Sunday, 29 March 2009

Photo sharing on project Ning

I have been tracking the process of our international online school project WHAZZUP? in this blog. This time I'm going to reflect on the photo sharing feature that the Ning platform offers.


In only 3 months an amazing 757 photos have been uploaded by the 207 members of the project. Of interest is that the membership has been steadily increasing and we only hit the 200 mark last week. In the first month we reached 113 members, who uploaded 304 photos. In other words, in the last 2 months the number of photos has increased proportionately more than the membership.


The way the Ning photo sharing system works is that each member has a 'My photos' album on their profile page, where an ongoing slideshow of that member's photos is running.

When you click 'My Photos', you will be able add more, rearrange them, make albums, rename them, as well as add tags, titles and captions.

In addition to each member's profile page, a joint pool of all network photos is collected with each new individual photo being added there, and a slideshow being shown on the network main page.


I made a quick list of all the 757 pictures, trying to find common themes to them and came up with the following list:

  • with friends 192
  • self-portraits 170
  • travelling 152
  • hobbies/freetime 112
  • scenery 95
  • artistic 71 (eg. their own drawings)
  • school 52
  • family 31
  • pets/animals 31
  • celebrities 25 (question of copyright violation here!)
  • miscellaneous 25

There is some overlap between these categories, since the same photo can come up in several (ie. a travelling photo with a scenery, a hobbies photo with friends). When given free hands to choose the photos young people want to upload, self-promotion through several self-portraits, and many pictures where they pose with their friends top the list.

Some time ago I posted some questions for students to answer in the discussion forum to gain some insight into their thought processes. Question number 3 read:

How do you decide what photos to upload? Why do you upload photos here in general?

Disappointingly, only 12 students have answered so far. They say they post pictures, because they hope others will like them, or to enhance their page. Some say they are trying to find others who share their interest through the choice of pictures. Some fall into the stereotypical 'generation me' category by stating, for example "I choose photos which I look good in. I think it makes you feel good to see a nice picture of yourself." It would be easy to draw conclusions about young people today being more self-centred than before - a trait even more accentuated by the easy access to online self-promotion. Just as was stated in a New York Times article last year:

Conventional wisdom, supported by academic studies using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, maintains that today’s young people — schooled in the church of self-esteem, vying for spots on reality television, promoting themselves on YouTube — are more narcissistic than their predecessors.

Yet, as Stephanie Roosenbloom in the article goes on to reflect, this may be largely a myth, and just part of the natural cycle of the behaviour of the young through the ages being a shock to their elders.

ISSUES TO CONSIDER 1: guidelines for photo publishing

We did provide the NETIQUETTE, which also contains advice about the use of photos, and have told teachers many times to make sure that they go through these plus the COPYRIGHT guidelines with their students. To my delight, I can say only a few cases have called for teacher censorship - weekend boozing pictures or insignia of extremist political movements have been strictly deleted by teachers, for example. Once again proof of the blurry line between freetime social networks and a school project environment. This is a crucial question, I think, when deciding what the eventual value of the use of social networks in a school setting is. At least I keep questioning to what extent they actually enable student learning, or whether they are just 'something fun' to occupy the students and, for the teachers, proof that they are 'in with the times' by using the latest online tools.

ISSUES TO CONSIDER 2: managing the large pool of photos

One problem at the moment is that making sense of close to 800 pictures is quite a task. Only 10 albums have been created so far. In my opinion, what could be improved on the services of Ning is to give the network managers the facility to later on regroup the existing photos from all the members into suitable albums, for example.

ISSUES TO CONSIDER 3: a purpose for the photos?

From a case study point of view, giving students free range to upload any photos they like (within the parameters of a set netiquette and copyright, of course) gives an interesting glimpse into their lives - or, on second thoughts, maybe a rather expected one. Unsurprisingly really, friends, hobbies and travelling feature strongly in the choice of uploaded photos. What I am wondering is whether it would be 'more educational' to give them clear tasks of what photos to take and choose with the international student audience in mind. Then again, this might easily lead us in the trap of the students losing their sense of 'ownership' of the site, where they have certain freedoms of self-expression and the photo feature just becoming yet another boring teacher-dictated homework chore. Would we perhaps see very few photos uploaded as a result of such an approach? If you read my earlier posts (this one for example), various aspects of this same dilemma have troubled me all through the project.

