The good, the bad & the online talk

Thanks to a recent blog by CogDog which made me laugh and want to readdress this draft post that I have been reluctant to share.

Talking at a conference is something I whole-heartedly enjoy; from the welcoming address to the sessions, the exhibits and the schmoozing, well, it is an undeniably enriching experience. Unfortunately, in May, circumstances prevented me from attending IALLT in Atlanta, Georgia, notwithstanding my every effort and desire. Fortuitously, I was still able to virtually present via Elluminate Live!, a real-time virtual classroom environment designed for distance education and collaboration in academic institutions and corporate training.

I am extremely grateful that my co-presenter, Sharon Scinicariello of the University of Richmond, indulged me by allowing me to use Elluminate so I could present my contribution to our presentation on Netvibes and Pageflakes (it’s posted on slideshare so feel free to peruse it)iallt09
It really saved what could have been a faux pas on my part (i.e., not presenting) so for this reason, I am thrilled that I have my Elluminate classroom. And there are some things about which I wasn’t so thrilled.

The good, the bad and the chipmunk
Like every good technology user knows, it is always wise to do a run through with the technology before hand to ensure, with a degree of certainty, that there won’t be any issues with the tool being used. Sharon and I had met in my Elluminate classroom to talk about the presentation the day prior to the actual talk. She was in the room assigned to us (the conference logistics worked out perfectly) and I in my home study.

To prepare for the presentation, I would suggest the following:

  • Enter the configuration room prior to the meet-up (this is done independently, and it is suggested that you do it the day before you actually use it, just in case). It is essential that there are no technical issues with a user’s computer or connections.
  • The speaker (me, in this case) should use a headphone with microphone to block out any type of noise. System speakers are fine, however, the background noises are easily transmitted too, so the microphone really limits the sound heard by the audience.
  • Test the audio. Always good to know what you will sound like as your voice is projected on speakers in the room. Also, remember you will hear your own voice and must not let it distract you from your talk. Btw, don’t forget the lag…using an Internet is a blessing as well as a curse: after brief pauses, Elluminate would still transmit what I said, however, I sounded like a chipmunk (high-pitched and very quick…if anyone remembers LPs, it was like playing a 33rpm at 45rpm).
  • Give your co-presenter moderator privileges. Since she is in loco, it makes sense that she control the slideshow and be privy to all the gadgets and features of Elluminate Live!

Now, in terms of giving the presentation, I highlight 5 key points from CogDog’s blog post on Deadly Online Seminars. Read it for yourself to truly appreciate his advice…and humour!

  • Make it hard to even get inside.
  • Don’t let your participants know who else is there.
  • Make it hard or impossible for the audience to communicate with each other.
  • Don’t greet the audience or make them feel welcome. I got into this session 15 minutes before it started, and there was no chat message, no welcome screen (the presenters were flipping slides), and on one greeted or welcomed the audience.
  • Ignore your audience, make ‘em wait til you fill the hour with your voice, do not involve them at all.

I would love to receive any additional advice you may have to offer, as I will be doing another online talk in a few weeks for LARC’s Social Media Safari. Thanks in advance! 🙂

Annunci

courses taking on a new design in SP09

The end of another academic year is coming to a close and this brings me much relief. I would like to focus my efforts on my tenure package and continue to ride on the wave of teaching with technology in my department. This is an exciting time for the department, the most exciting in fact in the last 4 years. There has been some experimental redesigning of course syllabi with technology, but now, there is going to be a more concentrated effort on offering these courses in a more official manner.

