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Using Facebook and Smart Devices for Blended Learning

Facebook icon with mortar board on top

Image courtesy of mkhmarketing on Flickr

Thomas Healy, is an English language instructor at the Pratt Institute, New York and at Kyung Hee Cyber University, Seoul. He presents regularly at conferences on how to use technology and social media in language learning. He is the co-author of Smart Choice Second Edition. In this article, he looks at ways of using social media and technology for blended learning.

A couple of years ago, I felt that my interaction with students was more suitable for kindergarteners, rather than my young adults.  My need to say ‘No!”, “Don’t do that”, and “Stop!” seemed to be ruining my rapport. Every one of my students had a smartphone, which they never wanted to put down or turn off. I didn’t even have a regular cellphone myself. Then I thought, “If I can’t beat them, I’ll join them.” I bought a smartphone, asked a student to show me how it worked, and embraced the digital age.

I soon learned that I could easily get lost and confused with the bewildering number of virtual tools, environments and applications. So rather than asking myself, “How can I use digital tools in class?” I asked, “What do I need?” I needed a place in the digital world

  • which my students and I could use from any classroom, technology-enabled or not, or even when we were on a field trip
  • where students could post videos of presentations and written assignments
  • where my students could find me and each other instantly and effortlessly.

Having analyzed the most popular social media platform, I chose Facebook as the hub of my blended learning environment. Facebook has most of the functionality of the Learning Management System provided by my school with the added advantages that it is much easier to use, and my students are connected to it all the time. I make a Facebook group for each of my classes. A Facebook group is a members-only, private space that is easy to create and access.

One of the most effective ways of helping students with their communication skills is through doing presentations. Through presenting themselves and watching others present, students become acutely aware of issues relating to vocabulary, pronunciation and eye contact, to name just a few. In the past, the presentations themselves and the feedback sessions ate up a lot of class time. Now, when students present in class they video themselves on their smartphones, and upload their recording to their class Facebook group. In class, we discuss how to evaluate the presentations but the actual critiquing takes place outside of the regular classroom. Students watch the videos and then give feedback using the comment feature.

We follow a similar procedure when peer reviewing writing assignments. One of the most important advantages is that students have a record of the feedback, which they can easily access.

21st Century learners are ‘prosumers’: producers + consumers. They are not content just to view something; they want to produce their own content in response. As much as possible, I use Facebook to make the projector in my class an interactive rather than passive experience.

I use Facebook as a presentation tool, and as a way to expand and personalize the contents of my lessons. I can upload my lesson visuals using Slideshare, or more frequently, by just uploading a series of screenshots to the Facebook group. Unlike with my Learning Management System, students can upload to the group too. We can personalize and expand a lesson by having them take photographs or scanning content and uploading it.

When appropriate, I have my students use the live chat function to answer, for example, grammar questions or other activities. By zooming in on student responses, the projector becomes an interactive rather than passive classroom tool.

The digital classroom can become too diffuse through the use of too many platforms and applications. Although I have added other tools over time, I try to maximize the functionality of Facebook. By focusing my students’ desire to share on language learning, it can be used as a powerful ‘academic network’.

To find out more about developing presentation skills in the classroom and ways smart devices and social media can be incorporated into the process, you can take part in Thomas Healy’s interactive webinar “Developing effective presentation skills” on either 8th November or 14th November. Register for your free webinar place now.


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How To Teach ´Great Openings´ for Presentations In English

Young businessman giving presentation

Photo via Dries Buytaert under Creative Commons license

Christopher Wright has worked as a Business English Teacher and a Business Trainer in the UK, US, Spain and France. In his first guest post for OUP, he outlines techniques for teaching Business English students the art of opening presentations.

Doing presentations, like anything in life, is a question of preparation, positive attitude and ´practice makes perfect´.

Just like in the popular BBC TV Show Dragon´s Den the more preparation and practice participants (students) have, either in front of an audience (no matter how small) or recording themselves on a web camera, the more relaxed and confident they will feel when they actually have to give their presentations.

