Tuesday, 21 February 2012

We should teach copyright to students

I was really pleased to read the following in one of my students' blogs recently:
P.S. Sorry about the lack of photos. You can’t believe how hard it is to find a picture that is legally usable in a blog. It’s like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.
Yes, my banging on about the use of photos seems to have sunk in! With this blogging group of 15 students, it took me a couple of months of constant reminders until the students took to heart all the copyright advice I gave them, both online and orally in class. And now it's great to see how concientiously they look for photos with Creative Commons licences, and credit them in their blog posts.

As the world-wide web is such a treasure trove of material, I can understood why so many of us take it for granted that it is all there free for anyone to grab and do what they wish with. Even some popular recent services cause confusion amongst users. Here in Finland, the apparent copyright infringements in the use of Pinterest have caused a lot discussion recently. Especially women seem to find it irresistible to compile and share beautiful pinboards of their favourite pictures - usually totally ignoring any copyright issues. It's worth reading, for example, this article on the many concerns with Pinterest.

Another popular service among teachers is Glogster Edu. I am planning an in-service session for language teachers in my area, in which I intend to introduce some useful and fun net resources. I was going to include Glogster in it but decided not to, as I simply won't have the time to get into Copyright issues in any depth. Glogster certainly motivates students to create their own, colourful, multi-media posters but it inherently leads students to copy material online - mostly illegally unless their teachers are strict about it. Naturally, like Pinterest, also Glogster has clear instructions on 'Uploading of Intellectual Property' in their Terms of Use. It's another question, of course, how many teachers follow these instructions.

I wonder how many schools have a joint policy about copyright that all teachers know about and consistently adhere to - both in their own PowerPoint presentations, and in their requirements for students' work. I feel that it is every educator's duty to model the right use of online sources and materials.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Blogging with students 5

I have just finished my 2nd English course with my blogging group. What a pleasure it was to start work with them as their blogs were waiting, and they were already familiar with this type of work. I, too, had learned many valuable lessons during course 1, and was consequently better prepared and comfortable with the new concept. Thanks to all these advantages, and the ground work done in course 1, we were able to focus more on reading new texts, watching videos, class discussions and writing 3 separate blog posts with the accompanying comments.

As before, I based the course on the national EFL curriculum topics, and published the course plan online. This time, however, I gave the students more freedom to choose their blog topics. Following the 3 course themes, they chose what and how to write themselves. This seemed to work quite well, and some of the students also mentioned this as a positive aspect in their course feedback.

Unlearning repeating linguistic errors is quite a challenge. Students wrote drafts first, I gave them tips and feedback, and then they rewrote and edited their post, before publishing it. Despite all this effort, the same errors mostly recurred in their next drafts! What would help them actively tackle these ingrained errors? Or am I being a pedantic language teacher again, or maybe too impatient?

Commenting developed in leaps and bounds among some students, whereas those who struggled with their motivation and generally applying themselves in course 1, degenerated even further this time. In our last course, later this spring, I will work hard to get some collaboration going with foreign partners, to make the blogging and commenting an even more realistic experience for the students. Another thing I will try in the next course, is more regular, shorter blog posts, with even more student freedom to choose the topics. After all, this is what blogging inherently is about, rather than writing given assignments, and even some students specifically hoped for this type of change in their feedback.

All in all, I enjoyed the classes without coursebooks more and more. There are so many more opportunities for student involvement and engagement than with the pre-set, rather mechanical gap-fill exercises that coursebooks are filled with. Every class was filled with English chatting, questions being asked, vocabulary use negotiated, ideas thrown in, and students actively participating. In December, we hosted a student exchange visit from a partner school in Singapore. The Singaporean guests visited our class, and students carried out interviews to find out about young people's lives on the other side of the world. The information they collected could then be used for their blog posts, which many of them did. I wish I had videoed the non-stop, enthusiastic talk that went on in that class!

For anyone interested, the students blogs can be found in the right-hand sidebar of our course blog.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The hurdles of 1:1, LMS and school change

It has been a very interesting and hectic school year so far. In September, all 130 first-graders got their brand-new minilaptops. School administration proudly named this the beginning of the BIG LEAP. At the same time, our school acquired a LMS to help teachers take the leap in practice. Having been actively involved in social media, and various online platforms for some time, I was asked to guide teachers in the use of the new platform, together with our ICT teacher, who would be the technical expert. After a lot of initial doubts concerning my personal leap outside the language teacher's "box", I decided to jump at the chance of new challenges.

In my role as a teacher tutor, I soon realized that my colleagues could roughly be divided into three groups: 1) those who already had some experience in integrating technology in their classes, and thus had specific expectations of what a LMS should offer 2) those who were ready to start experimenting with new technologies but had now clear idea of what it might be 3) the ostriches who had their heads safely hidden in the sand, and maintained that as long as students learned the facts listed in the curriculum in the old way, no technology would be needed in their classrooms. They also added that as no computers would be used in the national final exams, for the foreseeable future anyway, using them in class would be a waste of time and effort.

Unfortunately, the adopted LMS turned out to be a disappointing flop. It didn't meet the expectations of group 1, among other things because it wasn't customisable in any way. Group 2 found it too intimidating to use, and needed frequent step-by-step instructions, which in the end were too frustratingly time-consuming. As for group 3, I think they consider technology too much as a tool for TEACHING, and fail to see its potential as a powerful LEARNING tool for the students.

Personally, I may have already been biased at the start, with my experience of user-friendly and colourful social media tools. All I can say, I wasn't impressed at all by what the platform had to offer. However, I do believe that to make things move forward on the school level, a LMS of some sort might be beneficial as a starting point, in particular for teachers who, as ICT users, are inexperienced but willing to learn. But this platform needs to be user-friendly enough to help things develop with ease. If this is not the case, too much time is wasted in learning the complicated operating system, or teachers will simply give up even trying. Another problem with many LMSs is that they often guide teachers too much to just repeat the traditional methods in a digital format - ie. uploading files online instead of giving them on paper. True, it will save paper, but this is hardly the main point! Lisa Lane aptly calls this "the LMS pedagogy trap".
An instructor seeking an easy way to post word documents, assignments through a digital "dropbox", and run a traditional threaded discussion board will tend to show great satisfaction in using a LMS.
The LMS also needs to be flexible enough to allow innovative teachers to customise it and add other applications to it, when needed. These teachers are typically already quite far in their own pedagogical change into a more student-centred, 21st-century approach, and then start finding suitable technological tools to support and enhance this change.

I look forward to more colleagues finding the courage and enthusiasm to experiment with some ICT tools, and getting interested in learning more. This would hopefully give them insights into what pedagogical changes this might entail in their old classroom practices. I don't think any singular platform will be perfect and ideal for all different users. We need to learn to live with the multitude of choices, as well as with the fast pace of change when it comes to digital tools. I've heard and read countless times that "good teaching is good teaching, whether you use technology or not". I tend to disagree. I would say IT IS to do with technology in that schools cannot keep pretending that we can carry on as before, oblivious to what is happening all around. If we idly wait for the final exam procedures to get digitalised before adopting technology in our classrooms, we will be failing several generations of young people, who will enter work markets ill-prepared for what is expected of them there. There is a lot of good in our country's largely de-centralised school system, with its wide teacher autonomy. One of its great obstacles, however, is the difficulty to accomplish any fundamental, large-scale change.