A short reflection on my blogging experience for this semester

My dear readers,

Supposedly you would be reading my last post in this blog for this semester. I have mixed feeling towards this blogging experience. And since I start to feel hungry now, I’m just gonna jot down some thoughts before I run to the canteen and grab something to eat. 😀 But for sure, I’ve had what I want to say in mind already.

Overall I think that the course is quite new and difficult for me. But I’m glad I took it because it introduced me to a world of concepts that I’ve never imagined I’d get in touch with. I think I’m quite conservative in my learning style and generally not so keen on new technologies and the course really broadened my vision and raised my awareness of how it is possible to integrate new technologies in education. Now, on the journey of my blogging:

 

Some difficulties:

I was excited by blogging at the beginning of the course, but soon realized that I became lazier to write blogs and comment on others’ blogs. Sometimes the articles appeared to be quite theoretical and hard to read, and it was difficult for me to think of some interesting points to comment on in my blogs because I have to study the whole difficult paper carefully in order to find some sparkles in mind. It really takes a lot of time and effort. So I’m pleased that I’m able to complete the requirements.

 

Some critical reflections:

I am thinking whether there are ways that we could make the blogging experience a little easier, more interesting, and yet still benefit more from it.

For one thing, I’d prefer group work and discussion before we write our posts. It takes so much self-control and effort to study by myself an article on a brand new approach and with bundles of unfamiliar ideas and terms, and write a critical reflection on it. Discussion creates sparkles and generates more creative ideas. Shouldn’t we learn collaboratively now that it has been so often emphasized in the readings?

To help ease the process of reading the difficult articles, I wish we can have some guiding questions specific to every article so that we can read the articles with a specific aim and feel less at a loss.

I think it’s been a heavy workload for us to learn so many approaches and theories that are discussed in the readings. Regrettably, once we finished an article, we rarely related to it for the rest of the course. And I kind of feel that I didn’t get a deep understanding of the approaches and couldn’t build a network for connecting different kinds of approaches in mind.

 

I feel reluctant to abandon any blogs that I created and it’s my hobby to keep my old belongings as treasures. So I hope to keep this blog alive and wish to continue to share opinions with you later, as a teacher, or as professionals of different fields. Good luck to y’all!

 

Best,

Jade

 

Link to my sample post: https://en6494jade.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/using-an-online-efl-course-system-to-foster-creative-and-authentic-language-use-a-reflection-on-milton-2005/

Reasons for the selection of the sample post:
The post summarizes the article, discusses specific contexts for application, and evaluates the approach and the tools in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. The main idea is illustrated with images. The organization of the post is typical of my blog posts and it shows my understanding of the article and critical thinking of the approaches.
This post receives critical comments from a classmate who pointed out my misunderstanding of some of the content in the article. So I was able to reread the article, review the content and develop a deeper understanding. In the process, I discovered a flaw in the article and soon revised the post. Thus this sample post along with the comments shows my collaboration with classmates in our learning.

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Some Thoughts on Mobile Learning —a reflection on Sharples et al (2009)

Sharples et al discussed mobile learning centering on three major themes: (1) what is mobile learning; (2) the designing of mobile learning and (3) the evaluation of mobile learning. They also described three projects that implemented the use of mobile technologies in education.

While early definitions of mobile learning focus on using mobile technologies as a tool for learning, Sharples et al claims that it should be regarded a part of a mobile lifestyle. Their discussion of mobile learning is quite enlightening since it challenges the older mindset that tend to regard learning as formal learning occurring in static institutional settings. They stated that it is the “combined experience” (p235) that constitutes mobile learning. And I’d like to extend this concept further and regard the “combined experience” as the essentials of the act of learning itself. Learning is essentially mobile because we constantly learn from our daily experience and environment outside classrooms, and people on the move need not have mobile devices in order to “cram learning into the gaps of daily life or to use those gaps to reflect on what life has taught them.”(p235) The authors’ statement about the “combined experience” being “mobile learning” is perhaps due to the fact that the mobility of the learning process is now augmented by the ubiquitous personal and public technologies nowadays.

