Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Seeking QIS

In November 2012 I started a blog for teachers at KBZAC at Posterous.  My purpose in creating this post was to show some interesting affordances of Posterous.  However, as of April 30 Posterous ceases to be.  So I moved the post to Blogger, but have lost the affordances.

What Posterous did really well, was when used in conjunction with Jing. Jing gives you the option of capturing screenshots and videos and sharing them online.  This gives each a URL.  When you type this URL into a Posterous blog it displays the image which the link points to.  This cuts out many steps in creating tutorials.
Formerly the steps might go like this: use PrintScreen to capture.  Paste that to PAINT.  Save that as a JPG on your computer.  Open a web space (like Posterous). Insert the JPG where you want it to go.

Many steps can be cut out with other screen capture software like Snaggit or Windows' own Snipping Tool.  Some of these may or may not allow you to annotate the capture (Jing allows that). Normally these other software tools save directly to computer, cutting out the paste-to-PAINT step. But they do not normally provide a one-click URL that Posterous can read as an image.

In the Posterous post, all the images at the URLs listed here displayed.  In this post they will display if you click on the links, or if I click on the links and use save image as to get them on my computer, and then load them into this blog post.  This is probably not worth doing since this exercises was never followed up on, and I am only saving the post here to avoid losing it entirely when Posterous closes down.

The report below is as far as I got with the process in Nov 2012. This is what we were looking for, the QIS site on the HCT Portal

We tried this:

When we clicked on that we got a Server Error

When we find out how to do this correctly, we can use this technique, and perhaps some of what we have here already to create accurate tutorials.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

YouTube and ProProfs: Can we reach students where they live online?

If you take this quiz it will send your responses to Vance's ProProfs account.

I consider my work to be OER (open educational resources) and if you think this might be useful you are welcome to copy it or any part of it to your own ProProf's account, or leave a comment regarding any other online tool that you think will do the job equally well or better.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Learning Vocabulary in an Independent Learning Center

I'm tasked today with thinking how ILC ( Independent Learning Center) activities can be developed to improve reading skills.  The textbook Reading Explorer is being used with the students we are teaching, and the text itself appears authentic, based as it is on National Geographic articles and pictures.  Certainly many readers of this blog will relate to childhoods growing up in anticipation of the newest National Geographic to appear in the mailbox, to be paged through by kids first for the provocative photos, and if interest was sufficiently piqued, for background reading of the text.  Many of this generation have boxes of old National Geographics stored in an attic somewhere, and with all the moving house my wife and I have done, our National Geographics have followed us.

One of the great attractions of living in the UAE is relative ease of travel in the region and farther afield.  The geographic orientation of Reading Explorer should play nicely on this propensity of Emiratis and expats alike to travel.  I can imagine using Google Earth and Google maps to have students plan trips to some of the places mentioned in the readings.  What if  you wanted to visit Machu Pichu, or Orangatuns in Borneo, or the caves in Oman (whose counterpart cave chambers can also be reached in Mulu just south of Brunai in Borneo)?  Google Earth will fly you there, and there are innumerable web resources to help students envisage travel to any part of the world.  Each section in Reading Explorer could have a different student give a presentation on a real or imagined trip.  An ebook could be created in one of any number of spaces online, to be utilized and improved on by current and subsequent students.

Should IELTS be taught with or without activating schema?

In my last posting, I would sometimes get into discussions with colleagues whether when teaching IELTS preparation it was best to try and replicate the experience for students or to stimulate their schemas beforehand.  The colleagues with whom I would have this discussion would hit their students with a reading out of the blue, have them take the practice tests on topics in which they might have little interest and which were often beyond their comprehension, and rely for support on a lesson on debriefing at the end what went wrong.  My approach was different.  I would spend a class in advance in which we would Google the topic and find information and then have them take the test, with subsequent debrief.  I was told that by interjecting prior knowledge and understanding of the topic, I was compromising the experience with an opportunity that the students wouldn't actually be given to prepare the material in advance.  I felt that at the preparation stage this would help the students to better envisage the task even if they would have to leave that step out when they actually took the test.

