IWB: just another technology to support good teaching.

Knowing how to use the functions of an IWB is not enough, we need to know how to teach with it. It’s simple as this: if anyone thinks he is a better teacher without the IWB, then don’t use it. Someone said, “Good teaching doesn’t need an IWB.” I add: and any other technology.

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Interactive Whiteboard vs. Data Projector

I have been asked a few times to explain the difference between a data projector and an interactive whiteboard. Most of the teachers who ask me this question, for one reason or another, have never used an IWB but usually are very familiar with the use of a data projector to assist their teaching. I agree that you can use a data projector to do many things that you can do on an IWB. However, if there wasn’t any difference, why should teachers use a much more expensive tool instead of a relatively cheap data projector? So, what’s the difference? The answer is: interaction. Using an IWB students and teachers can go to the board and make annotations on it. On an IWB students and teachers can drag objects around like text, pictures and shapes to match ideas and point out solutions. Using an IWB students and teachers can drag scenes out of a video and have them pasted on the board for later discussion. Using an IWB the teacher can stand at the board interacting with the content and at the same time look the students in the eye ready to react to any question or doubt. Could the teacher do the same if she was sitting at her desk in front of the computer screen? Maybe, but it would not be the same.

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Is the interactive whiteboard an effective tool for teaching?

The answer to this question is definitely yes. But, like any tool, an IWB needs to be effectively used to have an impact in students achievement. The main difference of the IWB compared to other tools is that the IWB has more potential to amplify good teaching. Having a technology like an IWB in the classroom is like having a smartphone in your hands. Suddenly everything is at your fingertips, concentrated in just one place. One of the most difficult things for teachers is to be aware of that and know how to use all this potential when it’s most appropriate. Here is where practice and good teaching comes in. Only with practice can a good teacher become savvy in the use of IWB and use it to it’s full potential.

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What is an online Community?

It’s been quite difficult for me to answer this question. At first, it seemed to be a simple question but once you try to answer it, you realize it’s not as simple as it seems. Wikipedia defines community as “a group of individuals who share characteristics, regardless of their location or type of interaction.” In “How Some Folks Have Tried to Describe Community” Nancy White collected a number of different definitions of community which I will cite here. For Wally Bock “communities are characterized by three things: common interests, frequent interaction and identification.” Jake says it’s a “group of people who form relationships over time by interacting regularly around shared experiences, which are of interest to all of them for varying individual reasons.” At Learnativity.com folks state the “communities help generate a shared language, rituals customers, and collective memory of those that join the group.” They go on by pointing out that “the term community suggests a general sense of altruism, reciprocity and beneficence that comes from working together.” For the website of the Foundation of Community Encouragement “a community is a group of two or more people who have been able to accept and transcend their differences regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds (social, spiritual, educational, ethnic, economic, politica, etc.). This enables them to communicate effectively and openly and to work together toward goals identified as being of their common good.” Bronwyn Stuckey argues that we know it’s a community “when people are able to rely on each other to make room for each other and to enjoy a successful shared experience.” She adds that in a community “people really work for the good of the group and each other.” To conclude this number of definitions I’d like to go back to Wikipedia again where it’s stated that what makes a community is “the strength of the ties between a group of whatever nature – cultural, ethnic or moral – they may be.” After having read all these definitions about community its meaning became clearer to me. There are quite a few characteristics that make a community. A community is a group of individuals who:

  • have a stronger sense of identity
  • have common interests
  • have frequent/regular interaction
  • are able to transcend their differences
  • share common characteristics
  • share experiences
  • share a sense of altruism
  • share a sense of reciprocity
  • share a sense of beneficence
  • aim to achieve goals for their common good
  • enjoy a successful shared experience
  • work for the good of the group and each other

What’s the difference between a community and an online community, also called virtual community or e-community? The term ‘virtual community’ is attributed to  the book of the same title by Howard Rheingold, published in 1993. Unlike a community, an online community needs a computer network for its members to communicate and interact with one another. There are a group of people that mainly interact via communication media and depend upon social interaction and exchange online.

Amy Jo Kim (2000) proposed a membership life cycle for online communities in her book “Community Building on the Web“. This life cycle would be:

  • visitors or lurkers
  • novices: participate in the community life
  • regulars
  • leaders
  • elders

A similar model was proposed by Lave and Wenger. They also advocate a cycle of five types of members:

  • peripheral
  • inbound
  • insider
  • boundary
  • outbound

Online communities allow people to interact with like-minded individuals instantaneously from anywhere on the globe but they also have some negative points. They can be hunting grounds for online criminals and too much time in online communities may have negative consequences on the real-world interaction.

