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Volumen 15


Building teaching skills through the interactive web – an online course review

LEI María Guadalupe López Arroyo

ENP 6 “Antonio Caso”

Colegio de Lenguas Vivas: Inglés

 

Abstract

This review describes the experience of participating in an online course for language teachers to develop webskills. This paper explains what the course entails, what units were covered, how it worked, who the participants were and how the final project was developed, as well as how the students participated and responded to working with online content.

Key words: online learning, online course, online content, webskills, learner autonomy.

 

One of the biggest advantages for teachers nowadays is the use of the Internet. Not only are we facing a new era with technology and virtual tools at our disposal, but we are also expected to become as knowledgeable as possible in order to contribute to the greater good with our students. Our current context demands that language teachers keep up with methodology and linguistic change, but the advent of the Internet, online learning and teaching, gadgets and virtual spaces to study languages has made it essential to use online resources and technology to our advantage.

Due to the need to have some ICT-related training under my belt, I applied for an online course with the University of Oregon (UO) via their American English Institute. The E-Teacher scholarship program offers teachers the opportunity to take free courses online, provided that they are accepted in the selection process and make a commitment to attend and participate in the whole course during ten weeks. This is the second course I have taken with UO and I must say it was a wonderful opportunity to get acquainted with websites and other resources in a different way. The main objective of the course is to provide teachers with a theoretical background and opportunities to practice with websites created and/or adapted for teaching purposes.

I was among teachers from other countries; there were professionals from a wide variety of contexts and levels, which added to the fascinating experience of applying technology to language teaching. Interacting with the other teachers was part of the course and it was necessary to exchange ideas and final projects in order to gain a better insight into our teaching practice and how to enhance it with online tools.

It was a 10-week course, and the units we covered were the following:

Week 1 – Introductions; creating an academic blog.

Week 2: The ABCD learning objectives framework and effective web searches.

Week 3: Skill-building websites for oral/aural skills and saving bookmarks with Delicious.

Week 4: Skill-building websites for reading/writing skills and technology-enhanced lesson plans.

Week 5: Project-Based Learning, WebQuests, and rubrics.

Week 6: Creating student-centered classes and interactive PowerPoint.

Week 7: Learner autonomy and the One-Computer classroom.

Week 8: Teacher resources online.

Week 9: Learning styles – technology connections.

Week 10: Wrap-up (final project review and grades).

The course was organized like this: Every week, we had a different unit to work on, and our deadline was exactly one week after the new unit was open. Our advisor, Sean Mclelland, provided us with useful pieces of advice as to how to navigate the main website, https://sites.google.com/site/webskillsuo/home, how to go about the different tasks we had to do, and he was constantly in touch with us in order to keep the course flowing smoothly. I must say he was a perfect example of an online advisor, as it is paramount that the students count on help and guidance all the time in an online course.

One of the most advantageous aspects of the course was the fact that we always had some readings to do before applying our new webskills. It was reassuring to see how technology can be and has been applied in language teaching with successful results. The point of the course was to have a certain background of theory and research so as to justify the extent of the benefits technology can provide. Needless to say, interacting with the advisor and my classmates in English all the time was both challenging and rewarding, and it was indeed refreshing to be in a situation where English was the lingua franca for people from Lithuania, Kenya, Thailand, India, Pakistan, and Mozambique.

During the course, our assessment consisted of discussions on Nicenet (www.nicenet.org), a website where we exchanged ideas and comments. Nicenet worked as a general forum and also as a specific space for us to post our answers to Sean’s questions, as well as replies to our classmates’ answers. We also had to work on our own reflective blogs. This was one of the parts I enjoyed the most: I love writing and I had a jolly time when I posted something on mine. You can see it here: http://lupitalopez17.blogspot.mx/. I wrote about our experiences in the course and I also took advantage of this space to post some personal opinions and things that crossed my mind while writing. Besides, we were asked to do some tasks, which were the core of the course. We had to read about using the web for language teaching and then apply the suggestions to later report our results and opinions on Nicenet and our blogs. Each task was a stepping stone for the final project. Every week we had to focus on one specific aspect of our context and students, and that information was going to be used in the final project as our background information and needs analysis. It was rather easy to “build” the final project with the data we gathered every week, but it was a bit tricky to apply technology in our classroom, as you will see.