Besides activating all available schema on reading topics, I think it is important that students read not only what they are assigned to read, but also that they read for enjoyment, out of their own interest.

Task-based work in ILC and student accountability for independent learning there

For students to work on their own interests in an ILC setting, each student must be accountable for making progress toward the agreed upon goal. What I am picturing here is a program in the ILC where students are responsible for ticking off items in their portfolio.  That is each student must submit certain deliverables and budget time in the ILC accordingly.  The process starts with all students signing a EULA, or end-user license agreement, wherein all parties agree to what is acceptable behavior in an ILC and where the line is for unacceptable behavior.  This agreement would acknowledge for all concerned the reason that the ILC has been established for the students, and give the parameters they must meet in order to maintain their privilege of using it.

After that, we specify various categories of deliverables the students are expected to produce.  This would be agreed-upon evidence of performance in areas such as:

  • Project work; for example given a set of readings for a term, students are assigned to one location which they must explain to the others, how they would reach there, what they would find on arrival (attractions besides the ones described in the book). Ideally students would make their presentations at the outset of the KWL approach to the reading for that unit, the K part, or prior knowledge or schema part).
  • Completion of activities associated with the reading that should be set by the teachers of a course for the given readings; this could involved work with online exercises, or critiques of films associate with the readings, or with recommendations and critiques of supplementary multimodal artifacts online, such as YouTube videos, or other visualizations of the material.
  • Evidence of free-reading, such as book reports, exercises completed on graded readers; e.g. evidence of reading on a vocational topic, either publications in print or online.

Learning vocabulary through text analysis

Vocabulary is an important focus of Reading Explorer. Specifically, this entails work with word links (roots, prefixes, and suffixes), partnerships (collocations and phrases), and usage.

One important aspect of vocabulary development is student ownership of the words, and for this reason, students are encouraged to keep lists of new words they encounter with examples of word links, partnership, and usage.  I used to share ideas, and an office in Oman, with Tom Cobb who was working at the time on sets of hypercard stacks that he eventually developed into the Compleat Lexical Tutor (http://lextutor.ca). This is a comprehensive set of word exploration tools that can enable student learning through exploration of the aforementioned features and interrelationships among words.

Tom and I were working at the time with concordancing in the SRC (student resource center) at SQU (Sultan Qaboos University) in Muscat.  I developed a technique which I suggested as a replacement to gap fills whereby bundles of 4 or 5 instances of concordance output were presented for a set of words, and in each bundle the word concordanced was blanked.  The task for students was, rather than find the word from the list that fit any given blank in a passage of continuous prose, find the word from the list that fit the 4 or 5 contexts in each bundle.  I argued through research that this was a more doable and authentic task for students than gap fill exercises sometimes quickly contrived by language teachers to help students with vocabulary (Stevens, 1991).

Learning vocabulary through experimentation with concordancing

KWIC concordances can be used to identify collocations.  KWIC means 'key word in context'.  It's the kind of concordance output that can be sorted so that words left or right of the 'key word' (i.e. word or string being concordanced) can be sorted on and identified. Sometimes much can be learned from playing with this feature, but this can also be limited by the corpus of text used.

It is possible to purchase concordance programs and to either tap into existing corpora or to accumulate one's own.  Brown and LOB are two well-known corpora of over a million words each; whereas the more specific the corpus is, the fewer words, and the more limited its output.  For example, at SQU we in the language department requested and accumulated texts being written by science professors for our students.  Although this work predated the open movement, as in OER (open educatational resources) we did 'share' materials, and I was surprised to hear Michael Barlow reference our corpus in a presentation he gave on text analysis at a TESOL conference only a few years ago.  This relatively limited text base allowed us to create language learning materials for our students, and also produced some surprises, such as where a word that might be introduced in a subject matter text as being important, in fact appeared only once in the entire corpus.