Their proposal of considering technology as a companion or a participant in our activities instead of just a tool that we use to our own advantages struck me as unconventional but at the same time hard to agree to. In retrospect, I may use it to guide my daily lives such as using the alarm clock to wake me up, using apps that monitor my amount of physical exercise, using a daily ESL podcast application that reminds me every day to listen to a new program. However, I’ve never gone beyond regarding it as a very useful tool, which by definition has its own affordances and constraints. It only makes some sense to me if the author’s intention is to raise educators’ awareness of the prominent role technology plays in our learning nowadays.

Regarding the designing of mobile learning, it is important for educators to have a clear understanding of their objectives and how to make the most efficient use of mobile technologies to serve the learning objectives. The authors made a good point that “the use of mobile technologies may only be suitable for part of the activity, with other parts being better supported by other technologies, or by no technology at all.” And this also raises an important question for educators. Since mobile learning has blurred the distinction between formal and informal learning, it is difficult for teachers to know when the users are learning and when they are not. And in situations where it is best to learn in a formal setting and when the learning requires continuous focused attention from the learners and teachers, it may be difficult for teachers to direct learners’ attention and also accommodate different learning styles at the same time. Besides, going mobile is quite distracting and requires short periods of focused attention. It also raises a question whether getting used to learning through mobile devices would result in shorter concentration of attention.

Generally, despite the difficulty, I believe that it is the trend and it is also necessary and beneficial to integrate mobile learning into the curriculum. The traditional separation of learning from informal learning and the traditional evaluation methods may restraint students’ development. Integrating mobile learning can prevent students from considering learning as a tedious experience, considering playing with mobile devices as against school learning and as an escape from formal learning. Teachers should be aware of the great potential of mobile learning in promoting students’ initiatives, improve the overall learning and teaching experience and foster collaborative learning as well as lifelong learning.

 

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Using an Online EFL Course System to Foster Creative and Authentic Language Use— A Reflection on Milton (2005)

Background

In his article “From Parrots to Puppet Masters: Fostering Creative and Authentic Language Use with Online Tools”, Milton introduced and evaluated an online EFL course system that breaks away from the imitative feature of language learning in traditional pedagogies and promotes creative language use. He criticizes traditional teaching methods as norm-referenced and that learners merely parrot language use to suit the standards of exams which results in a lack language competency beyond classroom settings. He believed that incorporating online resources can provide student opportunities to for personal exploration and discovery, as well as provide teachers opportunities to give enhanced directed instructions and feedbacks to students.

The_Puppet_by_xDimax

Summary

Milton discussed the four tools of an online EFL course system: Asynchronous voice messaging, a discovery-based lexical lookup tool (Word neighbors), a marking tool (Mark My Words), and a “scripting” tool.

The asynchronous voice messaging tool is designed to address the problem that students in SE Asian classrooms often lack real opportunities to develop their oral English competency and thus most lack confidence in speaking English. Using this tool, students can record their voices in discussions and to model different context for speaking. They can attend to their pronunciation, intonation and other specific skills. Teachers can also record their messages to give feedback to students.

The lexical lookup tool (Word Neighbours) enables learners to check the context of the word’s usage and the collocation properties of the words by simply clicking the right mouse button.

Since the effectiveness of teacher feedback is always a contentious issue, and copious feedback is very time consuming for teachers, the EFL course system provides a marking tool (Mark My Words) for teachers to insert comments on students’ electronic documents. This tool is devised based on comprehensive corpus analyses of students’ writings investigating the differences between native speakers’ written language and the EFL learners’ written language. Teachers can insert pre-defined comments on students’ recurrent errors to minimize the required effort but they can also edit individualized remarks using word processor.