Once again I come back to the recurring problem of finding a working compromise between social and educational networks. Young people typically join a social network to mainly keep in touch with their everyday face2face friends - for example, to share pictures of their weekend adventures, to exchange gossip, or to plan events. Recently I came across an interesting interview with Danah Boyd, who has done a lot research into social networks and youth behaviour, where she said the following about sites, such as MySpace and Facebook:

These are frequently discussed as social networking sites, as though the primary activity of these sites is to meet new people and interact with strangers. In fact, young people are using this to socialize with the people they already know, their pre-existing social network. They’re communicating with their friends, people they know from church, from summer camp, from baseball. We have this belief that kids are just addicted to social network sites. If anything, they’re addicted to their friends.

The same seems to go for our project, where many still seek their own classmates - for safety, familiarity or to have yet another forum for their casual daily exchanges. Mind you, in a foreign language for many of them, but this doesn't seem to deter them. The 'birds of a feather' syndrome seems to apply in particular to students who are struggling with English the most. Maybe this same phenomenon explains why students seem to upload mostly pictures of themselves with their friends, because their friends are truly the audience they are uploading them for - forgetting the more edifying purpose of cultural sharing that their teachers might have in mind. Maybe for this reason also they don't even think to give their photos good titles or write captions to explain what is happening - their friends know exactly what is happening anyway. Comments on photos are almost non-existent, too (unless it's us teachers trying hard to break the ice there). Possibly it's the sheer overwhelming number of the photos that makes students lose interest and not even bother to go through all of them, even though they might find truly interesting gems amongst the mass. Naturally all this is merely my speculative guess-work into students' motivations, but it does raise questions about the possible need for teachers to guide their focus somehow to enhance the learning experience. Or am I just unable to see the true educational value of the new style of social interactions taking place on these sites?


Speculations aside, the urgent question remains – how to now make use of this magnificent resource of photos for learning? I have started collaborating with our arts teacher at school to design various 'photo quest' type activities to introduce to all the members. Students could, for example, analyse the style of the hundreds of self-portraits and see if there are common trends across the continents. Or they could find all the students' drawings and make a slideshow of them by using the online Animoto service, for example. Alternatively students could find trends in fashions in the different countries, compare any school-related information the photos convey, or simply produce a collage or a slideshow to depict the diversity of the members in our project. For the slideshows, we will need to update our COPYRIGHT information to really highlight the responsible use of background music and to avoid too much censoring afterwards. I can just imagine students producing countless slideshows of their own photos with their favourite top hits blasting in the background!

Finally, I think there is one thing we still need, though - a tempting enough perk to make students take up these activities. Unfortunately, the reality in institutionalised education in many countries is that many students are so used to being spoon-fed information by their teachers that they haven't found the need to develop very advanced skills in self-directedness and self-motivation. Standardised curricula, testing and grading also tend to lead to a vicious circle of motivation only through threats of penalties in their grade, which is hardly a desirable starting point for participating in collaboration and dialogue with students around the work. If students don't see an instant materialistic gain in the form of a higher grade for an activity, many opt out and don't bother to make any effort. Sad, but true... It takes a lot of enthusiasm, courage and pioneer spirit from teachers to still persist and carry on international projects in this environment. I am so happy that I have found many like-minded teachers around the world, who work hard to initiate some change in schools.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Earth hour 2009, Turku Finland

Getting ready to switch off all the lights in about 12 minutes now. Just checked the Finland earth hour site and, to my delight, found out that my hometown is among the 103 Finnish communities who are going to observe the global event. Interesting to see what will happen... Will all the street lights be go dark, for example?

It's been snowing all day so it won't actually be all that dark even without any lights anywhere, although darkness has fallen already.

Following Earth hour on Twitter was interesting, and for the first time really made me happy I joined Twitter in the end! From there I happened to see the following link

Wow, following that link it was interesting to see the difference compared to this photo of mine from last December. This really made me happy for the first time that I joined Twitter after all!

But, buuhuu, Earth hour Finland is here, and all the streetlights are still glaring! Not much of an effort from our local government. I expect all they did was to switch off the lights from the administration buildings...

In our house, though, it's like Christmas in candlelight. It rather looks like Christmas outside, too, with soft snow still quietly falling down.

Even our fishies in the fishtank are having an early night. I will now switch off the computer, too, and reflect in the dark for the rest of the hour.

