Time for Confession!!!

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Yes, it is time to confess.

Even though I haven’t talked about this since the beginning of opening this blog, now it is¬†time to finally say the truth:) I opened this blog not because I initially had the desire to, but because I had an assignment for one of my Master program classes. It has become, however, something that I did with great excitement and sometimes even spent more time than I could actually afford. That’s why I hope you will forgive me for this ūüôā

Keeping a blog, it turned out, requires lots¬†of commitment and ¬†impacts very positively on improving one’s writing skills. Assigning blog writing to your learners will also be a great way to develop their critical and creative thinking, peer feedback and cooperation. Teaching them how to use the blog to connect to bigger networks will also be very beneficial for your learners. It is very important also to keep your learners always active on the blogging platforms so they would read each other’s posts, start discussions which then will be brought to the actual classroom for further discussion and analysis. Blogging, I believe, is one way of making your teaching more learner-centered. I enjoyed the experience as a learner for sure. Now as the semester is close to finishing, we have yet another assignment: to reflect on what we learnt in the class and what we will consider using in our future classrooms as teachers.

Now the second confession!

I am not sure on what kind of a teacher I will make. I am not sure whether I will ever become a teacher or not. My teaching experience has been limited to teaching individuals, small groups of adults, people who are themselves very excited for learning, where my job has always been the facilitating of the environment so their learning will happen in a more productive way. When today I went to an actual classroom of a public school for an observation, teacher left the classroom for few minutes to bring something and I decided to introduce myself to the 8th grade kids who study English as foreign language. I stepped in front of the classroom with a big smile on my face, but the anxiety in my chest was reaching unimaginable levels. I have never had that feeling before. Usually it takes me a second to overcome the stress, but this time even though i was not going to teach, the feeling of responsibility of entertaining those 27 kids for 5 minutes was really overwhelming (not exactly in a negative way however).

This incident made me once again think about my role in a classroom. When people ask me what I will be doing in future, I usually answer that whatever I will do will be targeted towards education or will try to be beneficial for education. Saying that, I want to admit that classroom research, observations, investigation and analysis, the acquiring of educational data for various academic purposes seems closer to my character than the actual teaching practice.

Thus from today on, I will be updating my blog with my reflections on the research that I am doing for my Master Thesis on the Armenian EFL teachers’ attitudes towards learner centered methodologies. Meantime I will examine my own attitude towards everything that is really happening in the public school classrooms.

In the end I want to say that after the teacher of that public school EFL classroom came back and started shouting at kids for not being ready with homework and during the first 10 minutes assigned even more homework (which was almost identical task as the previous one), I realized that public schools do need the input of students trained to introduce more interactive, low -anxiety and exciting methods and tasks into the classrooms.

As for now, I would really appreciate if you could share your opinions on using modern technologies in EFL classrooms, advantages and disadvantages of those.

Thank you for following my posts during this few months.

Amy

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Data! Data! Data! What do I think of Learning Analytics

ELI-LA-Word-Cloud-2I love data, I enjoy the endless sleepless nights analyzing the gathered data to find patterns (that is what I will actually be doing for¬†the next few months), make implications and come up with conclusions. However, I am more of a “Qualitative research person” and that’s why personal opinions, stories, experiences are very important for me in any research. In the classroom what is important for me is the connection which as a teacher I make with my learners. When something is going not necessarily as it was supposed to be in the learning process, it is important for me to make assumptions according to all the information that I share with my learners. Classroom and educational research for me is also very valuable when it is designed qualitatively and when each participant of the research¬†is approached personally.

I am telling you all this now, because recently we had a conversation at the University about the significance of learning Analytics and how it may change the whole teaching and learning experience. I don’t want to discuss it in detail here, because there has been lots of comprehensive research done on various aspects of Learning Analytics and its usefulness as well as on all the ethical and privacy concerns that come with it.