In a post called “Building Online Community Brick by Virtual Brick” Aliza Sherman enumerates a few rules on online communities that I have summarized here in this mind map.

Rules on online communities
Rules on online communities

To see other mind maps I made about the subject click here.

Posted in FOC08, onlinecommunities | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Facilitating online communities

“Facilitating online communities” is an online course organised by the Otago Polytechnic in New Zeland. The course started on the 28th July and will be facilitated by Leigh Blackall who will guide the participants along 17 weeks. It can be attended in two different ways, formally and informally. In formal terms this course is rated at level 7 according to the New Zeland Qualification Authority.

I am glad to participate in this course because it means an excellent opportunity to aquire the skills in an area that interests me very much. I would like to get a formal certification for this course but I am not sure if I can cope with it. We will see that later. I hope to aquire the required skills to become an online facilitator and learn a lot more through the interaction with the other participants in the course.

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Open versus closed environments

Quality of educational resources should of course be a concern of every educator and I believe that it is possible to be achieved using an open authoring approach like a wiki. Wikipedia and WikiEducator are good examples of high standards in the quality of the content produced this way. However, to achieve a high level of quality in an open authoring approach at least two conditions must be met: the quantity and quality of their contributors. According to a study carried out about Wikipedia at Darmouth College in 2007, “…it is the quantity as well as the quality of contributors that positively affects the quality of open source production.” The more people contribute to the development of a resource, the greater the chance of a higher quality. As Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, put it in a debate with Dale Hoiberg, editor in chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica, in The Wall Street Journal Online “(…) the wide range of inputs means a good chance at a more balanced and more neutral coverage.” Yet, quantity by itself is not enough to guarantee quality. Among the many contributors there must be some who are experts to give the resource the necessary push towards a higher level of quality. This issue is also addressed by Jimmy Wales in the debate referred above. He states that he does “not believe that any resource tool can be reliable without scholarly input.” What seems to be a great advantage of open content approaches compared to more controlled ones is their openness to many different views of the same reality. This encourages the debate and dialog about a topic that most certainly leads to gains in quality. According to Jimmy Wales “The main thrust of our evolution has been to become more open, because we have found time and time again that increased openness, increased dialog and debate, leads to higher quality. (…) “Openness” is going to be necessary in order to reach the highest levels of quality.”

I am pretty certain that the use of an open authoring approach in course development for education could produce a high quality of learning materials because it would take advantage of a worldwide community with different levels of expertise. An extensive debate and dialog would result in the production of interesting and valuable resources for everyone to use in their teaching practice. On the other hand I don’t know if there would be many teachers and other education experts willing to offer much of their valuable time to produce high quality education resources without being rewarded for their work. At this point it’s easier for me to imagine open and closed approaches coexisting in the development of education resources, although I must admit that I feel more sympathy for open approaches then for closed ones.

Posted in educational resources, open approaches, open environments, quality | Tagged | 1 Comment

Technology in the classroom

In the past few days I have been reading blogs and making comments. Patricia‘s comment on my last blog post made me think a bit more about the effectiveness of using technology with the students. In her comment she wrote that the “students do not know what to blog about if there is no purpose to it; in other words, if blogging is not incorporated as part of a meaningful activity”. In order to do this she incorporates blogging in content-based projects making it appear as a natural activity among all other activities that lead to the final result of the research carried out by the students. This makes sense and took me to her blog where she wrote in detail about the integration of technology in the classroom. After reading her post and another one she wrote explaining in detail how she structures her research projects, I found myself thinking about a few things. All learning should be meaningful, whether technology is being used or not. If you asked the students to write a composition about a topic of your choice without giving them any further input and/or guidance, they most probably wouldn’t know what to write about. The same happens with technology. If the students don’t see the purpose of using it, then it’s most likely that they won’t. It’s not the technology by itself that motivates the students but the purpose of the activities they need to do.

I guess my students don’t blog more often because they don’t see the purpose for doing it. Although I have tried to explain that blogging would be a good writing practice in the target language and at the same time it could be used as their personal portfolio (having a portfolio with entries about vocabulary and self-study is compulsory), this is apparently not motivating enough for them to use their blogs more often. I think I understand it because this kind of blogging is more an extension of the work done in class, i.e. a kind of homework.

Yet, blogging can easily bring additional motivation and becoming more meaningful by simply have someone commenting on what the students have written. A German native speaker and teacher who lives in Germany made comments on most of the students blogs and suddenly some of them were answering her in the target language even without showing me the text for correction before. I was surprised by the extensive answers Joana wrote to the teacher. She has started learning German in October last year and yet felt motivated enough to write such big texts in a language she still knows so little about. And why? Because there was a good reason to write. Someone made questions and she felt the urge to answer them. Of course she made many mistakes but I am sure the teacher could understand everything and the communication happened.

This is a perfect example of the advantage that these kind of tools can represent in language learning. Social media is about communication, about sharing and interacting with other people, so it can be the perfect tool to develop reading, writing and speaking skills.

Posted in EVO08, SMiELT08, SOCIAL MEDIA, teaching, technology | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Blogs in the classroom 2

As I have already written about it on this blog, the students’ reactions to the idea of using blogs were different from what I expected. Generally speaking, the older students didn’t like the idea whereas the younger ones (beginners in learning German), although being not very excited by the idea, accepted it and started using their blogs. It was the first time a teacher was using blogs with his students at my school. So it came as something strange and difficult to accept. The first reaction to it by everyone (students, colleagues and parents) was one of strangeness, something they didn’t know exactly what it was and how it could be used with benefits to the students. On the first meeting with all the class teachers and one parent that was representing the other parents, I needed to explain the intention and the potential of using blogs in language teaching. The parent understood my points of view and so did the teachers.

At this point, the majority of the younger students are using their blogs to post, though not to make comments yet. According to my experience, many students are not used to blogging (some didn’t even know what it was) and have little digital knowledge. Very different from what we imagine about a “digital native.”

It seems that we need to tell the students what they should post on the blog. They need to be guided, otherwise they don’t know what to post. I did that with my younger students and a few months later I felt that many of them started enjoying using the blog. The fact that they don’t know the language they are supposed to use (these are German students, at beginners’ level) makes it even more difficult.
At the moment, they are responding to comments of a teacher who made comments on many of their personal blogs. I hope that in the future some of them will use their blogs more spontaneously.
You can have a look at the blogs here: http://klassenblog.bloxio.us/klassen

Posted in blogging, EVO08, SMiELT08 | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments


This has been a very busy week. I hardly had time to do my assignments for the sessions I am participating in. I just managed to read the dozens of emails that I get everyday. At the moment, work at school is taking much of my time. I hope that I can catch up this weekend.

Today I started using Twitter after reading a post in the SMiELT forum about microblogging. This is a post that I had already read on the Wiki page about microblogging but at that time I hadn’t clicked on the links there. This time, as I came across the same text on the forum, I clicked on the links and saw the video about Twitter which showed me how and why I should use it. Twitter can be funny since it’s a different way to keep you in touch with people either you already know from other places on the Web or to make new contacts. The fact that you need just a few words to say what you are doing makes it easy to use and not time consuming. Snitter is a nifty application that makes the use of Twitter even easier. Without Snitter Twitter wouldn’t be as easy to use as it is. Being able to get the messages on your mobile phone makes it even more interesting. Now I still need to find out how it can be used in connection with my blog.

Posted in EVO08, Microblogging, SMiELT08, Twitter | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Social Media

Fortunately I was already familiar with almost all the platforms and applications we were asked to open accounts at and I had also opened accounts in all of them. The only one I didn’t know was “Jaiku”. So I was spared a lot of time opening accounts.

Yet, the fact that I already have an account at all those platforms doesn’t mean that I use them all regularly. The platforms I’m most familiar with are Wordpress, Flickr, Voice Thread and dotSUB. I don’t know why I don’t use the trio 43. Maybe because it’s not very user friendly and I didn’t see why it was interesting, besides connecting people through their specific interests.

Connecting people, sharing and learning seems to be what these platforms have all in common. None of these platforms requires programming skills to publish content on the Web. This was maybe one of the reason why these tools became so popular and are called web 2.0 tools or social media. Another thing that these platforms have in common is giving every single individual, regardless their technological skills, the chance to express their ideas and interact with the outside world.

The possibility to interact with the outside world makes these kind of platforms different from LMS platforms which are closed environments, only accessible to the people that are allowed to enter them. It’s this feature that makes them so different from platforms like, for example, blogs or wikis.

Social software and media entangle the potential to connect people with similar interests, allowing them to share knowledge and grow together. I have been using tools like blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, aggregators and social networks to communicate with people all over the world.

Posted in EVO08, SMiELT08 | Tagged | 3 Comments