Journal Review of Educational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D)

Hello, readers. Long time, no see. Things have been busy with me as of late so this blog has not gotten an update for a short while. Sadly, today is the day that I bring you my final blog post for my course titled “Technology in Education in the 21st Century.” It comes in the form of a journal review assignment wherein I had to research a journal that deals with education and technology in some form and critic it, along with providing basic information about the journal itself. It is quite similar to my website review that I posted a few weeks ago. Following this post, I am now on my own in terms of choosing content for this blog. I have ideas about the types of things I would like to write about and it will not revolve around technology as all of my posts have up until this point. I hope to cover various topics across the whole spectrum of TEFL/TESL/TESOL education. I may do spurts of themed posts if I think there are enough worthwhile reads from other classes or seminars that I participate in, but the point to take away from this is, I am expanding the horizons of this blog from here on out. Now, on to the journal review!

The journal that I choose to look at was Educational Technology Research and Development. The journal is a bimonthly publication and has been published since 1953 and is a publication of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). The online editions are published by Springer and can be accessed here.

ISSN: 1042-1629 (Print Version)
ISSN: 1556-6501 (Electronic Version)

ETR&D

Mission Statement (Taken Directly from the Journal’s Website):

“Educational Technology Research and Development is the only scholarly journal in the field focusing entirely on research and development in educational technology.

The Research Section assigns highest priority in reviewing manuscripts to rigorous original quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods studies on topics relating to applications of technology or instructional design in educational settings. Such contexts include K-12, higher education, and adult learning (e.g., in corporate training settings). Analytical papers that evaluate important research issues related to educational technology research and reviews of the literature on similar topics are also published. This section features well documented articles on the practical aspects of research as well as applied theory in educational practice and provides a comprehensive source of current research information in instructional technology.

The Development Section publishes research on planning, implementation, evaluation and management of a variety of instructional technologies and learning environments. Empirically-based formative evaluations and theoretically-based instructional design research papers are welcome, as are papers that report outcomes of innovative approaches in applying technology to instructional development. Papers for the Development section may involve a variety of research methods and should focus on one or more aspect of the instructional development process; when relevant and possible, papers should discuss the implications of instructional design decisions and provide evidence linking outcomes to those decisions.

Each issue also includes book reviews, international reviews, and research abstracts.

Manuscripts undergo a blind review process involving a panel of three reviewers with initial outcomes usually provided within two months.”

I will start off by saying that, like many academic journals out there, the cost of reading articles is quite pricey. I am lucky enough to have free access to a number of journals due to my being a graduate student at Temple University. If you have no such affiliation, an article costs $39.95, €34.95, or £29.95, depending on your currency of preference. At the time of writing this journal review, they were offering a very tempting 30% off of all articles, bringing the price down to $27.95 / €24.50 / £20.95.

Price aside, I did find this journal to be a source of very good articles. I read several from start to finish and skimmed a number of others. While I am sure that there are plenty of articles not worthy of consideration amongst all those written during the 60+ year life of the journal, the ones I read did not contain anything that I would be overly critical of. I found the wide range of topics in educational technology that are covered to be impressive as well. The journal covers emerging methodologies and models of learning aside from purely technology-focused subjects, but the bulk of articles that I came across revolved around the use of technology in education. Readers of this blog will be familiar with the topics of many of the articles that I looked at, including wiki mediated collaborative writing, social networking use in higher education, etc. One article that my classmates and instructor would appreciate was on metacognition and the influence of polling systems that compared clickers and low technology systems (clickers being the subject of a lecture done via Skype for one of our classes).

I found the content of the articles to be quite intriguing and the methodologies were all seemingly sound, unlike some of those in other articles I have read for this course. Again, I read a mere sampling (about 10) articles from this journal, so my knowledge of its contents is, by no means, complete. I will, however, be looking at this journal for potential topics to discuss on this blog going forward. In fact, I found two articles on topics that I have yet to discuss that are potential game for just that.

Wu, C. J., Chen, G. D., & Huang, C. W. (2014). Using digital board games for genuine communication in EFL classrooms. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(2), 209-226.

