Jul 142014

rscon5Thanks to RSCON5 for allowing me to present the outline of the new Erasmus+ program which allows teachers, trainers and others involved in education and training to be funded to attend residential courses in the EU. The recording of the 25 minute session is here. And my slides are below:


Jan 092014
Learning Tool Palette

by Janson Hew

When I started tutoring the online version of the Certificate for Teaching Languages with Technology for The Consultants-E in 2010, it was fairly simple in terms of tool choice. For each digital task there were two or three mainstream tools to choose from and they were PC-based.

Wiki/ Wikispaces, Pbwiki, WetPaint

Blog/ Blogger, WordPress, Edublogs

Podcast/ Podomatic, Posterous

Asynchronous audio forum/ Voxopop

But now we are at several tipping points and the choice has become much harder and much less obvious.

  1. From PC to tablet or Chromebook
  2. From local to cloud
  3. From few to many
  4. From specific to multi-purpose
  5. From complex to simple

PC to tablet
The iPad classroom is gaining traction mainly due to school and district-wide adoption. The main attraction of tablets in general and iPads in particular is that you get a simplified interface with additional capabilities related to touch and location. The simplification is also a weakness as it means that for technical tasks you still need your PC. So this two track approach doubles the number of tools you need to be familiar with. A compromise seems to be the Chromebook which is cheap, includes a keyboard and performs well technically. But both the Chromebook and tablet option require a constant and reliable Internet connection which is far from ubiquitous even within Europe where I am based but also globally since the CertICT attracts participants from all corners of the world.

Local to cloud
Working in the cloud is becoming very attractive mainly due to low cost and the convenience of being able to access your work from anywhere. Google Apps for Education is a prime example with a zero cost as against paying for Microsoft Office on every computer in the school. But there are privacy issues, especially relating to minors and it does mean that you have to be online almost constantly (see above).

Few to many
In the age of the rockstar start-up there are new apps and tools popping up every day. Especially in the area of virtual learning environments (VLE) I have noticed an explosion of tools vying for my attention. There are still market leaders in every field but they are having to improve continuously in order to maintain their dominance. And people are re-purposing existing tools in ways which were never imagined by their developers. A prime example of that is the touting of Facebook as a VLE. Conversely there have also been many casualties along the way with the demise of Posterous and certain beloved tools turning into legacy software such as Voxopop.

Specific to multi-purpose
Many digital tools are converging. So, whereas before the distinction between a blog, a wiki and a website was pretty clear-cut, the distinction is not so sharp any more. WordPress for example was built as a blog but is now used to function as a website with built-in blog function. It even has wiki qualities with the possibility to have several authors and to revert to previous versions. And website creators such as Google Sites and Weebly include a blog with no difficulty. Multi-function tools used to be pretty variable. For example the Moodle wiki has always caused problems and never been as good as a tailor-made wiki tool. We are now seeing convergence across the whole spectrum of tools so that it is difficult to define them. In theory this should cut down on the number of tools to be mastered.

I used the word mastery in the last paragraph but another marked trend has been the simplification of the tools so that there is a low cognitive cost to trying them out. Although I had a brief former life as a programmer and systems analyst I have only ever have had a rudimentary skill in building online spaces. A bit of basic html and the ability to embed goes a long way. But even that is becoming redundant as tools present you with big buttons to click, behind which all manner of clever stuff is going on. The upside of this simplification is that the focus can be where it should always have been, and that is on the pedagogy. And the flipside is that you get tempted to try out dozens more tools before making a decision simply because you can.

So the task of the CertICT tutor has become a more difficult one as the choice of recommended tools becomes much less obvious.

May 232013

TCE_10th_anniversary_225x225-75I just published a book on iBooks! The Little Book of Blogs is a compilation of blog posts collated from all the tutors at The Consultants-E where I have tutored the online Certificate in Teaching Languages with Technology for the last four years. The collection is a very wide-ranging one covering learning, teaching languages, tips on integrating technology in general and the use of mobile devices specifically as well as some hints and tips on keeping yourself current professionally. The experience of preparing the book on iBooks Author was relatively hassle-free but I was disappointed that I had to go to a third party application for something as basic as embedding videos. Thank you very much to Bookry for enabling this.

Not wanting anyone to feel left out I also produced a pdf version for which I added the contents page at the beginning though unfortunately internal links don’t work. This won’t be my last iBooks venture and I already have plans in June to produce a language learning book for the Danish market. This time it won’t be free!

