Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Beware of technology

A summary of my final e-project

One of the groups I teach at Mision Sucre is cirumstantially composed of students of two disciplines, Law and Social Work. There are three sections of Law students and two of Social Work. I have already assessed the level of technological literacy of the group: as expected, it was very low. However, in each group there are students who are proficient enough to carry on my proposed Lancasterian experiment.
The idea is to pick up one representative student of each group with sufficient previous knowledge in order to introduce them to the techniques of blogging. I don't know yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if one or more of these students already knew about the subject (they could even teach me a few things). Afterwards, the representatives will return to the group and show them the knowledge acquired.
This is the sequence I would like to apply: first, every one of the students will make her own personal blog in Wordpress, stating their personal data, working experience, etc. They should at least add a photograph. The next step would be to build a blog in Blogger for the whole class. This will be made by the representatives and the teacher and then shown to the rest of the class. The blog should include the links to every personal student blog. As a final step, a wiki will be made, divided in five parts, one for each section, where the students will apply all they've learned so far.
A final evaluation will be made using the wiki: a reading exercise with a series of questions directed to each group, which will be later reviewed by the whole class.

Monday, December 7, 2009

About Edmodo

I visited the site the othe day, went through registration and had a look. I responded the poll saying "I don't know anything about it yet." It appears to me that it is like a teaching agenda, an aid for plannification.

Being in doubt, I searched the web. I found Edmodo described as "a twitter-like type of service" and "twitter for the classroom." I must admit I don't know anything about Twitter, other than the general commentaries and the fact that it is very popular.

I will now transcribe what appears on the note I found.

Lo primero que vamos a ver al registrarnos en el servicio es la segmentación que hay en tipos de usuarios. Puedes registrarte como profesor o como alumno. Y si llegan a conquistar el cariño de muchos profesores, vaya que habrán muchos alumnos registrados a la fuerza (siempre le vi potencial por ello a herramientas enfocadas en los profesores).

Así que me apunté como profesor y me preparé para enviar el primer mensaje (pensé en escribir tweet por alguna razón). Aquí se me cayeron las esperanzas de un servicio sencillo pues no basta con escribir unos cuantos caracteres. Enviar un mensaje requiere además que digas a quien lo mandas (a otro profesor, alumnos o un grupo de usuarios). Aproveché entonces a crear un grupo e intentarlo, aunque me dio algunos errores de que aún no tenía destinatario.

Debo decir que la característica de grupos me gusta y considero que cada día se vuelve más indispensable en cualquier servicio social. Twitter no la tiene, pero habiendo probando la característica en Pownce y ahora en la Beta de Friendfeed, vaya que es requisito indispensable si quieres seguir a mucha gente.

Para continuar con las características, adicionalmente al envío de mensajes, hay 3 opciones que te permiten asignar tareas, dejar eventos específicos (entregas, horarios de clases y actividades varias) y también alertas. Puedes también enviar archivos, detalle muy útil para compartir documentos. O si te es más fácil compartir embedidos de otros servicios, también lo puedes hacer desde el envío de links. Yo hice unas pruebas con Slideshare para incluir una presentación e incluso modificó las medidas de la presentación para que encajara perfectamente (muy buen detalle). Creo que usar esta opción junto a documentos de Scribd o incluso con vídeos puede tener muchísimo potencial.

Entre otras opciones adicionales que vas descubriendo también tienes un locker, que funciona como un repositorio de los mensajes que quieras almacenar en plan favoritos.

Como verán, hay muchas herramientas que creo que le dan en efecto la funcionalidad para las aulas de clases, aunque no creo que todo sea necesario. Bien pudieron simplificarlo un poco más. Y si pudiera pedir algo extra, diría que hará falta integración con celulares y sería también bueno que apoyaran el OpenMicroBlogging Protocol.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

eLearning and the semantic web

This is the abstract of an article entitled "eLearning based on the Semantic Web," by Ljiljana Stojanovic, Steffen Staab and Rudi Studer:

Abstract: eLearning is efficient, task relevant and just-in-time learning grown from the learning requirements of the new, dynamically changing, distributed business world. The term „Semantic Web” encompasses efforts to build a new WWW architecture that enhances content with formal semantics, which enables better possibilities for navigating through the cyberspace and accessing its contents. As such, the Semantic Web represents a promising technology for realizing eLearning requirements.
This paper presents an approach for implementing the eLearning scenario using Semantic Web technologies. It is primarily based on ontology-based descriptions of content, context and structure of the learning materials and thus provides flexible and personalized access to these learning materials.

