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Articulo 01


Introducing virtual activities, an alternative strategy

 

J. Ulises Ramírez Vega

Plantel 5 “José Vasconelos”

Colegio de Inglés

 

In the last decades, approaches in education and the education system have been changing. New perspectives and new theories about ways of learning are coming out frequently. Teachers are continuously encouraged to try new strategies to help students in their learning process. UNESCO’s report, Towards Knowledge Societies, suggests that a key factor in a country development is knowledge-sharing and how people integrate this new knowledge in their life for creating more knowledge in science and technology (17-20). For this matter, the importance of education systems to include ICT[1] in their learning process is relevant.

 

When it comes to include activities that use ICT, do we take time planning, questioning about the requirements and criteria, or even more important the expected outcome? From a simple web exercise activity, to a complex project-based learning activity, planning and specifying criteria are key factors for success. Once, an instructor from a course asked to present a proposal for enhancing an English program using a slide presentation. At the moment of presenting, all projects were completely different and it was clear, by his frustration, that the instructor didn’t achieve what he wanted. These situations occur when there is not enough thinking on the side of pedagogical strategies. To avoid these scenarios, a plan-do-check-adjust[2] circle and continuous adjustment may help to improve the learning process. In this paper, a proposal for introducing language e-activities in the classroom will be examined.

 

Let’s stop to what a strategy is, before we continue. According to Rebecca Oxford (1990), the word strategy comes from the Military field and it was adopted in language teaching. Cambridge Online Dictionary defines a strategy as “a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as wars, politics, business, industry, or sport, or the skill of planning for such situations.” In education, two types are used: learning strategies[3] and pedagogical strategies.[4] In this paper we will focus on a specific pedagogical strategy to introduce virtual activities.

 

When it comes to introduce activities in Blended Learning systems, Helena Gillespie et al (2007: 3) suggested that the professor should have developed the following pedagogical strategies before introducing a virtual activity:

·      planning virtual learning opportunities in face-to-face teaching sessions;

·      using virtual learning to develop non-classroom based learning opportunities;

·      choosing and using appropriate content and communications tools;

·      making the most of online learning opportunities.

 

As Project-based learning, any e-activity may take time for designing and adjusting. In the following sections, a review from a 7-step strategy from the article called “Sensibilización a las tecnologías de la comunicación  para su uso en clase[5] (Ramírez, 2011) is presented. This strategy was first applied in an English class environment to introduce e-activities related with blogging, videos and Google Docs in 2011. It was inspired by the William Deming’s Method and proposals by Helena Gillespie et al.

This strategy follows seven steps:

a)    Planning.

b)    Introducing the task.

c)    Presenting the task and requirements.

d)    Developing the task.

e)    Feedback session.

f)      Retaking the task.

g)    Feedback and assessment.

 

a)    Planning

Planning may take place before introducing the activity or even before meeting the learners. In this stage, not only objectives and expected outcomes, but also time, resources and organization are defined. It is very important to specify and get clear about the product specifications to avoid messy situations. Here are some points to consider:

·      An activity? or activities?

·      Complexity related to time, resources, help and final product.

·      Activity goals.

·      Expected outcome and criteria.

·      Description and specification of the final product, if any.

·      Assessment (self-assessment, general, peer-assessment, rubrics).

·      Work organization.

·      Timetable, deadlines, and, if necessary, checkpoints for revisions.

b)    Introducing the task

            The instructor checks about the previous knowledge and gathers information related to the task. The evocation of past experiences may help learners to activate previous knowledge. They decide if their learners are able to continue with the task or make some adjustments. This could take one or two sessions.

c)    Presenting the task

            This stage may take one or more sessions. It may be included in the last stage. The learners must understand what they are asked to do and more important: the objective of the activity. The instructor gives, either written or mailed, all the information that was the result of the planning stage with previous adjustments: The task, main and specific goals, expected outcome and criteria, description and product specification, assessment and timetables with deadlines. In the following sessions of the next stage, it is important to make sure that the learners know exactly what they are expected to do. In this case, asking question about the virtual activity, the specification and pointing out the criteria for excellence in the rubrics may help.

d)    Developing the task

This stage is normally one of the largest. The learners start with the task. They follow the schedules and hand in revisions before deadlines. Each session the teacher can ask about the learners’ progress. If there are doubts or questions about the requirements, evaluation criteria or specifications, the teacher reserves some minutes to work with questions.

e)    Feedback session(s)

Depending on the complexity of the task, more than one feedback session is advisable so the instructor can keep track of their progress and the general performance of their work. Achieved objectives, the missing expected outcome and the common errors are shown in order to improve for the next checkpoint. If necessary, a reassessment task should be made. A key aspect is to make sure that the learners distinguish clearly the objectives and the expected outcome according to formal assessment instruments –rubrics, checklist, self-assessment questions, etc. (Ramírez, 2012: c.29).

f)     Retaking the task

From the feedback, the learners retake the task either improving what they have done or continuing in order to complete with the task.

g)    Final feedback and assessment

In this stage, the instructor assesses the completions of the objectives using the formal assessments instruments, even self-assessment instruments. However, the instructor will not only assess the fulfillment of the goals, but also, from a constructivist approach, assess cognitive and metacognitive processes involved in the development of the task.

