Merrily Mural.ly : Creating Online Collaborative Documents

Drum roll everyone, this is my last and final blog for my Computer Applications in ESL Teaching Class. As a final topic I chose Mural.ly. In essence, Mural.ly is a collaborative social network allowing many users to post things on a common online document. The idea is for a user to sign up to this site and then the user has two options : either work on the document alone or invite other people to join in so that they can work together. All of a sudden, all the people invited can freely work together on the same document.

Because of the freedom that it allows, Mural.ly reminds me of mindmaps. Mural.ly also allows you to create a path for your viewers, it that sense it reminds me a lot of a Prezi. In fact, this article describes Mural.ly as a cross-section between Prezi and a Mindmap. http://edudemic.com/2012/09/mural-ly-mind-mapping-tool-waiting/ how mural.ly works and most features. Described as a cross between prezi and a mindmap. This blog article also describes Mural.ly’s key features and aspects.

Though the comparison with Prezi is easy, it is not entirely accurate. I find (and the creator of Mural.ly, Mariano Suarez Battan, backs me up) that people use Prezi in order to add a narrative to the document. A user is interested in Prezi because he wants his viewers to follow a certain path. The Prezi user makes sure that the viewers see image a, then image b, then image c and finally image d. With Mural.ly, that is a secondary thought. The second main difference is that Mural.ly was created in order to gather information from the Internet such as maps, Pinterest content, Dropbox files, Wikipedia entries and more.

Mural.ly is very intuitive and easy to use. My classmate Marne and I made this Mural.ly document during our Wednesday evening class. This represents a half hour’s worth of work. I think it is important to point out, that though all the images, article and video that you see were found on the Internet (it was a simple drag and drop operation) Marne and I built our Mural.ly document without ever thinking about the narrative option.

As Marne and I were getting accustomed to Mural.ly, she realised one of the great applications of that software to an English as a second language class. You divide your class into teams, you give each team a current events topic they need to explore on the Internet and voilà. They are collaboratively building their own online document. I think it works better in small groups because even though the software allows for changes to happen simultaneously, if too many changes happen at once, the possibility of two (or more people) changing the same thing at the same time becomes greater. Which means that one user’s change might erase another user’s modification. Another possible application in class is for presentations : team members can choose a topic, build their Mural.ly together and then present it in front of the class. Had I known about Mural.ly, I would have used it for my WebQuest : it would have been perfect as my students’ information gathering and presentation tool. As one of the latest technological tools allowing for great creativity as you gather Webbased information, Mural.ly can also be used in a classroom context as a plan that the teacher will follow during his class. That is less interesting because it is not as interactive as it can be.

Mural.ly shows great promise and the best part of it is its collaborative aspect and the creative freedom that it offers. Any classroom activity using Mural.ly should focus on both. In this short blog, I did not begin to fathom all the possibilities that Mural.ly has to offer in an English as a Second Language class, but I will explore. Question is, did my blogpost made you want to explore as well?

Yippee Weebly!

As I am getting ready to write my final blog, I am thinking of all that I have accomplished in this class. I know, it does not seem like much, but I wrote a blog, created a Web Quest (meaning that I created a Web site) and I have ventured way out of my comfort zone! That made me realize that I have used a tool allowing me to create a Web site and that there are surely many ways I could use it in a class room. The name of the tool is Weebly. So, Weebly beware, for you are the subject of my current (and final) blog for Computer Applications in ESL Teaching 1.

Weebly is a Web site allowing you to build your own Web site. It is very easy to use. Case in point: I used it and I am still alive. As a barely computer literate individual I was able to use Weebly to create a Web Quest that has hyperlinks to Internet addresses, images and outside documents. I did need guidance (thank you Mark Miller), but I would say that Weebly is pretty easy to use. A problem I had with Weebly is that it becomes very slow and sometimes comes to a complete stop if a lot of people are working on it at the same time. That being said, the pros of Weebly in a classroom outweigh this problem.

As I wrote earlier, I found Weebly to be fairly easy to use, but how would I use it in a classroom environment? The first ideas that come to my mind are managing my students profiles (grades and papers), receiving their assignments on line, getting in contact with my students and their parents and creating a Web site. I could also use the Web site I created to post materials and exercises on line. Since it is possible to have all sorts of files on Weebly, I could add the You Tube videos that I found relevant to my class and post them all in one place. Even better, they would be there for my students to see and read whenever they need to.

By creating a website through which students, parents and teacher can cooperate, Weebly allows me to teach my students to blog, in English and in an ethical and responsible way. Yes people, Weebly offers its users the possibility of posting blogs. I also realized that weebly allows me to help my students organize since I can provide them with resources and a schedule of the upcoming classes and assignments.

There are many other ways I could use Weebly in a class room, all I did here is give you an idea of what are the possibilities of this tool. However, just like any tool, Weebly is only as good as I can make it to be. It is worth mentioning that Weebly is user friendly, free and easily available… The question is: why am I not using it? Or put it another way: What am I waiting for? Graduation folks. Graduation.

Google Super Drive

As I read through some blogs and articles about possible applications of Google Documents in the classroom, I realize that, as is often the case, the only limit to what can be done is my imagination. As a matter of fact, one author came up with more than 80 different ways to use Google Documents in the classroom. To me, the most interesting aspect of Google Documents is its cooperative aspect. Teachers can get their students to write stories together or correct one another’s assignments.

For me, the most interesting possibility is the fact that all the students can work together on an assignment. That is how I would use Google Drive: ask the students to write a story together (in teams of four). Collaborative writing through Google Documents can be both fun and interactive, the challenge is to stop the students from writing together all at once. In order for this activity to work, I would need to make it very clear that students can only write one line at a time. The other difficulty, for the students, would be to come up with something that “works” even though it would be the result of 4 different imaginations (and therefore the text would tend to go in four different directions). As they work on their collective assignment, each teammate would have the possibility of correcting his / her fellow teammates’ mistakes. By correcting one another, students learn their grammar better. Through Google Documents, this is all possible live, all the students need is a gmail account (which they might already have anyway).

Even if correcting one another while writing a story together is great, it differs from correcting someone else’s assignment altogether. One of the toughest tasks for a teacher is to correct and grade the work of students. It is very time consuming and the students have to wait before getting any feedback. For me, an interesting solution is to ask the students to put their documents online through Google Documents and to ask one of their classmates to correct them. I have mentioned earlier the advantages for the students of correcting one another but this also makes life on the teacher easier as he / she can focus on helping the students live in class as they are confronted to their writing problems. This model is very efficient because it allows the teacher to give the students more writing assignments while the teacher uses less time correcting and grading… and spends more time teaching and helping.

Using Google Documents also makes flipping a class much easier, I did not dwell upon this because it is not the possible application of Google Documents that struck my interest the most. In this case, the use of technology was only limited by my tastes and preferences. Now that says a lot.

Skype in Class

I have a confession to make: I have never used Skype. So it is as a neophyte that I write this blog. Anyway, like most members of my generation, I figure that if I ever have problems using Skype, all I have to do is ask my kids for help.

I’m interested in Skype because I see it as a great way to connect my students with fellow students their age who are native English speakers. As I look on the Internet, I realize that the good people at Skype set up an Education section on their website. Though this site covers almost every subject, the posts World Class 4 Kids and Comparing Schools Around the Globe are particularly promising when it comes to connecting French speaking Québec children with native English speaking children from around the world.

Writing this blog opened up my mind to another possible application of Skype in the classroom: the possibility of linking my future students with famous individuals from fields like sports, politics or science. This Time magazine article shows how some teachers managed to get their students have a Skype conversation with celebrities (Shaquille O’Neal chief among them) during their classes. Skype allows schools and teachers to introduce their students to new cultures and experts at a low cost. Now that is something that I find absolutely great! Skype provides me with the opportunity to ask my future students who they would like to talk with (as long as that person is a native English speaker) and give them a chance to actually communicate with him or her. This can happen with little or no cost and regardless of the distance that may separate my class and the person my students Skype with.

Educators everywhere are getting on the Skype bandwagon. Sites like edudemic.com and theedublogger.com provide helpful hints on how to use Skype in class and what are the possible activities that this technology provides in a pedagogical context. I find the The Peace One Day and Around the World in 80 Classrooms initiatives very interesting. In my view, they both allow students to open up their minds to new cultures and realities and the force Québec children to analyze and compare their situation with that of other children around the world.

As I see it, Skype is a great technological tool that can be used as a low cost, high speed gate to the world that can be easily used in a classroom. Teachers everywhere are already using Skype in order to help their students better understand the world we live in. In my case, Skype is also a great tool allowing my future students to practice English with native English speakers. It seems to me that the possibilities that Skype offer in a classroom are only limited by the teacher’s imagination and will to experiment. The question is then: as a future English teacher, am I game?

Spice Up Your English Class

Ah spices… Countries went to war for them. Some historians argue that Europe embarked on the Age of Discovery because it wanted to find new trade routes in order to import the Orient’s spices. I guess that teachers need to spice up their classes, no matter what subject they teach. As long as I am concerned, an easy way to do this is to use You Tube.