Friday, 27 March 2009

From the mouths of teenagers

Last weekend we had to go and find an external USB hard drive for our daughter's laptop, who had just filled her hard disc up with files and folders, mainly photos, to the extent that the computer had gotten incredibly slow and there was no spare space left for anything new. Little did she realize how long it would take her to move all those files from the laptop to the external device. In fact, he was still working on it past midnight with a school day looming ahead the next morning and, unsurprisingly, getting quite frustrated with the slow procedure. In the end, she burst out:

And that with the cocky know-it-all tone only 18-year-olds are capable of... Brilliant!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Social media is like candy

As kids we were not given sweets every day, not even every week, but, in particular, never before meals. Later, when my daughter was a child, dentists and nurses used to recommend rationing by allowing only one 'candy day' a week, rather than letting children have a non-stop feast of sugary snacks - for obvious health reasons. Sweets are addictive.

For me, sugar is clearly something I'd better avoid as much as possible. If there is an open box of candy or chocolate around, I just can't keep my fingers off it. This then invariably leads to the infamous 'sugar blues' soon afterwards and a vicious circle of more hunger and craving for equally damaging white-floury foods. Over the years there will be tooth problems, an ever-expanding waistline, not to mention a senselessly unhealthy diet when, instead of good nutrients, you constantly fill yourself up with totally useless empty calories. Withdrawal symptoms are out of this world - the irritability, crankiness and headaches that follow not having the regular sweet doses. All this in on my mind now, as I have just been studying a Finnish writer/journalist/healthy nutrition promoter's article on how to kick your sugar addiction in 35 days.

Today it occurred to me that my online social media consumption habits are quite similarly revolving around getting the next fix of updates. Just like any other addict, I can't help clicking away. I might have to adopt a form of rehab here, too, as with more and more interesting social web applications on offer, setting the limits is getting too much of a challenge for me.

Ever since we got a teacher's laptop with internet installed in every classroom at school last autumn, I have found myself checking my email, Facebook wall, and most recently twitter even during lessons while students are working independently. So not necessary. The world won't come to an end, even if I wait till I get home - or even till the next day - to check all this. But the laptop sitting on the teacher's desk in class is the irresistible tempting candy box for me.

And the same routine goes on at home, too.

My super-handy small laptop that goes with me from room to room - literally a LAPtop, which I can comfortably work on in any position sitting up or lying down! - and a wireless internet connection in the whole house are a dangerous combination. Just recently, I have got into the habit of placing it on the kitchen table while cooking. Just a few minutes spare that it take for a pan to warm up, or water to boil, are just enough to check up a snippet online. Alarming!

I could probably do with 'an internet fast', just as a religious friend of mine is doing once a week for Lent.

Photo: Eye Candy by loonatic on Flickr

Friday, 20 March 2009

The art and dangers of twittering

Shortly after finally joining Twitter myself, I read this Time article by Lev Grossman. It made me increasingly concerned about how I would find the time to keep updating and take part in yet another online forum. Would I also soon be totally addicted and unable to kick the habit, which in my present, busy as it is, lifestyle is far from wise?

No need for concern, though, at least so far. I still haven't got the slightest clue what I'm supposed to do there. I'm following two people and one group of people, and my first attempts of tweets have probably made me come across just as the ugly duckling in the Disney animation. You remember the scene where the ducklings hatch, and after the genuine cute yellow ducklings have made there presence heard by quacking after one another - beautifully, in exactly the same proper-duck style, out comes the white ugly one proudly letting out his first sound to become part of the brood, but poor thing only manages to produce a low out-of-tune caw that startles and puts off the rest of the duck family. I expect my first tweets have had this same effect on the 'genuine tweeting in-crowd' - if they even have been noticed. Oh well, just as with any online environment, it does take some time to get initiated in the appropriate culture.

Come to think of it, I experienced the same process with the new feature of Facebook, where people were first able to comment on their friends' status updates. When I received the first ever of those comments, I was rather surprised at first, but somehow pleased at the same time - somebody had reacted to me revealing my mood or some (rather trivial!) occurrence of my daily existence. Now I truly enjoy the 'X many people like this' thumbs-up signs after my status updates - so much so that it has made me update my Facebook status more frequently than I used to, and also made me type my instant reactions to my friends' statuses.

Oh, but this process has just reminded me of a Finnish tweet I did see the other day, which led me to this website, where the guy has visualised the different stages of adopting social media. A rough translation in English would be (from bottom up): fear/apprehension, trial, motivation, active use, understanding, love. Well put, I think, although the English comment underneath sounds a bit like me at this stage! I seem to have an inherent, initial scepticism about any new net application, but some of them do manage to gradually to grow on me and reveal their usefulness in unexpected ways. Let's see if the meaning of Twitter will soon crystallise for me! Probably my next step should be to find many more interesting people to 'follow'.

