Monday, July 25, 2011

Web-based lessons

Web-based lesson

     The possibilities for English teaching and learning using Internet are endless. The big amount of resources allows teachers to incorporate web sites into their classrooms.
     When using a web-site or some web-sites in a lesson, it is called Web-based lesson. A web-based lesson is the one entirely conducted online or when a web site is used in a lesson. Conducting web-based lessons offer enormous opportunities and advantages. They are more interactive, dynamic and interesting. Web-based lessons are very useful for both learners and teachers since they provide opportunities for all learning styles and promote collaboration, and improve teacher-student and student-student interaction as well. I have particularly witnessed these advantages.

     Planning a web-based lesson implies following a series of steps and there are some formats of web-based lessons on the web that can be used. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the lesson, and then to select the web site to be incorporated in the lesson.

     Recently, I conducted my first entirely web-based lesson online and the experience was definitely enriching. It helped me develop my digital skills as well as creating my own artifacts to be used in the lesson.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Real life vs. virtual worlds: Second Life

     As educators, we are always looking for new gates to make learners enjoy classes while learning and with the flourishing of technology it seems to be easier nowadays.

     Second life is completely new for me. It is an “online virtual world” (Wikipedia, 2001) in which residents (avatars) has the opportunity to interact with each other. These avatars can explore the world, meet other residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities (op. cit). Now I wonder what the new enterprise is and what these virtual worlds offer. Don’t we interact and socialize in the real world?

     It seems that for educational purposes second life offers a great deal of opportunities, especially in language learning. I have my doubts about it. Why taking our learners to a world that we know that does not exist? It seems to me that virtual worlds are perfect and magic. People can fly, go shopping and buy things (I do not know where the money comes from) and do many things. That is wonderful, but how about then? Maybe, I am wrong but I think that taking my students to a virtual room in second life will not provide them with anything really effective. To face real situations when having conversations with real people is better, I think.

     Just to finish this reflection, we, educators should be very careful of being seduced by the novelty of a new technology. We have to consider whether this new technology will improve teaching and enhance learning (Sharma and Barret, 2008)    

Monday, July 18, 2011

Virtual Learning Environments

     Let start by saying that I sometimes find myself doing things and actually do not know what they are. I had a great opportunity to have classes online and was kindly taught how to manage the tools in WiZiQ. I had a lot of fun and became a fan of those online classes. I was terrified at the beginning but then I got familiar to listen to my professor presenting her slides and giving us the chance to share ideas through the chat. The experience was pretty enriching and fruitful. Poor me! I did not know that it was a kind of virtual learning environments. It is not regret; it is just that we do things without knowing their real names but they absolutely work.

     Nowadays, when approaching technology to be updated to implement Web 2.0 tools in my English classes and having an expert’s guidance to manage many of these tools, I came to learn what virtual learning environments (VLEs) are. According to Sharma and Barret (2008, p. 103), a virtual learning environment is “a web-based platform designed to support teachers in the management of online educational courses”. They also state that virtual learning environment consists of communication tools, among these tools we have email and a discussion board, and tools for organizing the administration of a course.

     VLEs are often used by universities; Moodle (one of the best known VLEs) is used at Universidad Marítima del Caribe (UMC). After asking the technologist in charge of the technical issues at UMC, he explained that one of the reasons why Moodle software is used in this university is because it is free. He also said that it is a Course Management System (CMS) which uses an Open Source software package designed on pedagogical principles. The purpose of this CMS is to help educators create effective online learning communities. At UMC, educators and students take advantage of this platform. Some educators are allowed to use this platform (since its use is restricted) to promote distance learning through what it is called Virtual Room.

Social networks

        I was wondering what social networks are useful for. Some people say that we can share and interact somehow, but we are always sharing and interacting at work, in a classroom, aren’t we? Some others say that this a way to know about opinions and ideas from people who are far away but, being connected online, we get close and share ideas faster than using the old-fashioned mail. Certainly, it is a new and fast way to get in contact. I was asked to open a Facebook account to fulfill an EFL master course program, and a couple of nights ago I was contacted by my sister, my father’s oldest daughter. We had a lot of time without seeing each other. Well, this could be an answer to my question. I went deeply into this topic and found some other reasons.

     According to Wenger (2004), we all belong to communities of practice (CoP). He states that communities of practice are everywhere, at work, at school, at home. However, our social active participation is what makes the difference. For him, a social theory of learning must be integrated by the following elements: meaning, practice, community and identity. Turning our head to educational issues, Wenger (2006, n/p) defines CoPs as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. During my path on TEFL, I have had the great opportunity to belong to VenELT which is formed by a group of English teachers with the interest to share knowledge and learn more about how to teach English and how to become better educators for the benefits of our students.