There is a number of ways a teacher can use You Tube in order to make his or her class more interesting for students. As a matter of fact, You Tube created You Tube Teachers which is aimed specifically at teachers. This site already offers over 700 000 educational videos. These videos cover subjects ranging from science to mathematics and including geography and literature.

On top of You Tube Teachers, there is also You Tube for Schools. I find this section of the site to be less interesting since it automatically translates into the language of your area (which is normally a good thing, but when you wish to teach a foreign language, it can be problematic) and because you must sign up to it in order to have access to the videos that it has to offer.

As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I have a clear advantage: I can choose whichever topic I find amusing, build a chart that my students will have to fill in, and voilà! I came up with an activity that helped my students develop their reading, writing and listening abilities. The other great thing about this is that it changed the pace of the class which can be seen by the students as a welcome recess. Since most classrooms are now equiped with a computer, a screen and a projector, it is now very easy to show a You Tube video during class.

Though most You Tube videos can be seen as just fun and games (I mean, where else can you see a clip of John Lee Hooker playing with Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones), there is now more and more serious content that is posted on the site.

Because of all of its advantages, You Tube is, at least to me, the best way to spice up an ESL class. No need to go to war about it.

Prezi : Mindmap Meets PowerPoint

As I looked through the Internet for inspiration regarding the use of technology in ESL learning, I came across Prezi. To me, a Prezi presentation is a cross section between a Mind Map and a PowerPoint presentation.

The first thing that strikes me about Prezi is that it is nonlinear. A PowerPoint presentation allows you to go from one point to the other to the next. You can go back a few slides, but you cannot really go from one idea to the next (which is the main goal of a Mindmap). A Mindmap on the other hand, allows you to go from one idea to the next, but since it is not thought of as a presentation, it is hard to predetermine certain actions like zooming in and out. Prezi, by allowing you to jump from one idea to the next and by allowing you to preprogram zooms, offers you the best of both worlds.

Since Prezi presentations are built on a map format, all the information you wish to share is on the same “slide”. You can therefore “jump” from one idea to the next without having to lose time trying to figure out on which slide that idea was. This means that you can respond quickly to the students’ interests and questions. That responsiveness and the easy to add images and videos (you only need to save them from You Tube), win me over.

This hungarian software is winning over people of all interests and of all walks of life. Even Power Point and Forbes are enthralled by it. Like any tool, it offers great promess which is why many teachers have adopted it for their classes. As long as I am concerned, adopting Prezi in class makes perfect sense. It is only logical to use a tool that works like the minds of the people that we teach. My mind sure does not work in a linear manner, just ask my wife! For their part, learners are very positive about this software and for good reasons. They enjoy the esthetic of the presentations that can be lively and colorful and learners appreciate the fact that it is easy to link an image or a video to a concept that has just been explained.

All these things make me very excited about the possibilities that Prezi offers and I am beginning to think of ways I could use it in a classroom. At least in my case, it will not be death by PowerPoint, but rather, death to PowerPoint.

Teaching Through Games

When I look back at my school years, my English classes usually were the fun classes. We would do everything from watching cartoons, to covering the history of rock n’ roll and watching television shows. To add to the fun, the best teachers would have us play games like “Simon Says” and “Hangman”. I thought the whole thing was great : recess while still in class. Life was sweet… Little did I know that, through these games, I was actually learning. Years later, I understood a very important thing: I tend to perform better and be more motivated when I am enjoying myself. As a future teacher, I believe that the same logic applies to all individuals; if people are enjoying themselves, they will perform better and be more motivated.

As a matter of fact, two researchers from the University of Hong Kong made the same claim and came up with interesting conclusions. During the course of their research, they studied two groups of engineering students who were taking English classes. One group was playing on line games in order to learn vocabulary, while the other did not. The group of learners who played games not only enjoyed themselves more than their counterparts, but they were also more motivated and had better results in the end. It seems that it isn’t just kids who wannah have fun in class!

As I looked on the internet and on Youtube, most online educational activities are aimed at children. I think that there should be more activities aimed at teenagers, especially since it is harder to motivate this group of learners. Most sites I have visited, tend to the needs of children aged 3 to 12. One site that is great for an older audience is the “Educational” section of the Nobel Prize site. The activities cover the subjects rewarded by a Nobel Prize (physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economics) and help learners know all sorts of facts about these subjects and the Nobel Prize Recipients of each category.

I feel like I need to study this some more but that there are great possibilities for a class. Furthermore, some games that are aimed at a younger audience, can work with older learners (Online Hangman anyone?). Using online games can boost the learners’ motivation and enjoyment of their English class which will translate into better results. Is there a better way to learn than when you acquire knew knowledge without realizing it? I don’t think so. As long I am concerned, teachers should explore the possibility of incorporating online games to their lesson plans, I know I will.