However one think that was interesting to me is¬† how we always take any analysis for granted especially when its report is presented in numbers, percentages and nice metrics. I can’t absolutely disagree with the fact that Learning Analytics may have benefits for institutional and administrative purposes, but I have hard time believing that the number of clicks in LMS may¬†all the time correctly assess the learner’s potential to pass or fail the course. For that purpose, the teacher’s observation of the students’ behavior, feelings, outside of the classroom problems is more reliable data for me. That data will more precisely tell me what might happen to a learner or will alert about changing the teaching method, materials, etc.

Learner Analytics seems to be an effective approach as it deals with “big data”, but do we really need “big data” for educational implications?¬† You may say yes and I wouldn’t argue with that. My only concern is that I don’t want education to follow the social trend of nowadays, when everything is about clicks and visits. When the popularity of a person, organization or product started to be calculated by the number of likes (clicks) or the visits to the respective Facebook page, people started paying for “fake” likes and visits to create “fake” popularity and social networking success. I don’t think anybody would like the same future¬† Education!

Who is managing your learning?

What schools and universities do very well is to give names and definitions to what people are doing in their lives to gain knowledge. That way I heard the abbreviations LMS and PLE only a week ago during my New Technologies in Teaching class and it turned out that everything that I use to organize or to implement my learning process is my PLE and everything that my University uses to manage/monitor/support my learning process is my LMS. If you are just like me and you are hearing these abbreviations only now, then that would be a good idea to say that PLE is the Personal learning environment and LMS is the learning management system. The systems used on-campus such as the Blackboard and the Moodle are LMS whereas everything that you use for organizing your own personal learning, such as Gmail, Google docs, Word, Calendar, etc. constitute your PLE.

Despite the fact that there has been lots of research on the differences between LMS and PLE, arguments over advantages and disadvantages on one over the other, I have to agree that these systems and tools made life much easier. Everything that we were supposed to do earlier to manage our learning and teaching, to be connected and to have everything in place is now done not by us. This does raise various security and privacy issues for sure, however creates an opportunity for learning to not limit itself to the classroom only. The need for this is unquestionable.

I was at a round-table discussion once organized by the Teaching for Armenia and the moderator in her speech compared¬† teachers with managers but not just of a classroom but rather of¬†the school, as the teacher¬†facilitates the creation of the ¬†culture of the school, helps to manage the connections and relationships, enforces communication and collaboration in her classroom and in the school. If we look at LMS and PLE from this perspective, then the services they provide are invaluable as via those the teacher is connected to her students and to her colleagues every moment of the day, in and outside of the classroom.¬†These tools allow to be a better manager and facilitator of the teaching and learning process. I would rather not try to compare LMS and PLE, because for me when it comes to the technology, it depends on the wise use of it for it to be the most useful for the person’s purposes. Thus directing your learners from Blackboard to a Google doc so they can work on a peace of written work in a group, would definitely not be a bad idea. It is important as always with technology how to manage it well so it doesn’t end up managing you.

However, as I haven’t had enough time ¬†to do a comprehensive research, I would like to share the following video with you where LMS and PLE are thoroughly discussed.

So Distant and yet So Close: Online/Distance education

I noticed recently that when I start talking about using the technological opportunities and software in my teaching practice, I end up talking about how those have affected my learning practice. And as I believe that teaching is nothing else but learning, I¬†think this is a good start for a “beginner educator” ūüôā

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In my previous post I talked about the online courses, the opportunities those provide and how they impact the concept of freedom. Here I will¬†build on whatever has already been discussed with some thoughts on distance education which for me before today was¬†not very different from online courses provided by MOOCs.¬†My short research showed that I am not the only one who tries to solve the dilemma of whether there is any difference between those two as I have noticed that sometimes these words are used interchangeably. I found¬†Kathy Keairns’ blog post on the topic (she is the Director of Web-Based Learning in the Office of Teaching & Learning at the University of Denver (DU)) and I think she has a very nice illustration of the differences between MOOCs and Distant education. You can check it out here.