Here is a sampling of corpora available through Tom Cobb's Compleat Lexical Tutor:

There has been a lot written and researched on using concordancing in ESOL.  Nik Peachey has an article online, for example (2005). I have a page on text analysis that I have not maintained all that strongly (http://vancestevens.com/textanal.htm, last updated in 2007), but I have accumulated more recent links in my Delicious account, here: http://delicious.com/tag/concordancer.   

My Delicious links point to PIE (http://phrasesinenglish.org/) which searches the BNC (British National Corpus of over 100 million words).  PIE pulls random hits from the BNC and displays them in the context in which they appear. This gives a good overview of word usage, but because this is not KWIC it is not possible to easily find productive collocations. There are other tools available for querying BNC, available from http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/tools.html, and pointed to via the UCREL site here:  http://bncweb.info/.

Just the Word (http://www.just-the-word.com/) is such a tool, and appears utilitarian in that it pulls out many collocations in its primary analysis (there is even a tool here to view the results in Wordle).  For example, here are an analysis of collocations on the word "familiar" and an alternative visualization in Wordle:

In these examples I'm wondering what happened to the expected "familiar with" but we might have to learn more about how the "clusters" work.  There is also a cousin to Wordle available online, possibly worth checking for any useful affordances: Concordle, http://folk.uib.no/nfylk/concordle/.

There are also concordance programs that can be downloaded for free and run locally.  One is Laurence Anthony's AntConc (http://www.antlab.sci.waseda.ac.jp/software.html) and another is TextSTAT (Simple Text Analysis Tool) from the Frei Universitat Berlin, http://neon.niederlandistik.fu-berlin.de/en/textstat/.  Both of these programs come as exe files that run as-is, without installation on users' computers.  The big catch is that both require users to provide their own corpora.  TextSTAT allows users to pull one in off the Internet.  Note in the screen shot that you have the option to send the spider out for text on just one page, or several pages (I think this means from one or more levels of hyperlinks), or from the entire domain or server.  This could result in quite a lot of text if not used judiciously (although in the end, lots of relevant text is what you want).

What to do about "the big catch" - assembling or finding a corpus

One obvious source of text is the Internet itself. Yet another online concordancer with big promises in this regard is http://www.webcorp.org.uk/live/, which "lets you access the Web as a corpus - a large collection of texts from which examples of real language use can be extracted."  Inputting my test strings 'familar' and 'extreme' here produced surprisingly no results (I even tried the word Google using a Google dbase, no hits).  However, I had better luck when I signed up (free) to use the Webcorp linguists tool at http://wse1.webcorp.org.uk/. Still I didn't see how to sort the output for 'familiar' on collocates to the right, but the pattern 'familiar with' at least appeared to dominate the results.

On the other hand I found Mark Davies's collections of corpora assembled at BYU, http://view.byu.edu/.  You chose a corpus, enter it, and the put in your search term, and it extracts the data.  Again I was unable to sort for collocates on the "familiar" search term, but the databases available seem extensive here.

Where to from here?

I found more programs available; e.g.
I was looking today for an ideal tool that would be freely available online, either web based or running from exe files on a local computer, but that would point to a ready-made corpus, or one compiled at a click from Web URLs, AND that would do some of the common text analysis features of commercial programs, most usefully giving simple searches alphabetically on words immediately left and right of the KWIC.   I found a number of candidates meeting one or more of these criteria, but no one-stop shop for what I was looking for.

When I get more time I might look more closely at 
  • http://lextutor.ca - there might be a tool in there close to what I am looking for
  • TextSTAT, to see how it compiles corpora from Web resources
  •  Mark Davies's collection of resources at BYU, http://view.byu.edu/


Peachey, Nik. (2005). Concordancers in ELT. British Council BBC Teaching English.  Available: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/concordancers-elt.

Stevens, Vance. (1991). Concordance-based vocabulary exercises: A viable alternative to gap-fillers. In Johns, Tim, and Philip King (Eds.). English Language Research Journal, Vol. 4, University of Birmingham, pp. 47-61. Available: http://vancestevens.com/papers/1991_johns_king/vocabex91.htm

Friday, November 9, 2012

Online tools for creating engaging activities for students

Someone asked on a list I follow if there were more updated tools for creating activities for learners online apart from old standby programs like Quia and Hot Potatoes.  From this posting
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/evonline2002_webheads/message/29761 there ensued a lively discussion, pointing to some creative online possibilities. This posting has evolved from the original discussion but those evolutions have been fed back to the original thread.

Compiling this list of tools was only the first step.  Now I am in the process of trying out and evaluating these tools.  One particular need we have in our context is to find tools that will feed back to teachers what the students are doing during class-time in ILC and one-to-one (each student has a laptop or iPad) environments.  As I identify such tools, I'm bringing them to the top of the listing below (some of the other tools might do this, we just haven't identified them yet).

Quiz, exercise, and polling tools that provide feedback to teachers


http://learnclick.com - recommended by Nik Peachey and Larry Ferlazzo, the free trial is for only 7 days, it's $15 a year if you want to just make quizzes, and a pro subscription only a whopping $25 to get the basic features plus ability to collect statistics and grades.  The site is plain, but it's easy to create quizzes here, and if you want feedback on your students, LearnClick will generate user names and passwords for them (doesn't need their emails), you can assign them to take your assessments, and you'll get a report back something like this:

LearningClick lets you make multiple choice quizzes or polls, as well as gapped exercises that work off texts that you supply.


http://www.socrative.com/ - allows teachers to create quizzes and polls which students can answer at their own computers and mobile devices (see review, http://tips2012.edublogs.org/2012/01/31/ipad-app-guide-10-socrative/).  The teacher logs on to the site and opens a room which has a number.  The students visit the student interface http://m.socrative.com and put in the number, then JOIN the room. 

At his or her end the teacher activates exercises which the students can take.  Students are asked their names and a report with those names is emailed to the teacher when the teacher requests it, in the form of an Excel (or Google Docs) spreadsheet.


This one looks promising, at http://kubbu.com

Here's the catch:


http://www.proprofs.com/ - The site has been reviewed by Mike Marzio on his Real English blog: http://the-original-real-english.blogspot.fr/2012/11/proprofs-ideal-quiz-maker.html. He says in his comment (below) that "this site has it all" so certainly worth checking out ...

Here is a quiz created in ProProfs (go ahead, try it out):

On completion, students are awarded certificates, which can be printed or downloaded in PDF format and emailed to the teacher:

But the teacher also gets a report (available via login to the site) that looks like this:

A serious caveat: So that's why the call it PRO profs
This just in from the ProProfs team, free version not very useful for classes larger than 10

And it gets worse ...

Tools that will create exercises based on texts supplied


http://www.textivate.com/ - creates a large variety of text-manipulation exercises from texts you provide. The site is free and allows uploads of texts that can be stored and tagged on the site, then shared via a URL such as this one: http://www.textivate.com/5ydjn1

Textivate is made by a company that created Task Magic, which seems to be the site's money spinner: http://www.mdlsoft.co.uk/index.html. This site allows creation of a range of exercises via a tool that you must install to your computer.  You can run it on a 1-month trial and after that prices range from $185 single user to $335 for ten users, and almost $600 for a school site license, so not in everyone's budget.


Lets you create numerous kinds of simple exercises and share them and access those of others at http://learningapps.org/. Activities include apps for making

  • matching pairs and matching pairs on images
  • matching grid and matrix
  • pair game
  • number line
  • sequence and order
  • cloze test
  • crossword
  • fill table
  • hangman
  • quiz with text input
  • guess
  • horse racing
  • multi-user quiz
  • order challenge
  • where is what?
  • App matrix
  • Audio / video with notices
  • collaborative calendar
  • chat for your website
  • Mindmap
  • Notebook
  • Pinboard 
  • Etherpad
This was recommended by colleagues at BaW (Becoming a Webhead).  They list other computer-based exercise creation tools here:

  • LearnClick, mentioned above
  • Triptico, suggested by Phil Oxtoby, has some activities where you supply text. From its web site at http://www.triptico.co.uk/, "Triptico's desktop app contains over twenty interactive, fully-customisable resources for you to use in your classroom... and it's completely free!"
  • Phil O also uses Dragster from http://www.webducate.net/. Dragster 2 is free though you have to register with the site to store your resources and download the tool to your computer to create them.

Tools we have yet to evaluate
  • http://www.cict.co.uk/textoys/index.php - Just adding items at the top here
  • http://quizlet.com/ is free, unless you want the plus version for only $15 a year.  Either version will let you use Flickr photos but the basic version only allows you to have 8 classes.  The Plus version allows unlimited classes, and you can upload any images you want.  Teachers provide paired items in the form of pictures or text, or combinations of one or both, and the site provides learning tools ranging from flashcards to regurgitation exercises, plus some games to help reinforce the associated pairs.
  • http://en.educaplay.com/ - variety of activities provided (Interactive Map, Riddle, Fill in the blanks, Crossword, Dialogue,Dictation, Jumble Word, Jumble Sentence, Matching, Word Search Puzzle, Quiz and Collection (mash up). You can add images and sound to some of the activities.), free, easy to use and embeddable.  I'm not finding it as user friendly as some of the other sites but I'll keep working on it.
  • http://learningapps.org/ -  lots of templates to create new applications, e.g.multiple-choice-quiz, word grid, matching pairs, find correct order, sequence and order, cloze test, crossword etc. You can add audio or video, too, e.g. a YouTube video.The exercises are embeddable and you even get a QR-code.
  • http://www.classtools.net/ - If you mouse over the list of Templates you get a little visual preview of what they look like. Post-It is very visually oriented, so it's different from the usual quiz or flashcard set. Dustbin is cute, but the Arcade Game Generator lets you input one set of prompts/answers to generate 5 different games. These are all pretty much on the word/vocab level, but they are different kinds of activities.
  • http://www.classtools.net/ - Input one set of questions and answers, and create a whole batch of interactive, arcade-style games. Save them for use in the class, embed them in your blog/website/wiki! 
  • http://clear.msu.edu/teaching/online/ria/ - The tools can be used in many different ways: for in-class activities, student projects, homework, or assessment. Because they are tools, not completed materials, they will work with your textbook, language, and level. RIA is a way to help you easily integrate technology into your language class. The programs, shown below, are free and work in your browser:

In the course of this discussion, this interesting site was mentioned, showing how a number of teachers are putting their lessons on video to tackle an amazing range of classroom grammar and vocabulary issues.

And finally, this Prezi was created by a colleague Lawan Dalha in Nigeria to present the affordances of the site http://www.spellingcity.com/


And once the technology is in place, what can you do with it?
In her blog at http://teachingvillage.org, Barbara Sakomoto writes about what others do with technology in teaching young people, but some activities apply to any level of students, such as the listening and speaking activities suggested by Juan Uribe in this post:

Finally, don't forget games!
There is a later post in this blog about Trace Effects and Where Gaming Meets Pedagogy

And many sites like this one from Fractus Learning, 5 Fun Online Games that Disguise Important Lessons By Laura Bates, Published January 16, 2013

This post introduces 5 games
  • Immune attack "An incredibly exciting and addictive game from the Federation of American Scientists"
  • Logic Puzzles "teaches students to use logic and reason to solve a problem about a mix up with pet adoption ... A particularly useful feature of the site for teachers is that the puzzles can be printed off as worksheets, making them a great classroom activity whether computers are available or not."
  • World Landmarks Puzzles "turns famous landmarks from around the world into jigsaw puzzles"
  • English Memory teaches "important linguistic constructs such as synonyms, antonyms and homonyms, as the game requires them to match words that mean the same as, or opposite of one another"
  • Element Groups for play with "the properties and groups of elements in the periodic table" 
And there are more here: 

help students make their own games using some of these coding tools suitable for kids and for adults who still think they are kids: Scratch, Alice, Hackety Hack, Code Academy, OpenClassroom, Code School, and for programming apps on the iPod, Codea.