Sunday, March 8, 2009

What's technology? How do you integrate technology in your EFL class?

Our dear Dennis Oliver from Phoenix, AZ was the first to accept Challenge 1. Here, we have what he shared with us and the world.

Question 1: What is learning?
Dennis: Learning is acquiring knowledge and skills that one didn't previously have. Pure learning is a beautiful thing in and of itslef, but it's even better, in my opinion, if it allows one to do something that he or she couldn't previously do.

Question 2: Which learning methods and approaches should we use for our 21st century classrooms?

Dennis: In my opinion, we should make use of classroom strategies which encourage co-teaching and co-learning—on "sharing the learning journey." I also feel that teachers must become facilitators rather than "dispensers of knowledge." I do not believe, however, that all learning methods and approaches from the past must be eliminated, just as I do not believe that all students learn in the same way or that there is only one teaching method/approach that "works."

Question 3: What kind of learning cultures do we need to create or adapt for our 21st century classroom?

Dennis: In my view, we need to create or adapt learning cultures which

— feature activities which are participative, interactive, and collaborative;
— are teacher-facilitated, not teacher-dominated;
— provide content which is relevant to participants' needs and lives;
— focus on participants' taking responsibility for their own learning;
— make active use of technology;
— are not limited to meeting at a specific time in a specific place;
— are not limited to a single learning style or presentation of content.

Question 4: How can we encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance in our classrooms?

Dennis: In my view, we can best encourage and support creativity, productivity, and performance in our classrooms by

— modeling all of those qualities ourselves in our presentation/facilitation of learning activities;
— creating a sense of community within each class;
— giving regular feedback on what participants produce;
— focusing on active learning rather than passive reception of content;
— encouraging interpretive thinking rather than getting the "right" answer;
— focusing on learning which is meaning-driven;
— using a multi-modal (visual, textual, aural, oral)l approach for delivery of content;
— including both synchronous and asynchronous activities and project.

Question 5: What is informal learning? Does it really work in EFL/ESL classrooms? How do we implement it?

Dennis: Informal learning, as I understand it, occurs more often outside of class than during class—for example, on the job or in social settings. I also understand informal learning to be non-hierarchical, not organized according to a set curriculum, and not necessarily linear in presentation. Instead, I understand informal learning to be what happens when individuals find their own ways of applying bits of content knowledge and, in the process, "negotiating their own meaning." I do not understand informal learning to be "discovery learning" in its most limited sense. Neither do I understand informal learning to be learning which is only by means of fun activities such as playing games, singing, or watching videos.

I certainly think informal learning can work in EFL/ESL classrooms, but I also believe that a certain amount of structure is needed before informal learning can take place. If time and money were not issues, if a class were not given in an institutional setting, and if all the students in a class had identical or nearly identical needs and learning styles, learning could be entirely or almost entirely student-needs-driven, but in the "real world" this is not likely to be the case. I feel, therefore, that content should be introduced by the teacher/facilitator and students should be given sets of activities which are at first mostly controlled, narrowly curriculum-focused, and knowledge-based, but which then move gradually to activities which are less controlled, less narrowly curriculum based, and more skills-based. Another way of describing this progression of activities would be to say that each set of activities activity moves from being item-based learning to being project-based learning or social learning.

In my view, face-to-face class time would include more activities which are controlled and knowledge-based, while out-of-class time would include more activities which are less controlled and more skills- or project-based. In-class time would mostly be spent on learning about content, while out-of-class time would mostly be spent on understanding and applying content.

Question 6: How can we assess informal learning or e-learning in general?

Dennis: There are many ways to assess learning—whether it be formal or informal, or via e-learning or traditional means.

Two of the most useful means of assessing learning, it seems to me are task lists and rubrics.

Task lists are simply lists of things that students are expected to do in order to complete a class. Grades in a class could assigned on the basis of finishing all (or a given number or percentage) of a set of tasks, but grades could also be assigned on the basis of the extent of completion for each individual task (higher grades for more in-depth completion, lower grades for less in-depth completion).

Rubrics are a combination of rating scales and descriptions of what each rating involves. A rubric for a discussion forum might, for example, have five ratings—did not participate, inadequate participation, minimal participation, adequate participation, active participation. Each rating (except, in this case, "did not participate") would then have descriptors of how a rating is assigned for each category. Inadequate participation, for example, might be described as "responded 1 to 3 times per semester," minimal participation might be described as "responded 4-7 times per semester," adequate participation might be described as "responded 8-13 times per semester," and active participation might be described as "responded 14 or more times per semester."

Thanks so much Dennis.. Great ideas.

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