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Fostering collaboration in and outside the classroom

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What is collaboration?

 The word ‘collaborate’ is derived from the Latin collaborare which means to labour together. It involves a group of people working together to solve a problem, complete a task, or create something meaningful. 

Collaboration is a vital ingredient for learning. According to Vygotsky (1978), learning is a social process occurring in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), that is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult or peer support, and their ability to solve the problem independently. Vygotsky’s Social Development theory refers to learning contexts in which teachers are not the only providers of knowledge but where students play an active role in learning with and from their peers.

Is collaboration the new competition?

It most certainly is. In the past, much work was accomplished by individuals working alone, but today the scenery has changed.  Due to globalisation and the advent of technology, all significant work is accomplished in teams, and in many cases, global teams. Wikipedia, social media, and web 2.0 technologies highlight how interconnected our world has become and demonstrate how people working together can share knowledge and produce valuable resources.•

Collaboration in and outside the classroom 

Getting students to collaborate in the classroom is great but extending collaboration outside of it is even greater. It helps you to best maximize the scarcest classroom learning resource – time – and it also gives students more time to think, reflect, and process ideas. The ability to collaborate in digital environments is likely to be an important real world digital literacy so by setting up online collaborative projects you are actually preparing them for what they are likely to encounter in real life

Here are some very simple ways you can do this:

1. Group projects and assignments – Students work in groups of four to complete an assignment or project. After brainstorming, they break the work into four parts and each member undertakes to research part. They then group together to synthesise it into a collaborative product. Google Docs and Wikis are old-time classic tools for this kind of work. Encourage students to try and make it a cohesive text rather than just stick the four parts together. 

2. Peer editing of individual assignments – Students read each other’s drafts and provide feedback before the paper is handed in. Student A shares their paper with student B who leaves comments with their feedback. The reviewer’s comments are included when the paper is handed in for grading and the teacher evaluates both student A for their quality of work and student B for quality of feedback. Apart from helping them with their writing skills, it will push students to accept that writing is a process that needs revisions and redrafting.

3. Blogging – Blogging is a great way to encourage collaboration among students. They can write blog posts together, comment on one another’s contributions, and participate in blog challenges. A class blog is a collaborative effort per se and students can take up important roles to make sure it’s up and running e.g. blog master, administrator, comment moderator, editor etc

4. Students scaffolding the learning of others – Stronger students usually get bored in a mainstream class because they find tasks too easy for them. Challenge them by asking them to scaffold the learning of others and give them credit for this. Let’s not forget that the best way to consolidate something is to teach it, so both students will benefit from the process. Make sure though that stronger students do not do all the work but rather, guide and facilitate weaker students’  learning.

5. Discussing post-reading/listening questions – Often, class time runs out before students can fully participate in the post-reading/listening discussion. Extending (or moving altogether) the discussion outside the classroom would provide students with an excellent opportunity for consolidation and reflection. Students can do this

synchronously using Google Hangout in groups of four, or

asynchronously in a Virtual Learning Environment. Post the discussion question on Edmodo, a Facebook closed group or your class blog and ask students to leave comments. Another great tool is Lino.it, a sticky note digital board where students can leave post-it notes with their answers. Their responses are likely to be more thoughtful than they might have been in the frequently hurried class atmosphere and shy students may feel more comfortable to express themselves.
 

Setting up collaborative learning

Let’s face it. Beneficial collaborative learning is not easy to set up and just arranging students in groups does not necessarily constitute meaningful collaboration. Also, conflicts within the group might prevent learning. It is therefore essential that students are equipped both with language skills and teamwork skills to actively participate in discussions, deal with conflict, exchange ideas and be productive. Teach them how to debate, negotiate and disagree politely. Cultivate an inclusive culture where no one mocks or laughs at other people’s ideas or mistakes. Collaboration is a celebration of diversity and students should learn to value and respect different opinions.

Encouraging collaboration with other classes

After establishing collaborative learning in your classroom, the next step would be to get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from around the world. Not only will this enhance learning and provide them with a real purpose to use English; it will also give them a perspective of what being a global citizen means.

In a future article, we will look into the best practices and tools  for global collaborative projects.  

Conclusion

Establishing a culture of collaboration does not take hours of preparation or professional development. But it does need a shift in perspective and authority. In collaborative classrooms, students are invited to make decisions, provide options for activities and assignments, and reflect on what they learn. As Plutarch suggested, the mind is not an empty vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.  So, if you want your students to collaborate, you do need an open mind and the willingness to trust them with their learning. You need to value students’ strengths and believe that they can learn from each other.  If you don’t, then no one will.

References

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

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Can conferences change the way you feel about your work?

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This is a re-post of an article I wrote for the WizIQ Blog on April 2, 2015 (published by Sylvia Guinan). As many of us will be heading to IATEFL Birmingham next week – and those unable to make it, will be attending sessions & interviews online – I thought you may find it interesting. So here it goes 🙂

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Image credit: ELTpics by Dace Praulins

Attending conferences can be a rewarding professional experience in so many ways; networking, professional development, travelling and fun. But can it really change the way we feel about our work, and to what extent?

As a regular conference-goer, presenter and, more recently, organiser, my answer is YES.

Here are my top five reasons:

1) Self-efficacy

Self‐efficacy refers to a person’s belief that he or she is able to accomplish a specific task. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura (1977), it is the mind’s self-regulatory function that tells us when to try and when to stop. If someone doesn’t believe something is possible, they are more likely to give up early or not attempt the task at all. When used in the context of teaching, it refers to teachers’ belief that they are able to affect students’ learning positively.
However, do you agree that this is not a belief all educators hold?

Teachers with low self-efficacy usually cite students’ family problems, lack of resources, adolescence or cultural differences as the reasons why they can only have a marginal effect.

Whether you think you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right – Henry Ford

Believe it or not – and with no intention to generalise here- I have rarely seen this type of teachers at conferences.

Why?

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Image Credit: TESOL Greece Annual Convention, March 2016

Maybe because people who invest in their professional development have realised that in order to have a positive effect on students’ learning, they first need to improve their own skills and knowledge; maybe because the sessions they have attended or the people they have met, have given them a boost to keep trying.

Let’s face it: our pre‐service education may have been sufficient to get us into the profession, but not for the reality of educating a diverse group of students. And even years of experience may not be enough to address challenges shaped by the rapid changes in cultural norms, technology, economic security and family structures.

 Conferences are essentially knowledge communities where people pool knowledge and inspiration towards a common purpose. They allow teachers to get a good sense of what’s going on in their field and, in my opinion, provide a powerful tool for strengthening their self-efficacy.

