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Archive for December, 2008

An Ideal E-Notebook

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

‘Spent the day contemplating Clarke’s e-note-taking advice.

Isn’t it amazing? They’ve got it all online but for proper note-taking tools.  I mean Moodle doesn’t have such a module or activity as a notebook. Nor does Blackboard Vista. Well, they do have blogs and notes sections, but they’re so-o badly designed that I do not want to comment.

What would one want to take notes for? According to Clarke (p. 25), there are 4 major reasons

to record the contents of a lecture, seminar or other learning activity so that you can later use the notes to help you revise (1.1) or aid your efforts in completing assignments (1.2)

to help you concentrate during a lecture. Undertaking an activity such as talking-notes during listening can assist you to focus on the content (2), while simply listening is often less effective.

to assist you to understand the content of the learning activity (3), since note-taking encourages you to analyse what you are hearing.

to convert the content of the learning activity into your own words. (4)

Ways of taking notes are also worth listing. You could write (Clarke, p. 26):

  • a comprehensive record of the content
  • an outline of the key points
  • a chart or a spidergram of the content
  • the references to other documents, sources and websites

Now where do we go from here? As it is necessary to take notes, we need a tool for that. If there is no such ready-made tool, we need to explore the affordances of the tools at our disposal for one of them might well serve the purpose.

Let’s see. I am using this blog to take notes and keep my thought organized. I should say it is efficient. But I do not need anyone to correct any mistakes I might have made. I would appreciate that, but that’s about it.

When it comes to language learning, the situation is more complex, because notebooks are frequently handed in for correction, and that means that blogs are not likely to make ideal e-notebooks unless both the teacher ans the student have equal access rights (A). Another thing is that you would not normally want to make your e-notebook publicly accessible if you were to hand it in for correction. There is a greater need for privacy (B).  In addition,  e-notebook entries need to be editable 24/7 (C) and should allow you to embed media (D) as well as add comments (E).  In terms of recording vocabulary, being able to insert a table (F) is critical.  The quality of notes depends on memory-boosting techniques that you use, such as tagging (G),  categorizing (H) and sorting (I) in addition to visuals. It is great to be able to sort your notes by alphabet, by date, by keyword or phrase, and some other criteria. Lastly, it never hurts to have a searchable (J) e-notebook.

Blogs tend to lack the sorting feature, but they allow you you to tag and categorize content.  Adding graphs and charts can also be a problem. I for one really like all sorts of spidergrams and flow-charts  –   they help me think. There is no technology out there that would allow that – none I would know of, at least.  The Moodle Glossary Module is a great notebook alternative, but it does not have a drawing toolbar, either. A possible workaround would be to combine regular and web-based  note-taking: whatever it is that’s easier to do the regular way such as drawing mindmaps can be done the usual way. Later,  you can scan and upload the respective pages for future reference attributing them to the right category and tagging them as you see fit.

At present I use both web-based and regular tools to take notes:

  • this blog (I might need one more  to blog in another language)
  • a private forum where I am all alone and happy and where I post all sorts of paragraphs and hyperlinks I encounter on the web – it functions as a kind of in-tray
  • I use the Moodle notes feature to make post-it notes – it is rather convenient, for I know which note goes with which course
  • I also have a size B5 160-sheet notebook where I scribble this and that when I am in an onsite lesson or teaching online
  • I also make use of traditional bright yellow post-it notes

That’s rather disorganized, eh? 🙂

E-Learning & Note-Taking

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

Alan Clarke (E-Learning Skills, 2004, p.  26) made my day today when I read this

E-learning does not provide an event at which you are required to take notes. All the content is presented in a form you could save as a file or print out. It would seem that you can capture everything. However, the danger is that, since you can save everything, there is no need to read the material or make any particular effort to understand the content. This can lead you into a false sense of security that you have a comprehensive record of everything and there is no need for you to do anything further.

A. Clarke has spotted and described the problem very well. Novice e-learners frequently have a lot of misconceptions as regards what they should or should not do, and note-taking  or rather their belief that saving files equals note-taking  is a topical one.  You have to take notes whatever your mode of study, you just have more tools at your disposal when you choose to take notes on the computer.

What you actually need to do is read the content and then analyse it. Word processors allow you to annotate electronic text that you have saved or highlight the key phrases using the bold, italic or highlight functions.

Hehe:) I guess my blog is an e-note-book in that sense. In addition to the formatting tools that Clarke suggests, I also use quotation marks and embed media when I deem that necessary.

Storytelling for Dummies

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Fun lovers are sure to appreciate this exemplary story

Learning Tools & Technologies: Implementation Issues

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Whenever I come across a book on web-based learning tools and technologies that seems remotely relevant to my current objectives, it talks about tools and technologies that are either as old as the hills and ever so often do not exist any more, or have been replaced by or evolved to to be something completely different. And that makes the whole experience rather painful, because it is certainly HOW rather than WHY that gives me a headache.

Techniques to Increase Memory & Stimulate Deep Cognitive Processes

Monday, December 29th, 2008

According to MacLachlan (1986) сited by E. L. Criswell (1989, pp 36-39)  the following instructional techniques can help the teacher teach and the student learn:

Explaining the benefits of the lesson to the student before or at the beginning of the lesson. Memory is increased when the student is paying attention.

That’s logical though sometimes easier said than done.  The authors do not really elaborate on the types of benefits I should emphasize. Drawing on my personal experience, you can motivate students by referring not only to real direct benefits, but also to fake or imaginary ones, especially if you know about your student’s priorities or beliefs to do with what works and what doesn’t in terms of learning, as well as what is good and what is bad in terms of teaching techniques.  In summary, I couldn’t agree more that it is important to motivate students, but there is more to motivation than outlining benefits.

Using the pre-question technique – it is associated with DOUBLE (!) the learning over materials without pre-questions. Presenting partial information as opposed to presenting everything at once. This stimulates curiosity, which triggers deep cognitive processes.

That’s it! I have always wondered why I do not really like it when some of my students have a copy of the teachers’ book.  And I do mean the latter – consulting the answer key is different.  Some TBs tend to contain information that only the most self-disciplined learners benefit from, e.g. sample hidden agendas for both students when pairwork is concerned. The thing is that some learners do not really do the tasks, they read the answers first and screw it all up.  It is frequently essential for foreign language students not to know what exactly it is each of them is to say or ask for the task to help them practise what is intended – reading all about the task may result in it being pointless to do it. There are tasks that you can benefit from if and only if you do them exactly as intended, step-by-step.  I am flabbergasted, honestly – if the statistic is true, and emphasis on components and procedure does make so much difference, then no wonder intended learning outcomes are ever so often so disappointing.  You can’t really do anything to prevent the learner from looking the answers up or reading on without making an effort to do the task by herself when she stumbles upon something while doing her homework, for instance.  It is 99% about learners’ taking or not taking responsibility for their own learning.

Connecting new information thematically to information learned previously, using chronologically ordered narratives to the extent possible. Asking students to draw inferences involving intermediate steps before the entire scenario is presented. The mind tends to neglect component parts when the total picture is presented.

I’d rather say that it is cause and effect that you have to emphasize. Helping learners see patterns and analogies as well as categorize new input is no less if not more important. Deliberately drawing students’ attention to detail to let them verbalize what is the same and what is different along with asking them to speculate and hypothesize is a must-have teaching technique to take on board.

Keeping information flow high to avoid boredom. Boredom is fostered by use of overly familiar words such as cliches and superordinate category nouns (the word car is more apt to bore than Rolls-Royce).

‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, they say:) Now I know why I am a big fan of exhaustive lists and specific examples.

Providing a mnemonic or a visual aid for information that is difficult to integrate with the narrative. Vivid pictures increase memory.

In other words, research has confirmed that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.

Teaching EFL to Very Young Learners, Part 2

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

While we were in the middle of exploring Cookie and Friends, I gradually introduced two more CD-ROMs, also by OUP. They are Tilly’s Word Fun 1 & Tilly’s Word Fun 2.

Product Description

Tilly’s Word Fun 1 – Topics






Tilly’s Word Fun 2 – Topics




At home

The activities used are

1. Listen

2. Listen and Click

3. Read and Match

4. Colours and Numbers

5. Spelling

6. The Race Game

7. Interactive Glossary with Audio Pronunciations


Teaching EFL to Very Young Learners, Part 1

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

I started teaching my child English when she was 3y8m old. The software that we used was very positively accepted, and the child was required to provide her responses using the computer mouse and clicking. The CD-ROM Cookie & Friends by Vanessa Reilly, OUP, was amongst the very first.

Product Description
Provides a colouring activity for each of 12 different topics (relating to the Cookie and friends classbook units). This CD-ROM includes a game for each of the 12 topics. It is simple to use and doesn’t require typing skills. It covers animated traditional nursery rhymes for the children to enjoy.

My child progressed in the following way as far as this software is concerned. It took her a few minutes to learn to operate the mouse.  She initially liked the coloring activities the best, then she learned to manage the games.  In between she tried the digital story lots of times, and I couldn’t help feeling surprised at her not giving up, because it must have been the umpteenth time when she managed to do the whole sequence on her own. The nursery rhymes were initially disliked, but later she grew to like them very much and learned them by heart. Now that she is 6y4m old, she still hums those tunes once in a while, and asks me to put the CD-ROM on for her to practise.


Structure of Human Development: Implications for Instructional Design

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

Piaget (1964) cited by E. L. Criswell (1989, pp. 35-36) developed the theory that children grow intellectually in stages:

From years 0 to 2, children explore their tiny environments, and through physical exploration, learn that objects exist and do not change from day to day. This is the sensorimotor stage. This is a period of motor action.

The way I see it, the time can be successfully used for the children of this age to learn the names of different familiar objects and people in L2. It is also possible to do that in more than one second or foreign language.

The period from age 2 to 7 years is called the preoperational period by Piaget (1964). During this time, the child learns that a word can stand for, or represent, an object. Thus, using language is an important advance during this period. Children at this level can identify things they see, and they learn what things do by touching them or otherwise directly experiencing them.

Chapman, Dollaghan, Kenworthy & Miller (1983) in their article Microcomputer Testing and Teaching of Verb Meaning: What’s Easy and What’s Hard? in Classroom Computers and Cognitive Science edited by A. C. Wilkinson (1983) and cited by E. L. Criswell (1989, p. 35) all point out that facts about the young child’s developmental level should influence design of CBI for children.

Children below the age of 3 can learn to touch a screen to indicate their choices directly, but keyboard entry, even when the keyboard is color coded to the screen is too difficult for children this young.

Digital Storytelling

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

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

How Many Limited English Proficient (LEP) Learners are There?

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

According to the US department of Education, there were ca. 5,400,000 ESL students in the USA alone in 2006 and the number is increasing.

ESL or LEP students are US fastest-growing population and are expected to make up one out of every four students by 2025.