Aug 152012

The Consultants-EThe Consultants-E is offering a scholarship to enable one person living and working in a developing country (as defined by the World Bank) to take their e-moderation skills course starting in October free of charge. What is e-moderation? It’s the skill of guiding students through online learning activity whether that forms part of a blended course with face to face contact or a purely online course.  Working online demands different skills as the signals that students send out about whether they understand, follow or are about to give up are quite different in an online environment than they are in the face to face situation. The course also looks at what types of activity work online and how to vary the task type. The course will be tutored by Lindsay Clandfield, lead author of MacMillan’s Global series of English books so you will be in good hands.

I have been collecting links about how technology can help learning even in low resource areas of the world with ScoopIt and it is quite clear that the ubiquity of mobile phone use is going to make the online option increasingly common in developing countries.

You need to apply for the scholarship by the end of August.

Full disclosure: I have been tutoring with The Consultants-E since 2009 but you don’t have to take my word for it. Go to the Consultants-E website and see some of the feedback which previous participants have left.

Jul 182011

If you were ever curious about how the Absolutely Intercultural podcast came about and how it works then you may be interested in this interview I did recently with Shelly Terrell.

The interview was done as I was about to start as facilitator on The Consultants-E podcasting course. Yes, I know, I need a new webcam!

Jul 112011

‘What’s a podcast?’ was the reply I got when I suggested to a young lady recently that her forthcoming study trip to India might feature in my podcast, Absolutely Intercultural. As I am about to facilitate one of The Consultants-E’s short podcast courses aimed at language teachers, this shows that the concept is perhaps not as well-known as we might think. If asked to explain, I usually reply along the lines that it is an Internet radio show but most of the assumptions you may make when you hear that can be broken and still be a podcast. So what does the phrase Internet radio show suggest? Audio, public, regularly published, professionally produced and available online. Why would any teacher want to commit themselves to that? Sounds like a lot of hard work.

The main advantage for language teachers is that podcasts support speaking and listening skills which can be overlooked in favour of reading and writing. The main advantage for language students is that when they make their own podcasts they can hear what they sound like and they can practice over and over before making their final recording. And practice they will, because a podcast is not just homework when it has an audience, even if that audience is password protected. As for listening, there is a wealth of free podcasts available to use whenever convenient as they can be downloaded and stored on an mp3 player or mobile phone for later.

So let’s take a closer look at what a podcast is to see if Internet radio show is a good description.

Audio: Most podcasts are audio but many are also video. Video is more attractive. You only have to consider the popularity of YouTube to see that. Can you name the audio equivalent of YouTube? No, I don’t suppose you can. But video is also more challenging to produce and not quite as mobile as audio for viewers who can’t enjoy video without risking their lives if they are watching on their morning run for example.

Public: The idea here is that the sound file you produce is uploaded online for others to enjoy rather than sitting on your local computer. Many people forget that that it’s possible to control access online through a password, for example if you upload your podcast to a blog. Many people also forget or are unaware of the powerful effect of audience. It doesn’t matter if the audience is only class peers and possibly parents. What matters is that this audio recording is suddenly not just homework, but a production that others are going to hear. This is a powerful motivator for most language learners and this is why they will suddenly want to practice again and again before they commit themselves to a final recording.

Regularly published: This is one of the easiest rules to break. It may suit your purposes that the podcast is just a one-off. On the other hand the discipline of producing a regular podcast could be another powerful motivator, providing that additional stress just before publication day when everything has to be ready. In fact there is an English course build around that regular stress, UIC London Radio, which recently won a prestigious ELTON award for good practice in TEFL. Although you get an audience more easily if you register your podcast with iTunes, this is not necessary for it to be called a podcast.

Professionally produced: The tools available to make a podcast are either free or ubuiquitous and quite easy to use so there is no need to call in professional help. Your PC has had a built-in audio recorder for years; your laptop too. But nowadays almost every language student comes to class with a mobile phone and even the most basic phone has an audio recorder. If you don’t believe me then I suggest you take a tour around your phone now. It may be called ‘audio notes’ or similar.

There are two choices about editing: Either you plan the recording meticulously so that no editing is needed or you record spontaneous conversation and edit later. Both approaches have merit for language learners. Learning the basic features of highlighting, copying, pasting or deleting and moving sections of audio around in the free audio editor Audacity is all you need to make a podcast of good enough quality. It’s only fair to mention that to save your creation in mp3 format in Audacity, the standard audio format for online sound, you also have to download an extra little bit of programming called the Lame file. I have explained how to do this in this short video.