2) Networking

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Image credit: Newfrontiers

This is one of the most popular reasons people cite for attending a conference. Social media can offer tremendous opportunities for networking but I don’t think they can substitute in-person communication.  There’s power beyond learning in meeting peers, managers and presenters in person and an incredible amount of sharing can happen. Conferences can also be great for socialising and even making friends. Some of my best friends are people I once met at a conference. Having said that, not all the people we network with can be our friends so a distinction between networking and friendship/ personal and professional, is an important one to make.

3) Opportunities

 Whether you are job-hunting, looking for a collaborator for a class project, publishing a book, or wishing to get involved in a committee, opportunities abound at conferences, especially if you network. Almost every conference-goer I have spoken with has something to share about the great opportunities that arose or the deals that were struck in a conference lounge over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

 Of course, I’m not suggesting that conferences can create opportunities. It takes a lot of hard work, time and commitment for this to happen. But people like doing business with people they know personally and conferences can get the right people, in the right place, at the right time. This means that you may be there when the opportunity arises.

4) Creating Content

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Image credit: Doug Belshaw

Tweeting snippets of sessions, posting photos and most importantly blogging, are great ways to create content. You also help other educators who can’t make it to the event, to follow along.

 A few years ago, people went to conferences, learned lots of things but all the learning was restricted to those attending. With the advent of social media this has changed. Just look around a conference room and you will note people tweeting or ‘facebooking’ using conference hashtags.

 How can this change the way we feel about our work?

 My answer is that it is the reflection and the active involvement that can have a positive impact,  with the added effect of using social media to inspire others. By creating a permanent record of  your conference reflections, you become an active part of the event, you get your name out there and you contribute to the learning of others.

And this is leadership :-)

 If you are not convinced, at least make sure you bring something back to share with your colleagues at work. This may involve putting your notes together in a handout, organising a short seminar on activities you found useful etc. Directors of Studies should also encourage and promote this. Schools can’t afford to send all their teachers to a conference so why not ask those attending to share what they learned? Plus, having the extra responsibility to bring something back will encourage your team to be more engaged and present at the event.

5) And what about presenting?

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#ETZ15 Istanbul

 I would need a whole blog post to cover this so I am not going to go into much detail here other than to say that presenting can also have tremendous impact on the way you feel about your work. You don’t need to be a professional presenter or a teacher trainer to give it a try. I know you may be reluctant and that various questions may cross your mind: Do I have anything worthy to be presented? Do I have the skills to present in front of an audience? What if people don’t like what I say? What if no one comes?

 These doubts are absolutely normal, and we all went through these, but it is my firm belief that practitioners’ ideas are worth sharing. They don’t need to be groundbreaking, innovative or impressive to make an impact. If you have learned something through trial and error, if an activity or method has worked for you, go ahead and submit a proposal. It can be a very rewarding experience and may also affect your students’ perceptions with regard to your work.

Just bear in mind that presenting just for the sake of it can have the opposite effect. Don’t just do it to get yourself out there :-)

And some tips:

Image credit: Digital ELT Ireland 2014

As a regular conference-goer, here’s my top five. What would you add to the list?

  • Post-conference parties are great places to network, socialise and have fun after a long day at the conference but you need to realise that you are not really “off duty”. Potential employers, clients, trainees, or collaborators might observe your behaviour. Be aware of that.
  • Use the conference handbook to pick sessions and plan your day ahead of time. This will ensure that you don’t miss out on interesting presentations. Do not only go to your friends’ or acquaintances’ sessions. While there is nothing wrong with that, are you making the most of your conference experience? Challenge yourself by attending at least one session that you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Pick topics that are relevant to your current or future projects. For example, at this year’s IATEFL I’ve decided to focus on emerging research in EdTech and on practical EAP sessions (English for Academic Purposes). Last year, it was leadership that drew my attention. Make your own decisions and plan ahead.
  • No matter how well you plan ahead, there’s no way to take advantage of everything a conference offers. That’s what social media and recorded sessions are for. If you are having a great conversation, don’t cut it short to go to the next session. If you feel you’ve had too much input from the previous session, just take a break and reflect on it. If you want to get a glimpse of the city, take some hours off. You can’t do it all and that’s OK.
  • Take advantage of the exhibition area. You can find out a lot about new course books, methodology books and other materials, often at very good prices. What’s more, most exhibitors are former EFL teachers so they really look forward to networking with you.
  • Conferences can be really expensive and time-consuming so, unless they are part of your job, there is no way you can attend all of them. Be selective. You may decide that you can only afford one out-of-town event a year or every two years. That’s fine. It is not the quantity but the quality that matters and there are always fantastic local opportunities to benefit from.

What are your views on this? Do you think attending conferences can change the way we feel about our job? What are your tips for making the most of the conference experience?  Sylvia and I look forward to your comments.

References:

Bandura, A (1977). “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change”. Psychological Review 84 (2): 191–215

 

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DIGITAL IDENTITY: The promises & perils of existing online

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Picture1Digital Identity refers to the persona an individual presents across the Internet. 
More and more people are becoming active users of technology, contributing rather than just consuming online content. This is a powerful opportunity, but if they lack adequate media literacies, managing their online selves may be challenging.

What does it mean to exist online and what opportunities and dangers this may entail? In spring 2015 I gave two relevant talks at IATEFL Manchester and TESOL Greece. Here’s a brief interview to British Council Manchester online and here’s a live-streamed talk by TESOL Greece.

WHAT IS DIGITAL IDENTITY

Digital Identity is the sum of all digitally available information about an individual, irrespective of its degree of validity, its form or its accessibility (Williams, 2010). It comprises everything that can be found about us; from the content we create or share to what other people post about us; from the profiles we make to the conversations we have. It is also shaped by what can be inferred about us; our likes and searches, our purchases, our friends lists say a lot about us. And as the bits of data grow and combine, a complete picture of us emerges. A picture that is becoming increasingly accurate and traceable, due to the rapid growth of available data and the big data capacities to process it (Rose et al, 2012).

Does this sound scary? Well, it might but fear has never been a source of security. Instead, understanding what it really means to exist online and what opportunities and dangers it entails, makes it all worthwhile.

THE PROMISES

Participatory cultures & self-expression

Computer Chip

Existing online gives people more opportunities for self-expression. Rather than passively consuming content, we can create, curate and share; we can experiment with art, photography, poetry; we can adopt different writing styles to express our opinions and concerns. According to Stern (2007) all this gives people the opportunity to “have a voice”, an opportunity that may be rarer offline. Connecting with like-minded people and forming communities of relevance to our niche interests, can also lead to greater knowledge and richer intellectual exchanges. Personally, I would feel isolated without my online knowledge communities. Whether I have met these people face-to-face or not, I learn from and with them on a regular basis and they never stop to inspire me to become a better educator.

Self-reflection

Online expression is more conscious and intentional because we have more time to think. I agree with Diane Boyd (2007, 2014) who says that Digital Identities “have to write themselves into being”. We write all the time when blogging, commenting, updating our statuses, tweeting, texting, chatting. Why is this important? James et al (2009:26) suggest that our need to write our digital identities into existence can encourage reflection, which can in turn “nurture greater awareness of one’s roles and responsibilities to oneself, to others, and to one’s community’. All these, of course, are potential opportunities and depend on how seriously we take our online expression. Just posting nonsense, doesn’t make us reflective 😉

Feedback

Either positive or negative, feedback helps us to develop and grow. In the past, opportunities to get feedback were determined by physical space. Personally, I could only get feedback from those within easy reach such as family, friends or colleagues. Would you agree that getting immediate feedback is now just a tweet or blog away? This is a massive opportunity especially if feedback is constructive  and genuine.

Personal brand
Your personal brand is all about who you are and is in many ways synonymous with your reputation. It refers to the way other people see you as a teacher, blogger, trainer or representative of an idea or organization. What do you wish your online communities to associate you with when they think of your name? Do you know that employers will google you before they even invite you to an interview? Online spaces allow you to build and cultivate your brand BUT establishing a good reputation online is not easy. It involves much more than simply getting your name out there. Watch this space for practical tips on this.

THE PERILS

The performative element

digital identity photo
Photo by easegill

People perform roles all the time; we are teachers, colleagues, employees, wives, husbands so our behaviour is essentially shaped by the roles we perform; however, forming digital identities with an eye toward attracting or entertaining a digital audience, may undermine the opportunities mentioned above (James et al, 2009). When people share in order to be liked or appreciated, self-promotion may become more valued or urgent than learning or reflecting, and this can be potentially harmful. In brief, it’s OK when we share happy moments or professional achievements with our connections but where do we draw the line between sharing and showing off?

 

Tethering & Digital Distractions 

Tethering means connecting one device to another, but Turkle (2008) coined the term to describe the nearly constant sharing of information and connectivity to others online. More and more people are becoming so increasingly attached to their networks that they need to continuously signal their current locations, activities and moods. This may set the stage for an over-reliance on (positive) feedback, which can undercuPicture4t autonomy and create fragmented identities (James et al 2009). And as multitasking is an abiding myth, it may also distract them from what they are doing be it attending a lecture or having an interpersonal, face to face interaction.

As a teacher, I find managing digital distractions in class increasingly challenging. Whether we embrace new technologies wholeheartedly or not, let’s face it, digital distractions can interfere with the learning experience. This does not mean that technology should or can be banned from the classroom. Mobile devices are here to stay whether they are supported by the teacher or secretly used by the students. The debate, therefore, should not be on whether we allow them but on how we can prevent them from becoming a distraction.  As part of my Digital Citizenship & Literacy research project, I’m currently working on this area and will be presenting around Europe over the next months.

Digital Identity as the currency of the digital market

It is common knowledge (or at least it should be) that all the “free” services that we enjoy online, are not really free. We pay with our own currency aka our personal information. This can be used for good purposes, but it can also ‘be unscrupulously traded and abused’ (Saxby, 2011).

It is beyond the scope of this post to elaborate on the implications of this, but I want to believe that not all implications are negative. Consumers will “spend” their personal data when the deals are right; and as we (the consumers) are becoming increasingly aware of this, stakeholders will inevitably need to face the challenge of establishing a trusted flow of this data.


Though research is still emerging with diverse understandings about the promises and perils of existing online, there are some important questions we should be asking: How can we make the most of online opportunities without harming our reputation and credibility as educators and professionals? More importantly, what are the pedagogical implications of these promises and perils and how should they inform our teaching practices and curricula?

References

Boyd, D. (2007). Why Youth (Heart) Social Networking Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life. In Youth, Identity and Digital Media, ed. D. Buckingham, 119–142. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Boyd, D. (2014). It’s Complicated. The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

James, C., Davies, K., Flores, A., Francis, J., Pettingill, L., Rundle, M. Gardner, H. (2009). Young People, Ethics, and New Digital Media. A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Last accessed 20/3/15 http://tinyurl.com/petoc2c

Rose, J., Rober, B., Rehse, O. (2012). The Value of Our Digital Identity. The Boston Consulting Group, Liberty Global Policy Series. Last accessed 20/3/15 http://www.libertyglobal.com/PDF/public-policy/The-Value-of-Our-Digital-Identity.pdf

Saxby, S. (2011). in Digital Identity: An Emergent Legal Concept. Sullivan, D. South Australia: University of Adelaide Press

Stern, S. (2007). “Producing Sites, Exploring Identities: Youth Online Authorship.” In Youth, Identity and Digital Media, ed. D. Buckingham, 95–117. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Turkle, S. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Turkle, S. (2008). “Always-on/Always-on-You: The Tethered Self.” In Handbook of Mobile Communications and Social Change, ed. J. Katz, 121– 138. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Williams, S. A., Fleming, S. C., Lundqvist, K. O. and Parslow, P. N. (2010). Understanding your digital identity. Learning Exchange, 1 (1). Last accessed 20/3/15  http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/17011/1/Williams_2010_Understanding_DI.pdf

 

 

 

 

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Moving to a new website

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The EntranceFey Ilyas / Foter / CC BY-SA

It’s been a great four years blogging with Edublogs. So many things changed for me over this time; I graduated, changed career path, landed exciting (and less exciting) contracts, started getting deeply involved with IATEFL LTSIG and many more. I think I’m not the only one to feel that as we progress and evolve, things impact on us and make changes inevitable, even welcome. After all “there is nothing so unchanging, so inevitable as change itself”. And this is how I decided to say goodbye to my old “digital” home and move into my new one.

The decision was rather quick; I knew there were things I could take with me (posts & comments) and things that I couldn’t (subscribed readers/ traffic/ add ins). But I needed the flexibility of a new website so I didn’t look back. Traffic and numbers have never been my priority, anyway.

