HOT@ ETAI – Day 2: English Teachers Association of Israel

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

I am presently attending the ETAI (English Teachers Association of Israel) “Linking Through Language” conference in Jerusalem. (Click here to see the first-day report.) One of the keynote speakers was David Crystal, a renowned linguist. His keynote plenary lecture was called “Myths and Realities of English on the Internet.” As an educator interested in both language and technology issues in education, I found his talk engaging and interesting.

Since the theme of the conference is “Linking Through Language,” Crystal opened up his remarks by referring to the Internet as “the language linker par excellence.” After hearing his talk, I think he would agree with Tom Preskett’s article from April 8, 2010, Social Media Doesn’t Threaten Literacy! Among other things Crystal pointed out that in order to text using abbreviated words, one needs to know how to spell the word to start with so you can leave out the proper letters. He also cited anecdotal evidence from teachers showing that students do not carry over these habits into formal writing to a large degree. Continue reading

Web 2.0 – Challenging Didactic Teaching

tom_preskett2_80By Tom Preskett

Web 2.0 and didactic teaching may not seem directly related, but Web 2.0 challenges the way we teach across the board, and the impact will be felt as much in higher education as anywhere else. In general terms, in England, didactic delivery of lectures is prevalent. I’m happy to be challenged on this, but that is my experience. Whatever my motivation for starting this job (as a learning technologist), my motivation for continuing is very much to do with trying to change this status quo. There are others, but this is dominant.

Why? This is difficult to get to the heart of. But it might have something to do with my experiences of education. What worked best for me. What was negative for me. It might have something to do with the fact that where I perceive bad teaching, it usually involves didactic, transmissive models. Didactic teaching is also the setup lecturing200that requires the least planning, sometimes no more than deciding on the content. In some ways, it’s lazy teaching. People who don’t want to think about how they teach, will be didactic.

Coincidentally, these people will also not want to hear about learning technology. I never saw myself as championing particular pedagogies, but the various collaborative models lend themselves to everything that is positive about Web 2.0 and, therefore, my way of thinking. I have used the phrase “Web 2.0” rather than “learning technologies” because some learning technologies are concerned with presenting content (albeit in a flexible way) rather than offering different ways of delivering and learning. Web 2.0 gives us the right social, collaborative, creative idea.

So how does Web 2.0 or any learning technology challenge didactic teaching? The simple answer is that when you show educators any learning technology, they are forced to think about how they teach. For higher education in England, the didactic, transmissive model is prevalent so this is being challenged. So, by making people think about how they teach, you are breaking down the status quo as I called it earlier. It’s worth noting that I’m not convinced our educators think about how they teach enough. My role is not ostensibly about challenging teaching methods; it’s about learning technology. But the didactic approach is often the issue underlying resistance to change.

This is where the obvious impact of Web 2.0 on all of our lives is important. The more the impact, the harder it is to ignore. The more obvious the benefit, the harder it is to ridicule. Just look at Twitter and the Iran elections.

The New Social Networking Frontier

judith_sotir_80By Judith Sotir

The idea of using social networks in the classroom is still outside the comfort zone of many classroom instructors. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace and  Twitter have connotations that many instructors instinctively avoid. They see the pitfalls, but not the value. There are warning flags all over the place. I’ve heard educators say, “If you allow students to use a site like Twitter in the classroom, students will abuse it and just network with friends.” Sure, always a possibility. But if you allow students Internet access on computers, they can always access sites you don’t want them accessing. It all comes down to the control an instructor has in the classroom. An ineffective instructor with no classroom discipline doesn’t need Internet access to fail. Those are the teachers who would not notice handwritten notes being passed around the classroom in the pre-tech days.

We’ve (reluctantly) moved to acceptance of using academic websites in the classroom. Instructors see the value, and students know and like using them. We’ve found the value in YouTube, but have developed Teacher Tube to combat many of the content concerns. Social network sites are still a new frontier. First, instructors are not all that familiar with them. I think every instructor (and parent) should get on the computer and sign up for one or more of the social network sites, if only to know what it is that the kids are doing. One thing is certain, the KIDS are on them, daily, and even hourly. They can access them from classroom computers or cell phone browsers. I have Facebook and Twitter buttons on my iPhone so access takes less than a second. Of course they also let me know via email when someone has added something new to my page. It’s all about accessibility, and for kids, accessibility is like breathing. They just do it. My nephew once said that if he had to go more than a few hours without Facebook he would implode. I honestly believe him.

(Video source: “Twitter for Teachers” by Thomas Daccord, added to TeacherTube on 20 March 2009)

So how do educators use these tools? Tom Preskett in his article Blogs for Education, Blogs for Yourself referenced the Write4 website, which allows one to publish articles, photos, videos, etc. without set-ups or logins. Your work is published to your Twitter account. What’s the value? Easy and fast access. You give your students one site (such as your classroom Twitter account), and give them the ability to access these sites wherever and whenever they wish. You simply tell them to follow you on Twitter. It’s simple and effective because students are there anyway. Will all students actually read your Tweets? No, but not all students will read the homework you assign or even participate in class discussions. But the point is that students are familiar with social networking and use it regularly. And as educators, we have to believe that most students want to learn and want to succeed.

(Video source: “How Do You Use Twitter” by David Di Franco, added to YouTube on 8 April 2009)

I’ve never been able to understand instructors who believe students want to fail. They may not hang on your every word, but they do listen and know the correlation between work and success. Give them something they can use, and they will pay attention. Will they push the envelope? Of course. But that happens with any age group. Case in point: professional development programs. Put a group of instructors into a professional development class and watch them as they stare out the window, play with anything but the prescribed websites on the computer, and even talk and laugh with each other. In a training setting, most professional educators mirror the behavior of their students. The key to success is the same as the key needed to succeed with students: give them something they find useful and they will pay attention.