The last tool described in the article is the “scripting” tool which actively engages learners in creating animated role plays. It enables learners to type their dialogues which will be read aloud by the animated figures in standard British or American English, matching their mouth shapes automatically with the sentences. This tool provides a safe and relaxing environment for learners to try out authentic and creative language use by creating role plays about the topics they are learning. Since their scripts will be read out in the standard form by the computer, learners feel less inhibited to produce language and can compare their own pronunciation with the standard ones. It has been rated as the most interesting activity of the online course.

hand-cutting-the-strings-of-a-puppet-giving-it-freedom

Evaluation

The online EFL course system is intended to take more advantage of the affordances of computer and the accessibility of the Internet. It effectively encourages learners to take advantage of recording devices, the research results of corpus analysis, online dictionaries, etc in order to learn English more conveniently, develop their overall language skills and creativity in language use. It also encourages collaborative activities and makes language learning more fun.

However, I think that while Word Neighbor tool can be very helpful for learners to pick up vocabularies and their usages in context, I will be careful to guide my students to use it for the appropriate objectives if i were to use the tools. If my students are lower-intermediate level and their focuses are to learn grammar and vocabulary, then I’ll encourage them to check the context and collocations when they are not certain about their usages or cannot think of a certain structure. However, if I teach upper intermediate to advance students to write informal essays or creative writings, I wouldn’t recommend them to check the usages every time they don’t feel sure. Instead, I would encourage them to judge their own use of language based on grammar rules,or just personal perceptions, and not to be confined by the common usages. Though the tool is designed based on a large vocabulary, it may still subdue learners’ creativity in language use if students rely too much on them.

( ….. I’ve deleted a paragraph about my confused understanding of the data-driven Word Neighbor tool and the marking tool. It is now appended at the end if you’re interested.)

Another flaw that I discovered in the article concerns the organization of certain contents, which may have led to my previous confusion about the Word Neighbor tool and the grammar guide.The author discussed the corpus-supported online writing/grammar guide in the section about providing feedback. The writing guide is based on comprehensive contrasted analysis of a large corpus of writing of Cantonese speakers and native speakers. However, instead of providing feedback, the writing guide is actually a tool for language practice of language problems specific to Chinese EFL learners. It is more about encouraging grammatical practice through quizzes to prevent grammar errors and providing a reference source for grammar learning in specifically a Cantonese context. In this case, the writing guide plays similar roles as the Word Neighbor look up tool. They provide correct language input, one for vocabulary acquisition, the other for grammar acquisition; both tools provide activities and quizzes to motivate learners to use; and both tools aim to develop learners’ self-reliance in discovering lexical or grammatical properties of the language. From this perspective, it makes more sense to categorize the writing/grammar guide in the section “Online Data-driven Language Learning" than in “Providing Feedback on Student Writing".

Images resources:
http://xdimax.deviantart.com/art/The-Puppet-60941652
http://www.123rf.com/photo_8690415_hand-cutting-the-strings-of-a-puppet-giving-it-freedom.html

Notes:
I’ve deleted a paragraph about my confused understanding of the data-driven Word Neighbor tool and the marking tool. It is now appended here if you’re interested.

To ensure that the system can offer adequate correct language input and identify common problems of learners’ intermediate language, it must be based on comprehensive linguistic analysis of learner’ language and the needs of both the learners and the teachers. The system designer seems to have considered these issues when designing the tools. However, there is a problem regarding the standards of English that may constitute a shortcoming for the system. To devise the marking tool, the author carried out analysis of a large corpus of students’ writings, contrasting EFL learners’ writings to those of native speakers, and used the native speakers’ language as the standard based on which the marking is generated. However, as English is more widely used as a second or foreign language in the world, many variational features are being considered as legitimate now. Language features or expressions that are distinct to some cultures cannot be translated appropriately to the standard English. In particular, if the learners intend to use creative but somehow grammatically acceptable expressions that do not exist in the target language, the markings generated by the system may ignore the legitimacy of variational English and may serve to discourage students from giving play to their own creativity freely. Care should be taken to avoid over-correction in the learners’ language production.

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Collaborative Video Making and Learner Autonomy — Reflection on Hafner & Miller (2011)

Hafner and Miller’s (2011) article on fostering learner autonomy is based on a project-based pedagogical practice in the course English for Science Students. The pedagogy draws on students’ informal learning experience with the internet and the multimedia into the structured classroom teaching. Over the course, students worked in groups to create a video report of their discipline-specific experiment. Students need to (1) do background research and develop hypothesis of the experiment, (2) carry out the experiment and document the results; (3) present findings in the form of a multimodal scientific documentary and a written individual report.

To achieve this, students need to have the skills for doing research on the internet, experimenting, camera operation, and significantly, video making. To support the students through the completion of the project, teachers provided scaffolding such as hosting workshops for critical reading, video making, as well as for trouble shooting. Technology-wise, the following tools are utilized: learning management system for course administration, course weblog for weekly discussion, DV camera and editing software for video making, resources website with video editing software, and a Youtube channel for sharing videos.

Evaluation of the pedagogy is carried out with an in-depth qualitative interpretive approach. Data were collected through questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and students’ weekly comments on the course weblog. The findings centered on the six dimensions: motivation, authenticity, independent learning, teamwork, peer-teaching, and reflection on learning. Generally speaking, students found the project novel and challenging, but they were highly motivated and actively adopted a wide variety of resources of learning in order to complete their projects. They showed a sense of independence in their learning and autonomously resort to any available resource to their own advantage, such as using search engines to find video editing software by themselves even when a website with those software is provided by the teacher, and learning and collaborating with teammates who possess different strengths- on technology, language, etc.

In my opinion, though the course is designed for learning English for science, the project-based pedagogy enriched the content of language teaching by embedding language learning in the context of carrying out a group task of video making that meets the needs of the 21st century university students. Although the article does not show detailed analysis of the students’ language learning progress from a linguistic perspective, I trust that the opportunities the task provides for students, such as to read English texts, discuss and share in English and writing the script as well as making the soundtrack for the videos, is very valuable for students because it allows students to learn autonomously and find out the most suitable way for their own unique language learning, which is very difficult for classroom teachers to cater for. However, it would be still better if teachers teach students the strategies for reading and writing in the second language, and provide feedback on their language productions, such the helping them to revise their scripts, provide explicit instructions on the features of scientific discourse and features of oral presentations, etc.

Another reason that I appreciate this teaching method is that it encourages working face to face in groups with members coming from the same discipline. The wide use of personal computer and Internet seems to have a tendency for learning with new literacies to encourage physically isolated learning at home, while virtually staying connected on the Internet. Just as Celine pointed out in her blog (http://enilec07.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/collaborative-digital-video-project-and-learner-autonomy/) commenting on the small number of views the students’ videos actually received from the Internet, though the openness of the Internet creates the potential of reaching out to the world, what actually happens (how much attention each individual receives after s/he posts on the Internet) may not be so exhilarating. Likewise, individual learning with the computer and Internet may not always to a smooth and satisfactory process. By working alone on the web, students may get confused but cannot get timely assistance, get frustrated without timely support. Group work in shooting the video, which was reported by the students to be the most enjoyable part of the course and made them laugh, encourages real-time collaborated learning and experimenting, and promotes teamwork and friendship. And, it’s just so much fun!

One potential problem I discovered is the students’ intuitive use of the Internet. Although a website with video editing software is provided in the course, students intuitively googled what they needed. While it may work well, it is not the most efficient approach in the students’ case. This is similar to the fact that students may have their own intuitive methods of learning a foreign language, their methods may not work very well. They may spend much more time on google searching for software that are new to them than if they just go to the website provided by the teacher, especially if they don’t know the names of the software. In this case, I think it might be a good idea to raise students’ awareness of the strategies for searching information on the internet.

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Internet, Identity and L2 Literacy— Comments on Lam (2000)

Untitled

source: http://www.identitywoman.net/the-identity-spectrum

The article reviews important concepts in the literature of (new) literacies literature and provides insights in the presentation and development of identity and literacy of an EFL immigrant learner, and calls for a broad and critical reexamination of ‘literacy’ in today’s society.

