E-safety is such an important issue that should be of concern to anyone using the web. Two websites I’ve recently visited which tackle this issue and provide some tips of how to use on-line resources safely and securely. The first is http://e-safetyaucegypt.weebly.com/which mainly focuses on how children can use the Internet without risks. The website is very well-organized and the language used is clear and almost free of errors. The website also demonstrates the issue of e-safety in an interesting and amusing way by putting a video that uses animations to highlight the importance of e-safety. Another positive thing about the website is that it has several links to other resources that explore the idea of e-safety in more depth. For example, the links given under the tag “more” allows the visitor to access many websites that deal with the topic of e-safety from different perspectives, like a school project and an on-line quiz. The only drawback I’ve found is that the website focuses almost exclusively on the risks involved in children’s use of the Internet. It does not give enough information on how e-safety is a broad issue that even adults and experienced users should take into consideration. Hence, unless you’re a school pupil or a parent, you’ll hardly find the website useful. The second website is: about e-safety is: http://abeermatter.wix.com/e-safty. The good thing about this website is that, unlike the earlier one, it gives really useful tips on using the Internet which adult visitors can use and apply. For example, there is a video on how to protect your email from possible hacking and how to create strong passwords. The design of the website is also attractive with a variety of colours and images that encourage a visitor to explore its different parts. However, despite its demonstration of different aspects of e-safety, the website does not explore these issues in depth. It gives the visitor a quick overview of each item without giving enough elaboration and discussion of each topic. Unlike the earlier website, the information provided lacks details and, hence, may need further development.
One thing that both websites share is their reliance on the use of visuals to demonstrate information. This feature is quite obvious in the second website where the use of words and texts is really minimal when compared to the use of visuals. The first website, however, provides a more balanced approach as it combines written with visual material. Both websites, I think, respond to the needs of learners who prefer visual learning styles. They include videos, animations and pictures which appeal to people, like myself, who learn better by watching something rather than reading about it. The picture below, for example, gives a glimpse of one important aspect of e-safety which, I think, no text can better present in such a clear and humorous way. The picture is available at: http://olliebray.typepad.com/olliebraycom/2008/04/internet-safety.html
This blog attempts at applying some of the issues raised in M. Warschauer’s article “Dissecting the Digital Divide“to the current situation in our schools and/or universities. The first relevant point I found in the article was the idea of the digital divide mindset; the term refers to”seeking to overcome social gaps through provision of computers and the Internet, with little regard to the context in how they are used” (Warschauer 298). This is evident, for example, in the Faculty of Arts where I teach; we have a whole lab full of ready to use computers but neither the instructor nor the students can access it whenever they want. Ironically, e have only two labs in our entire faculty, each has a maximum capacity of 20 students. The single class in any academic year, however, can reach up to 200 students. Moreover, there are hardly available slots in either the students’ or instructors’ schedules. Consequently, accessing the labs to deliver a workshop or to introduce a new learning platform to your students is actually an impossible dream to achieve. This situation, I think, is a very clear application of the “digital divide mindset” discussed in the article; in other words, you have the technology but you can’t use it for reasons that are beyond your, and probably the institution’s, control.