The final part of podcasting is uploading it online. This can sound daunting but dedicated podcasting sites such as podomatic.com make it very simple and of course free. Most blogs now accept audio files so you can use a blog as your podcast portal. I would especially recommend the newer services such as Posterous and Tumblr which make it super easy to upload audio files and any additional notes and images you want to accompany the podcast.

Available online: Whether it is Internet or Intranet, uploading the finished sound file makes it much easier to share with others than if it is left on a local machine. I don’t think that storing a sound file locally qualifies it as a podcast. So, of all the assumptions conjured up by the term Internet radio show, this is the one which you really can’t avoid.

You and your students can also be consumers of podcasts; there are thousands out there both specifically for language learners and authentic recordings made in English. You can find a good list recently compiled by The Consultants-E here.

So is Internet radio show a good description of what a podcast is? I think it will do, though podcasts are probably more varied and flexible than what is implied by radio show. But the key concern is that the word does not seem to have penetrated the public consciousness which makes marketing podcasts and podcast courses slightly more difficult than it otherwise might be. But I’m looking forward to working with those brave souls who have made it through the jargon jungle to learn more about podcasting later this week!

Dec 042010

Gavin Dudeney, one of the two owners of The Consultants-E for whom I do some facilitating work, has just written a harrowing post about what he has been going through in the last year. In brief he has been bullied, blackmailed and defamed with the bully telling him on several occasions that they hope that Gavin dies a slow painful death. He has been stalked online and defamed. His post is an attempt to get the story out into the open in an effort to neutralise the power the bully thinks they have over him. The harrassment includes blackmail and defamation and it seems that he has enough evidence against this person to take the case to the police. Although stressful for him, going public about this can’t be half as stressful as what he has been going through this past year.

Although it hasn’t been said in this case, I guess it won’t be long before someone blames the Internet for this. However when you look at the facts of the case I think the perpetrator is obviously disturbed and Internet or no Internet I think they would have found a victim no matter what. Without Internet it may not have been Gavin but I am sure that it would have been someone.

So I think that this case highlights the importance of being careful (although I don’t think that Gavin has been wreckless) but I don’t think that it makes a case for staying offline.

Jun 162009

I get to one or two conferences a year on average and have just returned from my first visit to the EDEN conference which this year was in Gdansk and my main impression was how friendly everyone was. Large conferences such as Online EDUCA Berlin and hip conferences such as Reboot in Copenhagen make efforts to use the technology to help people get together but at EDEN without the technology I think I probably talked with more people at a conference than I ever have before and that was simply down to good old-fashioned human friendliness and concern. At one point for example at the end of Friday’s proceedings, it was too late to go back to the hotel and change but everything else was over and so I was swept up by a project network with people from Spain, Germany, Italy , Finland and Greece and we had a great, if cold and windy, hour in a cafe while we waited for the coach to take us to our evening dinner venue.

I had gone to EDEN with Helen Keegan to present some of our experiences in the VITAE project training teachers to integrate ICT in vocational teaching while mentoring colleagues to do the same. The session was based on a great paper which Helen has written on the topic of the role of communities of practice in learning in collaboration with Cris Costa. And on the same platform as us later we heard Thomas Fischer tell us about his very interesting Mobi-blog project in which university students on mobility semesters blog about their experiences and in so doing encourage more students to take up this option because they are better informed.

The University of Leicester had a very strong presence led by Professor Gilly Salmon and her media zoo. I am not being disparaging here. Media Zoo is the clever metaphor used to identify the status of the different ICT tools which teachers may consider using ranging from the LMS/VLE in pet’s corner to more dangerous and untried ideas in the tropical house.

At the conference I also met one of my distance learning students who is coming to the end of her Certificate in teaching languages with technology course which I tutor with The Consultants-e in Barcelona. But I found it easy enough to maintain the boundaries between social interaction at the conference and continued business talk through the course VLE. This is something which is not likely to happen very often since my students have been spread literally all over the world. But it was yet another friendly event which happened at this conference.

The conference theme was about innovation but I missed the inspiring case studies which told me about the activities of individual students and individual teachers. But I did come away with quite a few contacts for use in current and future projects as well as for the podcast so in that sense the conference was useful.