Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Technology: Vocabulary and reading in L2

This week we will be discussing in class how the use of technology could help Spanish students learn vocabulary and develop their reading skills in a L2. Vocabulary flashcards and apps are specially popular nowadays. My daughter is using two apps in our iPad: Gus Spanish and Mindsnacks Spanish to learn basic vocabulary in Spanish. She specially enjoyed the games targeting the words she is learning.

 Gus Spanish

 Mindsnacks Spanish

 Other tools such as flashcards and tools in the web such a Memrise can help learners store new words in their memories.

StudyBlue flashcard



 Reading and how we read in the net have also experienced important changes that can help L2 learners get more exposure to the texts, textual enhancements, tools such as dictionaries and glossaries, and share her reading experiences with others through apps such as Kindle and iBook.

 Children Library app


 For this topic, I prepared a special live binder to introduce the topic and share some tools that can be used in the Spanish classroom.

Friday, September 13, 2013

MQlicker - Previewing a lesson

This week, in my technology class for Spanish teachers, we were talking about Standards for students and teachers in relation to the use of technology in the classroom. The chapter we read in the book: DuBravac (2013), Technology in the L2 Curriculum, discussed the ACTFL standards and the ISTE NETS for students and teachers. We also talk about the ACTFL 21st century skills map. Students read the chapter at home and I prepared a presentation using Empressr to discuss the topic. Before the lecture, I previewed the lesson by eliciting from students words related to the standards for students and teachers. For this preview of the topic, I use the tool: MQlicker. I found out about this tool via Nick Peachy. He wrote a wonderful post talking about the features MQlicker offers to teachers in order to assess/poll students using their mobile devices or laptops. I prepared a quiz with ten questions. Some of the questions were open text, students had to provide words associated with the standards. Other questions were multiple selection in which students had to report about their findings in a survey they administered to their students about the use of technology in the classroom. I also included an open text question about a surprising fact they found out about their students' use of technology. At the end of the survey I included a short video about what 21st century students need in their classrooms (Engage me!) and asked students to provide names of tools to address what students in the video needed - open text question.
When students finished completing the quiz, I showed the results to the class. For the open text questions, I selected the option Word Cloud to show the results. A word cloud presented the words they provided related to the standards so we could discuss the more frequent ones and what they meant.
For the open question related to the surprising data in their surveys, I showed the results as a sticky board to read the different comments and elaborate on this information.
For the multiple selection questions, I showed the results as charts that showed the most frequent option selected by the students. We discussed about some trends like the fact that students did no want to use Facebook in their Spanish class.
I believe that showing real data from the participants in the class and their students for a quick analysis and discussion was a refreshing way to preview and discuss the topic of our class. Participation was greatly encouraged by the data collected and presented through MQlicker.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Presenting with Haiku Deck

I am teaching a technology class in our Master's program in Teaching Spanish. This semester I want to experiment with new ways of presenting content using other apps and tools besides powerpoint. I learned about Haiku Deck a few weeks ago and decided to give it a try. Haiku Deck is an iPad app that allows you to create amazing presentations using free pictures from the internet. The app is very intuitive. You type a word in the search function of the app and it looks for pictures related to the word or phrase you used in your search. The picture is used as a background for your slide. If the app can not find a picture, you can upload your own pictures from your roll camera in the iPad or from Dropbox. Once you have your picture selected, you are presented with different templates to add text to the slide. The text is kept to the minimum, so you are forced to really summarize the information you want to present. Goodbye to the wordy slides that makes content boring for the audience. Once you are finished with your presentation, you can share it with a link or published it in your blog or website with an embed code. I showed my presentation about the History of Computer Assisted Language Learning from the webpage in the link and it worked well.
I still have to use my story with my students and see how they like it. I will report on that when the semester begins.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

LTMOOC 4: Assessing language skills using technology

This week in the LTMOOC we have been discussing about assessment in blended learning environments. Readings  have mentioned assessment techniques such as self-assessment (e.g., language passport) and language portfolios.
I would like to present a formative assessment task I used some years ago with my Spanish 101 Honor students at college level. I will present the formative assessment task and the rubric I used to assess the outcomes by answering the following questions proposed for discussion:

  1. What are the outcomes to be assessed?
  2. What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
  3. Is the method of assessment chosen consonant with the outcomes and skills?
  4. Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
  5. What alternatives are there? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  6. Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
  7. Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?
  8. Who should make judgements about student learning – the teacher, the student, the student’s peers or others?
This task was used as a formative assessment because the main purpose was to provide students practice for the formal oral exam. The formative assessment task consisted on interviewing a native speaker via Tokbox (when it was free) to learn about him/her. Students had to take notes about the information provided by the native speaker to then create a Voki (speaking avatar) that introduced him/herself as if they were the native speaker. You can read about this formative assessment task in a previous post.

