Language exchange

Seeking English Culture Exchange

Next semester (Jan. - June of 2013) I'll be teaching an English culture class for 6th semester, pre-service English teachers, ages ranging from 18-22.  I'm looking for either a synchronous and/or asynchronous exchange with any English speaking country that would also be interested in learning more about Mexican culture.  It would not have to last the entire semester as there are many possible arrangements that could be made.  I am anticipating approximately 15 - 20 students in my group.

If you are interested in discussing this matter further, please contact me.

My Favorite Things (#edumooc)

Here are a few of My Favorite Things:

  • I use my Galaxy Tab to manage tweets, email, facebook, Google+, and other web-surfing tasks.  And my favorite Galaxy app right now is live365!

  • I use my website and Moodle to organize my thoughts and my classes that I teach to pre-service English language teachers.

  • I also like VoiceThread, WizIQ as a virtual classroom, Internet Archive, YouTube, BlipTV, Google Docs, Google Reader, and NetVibes as I use all of these both as a teacher and learner.

  • Wikieducator is a great website.  Producing OERs and OEPs is something I wish I could dedicate more time to.

  • Skype is great for language exchanges and communicating with colleagues.

  • Overall, I love Linux Mint 11 as it allows me to work more efficiently and effectively at the computer while feeling good that an OS of this caliber is possible as a result of people working together in an open and caring way (open source).


Language Exchange Reflections

English language learners in Mexico (UAA) who have been participating in a semester-long language exchange program with Marquette University have been asked to reflect on their experience.  To date, their weekly reflections have been spoken, using VoiceThread as a means of uploading public audio and video in the language learners' target language (i.e., English).

English language learners have been asked to reflect a bit deeper on the entire language exchange experience this semester in written form, either in their L1 (Spanish) or L2 (English) - their choice.  Their responses are the comments that follow this blog entry.

Public speaking through integrated technologies

This semester I´m teaching a public speaking class to pre-service English language educators in Mexico and have signed up again to participate in a series of language exchange sessions with Marquette University. When approaching which technology to use for this class - in hopes of enhancing the learning experience - I opted out of using Moodle at one end (i.e., a CMS that tends to be a more closed off learning environment) and wikis, blogs, etc. at the other (i.e., totally open learning environment). In an effort to provide a quasi-open learning environment for learners, I decided to integrate technologies that mainly include the following: LearnCentral, BlipTV, VoiceThread, Skype, and Engrade.

I'm using LearnCentral as our main hub; that is, a place where most of our asynchronous interaction takes place. Students join an open group where other LearnCentral members can join and participate as well. So it ends up being open to other educators and learners but limited to the members within LearnCentral. The objective is to expose learners to a variety of experts on the subject of public speaking that serves as a complement of what they are doing in class.

Also, we record video presentations and upload to BlipTV so students can see and hear themselves speak. This gives them a chance to reflect on their linguistic and paralinguistic skills as well as to reflect on the performances of their classmates. The assessment aspect of public speaking thus becomes a distributed effort among the teacher, peers, and self.

Each week, Skype and VoiceThread are used to conduct weekly exchanges and reflections which both serve as an additional tool to help with the development of public speaking skills: last semester reflections and this semester reflections. See here to view a language exchange project we implemented last year.

Finally, Engrade is used to post attendance, assignments, and grades. This allows students to know at all times how they are being assessed for the class.

So, the integration of these technologies is a mixture of closed and open learning environments and is integrated in a way that helps students move in and out of each one. Learning resources are added to the LearnCentral group in order to link and embed relevant and meaningful web content and voicethreads and videos are embedded within LearnCentral as well so in effect, LearnCentral becomes a space where input and output come together.

How are others integrating technologies currently in their classrooms?

Language Exchange

In an effort to make my own learning as transparent as possible, I thought I'd share a clip of a class I was involved with this month and reflect on the experience.  

This clip shows three language learners participating in a presentation about women´s roles and their differences between American and Mexican cultures.  The student sitting down is a Mexican English language learner and her partners (American Spanish language learners) are the two students in the video being projected on the wall.  This project was a capstone performance task that ended a semester-long language exchange.  Using Skype, language learners participated in weekly, hour-long exchanges speaking half the time in Spanish and half in English.  These weekly events ended up driving the rest of the week's lesson as learners were given the opportunity to prepare for subsequent exchanges and to reflect on prior ones.    

Towards the end of the semester, my colleague (in the US) and I decided to extend the language exchange experience to include mini presentations that would give the partners a chance to simultaneously present something to the rest of the classes (in the US and in Mexico).  We really left it wide open in the beginning but would require that the groups compare and contrast cultural differences between the US and Mexico.  With a little assistance on our part in narrowing down topics, the groups were really off-and-running from the beginning.