I can’t complain about the process either; First, I did some research on the options available but didn’t spend too much time on this. Options are innumerous and it can take forever if you ponder up on everything out there. It didn’t take me long to decide I’d go for WordPress – more flexible, user-friendly but still professional. Then, I asked colleagues who had already moved websites for advice. I set up WordPress on BlueHost and purchased my domain name sophiamavridi.com. I then exported my previous blog’s content into a XML doc and imported it into my new website. Finally, I posted a brief announcement on my previous blog. Done!

I know I will be coming across broken links or glitches for a while so I’d appreciate if you would contact me with any problems you may see. I’m also aware it will take some time to update all my accounts and get people to link to this new site. Design and add ins will also take quite some time. But the hardest part is over.

Here’s to new beginnings 🙂

 

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Digital Citizenship through past and upcoming presentations

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Digital Citizenship has been the main focus of my work over the past few years. I explored it through my MA research thesis and have given talks at various conferences around Europe.  My last talk (“Digital Citizenship & ELT: A match made in heaven” ) took place at Digital ELT 2014, in Dublin; an annual event, organised by IATEFL LTSIG and MEI, and supported by ELT Ireland.

The following interview was originally published on Sylvia Guinan‘s blog after Digital ELT 2014. Sylvia, inspired by the event, revisits collective visions on digital learning and takes a look at predictions and trends on the future of education. Here is the original article featuring Gavin Dudeney, Caroline Moore, John Whipple, John Whipple, Nellie Muller Deutsch, Peter Lahiff, Christine Mullaney and myself. A must read!

And below are my replies to her questions:

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Photo taken by Sylvia Guinan at Digital ELT 2014

What did you talk about at the Digital ELT Ireland conference and how can it influence where learning is going?                        

I talked about Digital Citizenship and suggested ways it can be integrated into an ELT curriculum. Digital Citizenship is an educational approach that involves literacies, skills and competences for effective digital participation. It aims at educating people to make informed decisions about the content they consume, create or share and critically reflect on the impact this may have, both on themselves and others. In my presentation, I suggested that technology integration should not be a tool-oriented approach and I challenged the existing paradigms in technology education that merely invest in technology equipment but take its responsible use for granted. Our students might be particularly confident users of technology but this doesn’t mean that they can use it effectively. If we want them to develop these skills, then, it stands to reason that the best way is to simply teach them.

Can you describe one major highlight from 2014 that makes a difference to you as an educator and/or has wider significance for ELT in general?

I think that the way we connect as educators is evolving. I’ve always been a proponent of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), and on a personal level my own network has been a source of inspiration, support and learning for me. However, at times, I felt that ELT PLNs were becoming ‘mutual admiration societies’ where no criticism or debate could be encouraged or tolerated. Also, lack of netiquette or filter by some, self-promotion or cliques by others, made me wonder whether the whole idea was soon going to decline. Networks are ecosystems; to be sustainable all the elements should be healthy. I am happy to see we are gradually taking PLNs to the next level and becoming more conscious and mature about the way we connect and share.

What are your professional plans for 2015 and are there any important trends in digital learning that we should watch out for in 2015?

I plan to write a book on Digital Citizenship drawing on my thesis and ongoing research. Hopefully, this will start in 2015. As for important trends, I think there will be less focus on ‘cool tools’ and more focus on pedagogically-sound, well-researched ways these can be used. Learning (and teaching) is not about mastering 100 tools, it’s not about bells and whistles; it is about making informed and wise choices. It’s high time we moved beyond the hype and invest in what really matters.

A big thanks to Sylvia for the interview and for giving me permission to re-post it here.

 

logoThis weekend (14/03/2015) I I am giving a keynote at the 2nd Educational Technology Summit in Istanbul. The summit will bring together educators, technology companies, entrepreneurs, managers and other stakeholders who will raise new questions and share best practices “in an age shaped by the widespread use of new technologies in education” (ETZ 2015). My speech – “Digital Citizenship: A Burning Issue in EdTech” – will stress the importance of integrating digital literacies and competences into the curriculum and suggest ways educators can be involved. Big congrats to Işıl Boy, the executive committee, and everyone else involved on organising #ETZ15. We need more events like this one.

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Student Engagement – with or without technology

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On the 30th of August I participated in a panel discussion at the 5th Foreign Language Forum in Athens, Greece. The main theme was “Present, Motivate, Engage”; Lilika Couri talked about Presentation, Luke Prodromou about Motivation and myself about Engagement. In this blog I will go through what was in my presentation both for those who attended and did not have the time to make notes and for those who couldn’t make it but are interested in the topic.

What is Student Engagement?

involved students“To teach is to engage students in learning” (Christensen, 1991).

I think the above quote captures the essence of Student Engagement in learning and suggests that the role of the teacher is not to provide knowledge but to design and facilitate learning opportunities.

However, while there is general agreement that Student Engagement is vital to learning, the definition of the term itself is fairly ambiguous (Parsons & Taylor, 2011). For some, it means compliance and academic achievement while for others, active involvement in and enthusiasm about the learning experience. Below are two definitions that clearly suggest that various factors are at play when students fully engage in learning.

‘Student Engagement has been used to depict students’ willingness to participate in routine school activities such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class’  (Nystrand & Gamoran, 1991).

‘Students who are engaged show sustained behavioural involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competences, initiate action when given the opportunity and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks’ (Skinner & Belmont, 1993).

Which one do you agree with? Do you think they complement each other (as the audience of the 5th FL Forum suggested) or that they are quite distinct?

How can we increase student engagement in the language classroom?

Below are some steps that I have found effective. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are more than welcome to contribute your own ideas and experiences:

Use technology (but not for the sake of it)

Learning with iPadsStudents today are quickly bored with texts and lectures because of their immersion in technology and the exciting multimedia tools they use everyday to communicate, learn and entertain themselves. The truth is that technology offers amazing opportunities to engage students in learning; we can create content and share it with the world, we can find information at the click of a button, we can interact with people beyond classroom walls. So, technology is engaging but to contribute to learning we need to make pedagogically sound use of it. Technology is not a magic bullet so don’t use it just because it’s available or cool. If you want to read more about this take a look herePhoto Credit: Michael Coghlan via Compfight

Encourage interaction and collaboration

It’s been said that collaboration is the new competition and I totally agree. Apart from being engaging, teamwork is a 21st century skill that we should help students to develop. So get students to collaborate with other classes, preferably from another country. In this way they will have a real purpose to communicate in English. Blogging is a great way to extend communication beyond the boundaries of the classroom because it’s highly interactive; students can write blogs for an extended audience but they also read and comment on other students’ blogs.

