Category Archives: Collaborative Learning

What is Study-English-Online.Net?

Teachers’ Digital Toolkit

International online learning projects for students


Online tools for resource creation

Animoto Create videos from images

Benettonplay Create stunning animations Create educational games

Gliffy Create floor plans, flowcharts and 3D diagrams

Glogster EDU Create interactive multimedia posters

Kerpoof Create movies and stories

Mixbook Create a page turning e-book

Myebook Create an e-book

PoducateMe Exe files How to create a podcast

Power League Create an online debate

Prezi A zooming presentation tool

Scratch Join up and download programming software to create digital learning objects

Sketchcast Embed evolving sketches into your blog

SketchUp Create, modify and share 3D models

Storybird Collaborative storytelling

Storyjumper Create a page turning e-book

Technology tips and cybersafety

Timetoast Create a free online timeline

Voice Thread Hold an online conversation about an image

Voki Create a personalised speaking avatar

Wordle Create word clouds to summarise main concepts of a unit for students

Source/Courtesy – UNSW

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

Three Generations of Distance Learning Pedagogy

1. Cognitive Behaviourism

2. Constructivism

3. Connectivism

Pair & Groupwork vs Teacher-Student Interaction

According to Mckay & Tom (Teaching Adult Second Language Learners, CUP, 1999, p. 26), working in groups helps students feel they are part of a community. They come to know each other as

  • individuals &
  • friends

Pair-  and groupwork serves an important pedagogical purpose, because it

provides more opportunities for individuals to talk than does a teacher-fronted class, as well as less formal and potentially threatening environment.

Working with peers, adult students are less likely to feel afraid to make a mistake, they are more relaxed and thus often end up speaking and experimenting with the language more.  What is crucial is your teacher’s classroom management skills, though. There is more to efficient pair- and groupwork in a language class than simply putting people into pairs or groups and telling them to talk about something.  The tutor has to design appropriate tasks and provide enough scaffolding in order for this type of learning activity to benefit the students.

Online Language Lessons – Idea Bank

It looks like more and more language teaching is being done on the web. Let me summarize what online language teachers have on offer, what they do or could do in theory.  I will list several examples from Curtis J. Bonk & Ke Zhang’s (2008) Empowering Online Learning, pp.  62-63.

Types of resources & activities for online language learners

  • online flashcards
  • electronic dictionaries, glossaries & corpora
  • webinars
  • videoconferencing
  • presentations / slide shows
  • simulations
  • webquests
  • mazes
  • grammar lessons
  • vocabulary lessons
  • voice games
  • word games
  • interactive speaking games
  • news portals
  • topic-specific websites
  • podcasts
  • videos
  • reading exercises
  • listening quizzes & exercises
  • collaborative writing tasks
  • digital storytelling
  • blogging
  • text & voice chat sessions
  • asynchronous discussions
  • pronunciation labs
  • progress reports
  • interactive quizzes
  • online conversation classes
  • placement tests
  • self-paced lessons
  • peer-to-peer practice conversations
  • expert mentoring, etc

What else is out there? Is there anything on the list you either have tried and liked or hated, or would like to try?

The 4 Types of Multilevel Class Activities

Heather McKay & Abigail Tom (1999, CUP, Teaching Adult Second Language Learners, pp. 21-22) suggest teachers differentiate among four types of mixed-ability activity.  Unless the text is in quotation marks, it is my own interpretation.

same input, same task

What is different in this situation is the level of your students’ language proficiency. What makes it possible for the students to do the task is their collaborative effort. You have to divide your class of students into pairs or groups so that weaker students get to work with stronger ones. The tasks that are best suited in this case are those that require problem-solving skills, e.g.  games, puzzles, mazes, quests, trivia quizzes and the like. In other words, the focus is not on English but on the task, which should require the students to draw on their knowledge of the world and life or work experience as opposed to their knowledge of grammar rules or lexis. You should design the activity so that it would not look, feel or sound like a language practice activity.

same input, modified task

A good example of such an activity would be a multilevel dictation.  The more proficient students would have to write everything, the less able ones would have to fill in the gaps, and those you consider a pain in the neck could be asked to tick the options they hear.  Once you have finished dictating, everyone should have the same text.

Another example is multilevel listening. Stronger students may be instructed to listen without reading the script while the audio is being played, and weaker ones could be permitted to consult the script as they listen.

By and large, weaker students are provided with more scaffolding.

different input, same task

This type of mixed-ability activity requires weaker students to use the input you provide “as is” and stronger students to do something with the initial input in order to do the main task. For instance,  you can choose to give the more proficient students in your class cues and the less proficient ones ready-made questions when you do a mingling activity such as “Find Someone Who”.

same task, different performance level

This last type is very much like project work. What makes it special is that the teacher doesn’t give out any materials, but just sets the task.  The students work alone or in small groups, and the language they produce will vary according to their level.  I imagine all sorts of “create a poster” type of tasks will fit in this category.

Is Studying 1-to-1 Pairwork?

Does studying 1-to-1 qualify as pairwork? And is it necessarily teacher-centered and bad? Anyone?

