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ICT within and beyond the ESOL classroom

Liz Boyden suggests some ways of using Web 2.0 technologies

The Project Experimental Teaching (PET) project at Ealing Hammersmith and West London College provides any teacher with the opportunity to be seconded to experiment with using technology in the classroom. They must share their progress and any tools they produce, with the aim of creating a group of 'e-skilled' teachers. In my six-week secondment, I focused on how Web 2.0 technologies, particularly blogs and wikis, might be used in the ESOL* division.

I wanted to blend the content of learners' IT sessions with what was being covered in their Skills For Life courses. So, with the support of their IT teacher, I suggested some tasks to learners and helped them to set up their blogs. I invited feedback on my PET project blog at www.lizboyden.wordpress.com, which enabled me to continually assess and adapt the tools.

Blogs

'Twitter' (www.twitter.com) is a social networking micro blog tool which works in a similar way to full blogs but users only have 140 characters to make their updates, which are called 'tweets'. Users can be 'followed' by others so everyone in the group can view the tweets. Users can message each other directly as well which proved motivating as learners received immediate replies from classmates via a simple interface. Some teachers used Twitter as a class messaging platform (eg for homework reminders, or room change information).

'Students find Twitter a lot easier to navigate and use than their college email account. Some have sent me direct tweets to tell me about absence or ask a question. All seem to have found it a fun exercise!' Florence - ESOL for Care tutor

This worked really well with Entry 2 learners who found the brevity of the updates less intimidating than writing an email.

I left error correction up to the individual tutors - some went through errors in the next lesson but others encouraged learners to tweet each other when they saw a mistake in another's entry, thereby adding to the communicative potential of the tool. One teacher set a quiz through his Twitter update for his class where learners had to research the net to find the answer:

'Although it's rather artificial (learners are in the same room and therefore could tell each other the answers) it encourages independence and differentiation. It means that they can choose to do the quiz on their own or rely on their classmates' work. They have to make a decision as to who is giving them the right answer or query the answers they get. I give an answer to provide a language model and occasionally make corrections to their language.' Nikos - E2 Tutor

Tumblr (www.tumblr.com) is a blog that enables users to feature short multimedia posts on their 'tumblelog' such as photos, text, video clips and sound files. It was the most successful blog application used in the project. It has a visually attractive layout and more potential for learners to create a professional-looking webspace than the relatively limited Twitter. Again, users can follow others but can send comments only to their Tumblr group, not to individuals.

Among the tasks that we developed were projects about learners' home cities, and the area where they live. Learners could post photos from Google images and then make a text post explaining the image. A particularly successful use of Tumblr was as a daily online diary when learners were on work experience. Learners found their tumblelogs far more motivating than paper-based diaries.

They could communicate with each other while in separate locations, and tutors could make encouraging entries for the whole group to access. As Mary, a Level 1 tutor commented: 'I'm really pleased with the work experience blog. It's a useful point of contact for the learners while they are all working in very different environments and it is obviously helping some learners to reflect on their experiences.'

Wikis

www.pbwiki.com provides free educational wiki software; I used it with an FCE* group as a kind of class webspace. The whole group and the class tutors had access to the wiki and I created a personal page for each learner to upload writing practice samples; they very quickly got into the habit of working on their own area in their weekly IT session. Their IT teacher encouraged activities where learners had to get information from another learner's pages to complete a task.

The 'comments' function on each page facilitated meaningful dialogue between learners and teachers. Learners particularly enjoyed directing friends and family in their respective countries to the wiki to show them what they were doing in their English class. View it here: www.efl3.pbwiki.com

Liz Boyden is ESOL e-learning coordinator at the Barons Court site of Ealing Hammersmith and West London College

*See Glossary

What you need to know...

Web 2.0: a variety of internet tools that encourage a creative and collaborative approach to content on the net. Some better-known applications include Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr (a photosharing website) and a variety of blog applications. All these Web 2.0 tools are freely available on the internet.

Blog: an online diary.

Wiki: a collection of webpages that a group of invited guests can work on and modify collaboratively.

Hints and advice

  • Some learners accessed their Web 2.0 applications outside class time but many needed teacher support and only worked on them in their weekly IT session. To encourage more autonomous use, try setting homework tasks based on the applications.
  • Try blogs first with your learners as they are less complicated than wikis and can have more immediate effects; wikis lend themselves more to long-term project work and are like class websites.
  • Wherever possible, encourage learners to keep a copy of the address/password they use.
  • Decide how you want to address the issue of error correction and discuss it with your learners before you try using blogs or wikis. Some may only want to publish work that has been corrected by the teacher whereas others might be happy to publish first, then to correct.
  • Make the tasks you set meaningful for your learners and think of ways to maximise their communication with each other both through the webspace and face to face.
  • Make it clear that these tools are there to help them practise their English and that their teachers will be reading them. 'Textspeak' is not allowed!
  • Work out the privacy settings on the Web 2.0 tool you want to use with learners and keep your class as a private group.
  • Encourage learners to use only their first names when publishing on the net and on blogs; encourage them to use a visual as their identification, not a real photograph.
  • Raise awareness of personal online privacy - learners should not publish their date of birth/address/telephone number or publish a photo without the featured person's consent.
  • Especially with younger learners, make it clear that they should not publish anything that they would not say in person.
  • Use learners who are confident with Web 2.0 to help others in the class.
  • Don't use all the applications week in week out - as with any learning activity, variety is important.
  • If you do not have class access to computers, try setting up a Tumblr account yourself and post resources and useful links for your learners to access independently.

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