So what can we do as teachers and trainers to help? Here are 6 tips:

1. Visual Aids

Visual aids such as images, objects, sculptures and models are a fantastic but under-exploited tool for making ´great openings´ in presentations in English. A visual aid immediately helps grab the audience´s attention and piques their curiosity. And once the audience starts thinking “what is it?”, “how does it relate to the presentation?” and “why have they shown me this?”, the presenter starts winning their battle to achieve their presentation objective (to inform, persuade, entertain etc.). Visual aids also act as a great support for non-native speakers who are nervous speaking in front of people, as it removes them from the spotlight. Also it helps focus their attention on the presentation opening instead of worrying about the audience´s reaction. Watch this great example, a 5 minute TED Talk by a Dutch Engineer, and how he uses a visual object to make a boring presentation really come alive. Count how long it is before he actually starts speaking.

2. Petcha Kutcha 20×20

Petcha Kutcha events are organized around the World. They were started by a group of young designers in Tokyo in 2003 and have become world famous. Their goal is to improve ´The Art of Concise Presentations´. Each presenter is allowed to show 20 images (one per slide), with each slide lasting up to 20 seconds, hence the 20×20. So how does this relate to teaching presentations in English? In an internet obsessed world that has become more visual, faster paced, and now suffers from information overload, the ability to quickly communicate your key messages is vital. Other advantages include: being a useful technique for teaching time-poor professionals and managers; helping long- winded students become more concise; and finally there is a cross-cultural aspect.

3. Storytelling

Nancy Duarte wrote an excellent book called Resonate (Wiley, 2010), which helps any person learn how to craft visual stories and present them using the techniques normally reserved for cinema and literature. With Resonate, presenters learn how to: connect with the audience empathetically; craft ideas that get repeated; use story structures inherent in great communication; create captivating content; inspire and persuade audiences. It´s a book full of quick and easy-to-use communication techniques for creating great presentation openings.

4. Power of your Voice

Following on from point 3, great story-tellers also know how to use the power of their voice to captivate, entertain and influence their audience. There´s a reason why children (and some adults) will sit quietly, attentively and listen for a long time to a good story-teller. What is it they do? They vary their tone, pitch, volume, speed, intonation, emphasis and pauses to create moments of suspense, excitement, danger and happiness. There are hundreds of good examples on YouTube you can analyse with your students to show them the effect of the power of their voice when giving a presentation. Try comparing a presenter with a monotonous tone and one who knows how to use the power of their voice to see how different they are.

5. Using Quotes

This can feel like a very American presentation style, but its appeal is much more international than you´d think. They key is to select quotes from internationally known and famous authors, figures and people both from the past and present. Here is a good source for presentation quotes. Why do presenters use quotes? For two reasons, firstly it helps them quickly frame an argument or key message for the audience. Secondly, it gives their own presentation a little more credibility as people tend not to question these quotes as much as they would if they’re the presenter´s own.

6. Evaluating and Giving Feedback

At the beginning of this post I mentioned ´practice makes perfect´ and also the TV program Dragon´s Den. Why? Both highlight the importance of ´Evaluating and Giving Feedback´ to perfect a presentation. As teachers we can work with our students to develop criteria to evaluate their own and other presentations so they can learn through watching others as well as themselves. Technology (webcams, private YouTube channels, etc.) gives students the option of peer review of their presentations, either by themselves, or by teachers and classmates.


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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 3

Female business speakerJon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. In his final post on helping students with their presentational skills, he offers some tips on how to spice up a presentation. If you missed them, catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

Download my helpful hints on Presentations – Expressions and introductory phrases (PDF).

Memorable speeches

Once we have dealt with the basics it can be fun to teach students a few rhetorical devices to make their speeches and presentations more memorable. The study of rhetoric – a way of speaking or writing meant to influence or impress people – was once at the heart of a classical education. Nowadays the only people who seem to employ it are politicians. So why not teach our students a few rhetorical tricks which they can easily put into practice?

Here are some ideas you may like to draw on or add to.