 

Here, I am going to briefly comment on the ideas of the article in terms of the construction of identity and the implications of literacy education. I would relate to adolescents’ development and education while considering the two aspects and share my opinions on related educational issues.

 

1. Affordances of the Internet and Its Implication on identity formation

 

Apart from the concepts of ‘identity’ and ‘literacy’, other important constructs are “voice" and “design". As the title suggests, one can ‘design’ the self or give voice to one’s identity not only by deploying the existing linguistic and semiotic linguistic resources, but also by adopting and reshaping the resources to “create new meanings and ways of presenting the reality". The existing resources as well as the adoption and recreation of resources is made possible and readily available by the computer and the Internet. They afford users the channel and resources to create and present their own identities in an imaginative world— the Internet community.

 

2. Identity and mental health development

 

Almon’s awareness of two different ‘I’s reflects the true confusion of identity that an adolescent is very likely to go through, but which they normally would not share with others apart from really close and supportive friends in daily life. And Internet provides such a channel  to share with friends and go through the difficult phase of adolescence more smoothly.

 

CMC also promotes emotional intelligence, communication skills and friendship among adolescent users. The case study shows that through CMC, it can be easier and less embarrassing for boys to adopt a supportive, consoling role as traditionally attributed to females. The traditional role put too much stress on men to be strong, so strong as to be non-feeling; and too much stress on women to be gentle and understanding towards others that many will hold back from displaying the true self that differs from the stereotypical characteristics. The roles of physical factors that highlight gender differences in face-to-face communication are minimalised in CMC communication. It helps Almon feel ease to display his abilities that are normally attribute to women and develop his understanding, empathy, and communication skills to help his friends and deepen his friendship, which would in turn strengthen his identity and enhance his self-esteem.

 

One implication I can think of in real life educational practice is that, if a student is problematic with class work but  too engaged in using the computer, teachers / parents should talk with the student/child in a trustful manner and find out what he learns from the Internet, instead of restricting the student/ child from playing with the computer recklessly.

 

2. Literacy

 

The affordances of CMC and the use language chosen by Internet users call for a broad and critical examination of the notion of language and literacy in today’s society. I strongly agree with the author on this point. While Almon was marginalized in classroom English learning targeted for so-called standard English and experienced frustration and low self-esteem, he gained confidence, psychological and emotional support as well as great improvement in his English proficiency by learning and using non-standard English. In this light, for TESOL practitioners, instead of trying to get students struggle to meet the out-dated prescribed rules of standard English, it may be high time to rethink about the ‘standard’ of English and respond to the real communicative and educational needs.

 

It would be beneficial if L2 teachers could integrate teaching the genre features of the language use in CMC and help to guide students in their use of the internet, while promoting their linguistic ability through practical language use at the same time. It will not only motivate students to learn English— because communication on the Internet is a topic of their interest and concern, but will also expose students to a new text type and broaden their understanding of the flexibility and complexity of language in use.

 

One way to integrate this method into the current exam-oriented English education in China is to modify extracts of CMC language use of English, such as IRC, and redesign it as a passage for the section of Reading Comprehension in English tests. The peculiar format of the passage which is different from other reading passages will attract students and really make student want to make a sense out of the extract and make genuine efforts to understand the passage. I think it will be fun to decode the message in the extracts, just like solving a puzzle.

 

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Teach language “through" IT or “in order to use" IT — A Reflection on Schetzer & Warschauer (2000)

Schetzer & Warschauer (2000) in their article An Electronic Literacy Approach to Network-Based Language Teaching, discussed the conceptual framework of the development of electronic literacy, its classroom application and implication for research in this area.

What they have pointed out about the definition of ‘literacy’ is illuminating. While traditionally, a literate person means being able to read and write, the word ‘literacy’ has to be redefined in this new information era. Anyone who doesn’t know how to use computer to access information would be left out and deprived of much benefits in today’s society. While Internet literate people are able to book train tickets online by several clicks on the mouse, immigrant workers who feel at a loss in front a computer will have to get up before sunrise, travel to the station and stand in queue for several hours before they could get a most cherished ticket for home— not to mention that it is still possible that they might not be able to get one even after such painstaking effort. ‘Electronic literacy’ just means so much, and perhaps more.