 

Experience

Two groups from second year of High school were chosen to apply this methodology in 2012. These groups belonged to ENP-UNAM  “José Vasconcelos”. Each group had around 23 learners with basic ICT[6] skills: the use of a digital gadgets to retrieve, assess, store, produce, present and exchange information, and to communicate. Integrated with case and project based learning, the planning stage resulted as in figure 1 and 2: 



Figure 2: Case study and products description.



The introduction and presentation stage were held in the first week of January. In the introduction session, possible problems and leaners difficulties were identified, so in the next stage the previous planning would have been slightly adapted to leaners’ competences. In the presentation session, learners were instructed that all four tasks would be real-life products and that e-mails and video would be online. E-mails would be sent using an email service like Gmail or Outlook mailing services; while the video activity would be uploaded to a video-sharing website like Youtube or Vimeo, then shared on a class group page through a social network so learners from the same class would watch and comment about their mates performance.

    At first sight, some learners stood confused by the activities and products to be presented online. There were specifics doubts about products, activity requirements and procedures. Most of them were solved in situ. Nevertheless, it was evident that technical doubts would appear during the developmental stage. During the developmental stage, some minutes before class ended were taken for project’s counseling. Technical and instructional questions about the task were explained so leaners would feel more confident doing the task. Emphasis on the expected outcome was indicated through rubrics and explanations. An example rubric for a video activity is shown in figure 3.         

Figure 3. Assessment rubric


Feedback sessions displayed mistakes to learners so they realized the distance between the expected outcome stated in the rubrics and their performance. In these sessions learners reorganized their efforts in order to make the most of their opportunities to improve.

In conclusion, from previous experience held in other institutions which started to introduce online activities without the stages of introduction and presentation, without identifying possible learners’ needs and without adapting online activities to leaners’ actual competence would mean poor quality results or non-achieved objective. Feedback sessions with emphasis on leaners’ outcome through rubrics and technical problems solutions were distinctly remember by learners to help them improve their learning. Skipping counseling or feedback sessions would result into learners’ frustration due to complexity of the task, activity requirements and technical problems.

Evidence

Here below are related video evidence recorded by learners on several topics:



[1] Information and Communication Technologies.

[2] PDCA (plan-do-check-adjust) is an iterative four-step method to control an ongoing improvement process. It was designed by William Deming.

[3] Marie-José Barbot proposes a learning strategy as “un ensemble d’opérations et de ressources pédagogiques, planifié par le sujet dans le but de favoriser au mieux l’atteinte d’objectifs dans une situation pédagogique” (1998 :4).  In language teaching a learning strategy is defines as “specifications, behaviors, steps, or techniques-- such as seeking out conversation partners, or giving oneself encouragement to tackle a difficult language task -- used by students to enhance their own learning” (Oxford, 2003: 2). 

[4] It could also be found as teaching or didactical strategy.

[6] Information and Communications Technology


References

Barbot, Marie-José. Cyr, Paul. (1998). Les stratégies d'apprentissage. París: CLE International.

Caladine, Richard. (2008). Enhacing E-Learning with Media-Rich Content and Interactions. Hershey: Information Science Publishing.

Cambridge. (2013). Cambridge Online Dictionaries. Cambridge: CUP. (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/ last accessed: June 10, 2013).

Henderson, K., Napan K. & Monteiro, S. (2004). Encouraging reflective learning: An online challenge. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 357-364). Perth, 5-8 December.

Gillespie, Helena, Helen Boulton, Alison Hramiak y Richard Williamson. (2007). Learning and Teaching with Virtual Learning Environments. London: Learning Matters.

Oxford, R. L. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What every teacher should know. New York: Newbury House.

—. (2003). “Language Learning Styles and Strategies: An Overview”. GALA: online http://hyxy.nankai.edu.cn/jingpinke/buchongyuedu/learning%20strategies%20by%20Oxford.pdf last accessed: June 10, 2013).

Ramírez Vega, Jaime Ulises. (2011).  Sensibilización a las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación. México: Laboratorio de innovación en Tecnología Educativa 2012. (http://arquimedes.matem.unam.mx/ICyT/?q=node/2950   or http://lite.org.mx/repositorio/lite/?q=node/2950  last accessed: June 10, 2013)

Rodríguez Cruz, Reyna. (2007). Compendio de estrategias bajo el enfoque por competencias. Obregón: Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora.