Monthly Archives: October 2008

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Collaborative Editing Online: Available Tools

It is not only wikis and blogs that you can use collaboratively online. Now it is possible to create graphs and charts together, as well as regular text documents and tables.

What you Need Tool to Adopt
a graph or a chart Gliffy
an online word processor and a spreadsheet application in one; you need to embed images and/or share a video GoogleDocs
an online word processor compatible with Opera ZohoWriter

Web 2.0 in Education: Affordances

NB! Web 2.0 properties are moulded by user perceptions.

The notion of the learner-context interface (Language Learning in Distance Education by Cynthia White, p 86, etc CLTL) places the individual learner’s capacity to construct an effective interface with target language*  (TL) sources in the learning environment at the centre of distance education.

* I guess any subject area could be referred to here.

An affordance is an action that an individual can potentially perform in their environment. However, the more exact meaning depends on whether the word is used to refer to any such action possibility or only to those which the actor is aware of, both of which are common uses.  (Wikipedia)

Thus an affordance is a kind of can-do statement applicable to a particular functionality within a learning environment (eg a Web 1.0/2.0 CMS), which does not necessarily have to be pre-defined by the creators of the CMS , ie any scope of application of a tool/feature within a learning environment either initially known or not known by the user may be perceived as an affordance. It is important to differentiate between what happens and how the learner perceives what happens.  Keeping a blog is an activity which is multidimensional,  some of those dimensions are affordances, whereas some are not. Let me elaborate on that. Blogging invloves typing, editing and saving your blog entries. These are not affordances.  However, blogging enables you to share knowledge and provides you with opportunities to interact with readers of your blog in the comment area. These could be perceived as affordances.

So far I have understood it all so that what exactly you do is not an affordance, whereas why you engage in a certain activity and what it enables you to achieve is. That reminds me of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions:), in other words, an affordance is what you intend or hope to achieve by engaging in whatever synchronous or asynchronous activity. Results and achievements are perceived and hence are interpreted differently by different people.


I got a comment on this on May 13, 2007, which I would like to keep for future reference. See the contributor’s blog for more on this

Gibson (1979) defined affordances as the opportunities for action for the observer provided by an environment. However, as assumed by Gaver (1996) affordances are primarily facts about action and interaction, not perception. This contrasts with the common impression that affordances refer to—approximately—situations in which one can see what to do (Gibson, 1979). The mainstream view to the affordances in educational technology settings considers them the objective properties of the tools perceptable in the frames of some activities, suggesting that tools have concrete technological affordances for certain performances that can be brought into learner’s perception with specific instructions (Norman, 1988; Gaver, 1996). Neisser (1994) elaborated Gibson‘s affordances distinguishing three preceptual modules: i) Direct perception/action, which enables us to perceive and act effectively on the local environment, ii) Interpresonal perception/reactivity, which underlies our immediate social interactions with other human beings, and iii) Representation/recognition, by which we identify and respond appropriately to familiar objects and situations. Kreijns, Kirschner, and Jochems (2002) have defined social affordances as the “properties of a collaborative learning environment that act as social-contextual facilitators relevant for the learner’s social interaction. Neisser’s interpretation, however enables to consider also the interpersonal perception between subjects in action as the source of affordances at social and regulative domains. Kirschner (2002) defined educational affordances as those characteristics of an artifact that determine if and how a particular learning behavior could possibly be enacted within a given context. The contextual aspect of affordances relates with the artifacts and meanings. Thus, instead of relating affordances objectively with the software they should be related with the knots of the Activity System where subjects must realise how they perform joint actions with artifacts and tools in order to accomplish their shared object. Cook and Brown (1999) assumed that affordances are dynamic – the ongoing interactions with the environment and objects, where our previous knowledge applied during the activity helps us to evoke noticing of certain aspects, affordances, and knowing how these affordances could support the activity. This assumption supports the Engeström et al. (1999) view of the dynamic nature of knots in the Activity system.

As people perceive affordances differently, different approaches to instructional design are necessary. Two aspects are important. If we assume that affordances are perceived differently by teams, team members need to find common ground on their perceptions in order to work effectively.  Secondly, we can no longer assume that the facilitator or the teacher can define affordances on the learning landscape for her students.

Collaborative Learning Online: Principles and Guidelines

Quintessentially, in order for a collaborative task to succeed it is necessary to provide for the following:

1. The students in a group must perceive that they “sink or swim” together, that each member is responsible to and dependent on all the others, and that one cannot succeed unless everyone in the group succeeds. (I wonder how that can be reinforced in a real classroom setting, for there are always those who loaf and those who let others loaf)

2. Assessment criteria must be transparent and easy to understand (at the moment I am not aware of any of the assessment criteria as far as our homework assignments are concerned, all I know is the maximum number of points, which is not exactly criteria)

3.  Give structured tasks. (This is not happening either, we’ve been given nothing measurable, only assignment titles. To compare, whenever students are assigned open-ended essay questions in overseas universities, they are also notified of the expected minimum and maximum word limit or number of pages.)

