Oct 30

Learning anecdotes

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This is part of my pre-week1 homework in the MUVEnation course. Well, it is more a kind of self-assessment. I think it is a brilliant idea to have participants answer these questions reflecting on their own experience rather than answering a set of survey questions, of which the tutors say that “they are like sledgehammers, they smash as much as they reveal”.

So, here are my replies:

A. I am your friend. I don’t work in education. You are talking to me about the idea that we all learn from each other, in all kinds of contexts, and that this can often be richer than more formal classroom based learning. I am sceptical. Tell me about an informal learning experience you have had online in which collaboration was involved, show me a concrete example to help me to see what you mean.

Have you heard of Twitter? This is a messaging tool with which you can tell your friends or colleagues who follow what your are doing. „What does this have to do with learning“, I hear you saying. Well, I wouldn‘t be in this course, had an online colleague on Twitter not sent a tweet to me about it. Sometimes, we tweet about lives trivialities but more than that there are gems of knowledge flowing through my Twitter client: links to articles, blog posts, information about new web 2.0 tools, announcement of courses, events and conference and short informative comments of colleagues, experts in their field, anybody you care to follow. I‘ve learned so much through Twitter. It is a bit like a filter for me. All the people I have chosen to follow, filter the web for me and provide me with the relevant bits, saving me time.

Did I tell you, that I am a Webhead? Webheads are a community of practice that mainly consists of  of language teachers who like to explore new educational tools like web 2.0 services and share their knowledge. We meet at many places asynchronously and synchronously. One of the regular meetings takes place at TappeIn.org every Sunday for the past ten years! These meetings are for socializing, which is important for communities of practise but there is also always a lot that I learn from my colleagues from all over the world when we talk about our current projects, share links to resources, talk about new developments and inform each other about events that are taking place. If I have a question about tools or my teaching practice, I can almost be sure to find someone who provides me with the answer. The best thing about informal learning like this is that it‘s so much fun that it doesn‘t feel like learning. Learning happens incidentally. 

Well, and there is Second Life. There is so much cooperative informal learning going on but let me give you one example. When I first signed up for Second Life and tried to learn to use it, I was so lonely, bored and then frustrated because it was so difficult to figure out how things worked and I started asking myself ”how on earth is this supposed to help learning and teaching languages?“. Later, I found one then two colleagues who were also interested in learning how to use SL for language teaching. We created a wiki to collect resources and, most importantly, started meeting regularly in SL to explore it and learn together. We called this ”SLexperiments“. Now we are well over 70 teachers and I enjoy our Friday meetings tremendously. It is not only a great place to socialise and wind down after a long week but we also have a lot of fun teaching each other and testing new tools. 

I can see the skeptical expression on your face is changing into astonishment and excitement 🙂 Welcome to 21st century learning!

B. We all explore new technologies, some grab our attention more than others, some seem revolutionary, others simply bore us. Tell us about that new tool, or set of tools, you have just discovered that really excites you, talk about the potential it has to change your work. What do you want to do with it?

I‘ve learned so much about web 2.0 tools and every day new tools appear. There is, however, one that I decided it‘s worth to pay for to have the Pro version: Voicethread. I use Voicethread for asynchronous discussions, studetns‘s introduction and speaking practice homework, often in combination with Second Life as the synchronous tool. What I love about it is that is very easy to use even for non-tech savvy students, that it looks good and, most importantly, that students can record and re-record themselves until they are happy with the result, so it is less scary. It can be used in so many ways for almost any subject. Just browse through and look at some examples. It allows students and teachers to be creative and have fun and as we know these are important factors in effective learning. What I often do is to give student the choice whether they want to submit their homework in written or oral form (Voicethread). Thus, students can practise what they need most. This helps me to make my lesson and the homework more relevant and student-centered.

I have to mention Second Life here, too. It‘s the one tool that I have been exploring most intensively lately. After my trial course with a group of international students last summer, I fully understood its educational value. It is immersive, collaborative and because of its game-like character so much fun that teaching and learning (according to my students) is a pleasure. I see its potential for project work (e.g. collaborative building and creating objects) and a great place to compensate for those language students who do not have the possibility to study and live abroad. I can, for example, set homework to interview other residents about the topic we‘ve been talking about in class. I can go on field trips with my students and we can do role-plays in suitable locations (restaurants, hotels, bank, etc.) just to name some of the endless possibilities.

 

C. Do you see yourself as a pioneer? Do you think you are more innovative than others in your organisation? Do you think your organisation is lagging behind? Tell us how you feel about this?

Yes, I like experimenting and finding more effective and fun ways to teach and learn. This is partly because I have always liked and used technology and partly because I didn‘t like school and found it a boring place most of the time (except for the breaks) and want to provide my students with a more pleasurable learning experience. Gladly, I do not work for an institution and am, therefore, not hold back by a boss or regulations. I am in the lucky position to be able to decide on my own and together with my individual students what tools we want to use according to their needs and wants.  

Oct 27

MUVEnation – postgraduate course in ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’

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I was very happy today when I was informed that I have been accepted to the MUVEnation course ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’ (Massively Multi User Virtual Environments). It is a 1-year postgraduate online certificate course funded by the EU. Here is how MUVEnation describes the course:

MUVEnation will help teachers acquire the necessary competencies to integrate massively multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) into their teaching practice ; by exploring the links between : virtual worlds, learning and motivation, active learning and pedagogical approaches that include socio-constructivism, situated learning, project based learning, learning by doing, game based learning, simulations and role-playing.

I am looking very much forward to the course and will share what I learn with my colleagues in the SLexperiments group, in the EVO2009 session that I will co-moderate next year and with everybody else through my reflections that I will be posting here.

Special thanks to Cristina Costa, who informed me about the course.

 

Oct 25

Co-moderating EVO2009 “Virtual Worlds & Language Learning”

I will be co-moderating the EVO2009 “Virtual Worlds & Language Teaching session with Graham Stanley and Nick Noakes. The EVO2009 sessions are free 6-week online teacher development sessions for language teachers.

In 2005 and 2008, I was a participant in two EVO sessions myself. The fist one was a Moodle session and at the beginning of this year I participated in the BaW08 (Becoming a Webhead) session. The sessions have always been a lot of work but also fun. Moderators and participants were all very friendly and there was a warm, welcoming atmosphere which was very conducive to learning. 

This year, participating as a moderator, I hope to be able to give the same warmth and create the same atmosphere for our participants. I am very happy to be in a moderator team with such experienced and generous colleagues like Graham and Nick.