However, here I would like to tell about my own experience as an “online student” in general not separating MOOCs from Distant courses mostly because my experience with Distant courses is limited to language courses in Livemocha. I love several things about online learning and all of them are connected to the fact that they bring the learner even closer to the learning process. As a distant course or MOOC learner you are the most connected to what you are learning than in any other learning environment. When I talk about ideal learner-centered classrooms, I always cite Nunan and Lamb in whose words “if learners are to learn anything at all, they have to do the learning for themselves.‚ÄĚ (Nunan, Lamb, 1996, p. 9) Thus the online environment somehow becomes the ideal “learner-centered classroom”. Here all the decisions are made and carried out by the learner. Here is where the learner knows that in order to be successful he needs commitment, punctuality, determination, time and energy management skills as he knows best his own learning strategies and is able to monitor his own learning process.

The online courses that I took taught me to the aforementioned skills and both as a learner and a teacher I consider those invaluable for success and advancement.

Another thing that online learning taught me is that being an individual learner doesn’t cut you away from the community. Actually, it brings you closer to people with same interests, however most often it also happens in the virtual world. I consider this to have its own advantages as it teaches to share responsibility and knowledge with people who you don’t know well but who you connect with based on the same interest and on the urge to learn more.

So, I believe, distant (online) education does bring the learner closer to what learning is. I would love to learn you thoughts on this.

Carpe Diem!

Because all we want is FREEDOM (and Education)

education freedomThings are rarely free, good things almost never… but when MIT in 2001 decided to put up online¬†their entire course catalog, it resulted in¬†the Open Educational Resources Movement which opened a new era in teaching and learning. This era made “the education” free and allowed people to be free in acquiring knowledge from every open resource. The calls for the movement started even before that. The name of Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen is very often cited in the works on the topic. In his work “Development as Freedom”,¬†the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, talks about the importance of providing people with opportunity to have “basic education” (Sen, 1999) as it, with other components of freedom, expands the idea of freedom and contributes to the economic development of the whole society.¬†¬†

During a conference hosted by UNESCO in 2002, it was said that “Open Educational Resources are critically important for ensuring wide access to quality higher education in developing countries and full participation of universities in these countries in the rapidly evolving world higher education system.” ¬†Daniel Atkins, John Brown and Allen Hammond (2007) took this to a higher level combining what Sen said with what was discussed at the UNESCO conference and citing Amartya Sen again defined Open Educational Resources Movement as a “Plan intended¬†to be a strategic international development initiative to expand people‚Äôs¬†substantive freedoms through the removal of ‚Äúunfreedoms‚ÄĚ: poverty, limited¬†economic opportunity, inadequate education and access to knowledge, deficient¬†health care, and oppression.”

Now let’s take all this theory and see how it works in real life. “Education”, freedom”, “development”, “access”… these all are very beautiful words to which, I guess, everybody strives for and which everybody tries to achieve. I will take this to a personal level again, because I believe that “personalizing” the issue allows to better connect to it.

The first time I saw a link “200 free course lectures online” (can’t¬†find the link now to post it here), I was extremely excited. I spent several hours on that day watching several lectures on philosophy. Those were recordings of actual lectures happening in real classrooms in various well known universities of the world. I was truly thankful to the people who took the care to just take a video of what was happening in the classroom and posting it online. I started telling about that to my friends and sharing it to my social networks online. The wave of MOOCs reached to Armenia too, and my excitement grew and people got involved. My friend, with the support from the US embassy in Armenia, went to Armenia’s public schools and presented the idea of “free education”: Coursea, EdX, Khan Academy and so on. Suddenly everybody who had access to internet and a computer could study online with the professors from the best Universities of the world. Suddenly everybody who wanted to “learn” gathered together and became a community.

What I personally love about this movement, is that it is not just about free education. It is more about freer people with more access to worldwide development. That’s what, I believe, education should be about:¬†freedom and¬†liberation!!!

