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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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Using Twitter with your Students

Twitter birds on a wire

Image credit: StartBloggingOnline.com CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Sean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at how teachers can continue to support their students’ learning outside of the classroom through the use of Twitter.

Twitter is an online social network website and microblogging platform that allows users to post and read text-based messages (often with attached images), called tweets, up to 140 characters long. According to Statistic Brain (2013, May 7), there are over 554 million active registered Twitter users who tweet 58 million times per day, and projected revenue for 2013 is almost $400 million. In this post, I will make some suggestions as to how to use Twitter with your students.

Getting Started

To use Twitter, both you and your students will need to set up Twitter accounts. Once set up, get your students to start following you and their classmates’ Twitter accounts. Figure 1 below shows a typical Twitter home page. There are areas for composing new tweets, keeping track of who follows you and who you are following, viewing trending tweets, and viewing a stream of your tweets and the tweets of people you are following.

Sample Twitter home page

Figure 1: Sample Twitter home page

Using tweets for teaching and learning

Starting conversations: Ask a question. Get students to reply.

A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Figure 2: A sample conversation initiated by teacher

Encourage your students to start conservations. These could be about their learning, but could also be about their daily lives and fun things. One of the advantages of using a tool like Twitter is that it introduces an element of fun into learning, so use this to motivate students. Another advantage of using Twitter conversations rather than open classroom discussions is to give all students, particularly those who are perhaps shy about speaking in English, more opportunities to participate.

A sample conversation initiated by a student

Figure 3: A sample conversation initiated by a student

Posting links to learning materials: Long links will soon use up most of the available 140 characters, so use a service like bitly to create much shorter links. These posts could also be the starting point for more conversations.

A post with two shortened bitly links

Figure 4: A post with two shortened bitly links

This use of Twitter is an effective way to blend the longer, more static posts in traditional blogs with the shorter, more dynamic posts of a microblog. A traditional blog could be used to set up and deliver the learning content of an actual lesson, but Twitter could be used for real-time interaction during the lesson.

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Why aren’t we using web-based tools with our students?

Blog keyboardSean Dowling, an Educational Technology Coordinator, looks at why the uptake of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom has been slow, and offers some solutions.

On a daily basis, many of us are using web-based tools. For example, we are using Facebook and Twitter, watching YouTube and accessing a variety of other web-based resources for news, shopping, and planning our lives. Some of us also keep blogs.

However, when it comes to using these resources in the classroom, we have been reluctant to do so. Why? I believe that there are three main reasons for this.

First, there is the problem of “digital dissonance” (Clarke et al, 2009, p. 57); despite using web-based tools in our daily lives, we still haven’t seen the potential of using the tools for learning.

Secondly, using web-based tools for learning is not compatible with current curricula that emphasize knowledge consumption and reproduction of this knowledge in assessments (Dowling, 2011).

Finally, even if we have the opportunity to use web-based tools for learning, as the learning focuses not just on the product but also the process, assessment presents more challenges (Ehlers, 2009; Gray et al, 2010).  But these complications are not intractable.

First, select appropriate web-based material for your students. While the Web provides vast amounts of learning material, finding appropriate material can be problematic for learners, particularly those in the early stages of the learning cycle or whose English skills may be weak. I have found sites such as Learn English (British Council), Learning English (BBC World Service)  and Elllo useful for this.

Second, develop appropriate online assessments for web-based learning. As this type of learning perhaps focuses more on the process and social interaction than on the product, use specific rubrics to take this into account. For example, if students need to use blogs, marks can be given for posting on time, title, content formatting, replying to comments, number and quality of comments made on other student blogs, etc.

Finally, track and support learner activity. A Twitter hashtag or Facebook page could be used to do this. Or use a blog, for example WordPress or Blogger, to not only give access to online resources but to also deliver your lessons online and give support (see my blog web2english as an example). If privacy is an issue, or you need more learning management functionality, web-based tools such as Edmodo and Claco allow you to set up secure online learning environments where you can track and support all the learner activity.

References

Clarke, W., Logan, K., Luckin, R., Mee, A., and Oliver, M. (2009). Beyond Web 2.0: Mapping the technology landscapes of young learners. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 25, pp. 56-69.

Dowling, S. (2011). Web-based learning – Moving from learning islands to learning environments. TESL-EJ, 15-2, September 2011.

Ehlers, U-D., (2009). Web 2.0 – E-Learning 2.0 – Quality 2.0? Quality for new learning cultures. Quality Assurance in Education, 17, 3, pp. 296-314.

Gray, K., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., Clerehan, R., and Hamilton, M. (2010). Students as Web 2.0 authors: Implications for assessment design and conduct. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 26, 1, pp. 105-122.


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Social Media and ELT

Kristin Sherman has been an ELT teacher, teacher trainer, consultant, and coursebook author for more than 15 years, and is the author of Network, a new five-level general English course that harnesses the power of social networking to help students learn English. Register for Kristin’s webinar on social media in ELT to find out more about this topic.

Another class interrupted by the chirping of a cell phone – has this happened to you? Are your students reading their cell phones or tablets under the desk, or even jumping up to leave the classroom?

Despite warnings and strict classroom rules, students still have trouble ignoring texts and Facebook updates during class. Recent brain research helps explain why. With every small burst of information the brain receives, it releases dopamine, the same pleasure chemical released when we take drugs, fall in love, or eat chocolate. In other words, the information students receive through social media can be addictive.

So how can we, as ELT professionals, harness the power of social media to our advantage?

Again, we can look to recent research for ideas on how best to use social media for language learning.

Engage students in the practice of English. Students who use social media in their courses increase their technology and communication skills, are more creative, and are more open to diverse ideas. (Greenhow). They can also master course content more efficiently. In one study, twice as many students who received a tweet about the focus question for the next class mastered the material compared to those who didn’t receive a tweet. Think about tweeting a focus question before your next class.

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A pre-JALT interview with Kristin Sherman, co-author of Network

Kristin ShermanKristin Sherman, co-author of Network, OUP’s first adult course book to use social media, sits down with us to talk about using social media and technology in the ELT classroom. Kristin is the author of several ELT materials including the hit series Q: Skills for Success, and has extensive teaching and training experience.

1. What do you think is the greatest challenge ELT teachers face in the near future? How can they prepare to overcome that challenge?

I think definitely one of the greatest challenges that ELT professionals face is trying to adapt to new technology. So many changes have been created by technology, and trying to figure out what it means for our teaching is the biggest nut to try to crack. The way that people communicate and access information has changed dramatically which has a lot of implications for both language teaching and learning.

Students and learners can be exposed to a greater variety of English with new technology. For example, if they are using online discussion forums or using social networks they’re going to see not only American English or British English, but a wide variety of English. That’s good because it’s authentic and the learners are going to be exposed to the kind of language that they will need to practice in their professional careers and so forth. But on the other hand, all of this input is a considerable challenge for them and for the teacher.

In addition to exposing us to a greater variety of language, technology is also changing our brains and the way that we learn. Research shows that all kinds of things are changing from how we read to how we process information, and even our learning style preferences. I think that teachers are really going to have to take these changes into account, and if they’re going to be successful and effective they need to adapt their teaching to address what’s happening with learners.

Another big challenge with technology is bridging the gap between younger learners – who are much more skilled at using the internet and who have grown up with it – and the instructors who are a maybe a bit older and are not as tech-savvy. Bringing these instructors up to speed is an interesting challenge because if they don’t adapt they’re not going to be as effective as they could be as instructors.

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