(i) Lists of three

For some reason, human beings seem to be hard-wired to use lists of three. There are numerous examples which we can draw from a range of languages:

  • “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar
  • “Liberté, fraternité,  egalité” – motto of the French people
  • “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” – Lincoln
  • “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” – Churchill on the pilots of the Battle of Britain
  • “My foundations support people in the country who care about an open society. It’s their work that I’m supporting. So it’s not me doing it. But I can empower them. I can support them, and I can help them. – George Soros (financier and philanthropist)

Remember that in English when we say lists we tend to use a rising intonation on the first items, and a falling intonation on the final item to denote completion.

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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 2

Jon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. This is the second of three posts on helping students to overcome challenges in presenting in English. You can read Part 1 here.

Preparation and research

Most good presenters readily admit that their success is a result of careful preparation and practice. Generally speaking, a presentation is a piece of carefully constructed writing delivered as an extended monologue and is often the result of research. However, expert speakers understand that there is no point in reading out detailed information or research findings. Instead, they recognise the need to keep their message simple. They will regularly summarise, return to their main points and say the same thing in different ways, so listeners have several opportunities to catch their message.

Lazy or unaware students sometimes think it is enough to find an interesting article and read it out to the rest of the class. This is usually catastrophic for the following reasons:

  • Articles often contain rare and difficult vocabulary and expressions unknown to the audience. This is frequently made worse by the reader’s poor pronunciation.
  • Articles may assume some kind of shared background knowledge with the reader. (A story which has been running for some time will often just add what is most recent to the tale.)
  • Articles are not meant to be read aloud. The information load is dense and there is little repetition or redundancy. Remember that when we read, we can return to the text as often as we need. Simply reading the text once does not allow listeners extra chances they need.

Presentation as a process

I believe the most important thing we can do as teachers is to make students aware of the process they need to engage in to produce an effective presentation from source material.

I often follow these steps:

  1. I find a text and read it aloud, making many of the typical mistakes of pronunciation, poor delivery and absence of eye contact common in these cases!  I then ask the class what the article I have just read was about. Few, if any, can answer confidently!
  2. I hand out examples of the text and get them to read it.  Then we begin the business of paraphrasing and simplification. We re-phrase complex sentences, identify rare or unknown words, idioms and expressions, either eliminating them altogether, or substituting items which our listeners are more likely to know.
  3. We then identify the main and subsidiary points of the article and decide which key ideas we are going to use.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, we then discuss what background knowledge the article assumes, and how we can supply this with a more general and clear introduction.
  5. Finally, we re-assemble the text into a coherent summary which can form the basis of a presentation.

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Helping Students Give More Effective and Memorable Presentations – Part 1

Young people giving a presentationJon Naunton is co-author of Business Result and Oil and Gas 2 in the Oxford English for Careers series. In the first of three posts, he offers advice for helping students to overcome challenges in presenting in English.

Many schools and universities require students to give presentations. It is difficult enough to present successfully in one’s own language, let alone a foreign language. A shy and timid learner in his or her own language will not miraculously become a fantastic presenter in English!

This article will examine how we can help students become better presenters by developing their confidence and improving their preparation. Good presenters say something interesting, which they communicate in a lively and memorable way – it is a true performance art. Nevertheless, I sincerely believe that good presenters are made, not born, and that even those learners who lack self-confidence can be transformed into acceptably confident, albeit not brilliant presenters.

Download my helpful hints on Presentations – Expressions and introductory phrases (PDF).

Confidence building

Use sub-groups

The stress presenters feel tends to grow with the size of the audience they address. In most cases, during the training process, the audience will be other class members.  Recently, I have taught larger groups of up to thirty, so breaking them up into sub-groups can be useful.  Speaking in front of six people is usually less intimidating than speaking in front of thirty. Arranging the classroom into different zones means three or four students can present simultaneously. Not only is this a more efficient use of classroom time, but it shifts the focus away from a sole individual. I generally play background music to reduce distraction between groups.
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