Photo: Twitter Pack by carrotcreative on Flickr

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Incorporating project work into regular EFL classes

Instead of doing international projects just for the sake of doing projects, I am always looking for good and productive ways of incorporating projects into regular curriculum work. As I have mentioned countless times before, it is not a simple task in our present, rather unique and unusual, senior high school (or senior secondary school - i.e. the school preparing 16-19-year-olds for further studies at polytechnics or universities, for example) system.

This year I am making a conscious effort to this end - firstly, to look into creating a working online platform for true exchange between young people around the world, and secondly, to bring some authentic language use into the EFL classroom. Our WHAZZUP? project Ning has been active for over two months now, with quite pleasing results. According to google statistics, the overall visit rate was up over 70 % from January to February.

Today being St. Patrick's Day in the Irish communities around the world, and with our new EFL course book actually having a unit on Ireland, I had already taken this into account in my initial course planning, and saved the Ireland part for this week. As an introduction we had already done a quiz on some basic, general knowledge about Ireland and looked at the pictures our textbook offered.

It so happens that one of our partner schools in the WHAZZUP? project is St. Michael's Holy Faith Secondary school in Dublin. Some girls from my English class, who also take part in our optional 'international project course', had sent the Irish girls (it's an all-girls school, another interesting discussion point for us Finns where all schools are mixed these days!) some questions concerning St. Patrick's Day in the project discussion forum, and fortunately some of the Irish girls had already had time to reply. We then read the replies together, and also looked at photos of the Irish girls in their green kilt uniforms at school on the Ning (school uniforms being another oddity for Finnish students).

After this students discussed the St. Patrick's Day tradition in small groups and wrote some additional questions to the Irish girls, so hopefully we will learn a bit more from them soon.

I thought this was quite a good way of bringing some real life into the language classroom today. The only reservation I have here, is what I'm always a bit weary of when it comes to international school projects - using your partners as informants to liven up your national curricular requirements. What mights the Irish students get our of all this?? Well, to my consolation, I hope that they will, in turn, have something in mind one day that we can help them with!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Finally ventured into Twitter

My interesting Saturday is continuing. After considering and reconsidering, finding out and fearing lack of time, I have, at long last, joined Twitter.

I really don't know what I'm going to do there yet, but at least the account now exists - with a photo of my dearest childhood summer place in the background. My only problem at the moment is how to solve the language issue. I joined a Finnish network's group, who, naturally tweet in Finnish. Yet, most of my online activity is in English... It must be OK to write my tweets in both languages, I would imagine?

My first tweet is still waiting to be written, though. What to say, and most importantly, who will see it, and what will result from it?? I feel apprehensive right now, so maybe I'll take that first step tomorrow. In the meantime, I want to reread Jenny's Onramp posts on Twitter again in her injenuity blog to get inspired.

Ciao Italia - Skype interview with webcam

What an interesting Saturday morning I had! A good colleague friend from Italy, Daniela, had approached me some time ago whether I would be willing to take part in her students' project where they wanted to interview people from different countries about male and female roles in working life, or something along those lines. Naturally, I jumped at the chance!

It involved setting up a webcam and doing the interview on Skype with Daniela's students videoing it all. I had to ask the help of my more net and tech-savvy daughter to set up the webcam on my computer - I'd never used it before! Managed to get my face on the screen with a couple of clicks, no problem.

Even learned to take these fuzzy webcam shots.

We had set up the interview time through email in advance, so at the pre-arranged time I was ready at my desk at home. While we lucky Finnish teachers were enjoying a free Saturday, our colleagues in Italy were busy at school. Unfortunately, something didn't quite work with our Skype connections, so even though Daniela and her students could hear me clearly, all I got was a constantly cutting buzz from their end, hardly one whole word could be heard at a time! Pity! The way we solved it in the end was for them to type the questions on the Skype chat, while I answered through the microphone.

The set-up looked like this (although my webcam seems to be blank here, but it did work during the interview). They had some quite tough questions about equality between men and women, and whether I had had any episodes during my career where I felt being a woman had worked to my advantage, or what benefit to society as a whole the inherent differences between men and women could have. I now feel that maybe I should have had the questions in advance to think of better answers, but oh well... Especially with their last questions I seemed miss the point they were getting at.

So far, I have really had any experience with voice communications in student projects, but this small experiment certainly got me interested. Maybe I will start looking into it more. From an EFL point of view this would definitely add a totally new dimension and much sort-after authenticity to lessons, otherwise carried out as mere simulations inside the vacuum of your classroom.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Student chat on Ning - observations on intercultural communication

As mentioned in my previous post, one difference that struck me in our international chat over a
week ago was the communication styles of European and Malaysian students. Before the chat, I expected all students to be well familiar with this style of communication and thus swim like fish in water in the chat environment. Maybe they are, but inside their own cultural comfort zones, where everybody shares more or less the same communication strategies.

It was easily noticeable that the European students, even though most of them were users of EFL, seemed to behave in quite similar ways. Apart from the limited vocabulary of some, they mostly appeared a rather homogenous group during the chat. But as soon as the Malaysian students managed to get online there was a clear change in the conversation. While European students started typing their 'hi's' the moment they logged in, the Malaysian ones waited for quite some time, possibly trying to follow what was going on among the others first. It is possible though that this wait was due to their technical connection problems, too. We Europeans could see that they were online and started greeting them and encouraging them to join:

We soon realized the considerably more polite and formal tone in their replies. Many of them kept repeatedly asking whether they could join in the discussion, while European students simply dashed in to introduce themselves in the middle of other people chatting. Actually this shouldn't be a surprise for me, as I have seen the difference in the general attitudes and behaviour of Asian and European students during our face2face student exchanges. Even the simple fact of them calling me, the teacher, 'madam' was quite exotic, since here in Finland most students simply use my first name.

Being 'madam' for a while was quite sweet, though. Just as being called 'auntie Sinikka' by Malaysian students during our student exchange a couple of years ago!

Another difference between Europeans and Malaysians was that the latter seemed to prefer private one-to-one chats to the chaos of the main chat room. Our students found it strange that the Malaysians kept asking for 'privacy'.

Further, in the previous example the Malaysian boy asks: 'Can I know bout you more'. This baffled our students, too, as though he was asking for permission to ask questions. They expected others to be more straight-forward and ask more specifically what they wanted to know, just as they themselves were doing. In this sense the Malaysian students came across as far more reserved, which made the European students feel ill at ease at times. A good learning experience about intercultural communication, though. Students soon realized that using English doesn't make us all the same, but cultural norms still play a huge role in communication. These incidents are also very fruitful to help students reflect on the importance of empathy and remembering that difference isn't strange in a negative way, but actually our diversity is a constant source of wonder and fascination. The real challenge is, of course, how we can work together and understand each other despite our diverse backgrounds and communication cultures.
I need to point out here that these were just simple observations during one particular chat session between a limited number of students in a limited number of European and Asian schools. I am not trying to formulate any theories about intercultural communication, and much of what I wrote probably is rather oversimplified and stereotypical. Nevertheless, this is how it often works in practice - small and insignifant case studies and observations over the years lead to revelations that consequently guide the ongoing process of improving intercultural school projects. What's more, reflecting on the experiences in this blog helps me focus my thoughts and has become a way of keeping an active project log at the same time.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Testing student chat on Ning

Last week we organised an intercontinental chat session on our WHAZZUP? project Ning. This was initiated by our members in Cyprus, who had a special theme day in their school and wanted to give hands-on demonstrations of their international projects.


Adding the chat feature on Ning was a piece of cake really, and we teachers test-drove it beforehand to see how it worked. The more complicated task was to synchronize all the different time zones of the participating schools. In the end, we came up with the following time frame for start of a one-hour chat session.

Cyprus/Finland 11.00 am
Ireland 9.00 am
Italy/Spain/France 10.00 am
New Delhi 2.30 pm
Malaysia 5.00 pm
Korea/Philippines 6.00 pm

The time zone issue actually turned into a whole lesson with the geography teacher in Ireland:

On the foot of preparation for Thursday, I took out a large wall map of the world and circled each of the countries participating. Using the notice on whazzup, we identified what countries were in what time zone, and looked at the difference between Ireland and Korea. I think it began to dawn that as we were in class at 10 am today, other students had their days work done and were probably at home relaxing. It certainly gave pause for thought.

