Currently browsing Posts Tagged “useful websites”

Voki for the classroom

Voki, the avatar creating website  that has proved so popular amongst language teachers, is being relaunched this term. I am very fortunate to be involved in this relaunch as a Voki Ambassador, one of a dozen or so educators around the world who are collaborating with Voki in New York to ensure a renewed focus on Education. So what can we expect?

Voki allows teachers and students to create speaking avatars in a fun, stimulating and engaging way. Although some initially find tools such as Voki of little educational value, upon closer inspection, teachers quickly realise that Voki allows students to express themselves on the internet in safety and confidently, as their real identities are hidden behind the avatar. Suddenly, with Voki, the shy become outspoken and the reticent assured.

As far as teaching languages is concerned, I have found throughout the years that using Voki helps my students improve their oral proficiency in the target language and that it’s often the shy one at the end of the classroom who comes up with the most impressive piece of spoken language.

The new Voki for Education is being officially relaunched to better cater for teachers and students. We can look forward to the following new features:

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Avoiding headaches and improving classroom support

avoiding headaches

If you are a regular reader, you’ll probably know that I think new technologies such as web applications and social networking should be more widely used in schools.

These tools are generally a) already widespread and b) designed to be intuitive and easy to use without previous experience. Just point and click. Drag and drop. Easy.

However, anyone who has attempted to use these so called Web 2.0 applications with a bunch of kids knows that things can go wrong and often they do. Lost account details, forgotten passwords, inappropriate content… the list goes on and it’s long enough to actually deter a good number of well-meaning teachers who see the whole thing as too much of a headache to bother with in the first place.

The lovely people who provide web applications for us free to use could, in an ideal world, make things a lot easier for teachers to manage students’ use.

The very first thing users often have to do is register an account. This task could be easily simplified by:

  • Offer classroom/group registration. Some excellent web applications, like Voki or Xtranormal, don’t offer classroom support. They should. By ignoring the education market they are effectively marketing themselves out of a vast number of potential users and putting off teachers from using these tools with their classes.
  • Improve classroom/group registration. Some other absolutely brilliant web applications, like Glogster or Diigo, do offer classroom/group support, however the registration system is made complicated by the fact that the application themselves generate the username and passwords, which often and up looking something like ≈€hjy0io?3 …and that’s just the username. Yes, users can go in and change some of their details afterwards, but it cannot be denied it is a recipe for lost passwords, forgotten usernames and, therefore, disruption in the classroom.

In my view, Edmodo has found the best way to register a classroom or group. Teachers are given a four or five digit group code – the same for the whole group – which students then input upon registration, thus linking their accounts (and yours) together yet allowing them to choose from the start their own usernames and passwords.

Foreign languages… what foreign languages?

  • Improve foreign language support. As a foreign language teacher I am often frustrated by some applications’ inability to offer foreign character support – like ß, é, ñ, î . English is not the only language in the world people! Some websites, like Glogster, do offer limited foreign language support, but there is, in my opinion, ample room for improvement in this respect.

Other sites, like Storybird, offer foreign language support in terms of fonts but publishing restrictions are placed on Storybirds written in foreign languages because, they argue, these Storybirds cannot be understood and therefore cannot be moderated.This leads to teachers having to devise ludicrous workarounds to get their student’s materials published on the school blog.

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  • Web 2.0 = here today, gone tomorrow. Given the nature of these applications, it is perhaps inevitable that there is a degree of uncertainty and lack of reliability in terms of these applications life spans. Comiqs is a great example of a tool with enormous educational potential which did not survive beyond its beta testing period. Shame.

However, other truly outstanding tools, like Animoto, started off with a visible educational element which now, although still apparently live, seems to have been buried deep in the recesses of their website. The application process to gain access to their education programme can take weeks, removing any spontaneity in the lesson planning process. All links to the education section from the home page seem to have been removed. Investment in education is often the first to go in tough times, I suppose. The trouble is that with it goes the potential exposure to future paying customers.

In short, using web applications in the classroom could should be made easy. I have met countless teachers who are willing but feel unsupported and who are open to use new ideas and but are worried about the possible ramifications.

Let’s keep thins simple. Let’s improve classroom support.

What do you think? Is there a web application which, in your opinion, could be improved for classroom support? If so, how?

Photo by jillwatson

A word or two about Wordle

In the latest guest post for the Technology in Modern Foreign Languages series, Saira Ghani reflects on the role that social networks has had in her own professional development and examines how she has incorporated some of the tools she has recently learned about into her teaching, focusing on Wordle.

A year ago I would have described myself as a technophobe, an MFL teacher who thought using Powerpoint as a teaching tool, as well as allowing pupils to create their own Powerpoint presentations, was more or less the limit of using ICT in Modern Foreign Languages lessons, along with CDs and the odd DVD. How wrong I was!

Last January I discovered Twitter, and the myriad of enthusiastic and supportive teachers that go with it. My personal learning network (PLN) broadened rapidly. Having such fantastic support, encouragement and advice on hand almost 24 hours a day gave me the confidence to begin trying out new ideas and web 2.0 tools both as an aid to teaching and as a creative tool for my pupils to use when practising and consolidating new language. Tools such as Edmodo, Voki, Wallwisher, Go!Animate, Xtranormal, Animoto and Wordle have all become part of the armoury of resources used in my day to day teaching.

Wordle is one particular tool that I have used in a number of ways. It really is easy to create a Wordle! You input a piece of text, or a list of words, click go and your text becomes a Wordle, a word cloud in which the most frequently used words are displayed in a larger font. You can then play around with the font styles, colours and layout until you have a finished Wordle. Inspired by posts written by Samantha Lunn and Tom Barrett about ways in which Wordles can be used I decided to take the plunge and give it a go.

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Glogster – create online posters

I’ve been meaning to take a closer look at Glogster for a couple of weeks now, ever since I was having a chat with a colleague from school who was as fed up trying to get his students to make a brochure using Microsoft Word as part of the ICT provision. It turns out that his students were fed up too trying to make Word do things it wasn’t designed to do. I thought there should be a better option out there, and I think I’ve found it in Glogster.

Glogster is a Web 2.0 tool that allows students to create online posters or glogs, as they call them, which can then be shared on the internet and, crucially, they can be embedded on school wikis.

Many subjects, not least Languages, make brochures using computers every now and then. They are great for acquiring ICT skills, motivating students to do some research on a topic and write in the target language and, if planned properly, they are also fantastic peer assessment tools.

But why limit yourself to only writing? We live in an age of rich media and instant communication. Our pupils go home, get online and watch videos on Youtube, listen to music on MySpace or and comment on each other’s videos or profiles. That’s what they do. They most certainly do not open Word for fun.

That’s Glogster’s advantage in my opinion. It offers students an environment which they are used to, it allows them to be intuitively creative (dragging and dropping, resizing etc), have fun and, most importantly, it allows them to include sound and video. Click here or on the picture above to go to a glog I made earlier today, notice the sound and video players.

If you are a language teacher, you’ll immediately realise how useful the ability to add sound files is. Students can record themselves in the privacy of their own headsets or at home, removing any reticence to speak in the target language in front of peers or teachers. If they get something wrong, they just delete it and try again, as many times as it takes to get it right. It’s brilliant.

So, next time you’re thinking of getting your students to do a brochure in the ICT rooms or as homework, get them to do a glog instead. I can guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome (it’s often the quiet ones who really shine, in my experience) and that you will have students wanting to speak write and research about your subject. What more do you want?

A very nice touch from Glogster is that they offer support for education by creating private school accounts. So no worries about safety then. Visit the Glogster Education page for more information.

After half term, I’ll be using Glogster with my Year 8 German group (12-13 year olds) to make posters about where they live. I’ll be back in touch with the results.

What do you think about Glogster? Can you think of any other alternatives to the good, old word-processed brochure?

Languages ICT Outlook

Earlier this week the Languages ICT website published the ICT Outlook for 2008, in which I participated. Languages ICT is fruit of the collaboration between CILT, the National Centre for Languages, and ALL, the Association for Language Learning.

ICT Outlook charts key developments and events in the field of ICT and MFL in the United Kingdom and throws a spotlight on what is happening in the current year, as well as looking back at the previous year’s major initiatives, developments and events.

Do you know of a teaching and learning resource you would like to share? Please do not hesitate to get in touch.