Santiago, R., Nakata, M., Einwaechter, N., Marschmeier, R., & Shimada, R. (1996). Integrating technology in the writing curriculum of Japanese learners of english as a foreign language. Educational Technology Research and Development, 44(3), 103-109.

The first article discusses using digital board games in order to introduce genuine communicative situations into the classroom by using an interactive whiteboard and computer program that presents situations to pairs or groups of students that require them to interact in English in order to advance. At first glance, this does not seem to be something immediately applicable to most teachers as digital whiteboards are an expensive technology and most schools do not have the resources necessary to purchase one. In the future, however, this technology may become more readily available and so looking at how it can be used beyond as a more high tech version of a blackboard is interesting.

The second article is something that is relevant to me as it discusses how typing versus handwriting pieces affects learners along with learner perceptions of typing versus handwriting. I have been playing with ways to allow my junior high school 3rd year students to turn in their weekly journal entries digitally starting in the 2nd term this year, as all of their entries in the 1st term were handwritten. After reading this article and looking at the results of the student surveys, I am even more enthusiastic about developing a system for such before the end of summer vacation.

I hope to find more articles like this one that are relevant to my own current teaching situation. With such a long history, I am sure that more time spent searching this journal’s database will uncover such research. I also believe that research being published in this journal will continue to introduce ideas and concepts that are, at present, only in the early stages of development. The first article I listed mentions motion-controlled devices such as Nintendo’s Wii (and now there is also Wii U) and Microsoft’s Kinect (which also now has a new version) in it’s conclusion as something that is starting to be used in edutainment and that they are currently working on integrating motion controls into their own digital board game. Areas like this are what I expect the research in this journal will continue explore and help expand in the coming years. I recommend that, if you have the opportunity (or a considerable amount of money you do not have any particular use for), you check out this journal and some of its articles for yourselves. If you find something particularly interesting, do let me know and perhaps I can even cover the topic in a future post. Happy hunting!

YouTube as a Research Tool

Well, here it is, everyone. This is my final blog post that will deal directly with assigned readings for my course on technology in education. Following this, I need only post a journal review to my blog and from there on, all content is left up to me entirely. I wish I could say that I had a very interesting topic to talk about today, and perhaps bits and pieces of it still are, but I was not very enthralled with the topic as it relates to education. That topic is crowdsourcing. To be fair, I am extremely interested in the idea of crowdsourcing as a way to fund the production of someone’s brilliant creation. I have participated in Kickstarter drives in the past and I think some of the products that have come along as a result of monetary crowdsourcing have been great. Using crowdsourcing for educational purposes, however, is going to take a lot more convincing on the part of researchers. The literature I read dealt with crowdsourcing for survey research, social media as a research environment, and finally, the topic for today’s post, YouTube as a Research Tool.

The paper by Konijn et. al. (2013) contains three separate studies that used YouTube as the primary research tool. I will not discuss the later two studies too much, as I feel it could have been done without using YouTube. These particular studies merely claimed to be using YouTube as a measurement tool for gauging adolescents’ preferences for certain types of media and their reactions to it. I do not believe it was YouTube acting as the measurement tool, however. YouTube, in this instance, acted as the source of the media. The measurement tool was a five point Likert scale that asked how interested the individual was in watching a video based on a brief description. Following the viewing of the clip, the same participant then indicated, on the same five point scale, how appropriate they thought the behavior shown in the video was. This could have been done with clips from a TV news station or videos from any number of websites. It certainly is not research that would have been impossible without YouTube as the medium (pp. 3-5).

The only study that could be said to, perhaps, be exclusive to YouTube, or at least social media, is the research that dealt with the effects of peer feedback on body perception. The research had the authors create content on YouTube that involved showing girls of various body types. Before showing the content to the female participants in the study, the researchers posted comments meant to mimic those found on YouTube. These comments were posted under fake profiles. In some instances, the comments claimed that an extremely thin girl was underweight while in others it claimed that she was of a normal weight. The researchers then studied the effects of these comments on the body perceptions of the female participants via a questionnaire that was filled out after viewing the content and accompanying comments (pp. 1-3).

Looking at this study, it is hard to not feel that this could have easily been done using a clip posted to Facebook with accompanying comments. Thus, I will say that this really is a matter of social media as a research tool and not YouTube by itself. There really would be no significant difference between doing this research on Facebook and doing it on YouTube except, perhaps, that YouTube tracks the number of times content has been viewed. The two websites both have “likes,” although Facebook lacks “dislikes, and they both utilize comment and sharing functions.

I am in agreement with the researchers in using fabricated comments for the purpose of this research rather than let actual YouTube users comment freely. Anyone that has ever used YouTube knows that the comments section of any video quickly sees the appearance of a commenter who will berate not only the media shown, but will begin harassing other commenters. This usually involves quite a disproportionate amount of profanity, vulgarity, and hate speech. I could not see such an authentic YouTube environment contributing to research in any way unless the study is on the average amount of comments posted before someone makes a negative comment or verbally attacks another commenter.

Ultimately, I really only see YouTube as viable for research that revolves around the effects of peer feedback. Other than the first study mentioned by Konijn et.al., the research did not really need social media at all. Unless sites such as YouTube become more heavily moderated and comment sections somehow miraculously become home to only positive comments and constructive criticism, I cannot see wading through the filth being worthwhile. Researchers will have to continue to fabricate content and comments to include the type of input they want to be seen by research participants, but again, the type of research that can be done using social media seems, at present, extremely limited. Best to leave YouTube as a means of introducing and expanding upon topics in the classroom and not as a tool for research.
References

Konijn, E., Veldhuis, J., & Plaisier, S. (2013). Youtube as a research tool – three approaches. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking (X)X, 1-7. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0357

Course Management Systems: From Past to Present

Hello again, readers. We are finally at the last two blog posts for my graduate school class, which means that once these are written, I must venture into unfamiliar territory and begin deciding the topics of my blog posts entirely on my own. It may take a bit for me to get things sorted out, but I will do my best to find things that are interesting and worthy of discussion without any help from those that know far more than I.

For today’s penultimate article reflection, I will be looking at course management systems (CMS). I know that when I write that I do not have a lot to say on a subject I end up writing quite a bit, but this time it really may end up that way. I suppose we will see. For today’s post, I will be focusing on the paper by Houser and Thornton as well as referring to the CMS that I introduced in this blog post, Edmodo.

Houser and Thornton (2005) are wrote their paper back in 2005, during a time before smart phones, and so much of what they discuss is about the limitations of the flip phones from that era. In particular, they talk about how they required developers to have a different way of thinking when writing programs or making web pages to be viewed on flip phones compared to standard computer screens. The smaller dimensions of the screen meant that large images, tables, and any sort of horizontal scrolling had to be eliminated in order to be easily viewed on mobile phones at the time (Previous work: Small screen displays section, ¶3). Of course, talking about such things now, in the age of smart phones and tablets, simply makes us thankful that technology has advanced so much in the past 9 years.

The one thing that Houser and Thornton said that was as true now as it was back then is that the number of mobile phones greatly outnumbers that of personal computers (Motivation: Why mobile education? section, ¶3). Because of this, utilizing a CMS through mobile phones is an idea that I fully support and I am in the process of implementing in my classes right now. The paper talks about Poodle, a CMS for flip phones that had a number of basic but useful functions, especially considering the technological limitations. Poodle was able to poll a class or distribute a quiz that students could answer right on their mobile phones. Poll results could be converted to a graph that the instructor could then display for the class. A flash card function was also featured. In the paper, the authors talked about students using this function as a way of studying English vocabulary. I did feel that the paper went on an unnecessary tangent in talking about the various algorithms that flash card programs could use to decide the order in which words would appear, as this is not related to the main topic of course management systems (Poodle: A CMS for mobile phones section, ¶1-2, Flash Cards section, ¶3-7).

Looking at Edmodo, a modern CMS, we can easily see the huge strides that have been made in this area over the past few years. Not only do the same functions seen in Poodle exist, they are far more complex. Multiple formats can be chosen for quizzes with Edmodo, for instance. Edmodo also has numerous functions that Poodle was not capable of. The most useful, in my opinion, is the assignment function. A teacher can create an assignment, attaching a file if necessary. A student can then complete the assignment and upload it to Edmodo, which will notify the teacher about the submission. The teacher can then view and assign a grade to the assignment right there on Edmodo and that grade can then be added into the separate gradebook function under that student’s name. Modern course management systems have the ability to make hard copies of assignments a thing of the past. Not only does this save paper, which eco conscious instructors will appreciate, it also saves valuable class time as no papers need to be distributed nor assignments copied off of the blackboard. Students also receive notifications when new assignments are posted on a class’ page so a quick reminder at the end of a lesson that homework will be posted to Edmodo is all that is necessary.

While CMS technology has come a long way since Houser and Thornton wrote their article in 2005, I believe it has only scratched the surface of what it is truly capable of. With companies like Google now starting to formulate their own CMS component to work in conjunction with the rest of their applications, the future of course management systems certainly looks very bright. I highly recommend that anyone that teaches classes with more than a handful of students try integrating a CMS. Sites like Edmodo, with their companion smartphone apps, make teaching more efficient by allowing teachers to distribute assignments as well as receive and grade them at anytime from any location. Students, likewise, have the luxury of typing up assignments on a computer, tablet, or smartphone and submitting them even when, for example, riding a crowded train to or from school. Of course you can still offer hard copies to any students who do not have access to such devices or who wish to handwrite assignments, but for the others, having access to such a streamlined CMS is truly wonderful.

 
References

Houser, C. & Thornton, P. (2005). Poodle: A course management system for mobile phones. Paper presented at WMTE’ 05, Japan: IEEE. doi: 10.1109/WMTE.2005.51

Gone the Way of Chalk and the Slate: Is Handwriting Headed for Extinction?

Hello, readers. As you can tell from the title, I am going to be talking about handwriting in this post. This is a topic that I happen to be particularly interested in having recently taken a course on language assessment that dealt a great with test validity. Confused as to how the two relate? Let’s jump right into the discussion.

I will be using the work of Mogey et. al. (2007) as the basis of this discussion, but this very subject was also raised as part of an in-class discussion on the validity of the testing practices at the institution where I am earning my masters degree months before I even read this article. The idea is that, despite the fact that a large percentage of students use computers or other electronic devices to take notes in class, type up assignments and papers, and communicate with their professor and classmates, when it comes time for students to be tested, the assessment is often in the form of a handwritten test that may require students to write long, essay-style responses. The question is whether or not this is still a valid form of testing as students are being asked to produce in a format that is different from that which they have been using in the course prior to the assessment. If you still are not sure what the problem is, picture it this way. You are taking a course on the fundamentals of swimming. You learn everything from the actual physics involved (the three types of drag that affect speed and all of that) to all of the various strokes. You cover a plethora of theories and learn about many of the great swimmers throughout history. Unfortunately for you, the final examination is 16 laps (across and back) around an Olympic-sized pool, which will be timed. At no time during the course of your class on the fundamentals of swimming did you actually get into a pool. Now perhaps you understand the concept of testing validity at the heart of the matter here (p. 39).

I think this issue of validity is the most important one raised by this article and it is good to see some institutions taking it seriously. Other articles that I have come across have gone as far as asking whether handwriting and penmanship should even be taught anymore as most people do everything digitally nowadays. While I do not think that it will ever come to a point that we no longer write anything by hand, I do believe that the days of receiving physical mail and filling out paper applications are numbered. Despite this, for those rare times that we do wish to write something by hand, it will still need to be legible and so knowledge of handwriting and penmanship will be necessary. Think of how many artists and even children use words as part of their drawings. No, I cannot yet say that it is time to abandon handwriting as part of the curriculum in primary schools as it is still necessary in several areas not yet completely dominated by digital devices.

Back to the issue of testing validity, the research by Mogey et. al. utilized a tablet PC and conducted an hour-long simulated test in order to gather feedback from participants on using the technology in place of a standard handwritten test. The tablet allowed for students to type their answers as well as draw in diagrams, charts, etc. as needed. One complaint about this aspect was that the tablet needed to be rotated when switching between typing and drawing, which served as a distraction during the simulated test. Of course, this is really only relevant to the tablet PC and software used in the research as I personally use an application on my iPad that allows users to switch between typing and free drawing with a touch of an icon (p. 44).

One of the more interesting issues raised by one of the participants was that being able to go back and edit answers was a distraction. They argued that a lot of time might be wasted on rewriting answers, attempting to reorder sentences and come up with the best choice of words for what was already written, an option that is not as feasible with handwritten tests. Still another participant felt that handwritten essays were graded by instructors more leniently and that constructing a proper argument was not as important as getting as much information down on the paper. They argued that if tests were allowed to be typed, instructors would likely grade those tests against a higher standard similar to what is used for papers and reports written for the class (p. 44).

One issue still remains for further research, although it is likely to be a factor of whether individual instructors are more lenient with students having to handwrite a test in one go without any real chance for revision. That issue is whether allowing students to use electronic devices to type up their tests will result in a different score than if they did it by hand and, if so, whether that score is a better measure of the student’s ability. I believe that if such research is conducted, it will show that students who choose to type their test will likely deliver a better performance than those who would prefer to type their test but are forced to do it by hand. Note that I am taking preference into account and not saying that all students will perform better given the chance to type out their responses. I, personally, can type faster than I can write and my hand quickly tires during the course of a three hour essay test. If it is the case that such tests are about putting down as much information as you can on a given subject, than I am being limited by how fast I can write and may not have time to write down all that I know about the topic. I have found that I often pause during such tests due to muscles in my hand cramping and that my writing speed slows as the test progresses. Several of my classmates similarly complained during the discussion that took place during one of the classes for the language assessment course (p. 45).

It is good to see that some institutions are starting to allow students to use technology to type answers to test questions, but I agree that more research is needed. Despite my own preferences, I see the need for ascertaining whether the format of the test has any impact on students scores, whether from bias in the form of leniency on the part of the grader for responses that are handwritten or simply because the student is able to perform better given that they are being tested using the same medium with which they performed all other tasks for the class. What do you think of this particular subject, readers? I know I primarily focused on the topic of the validity of written exams, but I am just as eager to hear opinions on whether handwriting should still be taught in schools if you should happen to think there is no need. Sound off in the comments or feel free to share this post with others that might find it interesting and worth considering.

 
References

Mogey, N., Sarab, G., Haywood, J., van Heyningen, S., Dewhurst, D., Hounsella, D., & Neilson, R. (2007). The end of handwriting? Using computers in traditional essay examinations. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 24, 39-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2007.00243.x

Call of Duty in the Classroom

Hello again, everyone. Some of you will either be mislead by the title of this post or will not get the reference at all, particularly if you are not someone who enjoys video games. For the benefit of those who do not recognize the game, Call of Duty is a first-person shooter, one of the most popular video game genres at present. Before you get the wrong idea, I am not going to be advocating for allowing students to play games in class where they run around shooting other players. I am, however, going to be discussing the use of video games as an educational medium. Nowadays we have a number of educational applications available for both smartphones and tablets, many of which are games or have a gaming component to them. The question is whether these educational games, often referred to as serious games, actually achieve their intended purpose. Whether the game claims to help you remember vocabulary, become better at math, or learn about history, what really matters is whether or not the game actually accomplishes what it sets out to do, particularly if you are paying money for it or asking your students to use it to aid them in their studies.

While I read a number of articles on this topic, the findings are so varied and contradictory that it was difficult deciding which articles I would discuss on this topic. Topics ranged from which factors must be present in a game in order to keep students engaged to whether increased student engagement leads to better learning. I finally chose one article to talk about as it touches on a few of the points that interested me. Following this post, if you should happen to be interested in reading it or any of the other articles I read and did not discuss, feel free to comment and I will be happy to give you a few hours worth of literature to look at.

The research by Garris, Ahlers, and Driskell (2002) is certainly a good place to start as it looks at what characteristics of games are of interest to educators, how these characteristics factor in to the motivational process, and how serious games (or instructional games, as they are called here) affect learning outcomes. Of course, the initial challenge in researching games in education is finding a definition for the word game to begin with. The author sites Caillois who, in 1961, defined a game as an activity that is voluntary and enjoyable, separate from the real world, uncertain, unproductive in that the activity does not produce any goods of external value, and governed by rules. In the later part of this article, however, it is argued that if we force our students to play a game for our class, then the activity is no longer voluntary and thus not really a game. The authors of this article also cite yet another researcher that admitted to failing at defining the essential characteristics of games since, as he claimed, there are no common properties shared between all games (pp. 442, 459).

The authors cite Crookall, Oxford, and Saunders for attempting to provide some clarification to this issue by distinguishing between simulations and games; however, the authors themselves argue that simulations can be game-like. It may seem, at this point, that defining what a game is may be a lost cause, but the authors note that having such a set of core characteristics allows for a common vocabulary for describing and manipulating elements of a game for instructional purposes. Through this we can understand why so many have attempted to define games, often in vain, over the course of 50+ years. All of the additional research cited by the authors, however, uses different characteristics and, indeed, the authors themselves end up using a combination from the research to construct their own. The characteristics they arrive at are fantasy, rules/goals, sensory stimuli, challenge, mystery, and control. Simulations that contain these qualities become just like games, according to the authors. Unfortunately, having issues with the simple definition of what a game actually is is but a prelude for bigger issues to come (p. 443).

Without rehashing too much of the article, as you are all free to read it in full for yourselves, I will highlight some of the lingering issues in research on serious games as indicated by this research. The first is that while serious games are often cited as increasing learner motivation, this motivation varies from person to person. For instance, the research shows that males tend to engage more heavily with games than females, leading to issues of some students tiring of an activity faster than others. Regardless of gender, the authors state that little research exists on engagement levels over time. Is it an inevitability that interest in a game will wane over time or are there some characteristics that, when utilized, help to sustain interest over time? On a similar note, there is also the issue of individuals that do not like games in the first place (p. 459).

The other major lingering issue is that, despite student preference and the amount of increased motivation in students using serious games, research on the subject has conflicting results in terms of actual learning outcomes. While some researchers suggest that serious games have advantages over conventional teaching methods, others found the exact opposite while still others found no significant differences between the two. Certainly it would be foolish to assume that the increased motivation that serious games provide will automatically lead to better learning outcomes. That is, after all, the purpose of research in this area. At this point nothing is conclusive, but it is a good idea to have a grasp on what is being looked at and what must be considered before attempting to use serious games in the classroom. Studies continue to be done on which characteristics of games are responsible for the deep level of engagement that creators of serious games hope to achieve with users of their software. In addition, the types of learning outcomes that are achievable through serious games continue to be studied. These include both skill-based and cognitive learning outcomes, the latter of which also has a variety of subcategories such as declarative and procedural knowledge (pp. 444, 456).

With so many factors needing additional research, I am hesitant to put faith in serious games for instructional use in the classroom aside from a one-off session here and then for the sake of something different. Until there is more conclusive evidence as to the exact characteristics serious games must have (for the purpose of evaluating a game before adopting it) as well as what types of learning outcomes are achievable, I cannot logically back using serious games or promoting them to students. I am more certain that simulation games, such as those used by the military, can help to enhance fine motor skills, but when it comes to using games in my EFL and ESL classrooms, I will refrain for now. Of course, I would be more than happy to hear any success stories you might personally have with serious games, readers. I am, after all, a fan of games and would like to have some support for its usage in my line of work. If you have such a story, please share it in the comments. Thank you for reading. I hope that you found this post thought provoking.

 
References

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation & Gaming, 33(4), 441-467. doi: 10.1177/1046878102238607

To Tweet or Not to Tweet… Social Media in Education

Hello again, readers. I am back again today to talk about a topic that I briefly began discussing in my last post on blogs. That topic, of course, is social media and its role in education. This time around, I am going to expand this topic to cover Facebook, Twitter and other well known sites, as well as programs such as Skype. As always, I will have some literature to go along with this post, as these are meant to be reflections on what I have read, so please have a look at those should you be interested in reading more on this topic.

I will start with the article by Blankenship (2010) in which he briefly details a number of social media outlets as well as gives readers what he calls the “five literacies” that are necessary for using social media effectively. He begins the article talking about how he was asked to give a lecture at Davidson College, which was like many of the guest lectures he had previously done with one exception. This particular lecture was done via Skype. The author notes that the students treated this just like any other lecture as well, taking notes, asking questions, and even contacting him after the lecture was over (p. 11).

Indeed, Skype was used to bring in outside lecturers to the graduate class that I started writing this blog for. Institutions and instructors are no longer limited by distance and budget in who they can put before their students. In fact, the usage of Skype is not for guest instructors alone. Students, too, are able to connect with virtual pen pals in the same manner. Even done as a collective class, it is a profound and engaging method for getting students to communicate in English. I have been toying with such an idea for a while, but I would ideally have students communicating with a single partner in the other classroom via email for a semester and use the Skype video calls as a special treat during which students can actually see each other and exchange questions with the instructors in both classes as facilitators.

Of course, how to use social media effectively is really the heart of the matter. Blankenship brings up the point that the line between personal and professional is already blurred enough as it is without bringing social media in the mix (p. 12). This was not Blankenship’s point of view, but it is a valid one regardless. In order to outline what is necessary for effective social media usage, Blankenship introduces us to Howard Rheingold’s fivelieracies of social media. As using social media is not an inherent ability, we must be trained to use it, according to Rheingold (p. 12).

The first of these literacies is attention. Rheingold says we must know where and when to place our attention when we are using social media. This also includes being able to discern between when our attention should be focused on social media and when it should be focused upon the “real world.” He cites times when he would be lecturing in front of a class and most of the students would never look up from their computers or mobile phones. This would be the result of students not possessing this particular literacy (p. 12).

Another literacy is participating. Rheingold says that one must know when to participate, citing commenting on a blog as a common example. He notes that not only do we need to know when to participate, we must know how to do so in such a way that is appropriate and helpful. Collaboration is next and, unsurprisingly, our good friend Wikipedia is mentioned. Rheingold says that not only must we know how to collaborate with peers in the real world, we must know how to do so online as well. Without such knowledge, things like Wikipedia would not exist (p. 12).

Network Awareness is next, although the explanation given is rather short. Rheingold states that users must be aware of how social networks work. This involves knowing how to utilize things such as privacy settings. I assume this is because, unless you have a separate account for your professional life, there is a need for keeping certain people from viewing posts and photos related to our personal lives. I find the separate account to be much easier, personally (p. 12).

Critical Consumption is the final literacy, although Rheingold has a more appropriate name in the form of “crap detection.” This, of course, means determining which content is reliable and of quality, although Rheingold does state that it can also be about determining which information is personally relevant to us as well. This again ties back to the post on Wikipedia, not in terms of relevant information, but certainly when talking about reliable and quality information for the purposes of academia (p. 12).

I believe Blankenship is certainly correct in that social media is not going away so rather than ignore it, we should find ways to embrace it. Doing so requires us to be well-informed and fluent in the usage of what we introduce in our classrooms. Otherwise, we could end up with a disaster on our hands if we do something as foolish as step over that blurred line between the professional and personal. Administrators are certainly the most critical in terms of protecting students’ privacy, as they should be. No educator wants to lose their job because they had a great idea for using social media, but failed in their execution.

Expanding the discussion to some of most widely used social media sites, George and Dellasega (2011) researched the use of social media in two different graduate-level medical humanities courses. This research was interesting, at least to me, because medical humanities was not one of the areas in education that I imagined benefitting from social media integration. Also surprising was how students in one of the courses migrated their activity from the initial designated social media to that of a blog, which yet again underlines the usefulness of blogs in terms of promoting collaboration between students.

In the first study, Twitter was used to give students in a creative writing for medicine course brief writing prompts from the instructor. Twitter also served as a way to connect students to prompts from their peers as well. These students, upon mastering this format, moved their work to a shared blog where they posted everything from homework assignments, materials, and creative writings to questions for the peers to respond to right on the blog. I am a bit surprised that the students chose a shared blog instead of keeping their own personal work on a blog of their own and merely commenting on each others’ blogs, but my interest lies in the fact that they practically did away with Twitter usage altogether (p. e430-e431).

In the second study, YouTube was utilized to share videos from a number of Alzheimer’s advocacy groups around the world in order to help students gain some perspective on how the disease is viewed from culture to culture. Other videos were also used to show Alzheimer’s patients in various countries engaging in a number of activities that helped to demonstrate that they are still capable of meaningful interaction with others. Following this, one student even opted to submit their final project in the form of a YouTube video (p. e431).

In my case, I also believe that YouTube is a fantastic source of realia and often use it in my classes in order to teach students about foreign culture or as a bit of listening practice. Having students use the format for projects generally brings about a multitude of privacy concerns, as the authors note, so instructors must be careful when using YouTube for such purposes (p. e431).

The authors also mention the use of Twitter in this second study, although I am not so convinced by the purpose. When visiting an assisted living residence for the first time, prior to holding storytelling sessions with the residents there, students used Twitter to tweet field notes in real-time, as well as communicate with their instructor and ask questions. The authors note that Twitter allowed for the documentation of moment-to-moment insights and experiences, which were later reviewed in class, but unless it was necessary for classmates to also be able to view these records, any messaging program could have been used in place of Twitter. Also, given that Twitter limits the number of characters allowed for a single tweet, it is possible that some students wasted time cutting their questions and observations down to 140 characters whereas messaging programs such as Skype, LINE, etc. do not have these issues (p. e431).

Also interesting was the usage of Flickr in this second study. The course instructor, who took photos during the storytelling sessions done by the students, uploaded the photos to Flickr so that all of the students could easily access them for use in their own final projects. This makes sense as Flickr utilizes cloud storage that enables students to be able to access the photos from any computer with Internet access. Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage programs offer similar functionality, but if students have the desktop versions of these services installed, all of the photos will be downloaded to the students’ computers, taking up space on their hard drives. Considering that most students probably only used a few of the pictures for their own projects, hosting the photos on a site where students can go in and choose which to download makes the most sense (p. e432).

While I still find it hard to argue for the integration of sites such as Facebook and Twitter into the classroom, services like YouTube can prove useful for introducing topics or expanding on those being studied by our students. Blogs and services like Flickr, meanwhile, help to increase collaboration, as well as share insights, experiences, and materials. Given the inherent interconnectedness of social media, it is possible that Twitter and Facebook will also find ways to become useful to educators, and indeed there may be some instructors already using these sites in meaningful ways. The research on social media in education is scarce, at present, but as time goes on, more strategies and ideas for making use of the social media phenomenon are bound to come to light. As always, it is our job as educators to remain well-informed and be aware of the benefits and potential pitfalls of what we introduce in our classrooms. At the very least, I hope that you, dear readers, have found some new and interesting ideas for your own classrooms through consideration of the research presented here. I know that I have and the possibilities genuinely excite me.
References

Blankenship, M. (2010). How social media can and should impact higher education. The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, 21, 11-12.

George, D. R. & Dellasega, C. (2011). Use of social media in graduate-level medical humanities education: Two pilot studies from Penn State College of Medicine. Medical Teacher, 33, e429-e434.

7 ways to be an exceptionally mediocre TEFL teacher

I came across this fantastic, tongue-in-cheek blog post by a fellow educator in Thailand recently and had to share it. While we work in different countries, these issues certainly exist here in Japan. If they did not, the big ALT dispatch companies would not thrive here as they would lack a fresh supply of warm bodies for the classrooms of the towns and cities they are contracted with.

 

The author mentioned not bothering to learn about the culture of the country you plan on working in, but I am surprised that she did not mention the language. I have come across educators who have been living and working in Japan for years and have never bothered to learn more than just the basics of Japanese. Now, for some, time really is a big factor in this, but I know quite a few people who are content to simply make friends with other ex-pats and could care less that they cannot communicate with their Japanese coworkers that cannot speak English despite having plenty of free time that could be spent learning more than just, “ビールもう一つ (One more beer!)!”

 

Nevertheless, the point of the article is humor and so if you need a laugh this weekend, do take a peek. Enjoy!

cornishkylie

tefl

Do you have what it takes to be a really bad TEFL teacher?  Time and time again TEFL teachers are referred to as backpacker layabouts with no dedication, and every school can relay a tale of a certain TEFLer who left them in the lurch and now wary of every other foreign teacher who comes along.  Follow this advice and you will most definitely succeed at being yet another mediocre TEFL teacher giving the rest a bad name.

  1. Firstly, start from the viewpoint that anyone can do the job.  Don’t worry about considering your English skills or if you are suited to working with children – anyone can be a TEFL teacher.  In fact, don’t even bother with any sort of certification, so many schools will be simply falling over themselves in desperation for you, there will be plenty of job offers and you will have your pick of the establishments…

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