Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where we've reached at the end of week 1

After a 4 days of professional development at KBZ, we pause to have a look at where we have reached.

Stats on this blog show that someone has been looking at it every day, presumably fewer people than indicated, visiting the blog more than once in a day.

As you know, this course has been mounted organically over the past week, as in effect many courses we are called upon to teach are.  When challenged with having to create courses and give them coherence in a very short time frame, my approach is to call into play a number of digital tools that have happily emerged over the past decade.  I call this approach DIYLMS, or do-it-yourself learning management system.  I gave talks on this approach at a number of conferences last year, including the TESOL Conference in Dubai, and documented what I developed here:

Accordingly, I started out with this blog and arrayed several tabs at the top (called "pages" in Blogger) which would invite users to explore various facets of the course. I got participants into the Google system so that we could be working with shared Google Docs. I documented what we did each day in a wiki I created at, and as the course progressed day-by-day I created a table of contents there for easier navigation on the Front Page, and a sidebar to provide quick links to some of the artifacts we have placed online. For example, you can use the sidebar there to go to any of the Google Docs we have created for the course (handy to have a listing in one place) and you can see as participants create Prezi's and blogs, what the links are.

When I do this with students, they learn gradually what my system is, and their feedback suggests that they are able to adapt to it to predict where course components will be, and they appreciate having the clarity of being able to find what is expected of them online.  They have also mentioned in their postings that it's useful to see what other classmates have produced, both as models and as an indication of the standards expected.

What we need to do today

Student Google accounts

If you want to get your students into the Google Doc system, you'll have to help them create Google accounts.  Today would be a good day to do that because in addition to providing their age (to show they aren't children) and alternate email address (for password recovery) they might have to provide a mobile phone number where a verification code can be sent. If you have them set this up today, then they can get the code at the weekend, and return Sunday to complete account creation.

Update the progress chart

For your own continued PD, please bring this form up to date so we can see how far along everyone is in the 20 steps, and know how to pace ourselves for the coming week:

Bring yourself up to speed with Prezi

I have noticed that Trevor was teaching his students Prezi and Darrin and Rene appear to have had prior experience with it.  Viviana, Kevin, and Phillip J have been gamely coming to grips with it.  If you need a boost I have made a start on materials that I hope will help you and your students master Prezi. Have a look:

Start your blog

When you've created a Prezi and started a blog, enter their URLs on the Google Doc worksheet here:

On that worksheet you will find screen shots, made with Jing, that explain what URLs you should report, and what you need to supply as a TITLE for your blog, and how its address will look.  If you need help with this, you can ask Kevin, Rene, or Viviana, who have all gone through the process.

Get Jing

Jing is useful tool, as you have probably noticed.  You can download it from

Create an account at PBWorks

If you think you might like to set up your own wiki course one day, the first step is to create an account at

Be thinking about your surveys

Next week we'll get into and create and present surveys (report results last period next Thursday?). The process of survey creation is worth going through because there are many pitfalls at discreet points which you'll need to be aware of in order to get your students through them.  I have students prepare their ideas in Google Docs, which is why I asked you to sketch your idea for a survey in a Google Doc and share it with at least one other person for feedback.

I notice that no one has taken that step this week, but it is an important part of the process you might wish to experience before you try it on students, so if you are caught up through half the steps so far, then this is the next one you might consider.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Giving some thought to gaming

Yesterday I was invited to teach a class on short notice and so I set something up as quickly as I could.  While I was doing that the class went off and no other returned, but this gave me the opportunity to think through and further prepare my idea, which is now ready to trial.

This idea stems from the work of Graham Stanley and Kyle Mawer who co-author the blog Graham developed a presentation on genre of games he was exploring through his work at the British Council and blogged it here If you're interested in using games with your students, then these blogs are both worth exploring.

One of the games mentioned at the latter link is Samorost. This is not a free game but several levels of Samorost 2 are available for free online <>.  The most beneficial thing about these games for language learners is that there are often cheats or spoilers developed by others who have played the game that will walk you through them, in the case of Samorost 2, someone has helpfully created

I came up with an activity that would exploit these two items using another tool worth knowing, Etherpad.  Etherpad was a company that created a workspace which many people could visit without logon and write in the same space in real time.  The company was acquired by Google but the software had been open source, and the code therefore exists online in a number of places.  If you Google 'etherpad clones' you can find many of them; for example those listed here: However, not all clones are cloned equally.  Some limit the number of simultaneous users, and they vary in their quality of hosting.  The one I'm using now is a Mozilla version,

For your students, if we get a chance to try this, I've set up a number of Etherpad spaces and given them TinyURLs so we can remember where they are (this is another tool you should know about,  To reach them you start here:

There you will find the rules for a writing activity based on the game, also given at Several Etherpad spaces were set up for students to write in.  As I had time to prepare the spaces (open an etherpad, copy/paste seed material into it, give it a tinyURL) I was able to set up several spaces where your students can divide into teams so each team can go to the same space as a small group.  The spaces have time sliders and save points so when someone in the group eradicates what everyone else has done, prior work can be recovered.  This is more easily done in small groups than in large ones. If the students act responsibly then they will figure out how to avoid wiping out all of what is there.  Like riding a bike, it's a little wobbly at first.

I'll be in the ILC today and if you'd like to try this on students then this is what we'll do ...