The final project was based on any technology we had never used in our classroom, hence some anxiety and uncertainty in many of us. Nevertheless, the advisor reminded us that what mattered was to apply technology in our context, regardless of the results, and we could safely assure that the students might find any use of ICT interesting and innovative. He was absolutely right.

For my final project, I decided to do a WebQuest. According to Professor Bernie Dodge of San Diego State University[1], a WebQuest is “an inquiry-oriented activity that uses resources on the World Wide Web.” What I found useful in a WebQuest was the fact that problem-solving skills were needed and cooperation and collaboration were essential to the success of the WebQuest. The group I worked with, 512B, had a very positive response to the proposal and worked enthusiastically during the whole process. They decided on a topic as a group (Feminism and gender equality), they opted for reliable sources after being instructed as to how to choose useful and trustworthy sites, they read the information and chose whatever they considered useful, relevant and related to our context in Mexico. In order to stay in touch, we created a Facebook group where everyone could upload links and images related to the topic and it was easy to follow who had seen the posts and who had contributed and when. I was amazed at what they came up with. They decided to use Tumblr to publish their work. The final product can be seen here: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/512webquest. The students were always enthusiastic and shared their ideas with each other. They worked on their research and posts during three weeks and created their Tumblr page in the language lab. They discussed, afterwards, what feminism is, what misconceptions there are, what we can do in order to avoid sexist attitudes and remarks, and how young people, at least in Prepa 6, views gender equality. It was extremely rewarding to see my students work on a difficult topic with such ardor and interest.

The use of ICT to create a student-made product was a different yet curious experience. As Murray (in Davison, 2005: 28) states, “when we use IT, or even ICT, we invoke only a potential for knowledge and wisdom.” Giving the students the opportunity to approach a topic or a problem and guiding them to use their own resources, previous knowledge and experiences is what can trigger ideas and projects that not only reflect their mastery of a foreign language, but which shows what is important to them and what they care about.

Working on the WebQuest proved both challenging and rewarding for the students and for myself; it implied a lot of autonomy on their part and guidance on mine. I focused on helping them as much as possible without imposing anything, and they had to make decisions and choose how to present their information to catch their classmates’ attention. This task represented an autonomous learning activity; Benson (in Lamb and Reinders, 2008: 17) explains the idea of autonomy in language learning seems to lack a concrete, tangible concept, and therefore he suggests the concept of personal autonomy. Personal autonomy refers to what a person decides during their life, to the commitments they assume in order to make something out of their life according to their own understanding of what is valuable. With this concept in mind, the WebQuest the students carried out depended on their own decisions, on a topic they deemed relevant and on information they considered as important or worth sharing. Personal autonomy can lead to autonomy in learning, as long as the students receive a positive response from their teachers, whose opinion is always valid and respected.

All in all, the experience of working online to learn how to use websites for English teaching was useful though rather tiring; however, it was absolutely worth it. Language teachers cannot ignore the value of new technologies and the Internet, and we all have realized how important online content and entertainment is to our students. We have no other choice but to use the Internet to our advantage, and learning opportunities like the ones the University of Oregon offer are not to be missed.

References

Davison, Chris (editor), 2005. Information technology and innovation in language education. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Lamb, Terry, and Reinders, Hayo (editors), 2008. Learner and teacher autonomy. Concepts, realities and responses. AILA Applied Linguistics Series 1. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Web sources and sites

Lupita’s English Blog  http://lupitalopez17.blogspot.mx/

Nicenet         www.nicenet.org

Tumblr          www.tumblr.com

What is a webquest? http://zunal.com/zunal-help/help-about-whatiswebquest.php, retrieved on April 24, 2014.



[1] Source: http://zunal.com/zunal-help/help-about-whatiswebquest.php, retrieved on April 24, 2014.