The details of the chat were discussed in our Ning Teachers' group, where teachers also indicated whose students would most probably manage to be online at that given time. The idea of planning a joint discussion topic came up as well, and it was decided that students should be prepared to talk about some special national holidays, as it was the time for the beginning of Lent in Europe with different traditions and also the Chinese New Year celebrations in Asia were not far behind.


On the day, the Cypriot students stayed online from 8 am till around 1 pm to see who they could catch for a chat. Eventually, students from Cyprus, Finland, Ireland and Malaysia got together in the chat room, which was very positive, as, despite the time differences, we managed to involve people from both continents in a real-time activity.

As for the topics discussed, quite expectedly it mostly revolved around young people's leisure activities - shared music, film and reading experiences.

Some more serious topics came up, too though, such as differences in school systems, politics or environmental problems, which pleased us teachers. School uniforms were compared, for example.

It has got to be remembered, however, that apart from the Irish, the rest of the students are learners of EFL, and for some this was the very first time to use English in an authentic situation with people who don't share the same native language. From that point of view, of course, we can't necessarily expect very profound discussions about complicated issues. Even saying 'hi' and talking about the weather is an achievement and a positive language learning experience for some. Students' uncertainty about their English skills recurringly came up in their discussions.

While students were active in the main chat room, teachers opened up private chat rooms to share ideas about the progress. This proved a useful feature.

Some students started private one-to-one chats, too. However, something we began to miss on Ning was a feature that would allow small groups of students to open their own separate chat room. The most students online at any one time was 31, and it soon became apparent that even that was too many. The discussion simply got too fast-paced, not only for us teachers with far less online multitasking experience, but also for the students, as this example shows:

Some technical hitches were encountered, too, which seems unavoidable whenever trying to work syncronously over space and time. At one point it looked threateningly that we wouldn't manage to get anybody from Asia to join us Europeans. Although the students were ready and keen in their ICT room in Sabah, Malaysia in the evening the chat just wouldn't work for them. The teacher shared their frustration on wall posts:

Luckily, their ICT staff managed to work wonders and they entered the chat room bringing with them a fascinating , and even partly exotic, feel to the discussion. I will write a separate blog post on the the clear difference in the communication culture between them and European students later.


All in all, I would say this first chat experiment was well worth it. Our students in Finland were surprisingly excited about it all day. Some even revealed that they had never chatted online in a foreign language before!

Other participants have given quite positive feedback, too.

Just to say that the chat on Thursday went really well. As I said to Sinikka, I overheard a student say it was better than Bebo and that is a very big compliment. It created a great buzz with the students wanting to stay on-line for longer than originally intended.
I think that during the chatting the students have exchange many interesting information. They have spoken about their school, about the uniform in school, about the different time zone. Someone asked where is Cyprus, our students try to know about the political problem in Ireland and they try to tell the others about our political problem but this was without success. They have spoken with success about the weather.

And certainly it created momentum for the project in Malaysia, where suddenly more and more students wanted to join the Ning and become part of the network. In actual fact, all through the chat one of my main jobs was approving new members from there. I was quite touched by some of their reactions, which was a good reminder that not all teenagers all over the world are as blase about participating in online social networks as we might expect.

As a final remark, another feature missing on Ning is having access to past chat logs. Once the chat is over, and even during it whenever a limited number of visible lines on the screen is exceeded, the comments are simply wiped off into the void of virtual space. That is why I was busy taking screenshots all through the chat to have at least some record of what was going on. It might be useful to be able to go back to the whole chat session, especially as I enjoy doing small case studies on young people's communication patterns in international projects.


We are definitely going to try the chat again during this spring term, but in new and improved ways. Firstly, we will seriously have to limit the number of participants per chat to make it more manageable and productive. This will involve a lot of joint coordination and planning between teachers in advance. We will also need to find out about options for grouping students during the chat, as one colleague pointed out:

if we do it again (which I hope we will) it might be an idea to form groups with a student from each country in a group. With so many exchanges as on last Thursday, the speed makes it difficult to keep up, even for our tech savvy students!

Secondly, I feel that, despite the obvious advantage of everyday chit chat for lower level learners of English, as mentioned before, more attention will have to be paid to defining a purpose for the chat to enhance the overall learning experience.

Other forms of syncronous exchanges have also been suggested by colleagues:

with the Polish and Russian students we've had two skype sessions.. we could do that with yours.. so the students, instead of just chatting on the net, could talk.

As inviting as adding voice to the chat sounds, unfortunately we don't access to Skype at school, so that is out. There must be other tools available for this, but for now they will have to wait till a later time.