  • This is a game your students can play in teams of 4 or 5 students, each at a computer
  • One student opens the instructions, another the game, the others the links to the SAME version of the Writing space
  • Then they follow instructions.  Be sure you assign the teams numbers and make sure they work in that team document.
  • The object of the exercise is to collaboratively produce a written description of what happened in Poklop
    • The description is created in a document they can all write on at one, like Google Docs
    • In case of need, there is disaster recovery.  On your computer, click SAVE often so you'll have a point to get back to. 
  • If they like it, and want to continue, we can set up the next level for them

This kind of activity would be better done in Google Docs.  Etherpad lets multiple users write in the same space, which can be useful, but users have little accountability there.  Unless all users of the space conduct themselves responsibly, activities there can be sabotaged (they can be recovered, but this is inconvenient in the middle of a class activity).  A better way to do this would be to have one student start a Google Doc and share it with the others.  Then each user of the space is known and accountable.  If a mistake is inadvertently made, the space can be easily reverted to the input of the last viable user. Things work more smoothly and professionally if users share with other known users.  Accidents and deliberate sabotage are much less likely and recovery to the last tenable position is a mouse-click away.

Tomorrow, Thu, the goal will be to get your students signed up at Google.  They can give their mobile phone numbers.  Over the weekend, they can get the confirmation code Google sends instantly from their mobile phones and on Sunday complete the process of registering their Google accounts.

Heading out to KBZ now, see you there ...

Monday, September 17, 2012


Good morning, our mandate has been expanded beyond preparation for teaching the Academic Communications course (with focus on the set of tools specific to that) to consideration of a more general toolkit that will be useful right away in helping students to focus on language-related tasks in the ILC.

As this expansion of mandate requires thought that has got me up very early  in the morning, I will add more (and change wording) here as the day progresses.  I'm thinking now of how to organize this the way I typically do when given a class to teach at short notice.  My class wikis are generally created in response to just such a challenge, the need to organize a curriculum around a rough syllabus quickly and in such a way that participants in the course can discern its coherence and follow its threads out a mind-mapped network of links.

I've decided to call the new wiki KB2012PD.  This can be both a short name for a course and a tag (for use with Twitter, Delicious and Diigo, Spezify ... ). More on tags later, but for now let's understand that a tag can be useful mooring for information collected by a group.

I'm also thinking how to crowd-source our knowledge both on what we already know about using the ILC effectively with students and what we can discover.  We might consider working in teams and partnerships.  That is, in creating your own artifacts to share with one another, you might find that one person is good at putting together a wiki or a Google Doc with links, and another at finding content to populate that wiki, and someone else has a flair for graphics, and so on.  We might form teams that could work to help each other understand how the many pieces are loosely joined.

Here are some things I'm thinking about that might help, and I'll try to put flesh on these bones (in the form of links) as the day goes on:
  1. YouTube - one approach is to grab the students where they like to be.  YouTube can be useful for language learning. How can that fact be exploited? < > I'm aware that teachers have created websites with lesson plans for working with YouTube, and there's
  2. TEDTalks - There are similarly lesson plans for language learners exploiting TEDTalks; e.g.  <>
  3. GoogleDocs - This can be a very useful tool in working with large groups while  effectively and efficiently providing feedback.  One problem though is that Google seems bent on sending verification codes to mobile telephones. Let's shoot for getting students signed up with Google accounts Thursday, let them send codes to their mobiles if needed, they can get the codes over the weekend, and complete the process on Sunday, when we can have a Google Doc rollout.
  4. Curation - How many of you use - This is a great site for collecting information as you find it on the Web and displaying it for others to access. We can explore existing scoop.its and those interested can create niche sites that will collate useful ILC materials for others to explore.
  5. Games - There are interesting games that can be played with language learners in conjunction with the text-rich "cheats" or "spoilers" available on the Internet; e.g. < >, more information at . There are also web sites compiled by English teachers pointing to a wide variety of language games < >
  6. Text manipulation - There are sites that will process text that you supply to create a variety of language games (cloze, storyboards, shuffled spellings and sentences; e.g.  <>
  7. IELTS sites - There are again a lot of teachers who have put IELTS related sites on the Internet.  These sites tend to find materials that lend themselves to IELTS tasks and then make IELTS-style worksheets for them.  
    1. An interesting one that I used recently was based on a video about Amelia Earhart < >.  There are recent developments in her case that students can find from Google and report on, to augment those materials.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


This blog has been created to help teachers at CERT managed colleges in UAE understand how a course in Academic Communication was designed and implemented last semester at the UAE Naval College in Abu Dhabi, and why it was designed that way.

Its intent is to help organize and direct teacher's attention to various components of the course, and how they can learn to master those components in order to teach those Web 2.0 tools comfortably to their students in their own versions of the Academic Communication course.

This course was the topic of a presentation given recently at a distance to delegates at the 2012 ELTAI Conference in Vellore, India.


The presentation lasts about 15 minutes (not counting the questions at the end) and with apologies for the sound problems in the first minute of the recording (they disappear) please listen to this mp4 excerpt of the presentation:

There is more information at the other links related to this presentation
In addition, a write-up on the course now ended is being prepared for the September 2012 issue of the TESL-EJ  < >.  The draft version (in progress) is here: