Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning Technologies (2011): some insights; my turn

British Council.
 Learning Technologies for the Classroom Course. Venezuela
In February 2011, I started moderating the Learning Technologies (LTs) for the Classroom online course. It is offered by the British Council as part of its teacher training development programs for EFL teachers in Venezuela. This course was one of two more offered during this year. The first one, the one delivered from February to March, became a pilot course offered mostly to public university teachers. The next two were offered to any EFL teacher interested in learning about integrating technology in the language classroom.

This course aims at:

1.    introducing participants to basic notions related to Learning Technologies (LTs).
2.    becoming familiar with LTs lessons and basic digital skills
3.    becoming aware of LTs issues like cyber-bullying
4.    reflecting about LTs and their potential application in the language classroom

The LTs course is delivered in Moodle and it is divided into 5 topics (Preparation, Using the Web,  Using Office Software, Projects, The Interactive Web). Each topic has got several subtopics called modules (17 in total) having a variable number of sections (from 7 to 12). In each section participants must do certain tasks or activities. The content was selected and added to the course by British Council people in London. It includes understanding what LTs are, basic web skills (searching, evaluating and selecting websites), becoming familiar with web-based lessons, Internet issues (copyright and cyber safety), Office software (Word and PowerPoint) the web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, podcasts, videos social networks) the future (broad mention on mobile learning and virtual worlds). This online course lasts 8 weeks including a break to catch up between weeks 4 and 5.

The e-moderator is responsible for:

A.    providing close support to participants especially during the first three weeks (helping them to have access to the platform, becoming familiar with topic sections, sorting out technical problems, making them feel “at home”)
B.    Sending weekly announcements/reminders about: 1. The start of a new week and content to work with; 2. synchronous sessions
C.    keeping track of “lost souls”.
D.    encouraging people to participate in forums.
E.    choosing external web tools that can be accessed even after the course have finished (e.g. blogs, tutorials in BliptTV , Slideshare)
F.    sending cell reminders to participants on activities to be done during the week.
G.    planning synchronous sessions every two weeks.
H.    recording tutorials (e.g. show how to use web tools or resize images)
I.    planning a last live session for participants to talk about a topic they liked form the course and how they would use it in their teaching context.
J.    sending reports/results to British Council people in Venezuela.

Even though participants are from Venezuela there are no F2F sessions at all. In previous online courses I moderated for the British Council at least the induction session was F2F. This time it was not the case. The induction session is online. During this session, participants are welcome and receive a Moodle walkthrough in Wiziq.

I will briefly write about three things I care about during the delivery of this course: teacher immediacy, number of activities per week, external web tools.

A.    Teacher immediacy:  I was concerned participants would feel they were only going to able to interact with me in forums, or instant messaging from Moodle. Chatting would be one way to communicate, but there’s no chat available in the module sections and the e-moderator is not allowed to add Moodle resources or activities at all. So I planned a one-hour Wiziq session every two weeks on Sunday mornings. This allows participants to ask questions or clarify doubts while the moderator reviews content in the virtual classroom.  Also I started to use the mobile phone to text weekly messages (e.g. reminders) and Mailvu to send video emails during the first weeks of the course.
B.    Quantity of activities: Participants are busy teachers. I believe too many activities in an online teaching development course could overwhelm participants or put them off a bit leading them to drop out; some of them may end up lurking or have an on and off participation. Also, this may encourage participants to request for (frequent) extensions to finish their tasks. In the LTs course, participants were supposed to do about 12 to 16 activities per week (two modules).  Fortunately, after getting the go ahead from a British council representative in Venezuela, I created a PDF document showing participants activities they MUST do, Optional activities and the ones they could skip. In some cases, some activities  checked as MUST were edited a bit. So, for example, in some MUST activities participants were asked to skip forums or wikis especially when there were too many in a module. (See sample content distribution)

C.    External web tools: I think it is important to try to keep external resources that allow participants to go back to them anytime they want especially when the course is over and there’s no longer access to it (mostly paid courses). These external resources (ERs) can be created by participants or the e-moderator himself/herself to: 1. review (websites, audio files, videos, Wiziq recorded sessions); 2. reflect (blogs); 3. showcase their work (blogs).  These ERs can be blogs or wikis (to reflect or as eportfolios), video tutorials uploaded to sites like BliptTV or Youtube,  recorded synchronous Wiziq sessions. Some others that may not be stored for long but can be accessed directly from participants own resources (personal email) along the session could be Mailvu (messages sent to the participants mail inbox) and mobile phones ( texting participants instantly). Next course I am planning to add Diigo so they can  bookmark websites easily and check them out every time they want.

Now I will describe how this was considered for each of the three courses delivered during 2011. It varied somewhat especially for the first two courses.

Pilot group (cohort February-April 2011)

In this first course:

1.     Reducing the number of activities depended on topic and type of task. This allowed participants to see tasks attainable and enjoyable, not a race against time to accomplish them before the deadline. A PDF document was created and also uploaded to the Plenary Forum showing participants MUST , OPTIONAL and SKIP activities.
2.    Mobile phone was introduced as an instant way to keep in touch with participants during the week.
3.    Blogs created in Blogger were used to reflect on learning process. The e-moderator created a blog himself to collect and showcase participants’ blogs.
4.    Tutorials were recorded to: a) show participants how to have access to Moodle; b. use certain webtools, c. show how to solve technical problems.
5.    Three Wiziq sessions were delivered during this course: the first one to welcome participants; another one during week 4; the last one during week 8.

Second group (Cohort June-August 2011)

1.     Content distribution (PDF document with modules and activities per week) was updated.
2.     Mailvu was introduced as a tool to show them who their tutor was, to make announcements or clarify doubts during the first two weeks of the course.
3.    Synchronous sessions in Wiziq were offered every two weeks. 4 sessions in total not including the welcome session delivered in Wiziq as well. This time, for the last Wiziq session, participants were asked to choose a topic from the modules and tell why it was important / interesting for him/her and how it was related to his/her teaching context. 


4.    The cell phone was used to send reminders and announcements along the course.
5.    Participants wrote heir reflections in Blogger (Here's a sample: Miguel Galea).
6.    More tutorials were recorded to: 1. show how a web tool was used; 2, how to deal with certain technical issues. A compilation of tutorials were made available at the end of the course.

Their group (Cohort October –December 2011)

Remains the same as cohort June-August 2011. Mailvu was not used due to technical problems with audio. 

Here are sample presentations made by Ronny Piñero and Marisela Ferrer during the last wiziq session in December 2011. 

Marisela Ferrer: Podcasting

Here's the lesson plan for this presentation.

Ronny Piñero: Twitter

Here's the lesson plan for this presentation.

Note: The reference about "external tools" is based on a webinar given by Henry Chero in CLED2011.

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