1.  I was targeting different skills here. By completing this assessment task, students would show they were able to use basic Spanish to: 
a) ask for personal information (name, age, nationality, likes and dislikes, description) in an interview with a native speaker.
b) understand personal information in an interaction with a native speaker and take notes.
c) present the main information learned about a native speaker in an oral form by using an avatar.

2. These learning outcomes assumes knowledge of vocabulary related to personal description, introductions, likes and dislikes, occupations, numbers, etc. Students should also be able to ask and answer personal questions using basic grammatical forms such as verb ser and estar, genre/number agreement, gustar-like expressions, verb-agreement. The task also assumes the ability to produce orally basic information with intelligible pronunciation and fluently. The task also requires the ability to negotiate meaning in case of communication breakdowns during the interview by the use of different strategies.

3. The task used was appropriate to measure the outcomes and skills in an integrated way and more motivating way than a traditional multiple-choice exam. As we practiced in class different role-plays simulating real-life interactions, the assessment task replicated such role-plays and real-life interactions with native speakers.

4. I wouldn't say the method was very efficient. I arranged to have pairs of students interviewing different native speakers. It was not that difficult to find enough native speakers for the class since I have many friends from different Spanish-speaking countries. However, it was challenging to find native speakers available at the same time of the class. We did  the interviews in the computer language lab. The  second part of the task was to create the Voki avatar using the information from the interview. This part was done at home individually. So the whole assessment tasks was not time efficient.

5. An alternative could be to have the whole class interview just one native speaker during a class session. All of them should take notes and record an oral message summarizing what they learned about the native speaker. This would be more time efficient, however it would minimize students participation during the interview and would eliminate the creative part of representing the description of the interviewee in the avatar. It could be less motivating. 

6-7. The marking scheme was as follows:
Instructor's formative assessment:

Students' self-assessment :

8. Both the instructor and the students assess the performance. The teacher assessed the linguistic aspects or skills and the students self-assessed what they were able to do with basic Spanish during the task.

In my experience, technology can bring more authenticity to assessment in blended environments, however the more authentic an assessment task is, the less time efficient or practical to administer and grade it would be. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

LTMOOC - week 3: Social Interaction in Online Language Learning

This week we read about social interaction in online learning and watched an interview with Dr. Dixon, a German professor, teaching German online. The interview with Dr. Dixon was really interesting because he pointed out different ways of interacting in online environments. Besides flipping his German class, he uses different social networks such as facebook to increase the social interaction among students. It makes sense to me that social networks can enhance the learning of a language because it allows students to use the language in the context of communicating with other speakers of the same language. This communication, however, if not mediated by the learning goals of students, could not be as beneficial as it appears to be. The social interaction as a learning task in an online language class should have a real or genuine communicative purpose for the student and it needs to be at his/her level so that they can have a sense of accomplishment. Students are already using these social networks to communicate with friends and family, however I wonder if they are willing to use it for educational purposes. In this regard, studies like the one by Blattner and Lomicka (2012), Facebook-ing and the social generation: a new era for language learning, can offer some insights about the use of social networkings in language learning.

The question then is how to promote effective interaction in an online class. I have never taught an online class, but I am familiar with the online Spanish classes at my university. Students interact with content through a commercial e-textbook, interact with other students and the instructor using platforms such as Elluminate, wimba tools, etc. It seems to me that this kind of interactions are not enough. If we consider    the strategies for incorporating interaction suggested by the Academic Technology Center of WPI, it is obvious that we, language teachers, can do much more to improve online language education.  I like the idea of having student participate in online simulations. In this sense, I think virtual environments such as second life could help. A Spanish professor, here in Arizona, has created a virtual place in second life, Mi casa es su casa, where his students interact with vocabulary and forms in simulated real life place.
Also, in Hawai'i, Dr. Gonzalez-Lloret has used the task-based language teaching approach to create a virtual environment "En busca de Esmeraldas" that allows students to perform tasks such as "giving directions" and tasks where the language is used for specific purposes such as in the health professions. You can learn more about the application of technology in TBLT in this youtube presentation.

 In sum, it is clear to me that the kind of interactions provided in online learning environments can increase the motivation of students and their participation in the course. Language learning students are not the exception. They need to see what they can do with the language more than what they know about the language in any kind of learning context: face-to-face, blended or online.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Usando TED, Skype y Vocaroo en la clase de español

Me encanta cuando la tecnología hacer reflexionar a mis estudiantes no sólo sobre el español sino también acerca de su mundo, metas y valores.
En mi clase de composición estuvimos discutiendo sobre el tema de la infancia en latinoamerica. Uno de las tareas de los chicos fue ver un video TED sobre EL Sistema - programa social de orquestas infantiles en Venezuela. Muchos de los estudiantes en la clase tienen inclinación por la música y les gustó mucho ver cómo la música podía afectar la vida de los niños más desposeídos de Venezuela.

Después de ver el video, discutimos sobre el tema en clase. Posteriormente, organizamos una video entrevista usando skype con Ron Davis (Twitter @Music_rondavis), joven director de una orquesta infantil en Groenlandia, que fue formado en el Sistema de Orquestas Infantiles de Venezuela.

Ron contestó las preguntas de los estudiantes y hasta tocó la pieza venezolana "Moliendo Café" para los estudiantes. Fue una experiencia que marcó a alguno de los estudiantes. Algunos estudiantes tomaron la oportunidad de reflexionar sobre el trabajo con la música en su comentario oral para la clase usando Vocaroo.

Audio recording >>

Thursday, April 25, 2013

LTMOOC - week 2

This week we read some interesting articles about Content-Based Instruction by Stoller (2002), Input by Szynalski, and Inputs/Outputs activities.  Below, you will find my reflections about these topics.

In regards to CBI, I would say my teaching is pretty much based on content because I teach advanced classes. This semester I am teaching a Spanish composition class and our writing practice is framed within topics or themes. So for example, we were discussing a unit on Children in Latinoamerica and their challlenges. Students had to read articles about children and labor work in some Hispanic countries. Students also watched some videos about issues related with being a kid in a hispanic country. One of the videos was a TED talk about "El Sistema", a social program of children orchestras in Venezuela. Students were very interested about this topic so I decided to invite one of the young directors in El Sistema to talk and be interviewed by the class via Skype. Students prepared questions and were really motivated to be able to use Spanish to get more information about El Sistema. Some students chose to write their final projects about this topic with their own perspectives (e.g., trata de los niños en latinoamerica, adopciones en Guatemala). Therefore, I would say the content is the meat of my class and technology definitely help students access the content and use it to write about different topics using the L2.

I really believe input -oral or written, especially in the form of reading for my Writing class, is key when learning a second language. However, I have to disagree with the Szynalski in several points. He points out the input hypothesis as the only way to learn a language when different SLA scholars have pointed out the just input is not enough. There are multiple variables such as motivation (see studies by Dornyei, quality of the input, opportunities for interactions (see studies by Long) or to produce the language, that could affect the second language acquisition process.  He also diminishes the role of output  in the SLA equation when we know that it's only when students are asked to produce when they realize what they can or can't do with the language (see studies by Swain). When students produce the language (output), they get the opportunity to get feedback about their language and thus get more input. Feedback and how it is given and received is crucial. I have learned as an English learner that receiving technical explanations about language forms as feedback does not work for me.  The most valuable feedback for me is the one directed to the message/content and how effective the language I am using is to make it comprehensible for the reader or listener.     

For the inputs/outputs activity, I believe the relevance of specific kinds of inputs or outputs can only be determined taking into account the specific language learning goals of the learner. So if I have a student who wants to learn how to write academic papers, maybe listening to a song on the bus is not that relevant for his learning purposes. But that same oral input (the song) can be motivating for a beginner student that just want to learn about the culture and how to use the language in real life situations.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

LTMOOC 2013 Introduction

I have heard so much about MOOCs this last year and even know that there is a MOOC for learning Spanish that I was intrigued to learn that there will be MOOC for language teachers using a platform known as Instreamia. Administrators at my university talked about the possibility of having open courses and the reactions were divided among the faculty. I have also followed some other faculty that are using MOOCs to teach language (see for example, Fernando Rubio's post on his Spanish MOOC), but nothing like experience this new trend in education yourself. So here I am, participating in the MOOC for language teachers. My first assignment is introducing myself:

  • Where are you from? I am from Caracas, Venezuela, but currently living and working in Flagstaff, AZ.

  • What’s your background? I have been teaching for almost 24 years. I have taught English in Venezuela at different educational levels and Spanish in the U.S.  I also teach linguistic courses and graduate classes in the MAT in Spanish at NAU.

  • What is your native language? My L1 is Spanish What others do you speak? English 

  • What language(s) do you teach? I teach Spanish

  • Where do you teach? I teach at Northern Arizona University

  • What do you hope to get out of LTMOOC? I hope to learn how new technologies and open education can serve different kind of students in their achievement of specific language learning goals.

  • What hobbies or activities do you like to do? I love hiking, trail running, scrapbooking and traveling.