One of the greatest downfalls in teaching with technology, as I have found, is that so many people implement technological tools to such varying degrees but then do not necessarily share this information, so it always feels like you are reinventing the wheel when you have a brainshower and want to do something pedagogically sound and technology-enhanced. Case in point, how many of my colleagues know that at our institution this spring term alone offered 26 online courses (many in the MBA program) and 34 hybrid courses. These numbers are surprising because I don’t know how many of us are aware of whom else is experimenting with this new course format and I wonder if there have been any conversations that have arisen from it…

Our college has now initiated a dialogue about hybrid and online courses with our first meeting scheduled Thursday. One question that has always intrigued me about hybrid courses is: how do we define it? By what parameters are we limited? After some research, I’ve discovered that there is no singular definition. This may or may not be disturbing (depending on just how prescriptive one may wish to be—or not!) but I think it is time that we share ideas with the hope of creating a model that works within our community, with our student population and with the support of administration. Our personal objectives will always remain very distinct (as they should be), but we really need to come together to enhance our common vision and promote it, as I believe this is very important.

The great thing for my department is that we have all been given the thumbs up to explore the degree to which and the manner in which we will develop our hybrid and/or online courses. So what is new in my department in Spring 2009? Well, there will be some fully online courses (intro Italian I & II courses), the use of SL in another major elective course, and a hybrid course for FL teaching methods. There is one additional member of our department who will also be teaching a hybrid course for a further major elective course, but I am unsure of how she will approach it.

Given the array of courses and course designs, we must remember that as with all good teaching strategies, to understand teaching styles with respect to technological tools is just as important as appreciating different teaching styles and types of teachers; each one of us can all constructively contribute to the dialogue of this new direction for our college/university.

So I’d like to ask you about your experience with hybrid/online courses. Have you ever been a teacher or student of one? What would you rate positively? negatively? Any words of wisdom you’d be willing to share?

on a new model for education

although I downloaded the article as soon as it appeared online, I just read Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance this past weekend. I had my usual lapsus calami and for the nth time this year, questioned what I do. Like Mike Wesch, I teach at a large public university. Also like Wesch, I teach, for the most part, required courses for which students put in a minimal effort. Unlike him, I do not have large classes, because they are capped at 25 (though they usually are closer to 30). Unlike him, the content being delivered is in a foreign language and one thing that I have discovered with each passing year is that if a student takes degree requirement courses reluctantly in English, many have an even stronger aversion to those offered in foreign languages. The excuses range the gamut: I’m not good at languages to why should I study languages? everyone speaks English.

I applaud Wesch for what he does in his classroom—he wants his intro to Cultural Anthropology students to co-construct knowledge about different topic areas, not only to explore them, but to live them through World Simulation. As I read the brief methodology he presents in the last paragraphs of his article, I chuckled to myself: not because I dismiss it but rather because I embrace it. I have been using such a technique, under the guise of foreign language level-appropriate communicative activities.

Since the 80s, foreign language educators have been trying to encourage students to simulate various scenarios that they would encounter if they were in an environment where the foreign language is used. Providing students with authentic input (this is where the Internet as a “medium” helps students get “the message”) and having them attempt to negotiate meaning and construct knowledge is at the base of each and every lesson. Ask any of my students if they are able to sit where they lay their backpack in my class, and the answer is no. They move around a lot, with partners or in groups, working on jigsaw activities, where each student is responsible for becoming and expert on his/her topic then moving on with other groups to share information and knowledge and learn from his/her classmates. They simulate, role-play, discuss, share and reach the objective of the activity, doing this for the most part in the foreign language. 

The fact that this methodology, these techniques are being implemented in courses other than language courses gives me hope. Why? Because it is not just “those crazy language people” who have unconventional ideas about the teaching and learning dyad.

Ay, there is the rub—the out-dated educational model. Students come to my class expecting a lecture … some even in English. Apparently, the grammar translation method to language learning is still alive and well in many classrooms and institutions in this entire continent. We, as a department as well as a united front with other FL departments, have pleaded with the university administration to allow us to address the issue of how foreign languages are learned in the freshman seminar offered to our students. To date, we have been unable to get time in that seminar.

This tells us that administrators too are unaware or wish to remain uneducated about acquisition theories and techniques and the role of technology in language teaching and learning pedagogy. Moreover, they fail to recognize that the “lecture” designation given to our courses is completely inaccurate, arbitrary and unsound.

So, how can we update this model of education? Do we start at the top and work our way down to the students, or do we start with our students and move up the hierarchy? What do you think?

teaching with twitter…the epilogue

Update: as a prelude to this presentation, I was interviewed by lead instructional designer Peter Campbell of Montclair on Twitter. Here is the link to three podcasts recently made available on the University website. I hope you may find some value in my words and my academic use of twitter. It was a truly memorable experience. Thanks again to all my friends and colleagues who have been instrumental in the twittosphere and beyond…

today I presented a faculty forum on teaching with Twitter. I had a good turnout (small group but they were interested) and a cheering section. At the end of the presentation, I went live to my fellow Twitterers to say hello and I want to thank all those who replied. The response was instantaneous–and the audience impressed. 

some of the things that people who didn’t attend may have missed included: 1) my stunning Italian linen dress 😉 ; 2) some notes and observations on twitter in education; and 3) good questions about twitter. Below, I give you some of the key ideas on twitter & teaching and I hope they might encourage you to think about it as a tool in whatever line of work you do.

   

I want to thank a group of followers for graciously providing me with screenshots for my presentation, which really provided a grasp of the various ways to tweet: Francesco, Luke, Milos, and Sharon, and, of course Michael, for retweeting and saving me, yet again.

Anyone interested in developing twitter as a FL classroom tool, in more defined ways, please contact me as I think it’s truly valuable.

P.S. Thanks also to AJ, who was tweeting about my presentation during my presentation! Didn’t see this until today.

 

test-driving pageflakes

Pageflakes is an application that has been around for over a year, but, like many things, I sometimes get around to things a little late…hopefully, unlike past things, it is not too late. It is a competitor to Netvibes, iGoogle, etc. that uses widgets and modules to create your personal pagecast and share it or keep it to yourself.

I set up my personalized pageflakes startpage and am interested in playing more with it. Like many things, I am trying to take baby steps, to determine what it is I wish to do with it and where I believe I might be able to do with it (or it can do for me)

 pageflake.jpg

Does anyone already have a pagecast? Are there any suggestions, comments or feedback with which you could provide me?  Delving into new Web 2.0 apps is exciting, but since I tend to push the “pedal to the metal”, maybe a speed detector is the way to go this time…

Presentations…using PowerPoint (or Keynote or anything else)

A presentation that uses a software program like PowerPoint can enhance a talk by providing visual cues for elaboration and development, and aiding people who maximize understanding with seeing what is being said rather than just hearing it.

When the software is not used effectively, it becomes a page of written text in which the audience gets lost  because they are more prone to try to read all that stuff (“Ssh! Mr. Speaker I’m trying to read, be quiet!”) instead of listening to the speaker develop the key concepts/terms. And of course the implications for the presenter: what type of eye contact does he/she make with the audience when there is so much text to read from either the screen or monitor?

Look at the example here:
sample1.jpg

Now look at something a tad more appealing with good use of text & images:
sample2.jpg

Need I say more?

Then, there is also the issue of transitions and animation which we all like for the WOW! factor. Problem is that before we use it we aren’t interested in learning about it. We click these “cool” options, let the software program randomly choose the effects and we don’t bother modifying or adjusting things. As an end user of software, yeah, the possibilities are endless. As a good end user, we are quick to judge what is ineffective and correct it.

I shouldn’t toot my own horn, but after years of training in marketing, I prepare some fantastic presentations. I also, for a short while, trained the corporate and academic world on creating effective PowerPoint presentations (part of a previous career). Ultimately, the advice I am willing to share with everyone is don’t use it just because everyone else does (didn’t your mother warn you about that long ago?). Use it as a tool to enhance what you need to say, not just present what you are going to read to them.