Just bear in mind that they will need language and teamwork skills to interact effectively; teach them how to negotiate and debate how to disagree politely. They should welcome diversity and appreciate other people’s opinions no matter how different they are from theirs.

Create an emotionally safe environment

To be engaged in learning, students need to take risks but they are not going to iif they feel emotionally unsafe. To help students,

  • create a class environment  that tolerates mistakes
  • teach students to support each other
  • give the thumbs down to people who laugh at others
  • wait for slower students and don’t just call on the first ones that raise their hand
  • Help them to build their self-efficacy by beginning every lesson with a task that all students can do without your help; then gradually follow up with more challenging ones until you give all students the opportunity to be involved.

Scaffold challenging tasks

façade zebréeSuppose you ask your students to find information about a person (historical, celebrity etc) and then write an imaginary interview with him/her. Although this is a very creative task, your students might be challenged by a number of things that can slow production. To engage them, create intermediate steps by:

  • asking them to brainstorm with a peer who they are going to interview
  • teaching them how to search online for relevant vocabulary
  • devising quality questions
  • role-playing the interview with a peer
  • how to cite their sources and attribute the information they use to the writer.Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Olivier Jeannin via Compfight

Encourage Reflection

Reflection is key ingredient to learning and engagement. According to Dewey (1933) reflective learners control their learning “by assessing what they know, what they need to know, and how they bridge that gap”.

If we want students to get in the habit of reflection, we should regularly invite them to analyse and make judgments about what they have learned.

Start using the “3-2-1” reflection activity at the end of every lesson by asking students to record three things they learned,  two things they found interesting and a question about what was taught (Hurst, 2013). If this sounds  time-consuming, you can ask them to record their reflections on a learning platform such as a class blog or Edmodo which will allow you and your students to interact with each other beyond lessons.

Support exploration and develop digital literacyEye of the Beholder

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: hjl via Compfight

Learning is all about exploration but your students will need to have research skills to engage in it. The Internet can provide access to outstanding sources of knowledge at the click of a button. The problem nowadays, however, is that while young people are particularly confident users of technology, they often lack the skills to make effective and responsible use of it. So, teach them how to:

  • find information by using keywords effectively
  • evaluate and challenge online content; not everything they read online is accurate or trustworthy 😉
  • synthesise information into their own original argument and avoid plagiarism.

Incorporate movement into your lessons

Movement is a vital part of our daily lives and can revitalize both young learners and adults. To influence your students mood make sure you use one (or more) of the following in every lesson:

  • ask students to write on the board
  • ask them to take a stretch break, that is stand and stretch between parts of the lesson
  • use mingling activities. You might think that students will get overly excited but this is because they are not used to the procedures. If mingling is a regular part of your lesson students then students will perceive it as such.
  • ask students to move to a different part of them room to find a partner and compare notes or answers. Don’t just ask them to work with the person sitting next to them.
  • If students have to answer various task questions, divide the questions in 4 groups and ask students to walk to a different corner to discuss them.

Foster creativity

When we ask student to create something, we help them to develop ownership over their learning and feel that their ideas and originality matter. Foster creativity by

  • using art in the classroom
  • asking them to create videos or podcasts. There are some great tools available.
  • integrating digital storytelling tools to create stories with them.
  • asking them to share what they create with others (preferably online) and get feedback. This is when creativity becomes meaningful.

Use humour

Did I Say Something Funny?A good laugh eases tension and helps students to feel more comfortable and open to learning. Even if you are not a naturally funny person, you can still lighten things up with the following:

  • Spice up tests and assignments with humorous items
  • Have a Joke Friday – ask students to bring in jokes to share with classmates
  • Keep a cartoon file – Have an area where students can display a cartoon every day on a rota basis – If you have a class blog ask them to post it there
  • Ask students to try and build humour into writing assignments. This is a valuable writing skill that will also add fun to your classes  (Elias, 2014).   Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Matt via Compfight

Incorporate alternative ways of assessment

According to Armstrong (2006) ‘standardised testing often leads teachers to teach to the test instead of students’ needs, interests, and abilities’. This may be true. While curriculum-teaching requires teachers to evaluate specific content knowledge through testing, tests should not be the only means students are evaluated. Incorporate alternative ways of assessment such as:

  • student (electronic) portfolios that depict their progress over time
  • student presentations, blog posts or project work. If they work in groups, don’t forget to evaluate their teamwork skills.

Exam classes may be a bit different but you can always use alternative ways from time to time.

Provide a good modelIMG_1859

‘Energised teaching fosters energised learning, monotonous teaching sabotages attention’  (Intrator, 2004). So, be an engaged teacher. Be authentic, share personal stories, convey your passion, express emotion and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You don’t need to dominate the class to show involvement. As Roppo (2014) suggests “great leaders guide, direct and inspire with an easy strength, but they never dominate.”

Can you add some more ideas to the list? Have you found other ways to engage your students in learning?

References                                                                                                                                                                                

Armstrong, T. (2006). The Best Schools: How human development research should inform educational practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Christensen, C. (1991). Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Elias, M. (2014). Using Humor in the Classroom.

Hurst, S. (2013). Seven Ways to Increase Student Engagement in the Classroom.

Intrator, S. (2004). The engaged Classroom. Educational Leadership, 1 (62), 20-25

Nystrand, M., & Gamoran, A. (1991). Instructional discourse, student engagement, and literature achievement. Research in the Teaching of English, 25(3), 261-290.

Skinner, E. A, & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4), 571-581.

Parsons, J. & Taylor, L. (2011). Student Engagement: What do we know and what should we do? University of Alberta: University Partners.

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7 Steps to Student PLNs

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One of my goals for 2014 is to apply what I have been planning for quite some time now: encourage my students to develop their own PLNs.

In brief, a PLN (Personal Learning Network) is “an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment”. Interactions can take place online and the learner does not have to meet those people in person.

My own PLN consists of like-minded educators from all around the world; they are the people I learn from and with on a daily basis. They are those who share with me and inspire me to experiment, reflect and become a better educator. Whether I have met them in person or not, these people are now part of my life. I’m not isolated anymore; I’m part of a community of lifelong learners.

How would it be like if students developed their own PLNs in areas of interest or talent? Not only would they be encouraged to learn independently but they would also have access to information and communities impossible to reach from within classroom walls. After all, as 21st century teachers, we are no longer the sole providers of knowledge; however, we can be the ones who will show them the way to opportunities; those who will provide them with skills to learn from and with a global network of people.

Below are 7 steps that I consider essential to this endeavour. The list is by no means exhaustive and you are invited to make your own contributions through a comment or blogpost 🙂

Step 1: Reflect on how you developed your own PLN

Our experience in developing and maintaining a PLN should not be taken for granted. Reflect on that. Think about the steps that you took, the mistakes that you made and on what you have learned on the way. If you don’t have a PLN, it’s never too late to create one. You will feel much more confident to teach something that you have personal experience in. Read what Shelly Terrell and Vicky Loras suggest and contact me in case you need further help 🙂

Step 2: Teach students Digital Citizenship skills

To participate in online communities effectively, students will need to be equipped with skills to use technology responsibly, ethically and safely. They should be polite and tolerant with people; they should be critical thinkers, able to challenge and filter a vast array of information found online; they should also be aware of the dangers they might encounter and be able to deal with them effectively. Even if your students are aware of these concepts, reminding them is always a good idea.

Step 3: Give it time

As you will know from your own experience, PLNs cannot be developed overnight; they are not static either. They grow as we grow and can slightly change when our needs and interests change as well. Give your students time to build and maintain their PLNs. It might work well as a year round project for instance but you will need to check students’ progress regularly.

Step 4: Encourage active participation

Finding and joining a community of like-minded people might be highly important but PLNs cannot be maintained if students are just consumers of what other people share. They will need to contribute back by taking part in discussions, by creating and sharing their own content. Teach students to be creators. They can start with comments or questions and gradually move on to writing blog posts or creating videos. Anything that will add value to other people’s learning will be appreciated and welcome.

Step 5: Find tools that will suit your students’ needs

Twitter, Facebook groups or blogs can be great PLN platforms. Do your personal research and use the ones that address your students’ needs. You will also need to consider your students’ age. If you teach young learners, platforms like Edublogs or Edmodo might be more appropriate. Curation tools are also important. Teach them to curate and organise information and resources with tools such as diigo, Evernote or scoop.it.

Step 6: Don’t forget that PLNs are personal

The term itself suggests students need to personalise the learning experience and make decisions. Don’t impose networks and interests on them; instead, help them define their goals and motivations and make connections according to them. Personalisation can be achieved even with younger students who need to be supervised more closely; for instance, you can initiate collaboration with kids in other countries but let them have a say over who they want to work with.

Step 7: Act as a model

Last but not least, focus on modeling what learning looks like. Share your own learning and experiences. Tell them how you started your own PLN and how valuable it has been to you. Learn with them and from them. Invite them to teach you something; explore and discover new things together. Be part of their PLN and let them be part of yours.

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Tagged – a blog challenge

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red ribbon and label

This is a great blog challenge in which one blogger tags you on their blog, challenges you to share 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions; then, it’s your turn to challenge eleven more bloggers by tagging them on your blog.

I was first tagged by Doug Peterson and I instantly liked this challenge as it aims at bringing bloggers together and gives the opportunity to our readers to know us a bit better. But just as I was about to respond, Theodora Papapanagiotou and Eva Büyüksimkeşyan tagged me for the same challenge. So I decided to answer all their questions in one blog.

I think this would be a great activity to motivate language learners to develop their writing skills and get up to speed with blogging. I’ll definitely try it in 2014, most probably with some  adaptations.

 So here is the task:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger- in this case it would be me…
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

So here we go:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger

Doug is an educator from Canada. Since my friend, Vicky Loras, introduced me to him we’ve been connected through Twitter and Facebook and I have already learned a lot out of what he shares. Doug is a proponent of Educational Technology and has a deep understanding and experience of how it should be integrated effectively into the classroom. I really admire him for this. Along with reading his blog (which he updates almost on a daily basis) I had the opportunity to have a professional discussion with him via Google hangout last month. Isn’t it amazing how technology connects people who want to learn from each other?

A week ago, I was a guest speaker at TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Xmas event and this is where I met Theodora. Theodora is a dedicated EFL teacher and blogger from Thessaloniki and I’m so happy we are now connected on Facebook. I’m looking forward to interacting with her more often and seeing her at another ELT event soon.

Eva is a great EFL teacher and blogger from Istanbul. Her blog “A journey in TEFL” is full of practical ideas and activities for EFL teachers and has been nominated from Edublogs a number of times. I had the pleasure to meet her in person last year in Istanbul at the YTU 1st International Symposium and I hope to see her again soon.

 2. Share 11 random facts about yourself:

  • I am a night owl. I love staying up late, possibly because I’m sharper at night.

  • I don’t like sweets, cakes, ice-cream. I only eat chocolate before presentations or exams as it gives me energy.

  • I can live on bread and pastry on condition it is not sweet 😉

  • I can be really grumpy when I’m cold, hungry or sleepless. Other than this, I’m usually easy-going.

  • I love Facebook because most of my friends are there.

  • I love pets, especially dogs. I have a maltese dog, Hector. No doubt you know him if we are connected via Facebook 😉

  • My first name (Sophia) is a Greek one and means wisdom. The word “philosophy” comes from the Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”. So if you are a friend of mine, consider yourself a philosopher.

  • I love red wine and beer. I hate whisky. Just the smell of it makes me feel dizzy.

  • I never ever watch TV.

  • I have been reading and writing on screen for two years now. It’s much more convenient and I find it equally effective in terms of retention.

  • I went to the USA at the age of 22 with the money I had been saving to buy a car. I’ve never regretted not buying the car instead.

3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

Doug’s questions and my answers:

  • When was the last time you backed up your computer? Last month.

  • If you could speak any language other than English, what would it be? Italian, I love the sound of this language.

  • Where would you go for your dream vacation? Mauritius.

  • Have you ever received a parking ticket? Yes, quite a few times. Athens can be chaotic.

  • You’re in control of the thermostat.  What’s your ideal room temperature? 26 degrees.

  • Have you ever taken an online course? Yes, in fact I took my MA online.

  • What was the last educational conference that you attended? IATEFL Hungary and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • When was the last time you were in a public library? Hmm, I don’t remember 😉 But I visit online libraries on a daily basis.

  • Have you ever dabbled with Linux? No.

  • What would you consider to be the best photo you’ve ever taken? See next answer 🙂

  • What, and where, is your favourite park? I’m quite happy with the photo I took on Margaret Island (Margit-sziget in Hungarian). It is a small island/park in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest. Such a lovely place!

    Margaret Island
    Margaret Island

Theodora’s questions and my answers:

  • How important is music to your life? Very important. It cheers me up.

  • How much time do you devote in your job? Hmm, working and studying? More than I should. Something I really need to work on.