The technology used to simultaneously display the PowerPoint presentation is Google Docs and the video being projected on the wall is Skype.  The first attempt at this activity included using Yugma to project the PowerPoint presentation and Skype for the video.  Considering all the presentations of this kind that were conducted over a four-day period, I feel confident in saying that the preferred technology is Google Docs.  The day we used Yugma, we ended up scrapping the whole day - the connection was just too poor to conduct the presentations.  Having said that, there was one day where the connection caused a bit of a distraction while using Google Docs, however we were able to get through it.  Our American counterparts have a "hyperspeed" connection while we typically have 150-200 bps connection.  Clearly we are the bottleneck, but if this 150-200 bps is maintained (as it is being maintained in this video), then it doesn´t really affect the quality of the experience.  Broadband is an important consideration when doing a language exchange that incorporates audio, video, and a shared presentation.  

As I reflect on this particular class, a reoccuring theme keeps entering my mind: preparation.  As you see in this video, our learners were advancing the slides, both for their own presentation and their American partners' as well.  In other words, consolidating PowerPoint presentations beforehand is helpful and should be uploaded to Google Docs and shared before the presentation begins.  If you notice at 7:00 minutes, this is me not being prepared.  This is an example of what not to do.  The presentations here are divided into two separate files and I failed to upload my learner's presentation.  As you can see, it takes me three minutes to get it going.  Advice: Have both PowerPoints as one file and have it uploaded and shared in time for the actual presentation.   
One of the most important aspects of this performance task was at 14:14.  After the Mexican English language learner finishes her presentation, an American student offers a slightly different perspective.  At 14:38 I paraphrase what the American student said after detecting that some in my group did not understand.  At 14:55, the teacher in the US offers more perspective. At 16:06, the teacher in the US asks how my group feels about their presentation and as you can see, they are a little slow to respond.  At this point, they are not quite used to having a discussion of this type and they are still feeling a bit intimidated.  At 17:34, notice how the Mexican learner states the difference in cultures.  A reflection activity might expose at what point she realized this difference.  Did she believe this before she met her partner?  Or did she have an inclination going into the language exchange that was then later confirmed after having worked with her partner over the course of a semester?     

A performance task of this type is best served when both groups can get as involved as possible in the discussion.  Due to time constraints, the question-and-answer stage of this presentation was rather brief, but in my opinion effective.

Any comments/suggestions on this activity are welcomed, and I would love to know what other technologies are being used to achieve similar or different learning goals.   

CCK08: Rhizomatic Education and language learning




I enjoyed reading Dave Cormier's article on Rhizomatic Education.  The rhizome metaphor emphasizes the importance of diversifying instruction and assessment.  Curricular aims for language learning are typically based on certain behavioral patterns that provide reliable and valid evidence that the learner has achieved a desired level of communicative proficiency.  A rhizomatic education frames these common sets of curricular aims in terms of establishing individual learning progressions with distinct starting and ending points.  In my opinion, relying on traditional tests and quizzes and discrete activities alone will fail to develop the individual learner due to the assumption that an entire group of learners are starting from a single starting point and will end up (or should end up) at one common ending point.  


In contrast, establishing foreign language exchanges, for example, provide the means for developing individual learning progressions that promote individual interests, needs, and learning styles while at the same time respecting curricular aims.  Although preparation for the language exchange performance task can include teachers taking a didactic and facilitating role, the bulk of the actual performance task requires an active learner and a teacher as a coach.  During the language exchange common themes assist the language learner to focus on a certain lexicon while conversations take different directions based on the knowledge and experience of the interlocutors. 


The final discussion this week ended with George and Stephen providing an example of connectivism in a practical sense.  George provided an example very similar to a language exchange as discussed in this blog while Stephen, after writing off a connective-classroom environment as somewhat “artificial”, stated the importance of getting students out of the classroom and doing something for the betterment of society.  While I agree that the latter might be a preferred way of learning, I don’t see anything artificial about learning another culture through a connective-classroom.  Getting to know people from different cultures creates a level of respect for others that also contributes to the common good. 



Language Exchange

As I reflect on my language exchange experience so far this semester I am constantly amazed as to its impact it has on my students - first-year UAA pre-service English language teachers.  Each week's exchange (i.e., performance task) really drives the rest of the week's lessons as learners prepare for their conversation with their US partner(s) at MU.  I see my group gaining more confidence each week as they improve in their langauge acquisition and learn more about their exchange partner(s). 

In addition to using Skype as the primary means of communication, this semester we began using other applications for complementing the language exchange experience.  We opened up a Moodle page from NineHub in order to establish a central location for learners and teachers to collaborate.  NineHub has been working out well so far and to my knowledge is the only free Moodle host available at this time.  Moodle provides a good way for learners to share their reflections and continue their correspondence, asynchronously or synchronously, throughout the week.  Since my particular class is a listening and speaking class, we also are using VoiceThread as a means for learners to practice these skills by reflecting on the experience to a real audience.  The good thing about Moodle is that VoiceThreads can be embedded so learners can access everything within the Moodle page.  There are certainly other applications available that do the same thing but Skype, Moodle, and VoiceThread are serving our purposes well at this time.

It would be great to hear from others who are participating in similar experiences.