Interactivity & The 5 Ts that Make it Fail

Ian Forsyth (Teaching & Learning Materials & The Internet, 3rd edition,  p. 135) defines interactivity as

emulating the traditional classroom

He lists the 5 Ts that cause interactivity to fail on the Internet (pp. 19 -23)

  • time
  • technology timid
  • territoriality on topics
  • training
  • truss – an infrastructure requirement
  • Digital Storytelling

    A digital story is a personal experience represented in narrative format. The script is amplified by including video, music, still-frame imagery, and the author’s voice. A digital story typically lasts for two to three minutes. Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools p. 43

    It must take ages to create such a story, but the idea is interesting anyways. I imagine the teacher has to provide a lot of scaffolding to make sure that it is about learning English rather than having fun with technology. The learner should also have a story to tell in the first place. If you have nothing to say, your story will be a flop.  Songs and stories have one important thing in common – they have to have a real message to be a success.

    Here is a wonderful example of a digital story

    What Learning Styles are There?

    Here is a summary of Keng-Soon Soo’s article “Theory and Research: Learning Styles, Motivation, and the CALL Classroom”, published in Call Environments: Research, Practice and Critical Issues (1999) edited by Egbert & Hanson-Smith (There is a newer 2007 edition of this text available)

    Learning style refers to how students approach learning, not to how well they learn. (p. 290)

    This is most interesting. I wonder whether consciously changing your learning style  – nothing is impossible for a willing heart – might result in better learning outcomes.  There is a lot of attitude and belief in what we do or do not do when we are to learn something, and that means that we are in a position to both facilitate and jeopardize our learning experience at will.

    The concept of learning style has its origins in the beginning of modern education. Johann Pestalozzi, who pioneered the progressive instructional method in the XIXth century, and Maria Montessori, who initiated the Montessori school system in 1907, both believed that education should take learners’ differences into account.  (p. 290)

    Learning styles can be discussed at two levels. There are cultural learning styles, which are the common preferences of an entire people, and individual learning styles, which are generally discussed in 4 domains: cognitive, affective, perceptual, and physiological.


    … from the day of birth, individuals are socialized into doing things in the normal (acceptable) ways through the silent example and overt teaching of family and friends. (p. 292)

    … Confucian societies tend to value rote learning … (p. 292)

    Collaborative learning is predicated on a learning culture that values collectivism. In more individualistic societies, where education may contain strong elements of competition, collaborative learning can be problematic. (p. 293)

    The bottom line is that there are unstated assumptions about how people should learn in every society, and people usually acquire their cultural learning styles before they start school. Since values tend to differ from society to society, so do cultural learning styles.  The way I see it, it also means that challenging your students’ cultural learning style is like asking them to reconsider their values, and may yield unexpected results. If the teaching methods and techniques you use promote values that are fundamentally different from those of your students, the latter are likely to suffer from “learning style shock” and perform worse than they would otherwise,  whilst you may run into all sorts of problems to do with classroom management or have difficulty working up a rapport with the students. The worst possible scenario could be for you to fail as a teacher in such a classroom despite the learners being bright and your knowing the subject matter well.  Imposing values is highly unlikely to work unless you have established your credibility beyond reasonable doubt.


    The Cognitive Dimension

    • field dependent vs field independent
    • analytic vs global
    • impulsive vs reflective

    Soo concludes that the analytic learner does relatively better if learning is individualized and rule based, whereas the global learner is likely to shine in the communicative classroom. (p.295)

    This is useful information. I guess I will design a placement quiz (NB! Table 18-1 p. 294) for my students that will determine the ratio of analytic to global learners in the classroom. This way I will know whether they need more rules or more communicative practice:)

    December update: I have finally designed and piloted the global vs analytic placement test. Four people have tried it, including myself. The results are puzzling in the sense that I seem to be the “most global” learner of all, my own score is 70:30.  It came as a surprise because I have always considered myself to be a bookworm and a rule-freak.  On second thought, there is nothing surprising about that for it is necessary to distinguish between language learning styles and learning styles in general. All the statements pertain to how you approach learning languages, and in my case there is a clear difference between what I do when I study English, German or Italian, for instance, and, say, ELT methodology:). The other people are my students or acquintances, and their results are 60:40, 50:50(2) and 45:55 respectively.  Now it is really interesting how I should interpret those scores. My initial hypothesis or supposition is that the higher the score, the more likely you are to benefit from the so-called communicative approach. Another possible way to interpret the scores is to say that the higher the global to analytic ratio, the better your chances of success in acquiring a foreign language by actually using it in authentic contexts other than classroom tasks. To put it differently, the tasks that the learner is most likely to benefit from do not have to be the ones that are found in conventional coursebooks, but should rather be more project-based and have “natural or real” purposes as opposed to linguistic ones, i.e. accuracy and fluency should come as side effects of doing such tasks.  In other words, the lower the score, the more scaffolding the learner needs on the road to fluency. Last but not least, unless you score is 100:0, it is not possible to say that you do not need any rules at all, which implies that explicit instruction – it may take different forms ranging from reading some rules or talking to an expert, e.g. a teacher – is a must in certain amounts however reluctant the learner might be, and the exact amount of scaffolding and support in percentage points is equal to the absolute value of the denominator in the ratio .  Anyone wants to do the test? Feel free to contact me.

    The Affective Dimension

    • attention
    • emotion
    • valuing


    Next Page »