Web 2.0, Web syntactics, Web semantics

I have been browsing Academic Google and have found very interesting stuff, such as Web 2.0 applications in health services. One of the discoveries has to do with the concept of Web semantics and the need to merge Web 2.0 tools with Web semantics implementations. See the article The two cultures: Mashing up Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web, by Anupriya Ankolekar, Markus Krötzsch, Thanh Tran and Denny Vrandečić, from the University of Karlsruhe.

The concept of Web semantics goes more or less like this: the current approach is syntactic interoperability, which allows agents and Web services to identify only the structure of the messages exchanged, but failing to provide an interpretation of the content of those messages. For this reason there is a need to integrate syntactic interoperability with semantic interoperability. The latter "allows Web services to (a) represent and reason about the task that a Web service performs
(e.g. book selling, or credit card verification) so as to enable automated Web service discovery based on the explicit advertisement and description of service
functionality, (b) explicitly express and reason about business relations and rules, (c) represent and reason about message ordering, (d) understand the meaning
of exchanged messages, (e) represent and reason about preconditions that are required to use the service and effects of having invoked the service, and (f) allow
composition of Web services to achieve a more complex service." See Automated discovery, interaction and composition of Semantic Web services, by Katia Sycara, Massimo Paolucci, Anupriya Ankolekar, Naveen Srinivasan of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Project assessment

We finally meet F2F and tie a few loose ends. It was a wise decision to leave the final project precisely as that: a project. If you try to involve people in a web-based task, a thousand things can go wrong, and as Murphy said, if one thing can go wrong, it will probably go wrong in the worst possible way. Anything from a blackout to a virus. Or a chronic problem like the one I'v got with firefox and the cookies.

At any rate, it is clear that you have to adapt your project to the realities of your teaching environment. It's not the same to twit with kids from the Eastern part of the city who get Blackberries on their birthdays than to make a blog with adults from Catia who don't even know what a URL is.

Thus, my project must be focused to a modest, gradual introduction to the tools, following the logic of their own complexity: starting with Web 1.0, on to the creation of blogs, up to their production and maintenance.

It is essential to work with the most knowledgeable of the students first and ask them to act as multipliers with the others.

Friday, November 27, 2009

New developments

Once again the class has provided many new insights into the possibilities of technology. The use of blogs, wikis and the rest for English courses is an exciting field for new experiences. The idea of the e-portfolio is a very elegant solution to present the different experiences to possible sponsors or employers.

We also talked about our projects for the course. I have decided to work with my Mision Sucre guys the following way:

1) I'll pass them a questionnaire asking whether they have computers/internet at home, if they know how to use it, and what products they use. I predict 90% will say no to the former, but in the remaining 10% there may be surprises.

2)I'll pick a group, because an on-line project, especially being your first one, entails certain risks, and it's better to start with a small group. The chosen ones.

3)Depending on their literacy, I'll train them on the uses of the different tools we've learned. We'll start with plain Web 1.0 searches and retrievals, and then go on to blogs and wikis. It all depends on the results of the questionnaire

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SL: Definitely not my cup of tea

I'd like to share two reflections after my last experience with SL: first, I'm more of a blogger man, and the capability to create blogs has been the most rewarding of the many things I've learned in this course. The blogger is more individualistic and focused on writing content. Second, my current interests in ELT refer to adult, life-long learning and ESP; and I don't see how to conciliate those realities with SL's ludic interactivity.
I appreciate SL's educative potential, especially with the children of this era of technological revolution. And of course those children will grow up and there will be something beyond Web 3.0 tools for them, for playing and learning. And I especially appreciate the posibility of learning and having fun.
I'd like to share the technical problem I had, that made me waste over one hour and a half of the class: WizIq was asking me to download the latest version of Adobe Flash Player, and I tried to do it, but couldn't. There is some kind of incompatibility of that program with the navigator I use (Firefox), or maybe the Firefox version I had was faulty. At any rate, I had to go back to Internet Explorer in order to access the class. I have deleted my old Firefox and install a new version of it. I still have to find out if it works properly with WizIq and the other tools we use (I don't see why not). But anyway, it was very frustrating and when I finally entered the class, I was really tired.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Conference III: Etienne Wenger on CoPs

CoPs means Communities of Practice, i. e., a group of people sharing common interests, interacting regularly, learning from each other, and seeking to improve their ability to do what they all do. There is a learning partnership between them, there is a link between knowledge and the people who know. These two cannot be separated. It is a way of living in practice and to have fun with knowledge.
The most influential teachers are those who invite you to join a community with a social discipline of learning. The SDL includes as key dimensions the Domain (negotiation on the topics that keep the group together), the Community (definition of who is a part of it and what roles are played by whom)and the Practice (shared experiences which create identity).
Technology stewards are people who understand the community's technological needs and lead technological implementation. Their first task is to understand the community in order to determine the right technology for it. Then they help the adoption and everyday use of the technology chosen.
Digital habitats are configurations of tools. Different communities need different technologies. Technologies simply help to keep them togeteher. There must be a balance between the group and the individuals. Blogs are a more individualistic sort of technology, while discussion boards and wikis are more collective. Wenger also recommends the use of open-source software.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conference II: Nellie Deutsch and WikiEducators

Again I missed the fun of participating on-line. Nellie and Gladys Gahona introduced themselves as volunteers who want to share knowledge on-line. On-line teaching breaks the limits of the classroom. Teachers and students from different fields and countries can learn from each other.
WikiEducator is an attempt to integrate technologies for collaborative learning. It has over 11 thousand users. It is sponsored by the Open Educational Resources foundation. These resources are basically digitalized materials for teachers and students from all over the world. It uses free software and doesn't admit Windows (Bravo!).
WikiEd works as a community council, Nellie is the executive secretary. Its teaching platform is a Wiki. It has a Community Portal providing info on its activities. The contents are decided by workgroups of editors who reach consensus through discussion pages. WikiEd offers workshops, both on-line and F2F, on different subjects like blended e-learning environments, interaction, learning English on line (LEO), and the use of tools such as Moodle. Blended On-Line Learning (BOL) is what its philosphy is called.

Conference I: George Siemens on Connectedness

I could not attend this class live, but I checked the recording. In the beginning, as usual, there were technical adjustments. The work done today is pioneering, I'm sure in 5 years these technical flaws will be overcome.
The conference is on connectivism and social networking. 15 minutes passed before the speaker could start. There were complaints about the audio, Siemens himself commented that perhaps video interfered with audio.
The idea of connectedness implies global, lifelong learning. Being connected seems to be part of being human nowadays. Connectivity is an issue with the military, whose Future Combat Systems depend on it. We see everywhere large-scale, centralized systems being replaced by small, loosely connected elements. Being connected has become a social need. Not knowing might be catastrophic in many ways.
The old paradgims are being shattered. One of them, the experts, who are becoming increasingly ineffectual, and are losing their influence. The information flood forces us to try to make sense out of it. It is a matter of quantity vs. quality. More is diverse, and this brings down many myths. Today we wonder whether classrooms or offices are really indispensable. Participation now can be physical or virtual. Social, informational networks replace experts. Teaching in a networked world demands revising all former ideologies.

My assessment of the course so far

It has been an enriching experience. I feel like a different person (and I'm not just saying it). Evelyn has been a facilitator in the best sense of the word. She has shown us a new way to be a teacher. I see now that, although I thought I was a fairly good user of computers, I was 20 years behind. I lacked fluency with the new possibilities of connectivity. The blog is actually what I had been looking for for years. It's the best way to create your own magazine, and keep it going for free.

With the new knowledge gained, I designed a blog in the university I work at (UCSAR) and another one for my Greek class. Since that is a small class and the people at least have their own computers, I could try interactive teaching with them.

My English classes, as you know, are for people the majority of whom neither own computers nor have access to technology in general. It is a shame, because I have also learned the limtiations of technology. There's a long way to go before society in general can profit from the technological revolution.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Me and my boat on Help Island

With my feet on the water

Podcast No. 1

It has been tough

SL and schizophrenia

Is it conceivable that you design your second identity, your SL avatar, as everything you would want to be, but can't? I think it is, and I see no problem with that. Phantasy is free. You don't even need SL to create a phantasy world. This tool allows you to have it and share it.

It could even help you soothe your schizophrenia.

I understand there is a code of ethics in this medium. Violence and ruthlesness are not allowed. Offensive behavior in general is not tolerated.

Am I becoming an old conservative-minded moron? I hope not.

I must admit I haven't used SL yet. I will post something else once I've worked with it a little.

Web 3.0: Second Life/Part I

Since I am critically minded, I will not sing the automatic praisings of Second Life. First, I will list the problems I've had installing it: well, none, really, except that it warns me that my equipment does not fit all of the requirements. These requirements are beyond the memory capacities of my computer (AMD Sempron, 3200+, 1.79 GHz, 960 MB RAM). They will probably refer to the graphical interphase, which is a matter I cannot handle. It is beyond my technical literacy.

But it works anyway. It looks like the classic video game. I have nothing against that, in fact, I agree with Game Theory philosophy: every human activity can be compared to a game with a set of rules and winning/losing criteria. The idea to use games for instructional purposes is also inobjectable. Don't traditional teachers say that kids don't study because they're playing all the time? This tool offers a way to reverse that situation.

So what's my critique? The following: At the present time, this is not for everybody. For instance, if you live in Guarenas and there is no ABA (yet, because it is a matter of time) you cannot play/teach/learn with this beautiful toy. At least not yet. But you risk flunking the course for a technical problem which is unsolvable for you.

Because the technical problems are there. Perhaps they appear bigger to you if you are not a young hacker, or at least a technologically literate contemporary adult.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Still another tool for pleasure with enormous potential in the field of English teaching. The possibility to record whatever you want and to post it wherever you want. Now you can teach pronounciation to students anywhere, for instance. The possibilities are endless. Your imagination is the only limit.

Well, that and your temporary economic limtiations. I couldn't do the job because I lacked the tools. But I confirmed what I said in my former entry: all digital tools work more or less the same way. There is a philosophy of design. And it is always about files: you create them with Audacity, then post them as Podcast in a sort of server and then you can post them in your blog. Am I right or not?

The rest are minor technical details.


The experience was of course thrilling. A lot of fun. The Wetpaint software I used was very friendly, really fun to use. The only thing is the not-requested publicity, but even that was interesting, it was yet another thing to explore.
I watched the instructional video in plain English and I see how useful a wiki can be for educational projects. The greatest advantage I perceive is the immediateness of on-line editing.
Wikis are interactive tools at its best. A great representative of the Web 2.0 philosophy.
Personally, I doubt I can use it with most of my Mision Sucre students, because they should go through a Mision Robinson for technological literacy first. (However, I'm sure I can use it with some of them). The thing about ICT and the digital revolution is a matter of attitude. Once you've been initiated, you realize that everything works more or less the same way. Intuition is your best guide, and need is your best incentive.
Technological literacy is not a nice term to use. But it's widely used and accepted.
Some people are hoplessly blocked in front of a computer

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0 tools

The unidirectional approach to information retrieval on the web is known as Web 1.0. It implies visiting static websites where you can review and download information, but without an effective communication with the owners/creators of the site. One good example of a Web 1.0 tool is the webpage used to request your passport. Usually webpages for registering in universities are Web 1.0.
Web 2.0 implies bi-directional communication. There is more to them than just browsing and downloading. You can post information and obtain immediate responses. Blogs are perhaps the most typical and emblematic of the Web 2.0 tools. Chatting devices are also a good illustration.

Blogs have obvious educational uses. You can design a Tutor blog, where the teacher has control on the contents posted. Or you can have a Class blog, with the participation of both teacher and students. A more encompassing approach is the Learner blog, where all participants are free to post comments on whatever subject of interest, ask or answer questions from the teacher or their classmates alike, etc.

ICT in ELT/ Technological literacy

As English teachers, we are mostly interested in the application of digital technologies to ELT. Web technologies in particular offer powerful tools and pose new challenges for English teachers. In particular, they demand the constant updating of competences in the use of digital and Web technologies. But many teachers are still in panic and have trouble adapting themselves to this new field. They feel as technologically illiterate.
This course we're taking in the MILE Masters Program is a great opportunity to gain technological skills which will certainly prove to be very useful to us in our development as teachers. As a first step ahead, we can manage the use of such terms as e-learning, online learning, and blended learning.
E-learning is a first approach, in which we enter in contact with tools such as Webpages. It allows obtaining information from the Web, but in a one-directional way. One example of this is the downloading of documents. Online learning implies bi-directional, simultaneous communication. This is illustrated by the class we had using WiZiQ, where we received information but had the chance to communicate directly with our teacher. Blended learning implies the use of both approaches, profitting from the benefits of both.

ICT in Education/ II

Digital technology, the fifth major development in educational media, has one feature that makes it radically different: it is not meant to substitute, but to integrate its technological predecessors. For instance, a video teleconference integrates and potentiates verbal exposition with TV and satellite technology, reaching the most remote areas, while still allowing its dissemination in written form.

The name Virtual Education has been given to the pedagogical application of digital technology. It poses new challenges, it demands a new pedagogy and profound transformations in the organization of educational institutions.

Virtual Education makes it possible for the first time in human history to take education all over the world, to link all sources of information and make them universally available.

See Facundo, A. (2006). Antecedentes, situación y perspectivas de la educación superior virtual en América Latina y el Caribe. En: Informe sobre la educación superior en AL y el Caribe. UNESCO/IESALC, Caracas, Venezuela.

ICT in Education

There was a technological revolution during the 1980's which opened the way for many developments with a potential impact in the field of education in general. In its 2006 report on higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean area (a book which I translated from Spanish into English) by UNESCO, it is said that digital technology is the fifth major stage in the technological development of education. The first technology employed in education was oral language. It was followed by the development of written language, which allowed the transcription of knowledge (from the heads of those who possessed it to the written medium) and the possibility of storing it. The third major development was printing, which caused a major revolution in education, expanding immensely the reproduction of knowledge. It also marked the end of Scholasticism and paved the way for the modern universities and a freer way of teaching/learning.

The fourth major development was the appearance of the now-called analogical media, i. e. film, radio, TV, and the like. Their impact was so great that traditional educators viewed them as competitors, as enemies of education. While these media were still being debated, a fifth wave came down strongly, with the development of digital media. (Facundo, 2006).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Life-long learning

Andragogy and ESP

I teach English mainly at Mision Sucre. This means that my students are all adults. The average age in my classes usually lies between 30 and 50 years old. Sixty-or-more-years-old students are by no means uncommon in my classes.

Obviously, adult education is an important issue in my field of work.

Andragogy is an educational movement which was very popular from the 1960's onward. Its main tenet is that adult education requires a lot of respect for the students' decission-making capacities. Adults like to be taught things they themselves select. They also wish to have the opportunity to participate in decissions regarding the course's methodology and content.

On the other hand, ESP has become the standard philosophy for teaching English in the Universities. The idea is to teach the students the language as it is used in their professions. ESP methodology relies on testing the sutudents' needs and using them as a guideline for the design of the course.

I am working on a project that combines the best of these two approaches.

What's your opinion on the matter? I would love to know

Academic Qualifications

  • Bachelor of Science, University of Southern Mississippi
  • Licenciado en Filosofía, Universidad Central de Venezuela
  • Working on a Master's degree in English as a Foreign Language, Universidad Central de Venezuela