25 February 2016

Re-Visting Professional Development

 An open world of learning may at times appear intimidating. There is so much on offer for professional development today, that making the right choice may feel daunting.  Does one wait for the institution where one's works to introduce the professional training or does one venture out, on one's own to see what can be learnt?

Nik Peachey recently wrote about the 11 Reasons why teachers don't use technology. And as always, Nik is clear, precise and to the point. However, despite there being constraints and barriers to why teachers don't use educational technology, there aren't so many justifications as to why teachers wait for professional development to come to them. 

There is an abundance of MOOCs, educational blogs and resources which only require a click to access. There is an abundance of webinars and online conferences - on a wide range of topics and many free to educators. 

Among other shifts in education, life-long learning  - something educators should be instilling in their students - is first practised by educators themselves

Here are some suggestions of learning for Spring 2016:

More specifically for ELT/ESL professionals:

The British Council's Magazine is a rich resource of ideas and inspiration,  with regular features of change and how-to-lesson ideas to professional development.

With his enthusiastic and clear training videos, Russell Stannard shares the hows and whys of using a wide range of digital tools. 

Two excellent educators to follow regularly for inspiration and learning are Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.  (User Generated Education) and Inge Ignatia de Waard ( @Ignatia Webs) . Both write on current changes in education, with thought provoking and inspiring reflections of learning. 

Stephen Downes is currently running a MOOC on Personal and Personalized Learning, while  is EMMA is offering a great variation of open learning for educators. 

With the educational changes happening today, it is the educator's choice to either wait until professional development is offered at their working place, or to go out, explore the open world of education and choose the learning that best suits them. 

What suggestions of professional development can you add for this Spring?

Further Suggestion:

Personal and Personalized Learning

Ten Steps to Building a Learning Culture

Jisc Guides to Digital Education and Learning

The death of the digital native: four provocations from Digifest speaker


20 February 2016

Focusing on the Learner with ePortfolios

Throughout the days of busy classrooms,  there is often a lack of serenity and tranquility in teaching. The constant focus is testing, testing, testing, administration and more administrative work, taking away energy from what really matters - the student. 

Teachers everywhere are under growing pressure to show their students' positive results, under pressure with  how best to handle  budget cuts in education and increasingly less time for professional reflection. But I digress.

If the focus is on the learner (and shouldn't it be?), one activity that students today should be engaged in, is creating their own ePortfolio. This can be done by setting up a LiveBinder, through curation or by having an account with a specific tool/platform.

GoEnnounce is one more option for students to set up their ePortfolio.

If the focus of education is for learners to be better prepared for their future working lives, then having them keep an ePortfolio is part of that learning process. ePortfolios are another variation of keeping the focus on learners, their own personal contributions to their learning, interests and achievements. Throughout  the "busy-ness" of classroom days, learners themselves have little time to pause and reflect. By giving them time to work on their e-Portfolios, they are not only show-casing their achievements, but also reflecting on their learning, and developing  a personal learning space to later share. 

Reflection, time to create are essential elements of learning. 

How do your students create their personal learning narratives and experiences? How do your students maintain their digital portfolios?

Further Suggestions:

Writing Portfolios - a How-To-Guide

Breaking Away from Solitary Learning

Digital Bridges for Learners

“Who owns the learning?” #DigitalPortfolios

How Do Digital Portfolios Help Students?

Five Ways to Use Online Portfolios in the Classroom

Digital Portfolio's explained including planning tool

19 February 2016

Authenticity Through Collaboration


Let me begin with a question: Why is it that writing skills, so essential, are still being practiced in classrooms as they were over 20 years ago?

Twenty years ago (and more), making learning tasks "authentic" in the foreign language classroom was regarded as an important practice on the part of the teacher. This was achieved  not only by introducing topics which were relevant outside the classroom, ( and then adapted for teaching purposes), but by by stressing the need to  create a sense of an audience for learners.

Peer editing,  peer feedback, publishing students' work in international competitions, exchanging class work with a cooperative colleague, are examples of how instilling a sense of an audience could be done. 

So forgive me if I raise another question: despite the value of these activities, why are teachers not making better use of what is possible today?

Giving students a voice to be heard, widening their audience, not only reinforces this sense of an audience, but also encourages blooming writers to try harder - to try harder when they brainstorm and prepare their essays to trying harder when they edit and proof read their work. 

Write About is one of those digital learning spaces which fosters inspiration and collaboration among teachers and students who are sharpening their writing skills. 

The pilot edition is free and allows moderation. This ability to first test a tool with students is important to many educators, so that we can see whether it is appropriate for our teaching context and to then decide whether to continue with a paid subscription. 

Writing topics come with a visual prompt, may be contributed in different languages, and are categorised by theme and level.  More features can be found here. 

For every reason to introduce digital collaboration in the classroom,there is often an excuse, a pretext, a subterfuge not to. 

For me, that is what remains. Excuses not to change, excuses to deny students today the skills so necessary for them to learn in order to succeed in a world rapidly changing, a world based on digital literacy skills and active online participation. 

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Writing Essays (Infographic)Change does not need to come all at once either.

When it comes to writing skills, it may be a gradual transition,  from the analogue to the digital. Learning aims still need to be achieved and students may need additional support as digital writing spaces are different, requiring practice of navigation and infusions of multimedia.

This is today's world. A fusion of worlds. A fusion of collaborative activities in every field.

If educators do not continue pressing for change in practices, in order to better engage, to provide learners with more authentic learning tasks and activities, who will?

Source: www.grammarcheck.net

How do you introduce bridges of digital, authentic, collaborative writing?


18 February 2016

Time for Triventy

Trapped in time.

Lost in time.

Lack of time.

On time.

Just in time?

Mid February, the ticking of time and 12 weeks to go before the end of the academic year signals long summer, carefree days. My students are restless. Kahoots and Quizizz are popular but what if something else filled up that endless time, with a dash of novelty,  until at least, Spring break?

Triventy is an easy tool to use for creating games. When you sign up, you have an option to sign up as an educator and only use Triventy for education, or you can also use (for a fee) for events and social gatherings. 

Much like other digital games, there are 3 simple steps:

Similar to Kahoot and Quizizz, you can share your games with others as well as use the resources they have created. One particular feature I find very useful for educators, is that there is quite a range of languages to choose from, making Triventy great to use for other subjects which are not necessarily taught in English. You can add images to each question as well,  making it visually more interesting for learners. 

When the game begins, projected on a screen or wall, students only need to join the game with the automatically generated code. And what better words can a teacher say other than, "bring out your mobiles now and let's play!"

Learning, revising and gaming - what better way to engage learners who are longing for Spring break?

What are your favourite classroom activities when anticipating Spring?

Between Times from Tiny Inventions on Vimeo.

Further Suggestions:

Images from Deviant Art

Read, Write with Ease of Mobility

photo credit: Magic carpet via photopin (license)

Have you ever wished for a place where you could read and write?

Wattpad is a space for reading and writing - and more. 

Once you sign up, you select three books you would like to read and it will then suggest other similar readings. 

You also have the option of writing - not necessarily a whole book on itself, but writing parts, writing chapters, sharing and receiving feedback as your story unfolds.

What's best of all?

You can access Wattpad on any device and even off line. 

What's stopping you  and your students to becoming part of this growing community?

photo credit: Motivation via photopin (license)

17 February 2016

Collaborative Narratives

photo credit: Creation and Consumption via photopin (license)

Perhaps curation is not for everyone yet, for me, it serves as a great way to maintain bookmarks or references,  and in the process, share them with others. However, when it comes to teams who may be geographically separated, how does one curate together?

For professional development, for example, curating on a specific topic reflects a certain narration of learning, a narration of sharing and collaborative discovery.

There is LiveBinders as an option, but lately I have also been considering a newer curation tool - Tanjo. 

Tanjo lets individuals or teams create collaborative hubs of knowledge on different topics. It also finds websites around the web, helping this form of collaborative curation.

On the other hand, LiveBinders works differently and though excellent for teachers and students, perhaps it has too much of a " school feel"for professionals who are undergoing professional development:

Like all other tools and platforms, the final choice is up to the individuals who use them and what works best for them. What matters most is the learning, sharing process and how it can be achieved
seamlessly across borders.

With participation, the creation and sharing of knowledge becomes a narrative of a learning experience which participants can always go back to for points of references. The curation becomes their own learning product as well as narrative.

Learning narratives are also expressed in a myriad of forms.

Simplebooklet may have features which are directed at marketing and business, but also are of interest for educators and those engaged in professional development.

Students may work in a small group and create a booklet on a theme, including images and links, which can then be shared, while participants in a professional development course, for instance, may create a booklet as a presentation of a mini
research project.

The first 10 booklets are free , but will require a plus or pro subscription to remove third party ads. Nevertheless it's a great way to create and share content. Here below is an example: (NOTE: this is a random example and in NO way intentional publicity for the company who created this Simlpebooklet)

photo credit: Do You Remember (me)? via photopin (license)

Learning doesn't always have to be a solitary act. Although in in the end, it is up to the individual to learn, sharing knowledge and points of references to create a learning narrative makes sense in an age where we are constantly overwhelmed by information. Being able to publish and share one's work also makes perfect sense to learners, who in the process learn to improve their team skills and value of their work , with a more contemporary and real sense of an open audience (this openness may of course be limited to a classroom blog or other learning platform for students; however, it will still be "public" among a certain audience of peers).  In both activities, whether curating or creating a story to be published, there is a strong sense of collaboration and team work - necessary skills for both within and out of the classroom.

How do you create collaborative learning narratives?

Further Suggestions:

Team Work

Collaboration & Connectedness the Key to Quality Teaching

What Will Education Look Like in a More Open Future?

The 4 Cs of Tech Implementation


Flipboard is now also available for private groups. 

16 February 2016

Storytelling with Avatars and Timelines

photo credit: Commedia dell'Arte via photopin (license)

Identity. Who one is, who one wishes to be, who one once was. 

In the digital world, as is well known, one may morph into different characters, taking on different identities in a variety of games and role-plays.  In the classroom, however, educators can extend this role play by asking learners to create an avatar to upload to their student profile. Not only does this bring a lightness to a lesson but also provides learners the opportunity to understand that by exploring an app (for instance), the same skills of learning how to read and follow instructions, will apply to other less playful learning activities. 

MomentCam is a free app for both iOS and Android, allowing the user to create different kinds of avatars for both male and female characters. Below are some examples based on a real photo of mine which I turned into a cartoon:

As I currently work with female students who do not publish their personal photos publicly, I tried out some other features of this app - features include changing hair style, clothing, adjusting facial expressions and backgrounds. The example below included a background from my own images and then I included the sun in the lower right image. 

Here on the left, you can see how there is a choice of hairstyles, background settings and even facial expressions. (further below you can find an example of a GIF also created with this app). 

Avatars may express a lighthearted side to one's identity but also  can be used for creating characters in storytelling. For example, in a language class, students can create stories with their characters by posting them on a Padlet and writing their storyboard. An activity such as this one can be done in pairs or in a small group. Not only are they actively using the target language but also learning how to work in teams and collaborating with each other. Activities such as these offer both practice in digital literacies as well as creativity and personalisation in the classroom, as students take more control of what they wish to express and how they want to express their stories. 

Another tool that has recently caught my attention is line.do . line.do is free and offers a particular feature which I really like - the possibility of using another language other than English. 

Timelines are great for history, current affairs but also for storytelling and sharing images as in the example below:

Learners can then share through different social media and embed in their personal or class blog. line.do  also includes an editor's pick,  which timelines are trending and categories  of timelines;  so there are plenty of examples to get students inspired by the different ways a timeline can be designed.

As in the example above, timelines don't always have to include text; the focus can be on the image  only. This format lends itself to practicing presentations without bullet points and reams of text. The focus is on the story, on the telling of the story.

Besides text and images, you can also include links as in the example below:

Below is a visual describing the digital storytelling process:

Created by toniamcm on ThinkLink

How will you be telling stories this Spring?

The Life of Death from Marsha Onderstijn on Vimeo.

Further Suggestions: 

The Power of Digital Story

Storytelling - Resources

How digital publishing is changing the face of storytelling

Ideas for Using iPads for Digital Storytelling

8 Steps To Great Digital Storytelling

Get Started with Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling 

15 February 2016

Digital Learning Day 2016

My world is undoubtedly hybrid. My days are spent in F2F classrooms using digital technology. My days are spent online, a lively mix of reading, writing, designing online/distance courses and facilitating, participating in webinars, conferences, communities. The list is open and endless as anyone who shares similar interests understands. 

As Digital Learning Day 2016 comes closer, (17th February),  I see the need to not only celebrate the date, but also the need to reflect on what all this means. It is not only the digital tools which an educator introduces into classroom practices, nor the use of digital platforms to "cut corners" and appear in tune with a generation who has grown up with the internet. A digital tool is so much more than "just a tool". Educational technology is changing educational practices. Educators need to reflect on these changes and their implications for learning today,  by making better informed decisions with the ever growing field of apps and online tools. For instance, which may be tracking students and where does that data go to? For what purposes? (Other questions regarding educational technology are regularly focused on by Audrey Watters who highlights these changes and the future of educational technology in Hack Education. )

From community building, the exchange of knowledge and knowing, to ePortfolios and different ways of perceiving the world, we need to pause at times, step backwards and reflect on our practices and uses of educational technology. Equally, as educators, we need to continue broadening our practices to include relevant learning in the areas of Digital Citizenship and Digital Literacies and what these really mean for our students.

ReadWriteThink  , for example, offers great suggestions for K 12, offering classroom activities and resources for educators, which focus on digital learning and the varied implications which involved learners. 

Digital Learning Day is a learning day, a reflection day for all educators. A day of sense-making which should be carried out daily. 

It's also a day to reflect on the necessary skills for students and how best to develop them in classrooms, whether these are to be encouraged digitally or not.

photo credit: Dark Shadows 3 via photopin (license)

Developing Digital Citizens from Alec Couros

How will you be participating in


IMAGE: taken from I’m Just Going to Leave these Photoshopped Animal Hybrids Here 

14 February 2016

Grades, Games and Grammar

As much as educators don't exactly prize assessment and endless testing, students do need different forms of feedback. Providing a game for grammar, for instance, immediately perks up their interest to participate in class and in the testing, especially if carried out digitally. 

Quizalize is a free tool for creating games and quizzes which can do be done in class or at home. 

Here are a couple of features which I like:

1 - Simple format to create quizzes

2. Teachers can also include an icon of their choice (the pink circle on the left hand side); each icon may represent a different part of grammar or field of study.

3. There's a demo for educators to check what a quiz will look like. 

4. And there is sharing - for free or for a price, according to individuals' choice. 

In a nut shell:

While you consider whether this tool may be of use for your teaching context, why not take this Quiz on How Millennial Are You?

And, as food for thought:

What games and quizzes will you be sharing with your peers and colleagues?

Or... will collaboration with peers remain buried in silence?