When Hawking talks about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence

2 days ago I came across an article that¬†was very amusing and at the same time very deep in many senses. The article published on www.bbc.com had the following headline:¬†“Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind”.

Anybody who knows Stephen Hawking will most probably understand why the title of the article¬†was so interesting. Hawking, a brilliant and legendary physicist, has got a motor neuron disease which eventually left him paralyzed and made him¬†communicate with the world through a speech generating device. As noted in the article by BBC, speech generating devices can be considered as early forms of AI. Now, when asked about the development of Artificial Intelligence, Hawking responded,¬†“The development of full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race.” He expressed his concern that highly developed technology with its own “thinking mind” can turn into something bigger and dangerous for the human race. “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he¬†added.¬†“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

I wrote about Artificial Intelligence and its EFL implications in one of my old posts, where I talked about the limitations and challenges the AI still faces for a more effective use for TEFL purposes. However, what Hawking said raises also other issues rather just the problems of lack of practicality, miscommunication, and so on. As a teacher I have to accept that we need to at least try the resources created for educational purposes because we can’t decide on using something or not for our learners basing our choice¬†only on our subjective opinion. However, we cannot also deny that we need to come up with educational tools which will only be beneficial for our learners. I think Hawking’s warning needs to be paid attention to. It is important that the tools that we create or use for learning, don’t start using us. It is not a secret that AI becomes richer ¬†due to conversations with us, What do you think about this? What do you think will be the impact of the AI development on education?

Not sure how to motivate your kids? Use their phones!

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????When I was going to school, mobile phones were a rare thing. Not every student had one and however surprising it sounds, it was only 6 years ago. In those days, teachers would get angry if students would look at their phones instead of concentrating on their textbooks. Nowadays almost everybody has a Smartphone, and teachers, who, I assume, were followers of learner-centered approach to teaching. found a way out. They decided that instead of prohibiting students from using their phones, they will actually make the students use their smartphones for learning purposes.

A lot has been written about the usefulness and effectiveness of MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning). There are hundreds of free APPs available on APP stores which can be used in EFL practice plus all the in-built functionalities¬†that¬†phones provide. The research has shown that MALL tools allow the learners to become more autonomous, they create more opportunities for collaboration and cooperation among students.¬†Ali Sorayyaei Azar‘s research on “Learners‚Äô Attitudes toward the Effectiveness of Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL) in L2 Listening Comprehension”¬†in Iran, which aimed to investigate Iranian EFL learner’s attitudes toward the effectiveness of Mobile Assisted Language Learning on their Listening comprehension indicated, the experimental group receiving instruction through cell-phone based audiobooks outperformed the control group on their listening comprehension. Such studies are numerous and the reasons for these kinds of results also vary.

One very comprehensive research that summarizes most of the important points about MALL as well as talks about its disadvantages and pitfalls is John Traxler’s study “Mobile Learning for Languages:¬†Can The Past Speak to the Future?”.

The study describes the advantages of MALL as “reaching out”, “enriching”, “learning from one another”, “theorizing and defining”, “enthusing and motivating” and “just in time”. I would highly recommend you to check out the paper if you want a profound literature analysis about MALL.

.As for the limitations and challenges of MALL, the author goes further than just discussing the small screen of the mobile devices and the readability issues. He raises the issues of sustainability, embedding and evidence. In terms of sustainability, Traxler talks about the¬†ability of MALL APPs to “generate revenue or meet their costs and an¬†understanding of their impact on human, economic, and social capital in relation to their¬†various costs.” By embedding, he means how MALL is embedded in other learning systems and how it effects MALL’s efficacy. And the last limitation and challenge is, according to Traxler, the lack of evidence “that demonstrates¬†relevance, significance, and impact.”

These limitations need to be addressed in order for Mobile Assisted Language learning to become absolutely effective for the language learners.  But before that I would recommend  using what mobile devices have to offer as their usefulness in the learning process is very obvious.