The aim of the well-attended pre-conference symposium at the IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference in Bonn – organised as a workshop followed by a panel discussion – was to offer delegates some ideas and strategies for encouraging learners to take their English studies beyond the classroom. In the panel discussion, Marjorie Rosenberg reminded us what homework shouldn’t be (e.g. ‘busy work’), before suggesting that, among other things, the work we give learners to do between lessons needs to be ‘relevant, work-related, interesting …[and a true]…learning experience.’ Fellow panellists Rob Szabó and Cornelia Cornelia Kreis-Meyer added to the discussion with interesting contributions about the ‘flipped classroom’ and the role of peer pressure in encouraging learners to study between lessons. And in the workshop, we looked at one or two of the teacher and learner friendly web and mobile technologies that can facilitate self-study. What follows is a brief description of some of the tools presented in the workshop.
These days, we’re very fortunate in having a wide range of course books to choose from which publishers have lavishly supplemented with good quality, multi-media materials that can be used for guided self-study. Examples include MacMillan’s update of the In Company series – In Company 3.0 – that offers an attractive online workbook, or CUP’s Business Advantage with its DVD of video case studies. It may sometimes be the case, however, that for one reason or another, despite the ever-widening range of ESP titles, these coursebook resources just don’t match as closely as we would like the specific needs and interests our learners have, whereas content that is readily available online may be just the ticket. This, in turn, raises one or two questions concerning modes of delivery and the level of control one may wish to exert over what learners do in their self-study.
At one end of the scale, a teacher may want to track in some detail when and how successfully her learners have worked on material. To exercise this kind of control, teachers build their own virtual learning environments using simple, purpose made content management systems such as edmodo or schoology, or more powerful (but with much steeper learning curves) tools such as Moodle.
At the other end of this control continuum, it may be enough to simply direct learners to specific content and rely on their reporting back. Here we’ll take a quick look at one or two tools that offer self-study possibilities with various degrees of control.
This tool was mentioned before in this column when we took a look at content curation tools. Since then, however, following a suggestion from colleague Phil Wade, I’ve been using this app to collect and deliver web content – videos, articles, images – in the form of a magazine to some of my undergraduate students.
How it works
With a Flipboard account (free!), a teacher can set up a magazine for their class and then “flip” into the magazine all the articles, videos, resources, etc. they’d like students to access. The students subscribe to the magazine and have all that content displayed on their chosen device.
- Creating a multi-media magazine with curated content from a wide range of sources is very easy and very quick!
- Content can be added in a variety of ways, either from within the app itself, or from external sources using a bookmarklet in a mobile or conventional web browser
- The content is always current and looks great on a tablet or smartphone
- Sharing curated content is super easy
- Learners can create and collaboratively curate their own magazines
- No means of tracking whether or not learners have read specific content
- No way of adding interactive quiz questions to target specific language, check understanding or prompt critical thinking
- Interaction with learners within the app itself is limited to ‘liking’ content or adding comments
Nik Peachey brought this simple to use tool to our notice in a BESIG online workshop last year. Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it to deliver video content either embedded in Moodle activities, or on the tool’s own website.
How it works
With an EDpuzzle teacher’s account (free!), you can create lessons using video material from a range of sources (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, TEDEd). Videos can be easily cropped so only the extract you want is viewed by learners. Voice notes can be recorded and added to the videos together with simple quiz questions. All this is done online using the easy-to-use tools the website provides. Learners can view the video lessons on the site, or using their iPhone or iPads (no Android app yet).
- Creating video content from a wide range of sources is easy and very quick – no technical know-how is needed
- The quizzes can be accessed on mobile devices in an attractive app (as yet only iOS) that makes the activities more appealing to many and also good for on the go study
- Quizzes can be embedded in any web page (e.g. class blog, wiki or LMS)
- Tracking of students’ performance is possible
- The range of questions types is limited (although this is, in a way, also an advantage as it make the application easy to use)
- Only one extract at a time can be taken from a video (i.e. each extract from a video needs a separate ‘lesson’)
- The voice over is not selective (i.e. either all the video’s original soundtrack is replaced or none)
- Learners must create an account or have the app to view video lessons unless they are embedded in a web page
I learnt about this easy-to-use online authoring tool from Thomas Strasser’s great little book Mind the App! And I’ve been using it for some time now, and it has proven very reliable.
How it works
This suite of authoring tools was created with teachers in mind. Activities that have been created by teachers and shared by them can be accessed without logging in, but if you want to create your own, you need to have an account (free). Once logged in, you can choose from a wide range of activity and game templates and create your own content. There is always an example of the activity or game you would like to create that you can use as your starting point if you want. You can create as many activities as you want and they remain hosted on the website for you or your students to access whenever needed.
- Relatively easy to use as there are plenty of examples to use as models for your own activities
- Good range of activity types and lots of activities that have been created and shared by other teachers, which you can copy, import into your account and adapt as necessary
- Provided you choose the right type of activities, they work well on mobile devices, even with small screens
- The activities you create can be embedded in any web pages and are also SCORM compliant, meaning that they can be imported into your LMS (e.g. Moodle) if you have one
- Learners can access the activities you create directly without needing an account
- You can create ‘Classes’ and group activities together and then enrol learners to the classes
- The look of the activities can be a little basic (although I’ve had no comments from learners about this so far)
- Tracking of learners’ performance is minimal
- No mobile app (but if chosen with care, activities will work on mobile devices)
This was one of the first authoring tools I ever used and I’m still using some of the activities I produced some years ago. It’s a great place to start if you’re new to producing ‘interactive’ online activities.
We didn’t solve the problem of learners being unwilling or unable to commit the time to their English between lessons we would like, but we did suggest some interesting ways of perhaps tempting some of them to do a little more.
Apps to go
Here are some links to the applications and further information about them: