Thursday, June 14, 2012

Upgrading Groupwork: Technologically Enhanced Collaborative Exchanges - By : Marjorie Allen /Kate Baldridge-Hale/ Kathleen Reynolds

     No one denies that technology has added much flavor, interest, motivation, engagement to the 21st century classroom. It is true that as a developing country, much has to be done on all levels; in terms of training sessions, in order to equip teachers with the appropriate tools to enhance the use of technology in our classrooms; in terms of equipping the schools with the computers and internet connection. What made me feel bitter is that many of the sessions I attended could not be implemented for the time being in my country, due to the lack of equipments. What we interestingly witnessed during this session is how to upgrade the group work via technology. The three presenters Marjorie Allen , Kate Bladridge and Kathleen Reynolds orchestrated successfully the activities and boosted our motivation to try the best of these activities with our pupils. 
The suggested activities are as follows: 
1- Audio Pen Pals 
2-Discussion Boards by joining Google Groups
3-Blogs
4-Audio Drop box
    I hope , one day, we would be able to carry out some of these activities in our classes. I would be happy to see some of the efforts of my students being posted online collaboratively, discussed and evaluated. I do agree that technology is only a means to an end, and that end could be achieved even without the use of technology. But , personally, it saddens me to see that our teenagers are not being offered these chances to learn more collaboratively, actively and online. Anyway, sooner or later it would be possible one day. But the sooner the better. Well, whatever the hinders are! I am committed to try some of these activities with some learners who would like to, as volunteers to use audio drop boxes ;record themselves and comment upon their peers recordings. I am sure it is an exciting way to "learn, unlearn and re learn".
       1- Audio Pen Pals :
The presenters suggested some sample assignments using audio pen pals to practice listening, speaking, grammar, reading, etc..
Listening/ speaking: * explain preferences /* react to a video/ * discuss problems by giving, receiving advice /* making  recommendation for future activities
Grammar: * Practice tenses by telling a brief story./* Practice question formation
Reading: * React to a short reading/* Review a book from extensive reading collection/* Discuss a novel : plot, characters, theme, etc.. 
 Amongst the benefits of audio pen pals as stated by the presenters are: keeping the learners motivated. The learners focus on expressing ideas clearly. These activities pave the way for more learner autonomy, a student-centered classroom, peer response and ongoing assessment. 
Nevertheless, it's very difficult for the teacher to give feedback to all the files/ recordings. But the learners are giving feedback to each others' recordings.
      2-Google groups: Online Discussion Boards:
Sample Assignments to practice writing: * share personal stories/ experiences. /* share drafts and peer feedback./ * Practice with rhetorical pattern. 
Grammar: *Practice of specific grammatical point/ Reading: Analyze specific aspect of reading. 
 Towards the end of a semester, learners are assigned a writing. Here is the topic: Write your best or worst experience as a writer. How did this experience affect you and your attitude toward writing? 
   Assignment: Peer  feedback on essay drafts 
Instructions to students: 
* Find your group forum
* Create a thread and attach your essay
*Read all of the essays in your group
*Complete a feedback form for each essay
*Attach the form in reply to each essay
*Use the feedback to revise your essay
*Do a short model
* Create a form to each group
*Post the rubric in the group
          What are , then, the benefits of discussion boards to students?
Some of the benefits stated by the presenters are : increased comfort, fluency in reading and writing, greater exposure to other students' writings, less exposure than formal writing assignments,..
      3- Blogs: Group Blogs 
Group blogs require minimal effort from the teacher. They could use them in reading, writing, grammar, etc.. 
Sample assignments: Editing sentences, making each sentence in one blog post... engaging in discussions, encouraging them to engage in peer feedback.. 
Reading assignment: The teacher can check whether the learners can use the words, vocabulary learned. The teacher posts a word and the students post a sentence. 
The overall benefits of group blogs are: * Increase in exposure to varied usage/* promote meta-cognitive awareness/* Improve negotiation skills/* Increase student responsibility/* more input/* more feedback/*Interaction/* Motivation
The principles that make technology-based activities great are the same as those that make a language learning activity great.
      4-Audio dropboxes: Here is the link to explain the principle of audio dropboxes
 "Overview: A dropbox for paper assignments is a box where students place their homework, papers , or other assignments. Teachers can then retrieve the papers at their convenience.An audio dropbox is an audio collection tool that can be put on any web page.

Students record themselves using the tool, and their recordings are placed in the instructor╩╝s dropbox automatically.Audio Dropboxes can be used to add speaking to language courses. You can have students describe pictures on a web page, read a text passage, or respond to open-ended questions." Dennie Hoopingarner
   By and large, the presenters were very generous and referred us to a site where they posted the handouts. Here it is:  https://sites.google.com/site/upgradegroupwork/home/links
Enjoy!