it was the students’ own space. The long summer vacation was the ideal opportunity to test this out, and I set them the task of posting one item a week and commenting on two others over the break. The links flooded in, and the interaction in the comments was great to see.

There are a couple of niggling doubts, though.

Firstly, if the students are required to do something, how autonomous is it? I allowed total freedom of posting (which meant a lot of cute cat videos, cute boy band videos, and people falling over). But I still asked them to do it. I suppose we can differentiate between the autonomy of philosophy, and the autonomy of educational institutions. Theoretically, the learner can make an autonomous decision to refuse the teacher’s ideas or methods, but this may mean failure (to pass the course and/or to improve their English). For this reason, I didn’t make the blog a requirement, but if one doesn’t require students to attend self access centres or use VLE’s, how do you justify the expense and effort of creating and maintaining them? How to balance the the dream of autonomy with the reality of institutional education?

The other problem I don’t actually see as a problem, but some people might. That is, how much language do they learn? Probably very little, but I’d argue that not everything has to directly input, practice or test new language.

Again, you can read more of my thoughts on the student blogging here.

First post, I hope future posts will be a bit more focused!