4.  Set competitions among groups. (That would imply everyone doing the same task and mutual access to each other’s solutions. I guess it is best realized through the visible groups and separate wikis option in Moodle)

5.  Be conscious of group size. In general, groups of four or five members work best. Larger groups decrease each member’s opportunity to participate actively. The less skillful the group members, the smaller the groups should be. The shorter amount of time available is, the smaller the groups should be. (Sources: Cooper, 1990; Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991; Smith, 1986 (A really useful insight, that explains a few nuisances I have had to deal with recently. )

6.  Provide mechanisms for groups to deal with uncooperative members aka shirkers. Eg

  • Allow the groups, by majority vote, to dismiss a member who is not carrying a fair share. Students who are dropped from a group must persuade the group to reconsider, find acceptance in another group, or take a failing grade for the project.  (The solution in italics is the best,  in my opinion, providing only groupwork is possible to handle a given task, however, it is difficult to apply it at secondary level).
  • Keep the groups at three students: it is hard to be a shirker in a small group.
  • As for my personal experience, there are always a few technophobes and lone wolves in every group and the fact that they refuse to collaborate is not fair grounds for giving them a failing grade. Unless you are teaching a social skills course, it is always a good idea to think of alternative paper-based or individual assignments.

Read more on this here

Sample Collaborative Learning Tasks & Activities: Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

Guided Reciprocal Peer Questioning

The goal of this activity is to generate discussion among student groups about a specific topic or content area.

  • Faculty conducts a brief (10-15 minutes) lecture on a topic or content area. Faculty may assign a reading or written assignment as well.
  • Instructor then gives the students a set of generic question stems.
  • Students work individually to write their own questions based on the material being covered.
  • Students do not have to be able to answer the questions they pose. This activity is designed to force students to think about ideas relevant to the content area.
  • Students should use as many question stems as possible.
  • Grouped into learning teams, each student offers a question for discussion, using the different stems.

Sample question stems:

  • What is the main idea of…?
  • What if…?
  • How does…affect…?
  • What is a new example of…?
  • Explain why…?
  • Explain how…?
  • How does this relate to what I’ve learned before?
  • What conclusions can I draw about…?
  • What is the difference between… and…?
  • How are…and…similar?
  • How would I use…to…?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?
  • What is the best…and why?

more ideas

A Guide to EFL/ESL Exams and Levels

This is a table that provides a compact comparative overview of such EFL/ESL exams as FCE, CAE, CPE, IELTS & TOEFL.

Types of Groups and Groupwork


Various names have been given to this form of teaching, and there are some distinctions among these: cooperative learning, collaborative learning, collective learning, learning communities, peer teaching, peer learning, reciprocal learning, team learning, study circles, study groups, and work groups. But all in all, there are three general types of group work: informal learning groups, formal learning groups, and study teams (adapted from Johnson, Johnson, and Smith, 1991).

Informal learning groups are ad hoc temporary clusterings of students within a single class session. Informal learning groups can be initiated, for example, by asking students to turn to a neighbor and spend two minutes discussing a question you have posed. You can also form groups of three to five to solve a problem or pose a question. You can organize informal groups at any time in a class of any size to check on students’ understanding of the material, to give students an opportunity to apply what they are learning, or to provide a change of pace.

Formal learning groups are teams established to complete a specific task, such as perform a lab experiment, write a report, carry out a project, or prepare a position paper. These groups may complete their work in a single class session or over several weeks. Typically, students work together until the task is finished, and their project is graded.

Study teams are long-term groups (usually existing over the course of a semester) with stable membership whose primary responsibility is to provide members with support, encouragement, and assistance in completing course requirements and assignments. Study teams also inform their members about lectures and assignments when someone has missed a session. The larger the class and the more complex the subject matter, the more valuable study teams can be.

Designing Multiple Choice Tests (validity, reliability, etc)

Here is a nice article on designing multiple choice tests

Setting up a Wiki for your Class

There are several websites that allow you to set up a wiki for your class quickly and easily, the most popular ones are

  • PB Wiki
  • Wetpaint
  • Wikispaces

Top 25 Web Design Blogs

Daily Blog Tips

A Super-Duper Book on Accents & L1 Dependent Mistakes

I came across this book quite by chance. The title of the book – Learner English by M- Swan & B. Smith – has little to do with the contents at first sight (I did not expect to find detailed analyses of different languages in it as well as pragmatic lists of difficulties that learners tend to have depending on their first language), and yet it is the book to read if you are into teaching pronunciation in a multilingual classroom, and want to know why your students tend to make whatever grammar or vocabulary mistakes that they make. It is an unputdownable read, for it gives you numerous insights into what constitues foreigners’ accents as well as causes them to make grammar, vocabulary, word order and other mistakes. You learn about two dozen different languages so much that it feels you could learn them all:) There is an accompanying CD – you can listen to the different non-native accents described in the book and see for yourself whether what the authors say rings true.

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