  • Share a funny thing that happened in class. Recently, we decided to take pictures making funny faces. Kids can be so creative when it comes to fun 😉

  • What does the word “educator” mean in your opinion? Nikos Kazantzakis said: “Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • If you could learn anything, what would that be? Languages.

  • What is your favourite movie? The Godfather.

  • What do you fear the most? Losing my beloved.

  • If you could live anywhere, where would that be? In the UK (preferably in Cambridge) or in New York.

  • What is your favourite word? In English I love the word “exquisite”.

  • What is your favourite digital app? GoodReader.

  • Do you have any lucky items, objects or traditions? Not really.

Eva’s Questions and my answers     questions_answers

  • Do you remember the first class you entered as a teacher? Of course I do. It was a class of 7 angels. I believe I was very lucky to have such a nice first experience.

  • What is your favorite social media platform? Why? Facebook because I combine both socializing and professional development.

  • How do you think blogging helps your teaching? It helps me reflect and keep a record of my work.

  • Tea or Coffee? Coffee.

  • Who is your favorite singer, band, musician? Hmm, if I were to choose only one that would be Sting.

  • Do you attend conferences? Why? / why not? I’m a conference addict. I learn so much and it’s always great to meet up with friends.

  • Who were the most helpful tweeters or bloggers for you when you started blogging or tweeting? Marisa Constantinides, Vicky Loras and Shelly Terrell.
  • What will be the first goal in your New Year’s resolutions list this year? Complete my MA thesis.
  • Where would you like to travel in 2014? Japan.
  • How long does it take to write a blog post for you and how often do you update your blog? I’m a slow blogger because I usually write long posts. Something I want to change in 2014.
  • What is your favorite food? Sushi

4. My turn to tag in alphabetical order – hopefully you haven’t been tagged already 🙂

Anna Loseva

Alexandra Chistyakova

Beyza Yilmaz

Bruno Andrade

Cecilia Lemos

Dimitris Tzouris

Dimitris Primalis

Dina Dobrou

Dincer Demir

Isil Boy

Michael Stout

5. And my questions:

  • What was the conference you enjoyed the most in 2013?

  • Facebook or Twitter? Why?

  • Do you know any nickname(s) your students have given you?

  • Do you prefer reading on screen or on paper?

  • What’s the best blogpost you have ever written?  

  • Are you a morning or a night person?

  • Name 3-5 digital tools/apps that you use with your classes on a regular basis.

  • What was the most unusual food you have ever eaten? What was it like?

  • Have you ever lived in another country other than the one you live now? Where was it?

  • Imagine you won a scholarship to attend an ideal conference anywhere in the world. Where would that be?

  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?Xmas-Snow-Ball-Wallpaper-1600x1200

Thank you Doug, Theodora and Eva! I really enjoyed writing this. And many thanks in advance to those bloggers who will take up the challenge!

As this is my last post in 2013, I want to take this opportunity and wish everyone a Merry Xmas and a happy 2014! Let’s stay connected and motivated 🙂

 

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We need pedagogy, not just cool tools

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Rubik Apps
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: César Poyatos via Compfight

Whether we have fully integrated technology or not, few of us can deny that learning technologies can revolutionise language learning and teaching; we can find information at the click of a button, create content and share it with the world, communicate and collaborate beyond the boundaries of our classrooms, have a Personal Learning Network and be inspired to become lifelong learners.

There are plenty of options available; various blogging platforms, voice recording tools, LMS software (Learning Management System), social media, you name it; and there is also a lot of information about them. Colleagues who have tried a tool might write a blog post; educational technologists might give reviews on new tools. All this is valuable and I have personally learned a lot out of it. However, what happens when this information comes out in the form of lists such as “100 must-have digital tools for teachers” or “50 tools every teacher should master this summer”? What about blogs whose only purpose is to present “cool tools” day after day? Isn’t all this a bit overwhelming?

Kozzi-panic-emoticon-1888 X 1112

Through discussions with colleagues and trainees, I can only say that such information can hardly help teachers decide what to choose and what to reject. Some of their comments include the following:

  • “There are too many tools but too little time”.

  • “I’m not trained, I can’t decide”.

  • “They all look the same to me”.

  • “New technologies seem to appear everyday. I just can’t keep up”.

Does this ring any bells?

I don’t think that what those teachers need is a reminder that they should soon master 50 or more tools. Education has never been a matter of quantity. I guess what they really need is training and clear criteria against which to evaluate and choose technologies; they need to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to integrate them into their classrooms. They also need to be reassured that if their goal for students is language learning then technology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself.

I feel that just presenting tool after tool is a rather narrow perspective about the potential of Educational Technology.

The hype to use the latest and greatest digital tools – rather than the meaningful use of technology – is like driving a cool car without any vision for where we want to go.

Let’s take the focus off the tool; Instead, let’s focus on:

  • the pedagogy behind the tool and use it because it addresses our students’ cognitive needs, not because it is available or exciting.

  • developing critical thinkers with the ability to find, reflect on, curate and synthesise information.

  • developing lifelong learners who will be able to create and use their Personal Learning Networks to self-educate and grow.

  • educating digital citizens, that is, responsible members of an increasingly global and interconnected world who know their rights and responsibilities; people who can make informed decisions about the content they create or share and its impact on themselves and on the other members of a digital community.

Cool tools might still be welcome to our classrooms but this won’t make them more appropriate for learning.

If you are interested in the topic and you are around Thessaloniki, Greece, on the 15th of December, come along and join us at the TESOL Macedonia – Thrace Christmas event where I will be talking about “Evaluating and Choosing Educational Digital Tools and Apps ”.

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All things in eModeration: Moderating Class Blogs and Facebook Student Groups

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Once in a Blue Moon
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This post is a response to the TESOL Greece blog challenge on eModeration. It is primarily aimed at EFL teachers of young learners, teens and young adults but I hope teachers of other disciplines and age groups will find some areas of interest. It will try to answer the following questions:

  • What is moderation and why is it important?
  • What should we moderate in class blogs and Facebook student groups? 
  • What are the challenges involved and how can we deal effectively with them?

What is moderation?

In general terms, moderation is the process of eliminating or lessening extremes. It is used to ensure normality throughout the medium on which it is being conducted.

In computing terms, a moderator needs to:

  • monitor and often censor inappropriate comments and posts that are left for public display
  • keep users on topic
  • keep the discussion thread free of personal insults and derogatory comments.

Why moderating?

Merely creating an online community such as a class blog or a Facebook group does not necessarily lead to productive discussions or learning. Additionally, we should not assume that students, regardless of their age, are aware of concepts such as responsible online conduct and digital citizenship. What if their posts are not always appropriate? What about spam and flaming?

Consequently, the teacher’s role in moderating and facilitating purposeful discussions and contributions is vital. As a moderator you will have to take informed decisions about:

  • when a post or comment should be approved.
  • how to organise online discussions and motivate students to participate in them.
  • how to help students feel part of a learning community.
  • how to develop their digital literacy skills’ so that moderation can gradually become less frequent.

 Class Blogs

 

Dream classroom
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Charles Wiriawan via Compfight


The degree and criteria against which to evaluate what should or shouldn’t be moderated might depend on various factors such as the age of your students or whether they have been introduced to eSafety and Digital Citizenship skills. In the early stages, while students should be given freedom over the ideas they express, they should also be aware that you are the administrator of the blog and thus posts and comments should be first approved by you. This is to ensure that only appropriate content is posted on your blog and that a high degree of etiquette is maintained. And as your blog will probably be public, you should know that practically anyone on the web can visit and leave a comment. Would you like your students to read inappropriate comments or be exposed to potentially suspicious links contained in them? To my experience, this rarely happens but I strongly believe moderation is of vital importance to protect your online community from the potential risk.

For class blogs I would suggest the following:

  • Make sure your students are aware of the rules and guidelines of the blog so that they know what is or isn’t appropriate. If possible, involve them in the decision making. It will encourage greater ownership and motivation to respect the rules.
  • Consistency is important. Decide in advance whether posts or comments that contain accuracy mistakes will be accepted or not. I personally think that rejecting such content can be extremely discouraging for students but it clearly depends on the primary aims of your blog. I publish comments even if they contain mistakes to reinforce students’ communication skills and sense of community. As far as posts are concerned, I adopt a process writing approach where students submit their first draft and then revise their work according to my feedback. You need to make your own decisions as a class and stick to them.
  • Decide in advance whether or not you are going to moderate YLs & teens’ personal pictures. While there is not a consensus decision on this, you should know that according to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) for example, you need the parents’ consent to post a picture of an under 13 year-old-child. My piece of advice? Students of all ages love posting their pictures on class blogs and might feel disappointed to see them turned down. I generally advise students to attach creative commons licensed pictures but when someone attaches a picture of themselves, I use skitch to blur the face even when the parents don’t mind their kid’s picture posted online.  
  • Be aware of the links students might share on posts or comments. I think that not allowing students to share links would not reflect reality since we all do on a regular basis. Instead, teach them that not all links are innocent and that they should check before they share with their classmates. In any case, moderate before you post. Quite recently, a student of mine left the following comment on our blog:
A comment from our class blog
A comment on our class blog

 

Although the student is a responsible internet user, I thought it was essential that I first ensure the link was a safe one and that it did not direct students to illegal game downloads. 

 

  • As I have already written on a previous post, teaching commenting skills is necessary if we are to transform our blog from a static space to an interactive community. According to Morris (2011) quality comments are:

1      Relevant to the post.

2      Complementing the writer, asking a question or adding further information to the post.

3      Proofread by the students for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

As a moderator, you might also need to provide timely intervention when a discussion goes off topic or when an argument should be resolved. Sometimes students might transfer an argument that started in class to the blog especially when they feel active parts of this online community. Your role as a moderator and facilitator can be vital in such cases.

Facebook student groups

Facebook Expert
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Unlike blogs, Facebook groups do not allow administrators to approve comments before they are published. All you can do is delete posts and comments or even remove members in case things get out of hand. For this reason, I would suggest that teachers create a Facebook group only when they have introduced their students to concepts such as appropriate online behaviour and responsible digital citizenship. Having said that, I do believe Facebook can be a great learning platform if used effectively. Our students are there anyway so why not make learning more approachable to them? I totally appreciate protected platforms such as Edmodo or Schoology which might be essential in certain cases. However, adopting a constant risk-averse approach can be counterproductive and unrealistic. Students need to be given the opportunity to take risks in real contexts otherwise they won’t be able to manage risk effectively.

Most of what I mentioned about blogging applies to Facebook as well but below are some tips special to student Facebook groups:

  • Create a closed group for your students so that you can ensure only accepted members can access and post there.
  • Promote students who are willing and involved to administrators. It will take the burden off you and they will be given a great learning opportunity. You will also encourage a sense of ownership and belonging to the group.
  • Do not become Facebook friends with your students unless of course you do not post personal stuff on your account. Posting a family picture, teasing a friend online or checking in at a club might be things you wouldn’t like your students to know. it can be hard to decline requests but it will make your life so much easier. There are a few tips I can share on that so I intend to write a follow up post 🙂
  • Do not delete posts or comments just because you or other students don’t agree with some opinions expressed. On the contrary, encourage debate and use it as an opportunity to show students that freedom of speech is vital as long as people justify their opinions politely. 
  • If students spam or make inappropriate contributions I think you have every right to delete their posts or comments. After all, you are there to ensure students’ security and learning. Talk to the student in private and try to understand the reasons behind their actions. Sometimes teenagers or young adults just like to break the rules. I also think that, without identifying the student, you should use the incident as a topic for a class discussion. Instead of giving tedious lectures on inappropriate online behaviour, encourage students to comment on the incident and see for themselves why spamming or flaming is inappropriate.
  • As already mentioned, use this online community to promote responsible and wise social media use; turn mistakes into learning opportunities. I remember I once asked students to post a picture from their summer holiday and write something about it. We had already talked about privacy and digital footprint so I was surprised to see a picture of my 20-year-old student posing rather suggestively in her bikini. She was a nice girl and I’m sure she didn’t mean to provoke her classmates. After all, it is difficult to define the norms when young people are exposed to nude or semi-nude TV images all the time. The good thing about the incident was that it proved to be a great topic for a class discussion on digital identities which encouraged the girl to remove the picture herself.

A final piece of advice

Like - Thumb Up
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Moderation involves students’ participation to online communities and this is something that only you can encourage no matter how powerful a tool is. If participation is optional not all students are likely to contribute. On the other hand, if it is mandatory or marked it might feel like another task that needs to be done. It would be better to integrate it into your course so that students perceive it as an essential part of their learning. For example, you might start a discussion in class that could be continued online; or instead of asking them to write an essay, you could post a relevant video, ask them to discuss it with classmates online and then write something on this.

 

 

 

How do you moderate your students’ class blogs or Facebook groups? Would you add or remove anything from the above tips? I would be very interested to read your views 🙂