Internet is a hotpot of information originating from any unchecked source. Newcomers to the electronic world and immature users such as teenagers need to be guided to select the information judiciously and use the internet to their own advantage, lest they get lost in this dazzling unknown territory. If an important part of our life is spent on the Internet, teaching appropriate use of informational technology through language teaching is just as important as teaching language through using informational technology. And it’s best if both ends are considered at the same time.

Although teenage students (which are my major concern) are quite familiar with the Internet nowadays, it is still necessary to teach them how to select the information to their own use. Some of the suggestions for classroom application in the article are worth a try.

Doing a research project is a good way to improve reading skills, such as skipping and scanning for the information they need. The research can be about anything that they are interested in, such as collecting information for a profile of a basketball star, about the places they want to visit abroad. To do these, the language teacher should also be a proficient user of the internet and able to teach the students the techniques for checking the reliability of the information and teach issues related to Netiquette, copyright, censorship etc.

For communication, keeping contact with a foreign friend though email can provide the students opportunities to get in touch with a native speaker and learn the foreign language and culture from the pen pal. A class website in English would be a good platform for the students to share their joys and concerns. Students can practice writing by initiating topics or responding to others’ words.

However,it is not so practical for a language teacher to teach how to create, maintain and market a website in a foreign language, especially when the main target is still to get good grades in exams. This might be an extracurricular project some students work on with a language teacher plus a technology teacher.

In sum, it is necessary, useful and important to incorporate teaching the use of IT into the aims of language teaching though it would naturally be more demanding on the language teacher. I think the status quo in China will remain “teaching English through using IT" for a period of time— though even this may not be a common practice, but the idea of teaching language in order to use IT provides us a new perspective to reflect on and guide our teaching. Hopefully, the two aims mentioned in the beginning of this passage will be realized in a balanced manner.

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Blogging for professional development

–My interests as a teacher
As a prospective English teacher, I’m interested in teaching senior high school students. People usually say that  senior high school teachers have very heavy workload and need to deal with high pressure coming from the high stake College Entrance Examination. It is true. But I want to be a teacher not to get an easy job, but to give play to my potentials and abilities; and if I can be a good English teacher and get on well with my students, it will be a very rewarding job for me.  
The English teaching in high school in China is mostly exam-oriented nowadays. Learning English has been an exhausting and unrewarding experience for many students who only learn English in order to get better grades in exams. Exam-oriented education receives much criticism from the public, but the situation is not going to change radically within a short period. And exams do, in certain aspects, reflect students’ abilities, and have been widely used as a threshold to many opportunities. As an English teacher, I will still need to work within the examination system and teach my future students in the best ways I can think of and put into practice. On one hand, I need to teach them the language skills the exams aim to test; and on the other hand, I will need to take great care to motivate them to become autonomous learners and acquire life-long learning abilities.  
 
–How maintaining a blog might lead to opportunities for professional development
Blog is a place for me to keep reflecting on my ideas of and perhaps my practice in English teaching. Readers of my blog posts will be able to read about my thoughts and experience and share their own opinions or experience with me. In this way, it will not be one teacher working alone for better teaching outcomes, but a group of like-minded teachers working together for a common goal. Constant communication and discussion using blogs will be a good way for me to keep updated in teaching methods and improve my professional abilities.
 
–The kind of topics that I think I will address in your blog, over the course of the semester
I created this blog for my New Literacies and Language Teaching course. In this blog, I will be writing about what I learn in the course on the use of new technologies in TESL, my thinking about the readings the professor recommend, and interactions with my classmates. I hope that what I write in this blog will further my understanding of new literacy in language teaching; and when reviewing the blog post, I will be able to reflect on my own development towards a professional teacher and get some new insight out of it. 
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