Later in the same article, Warschauer refers to how some Egyptian schools have started investing in technology in an attempt to solve their persistent problems. The term “a magic bullet” (298) used in the article again is highly indicative of the situation at my Faculty. I’m not sure why these 2 labs were established in the first place, but the fact that they are, at least officially, named “language labs” implies that may be they were originally set up for language teaching purposes. However, setting up these labs obviously has failed to solve any of the problems educators and students face on a daily basis. A very relevant example is a situation I face every week in my academic writing class which, in my opinion, jeopardises the entire learning process of my students. Firstly, the room is equipped with a data show device which at many times doesn’t work! The technician is NEVER available and you find yourself wasting more than 20 minutes of the session time trying, in vain, to make it work. Secondly, we don’t have classrooms in the real sense of the word in our faculty; all we have are lecture halls that are designed to facilitate only one teaching method: lecturing. While this method may be used in teaching content based courses, also with several disadvantages, it definitely cannot, and should not, be used in teaching skills-based courses like writing. How can you lecture your students on how to write??? Can you give an instructor based session on student’s most common errors without having any feedback from the actual students??? Can you design peer-assessment and cooperative writing exercises for a class of at least 100 students??? Hence, adding data show devices to the lecture halls and setting up a couple of language labs was definitely not “the magic bullet” to solve our problems.Consequently, the biggest educational challenge I face at the Faculty of Arts is how to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment for my students. The picture below provides a visual illustration of this dream:
Adopting a fresh approach to searching for OER materials for EFL teachers, I’ve found two interesting sources. The first is MERLOTII which offers a broad spectrum of resources on a variety of disciplines. Going through the side-bar menu, I’ve accessed the section entitled language (under the English studies tag). One of the most interesting entries I’ve found is on writing and grammar: this resource can be very useful for teachers of academic English as it provides a step-by-step demonstration of the main elements of academic writing. For example, there is a whole section on essay writing exercises and how to formulate a thesis statement. Another is on brainstorming techniques like free-writing and clustering. While the exercises included are interactive and very comprehensive, they can be best used for independent learning rather than classroom instruction. There are no sufficient activities that teachers can use for pair work or peer assessment, for example. A teacher, however, can use the material available to design his/her own activities which suit students’ needs and level. By contrast, another very useful open education resource I’ve found is not specifically dedicated to teaching, yet it offers very insightful tips and lesson plans which any EFL teacher can use, regardless of the age and level of students. This amazing resource, which I comfortably consider an educational one, is actually a blog written by a former CELTA trainee and a current EFL teacher named Clive Elsmore. Ironically, I came across this blog while searching for information about the CELTA program (Certificate in Teaching English Language to Adults) which is endorsed by Cambridge University. While exploring the blog, I found the logo of Creative Commons License at the bottom of the page. The wonderful thing about the CELTA section in the blog is the way Clive gives a detailed account of the teaching techniques he learnt on the course and supplements his narration with lesson plans and materials used in his teaching practice. For example, the video below was created and used by Clive himself as a warmer for a vocabulary lesson on air travel, which I consider very inspiring. Based on my understanding of Creative Commons License, I’ve tried to embed the video itself in my blog, but I got an error message. So, I’ve re-blogged the entire post below to illustrate my point. I only include here a copy of the lesson’s “freer practice” questions:
While I do not personally teach upper-intermediate level students, I found the idea of using videos as warmers in an EFL lesson very useful and engaging. Instead of telling students directly what you’ll be teaching them in today’s lesson, allowing them to watch a video on the topic will arouse their interest and curiosity. Other very helpful resources that Clive includes are lesson plan templates that CELTA trainees fill out for their teaching practice. He also gives important tips that help create a productive and a friendly learning environment for EFL students. For example, one of the basics he has learnt on the course is that a teacher (any teacher) should never ask students: do you understand? This question, when you think more about it, may underestimate your learners’ abilities and make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, you can use Concept Check Questions (which Clive gives some examples of) to check students’ understanding implicitly without reinforcing the instructor-student hierarchy that “do you understand me” implies. Reading the blog, I’ve finally made up my mind to join the course next summer. I have reached the conclusion that my classes will never be the same after having such a productive learning experience that Clive has had. As an EFL teacher and researcher, all I can say is: Thank you Clive!
PS: I shared all the materials on this blog at: http://padlet.com/wall/CCCEFLmaterials
Searching for online ESL teaching materials that are not copyrighted was far from easy. I tried a variety of search words, until I just typed “Creative Commons License EFL Materials” in the search box. As an English language instructor, the issue of free resources and copyright is often problematic: you need the materials for your students who cannot afford buying the original textbooks. Your institution cannot cover the expenses of authentic materials and you, as a teacher, do not want to breach copyright laws. So, I think the idea of OER or open educational resources can be really useful for ESL teachers. Anyway, I found some interesting resources that fall under the category of Creative Commons License; however, the level and quality of some of the materials they offer do not live up to my expectations. The following website: https://esl-resources.wikispaces.com/ has plenty of pictures and songs that can be used in designing vocabulary and grammar activities for beginners.
It also has a complete section on interactive games and stories that provide the ESL learner with the opportunity to have fun while practising language skills:
The only disadvantage I found about this website is that it targets a very specific level of ESL learners (elementary/ beginners) which makes it difficult to recycle the materials for higher level ones. Another free resource website I found is http://eslresources.wordpress.com/ which groups the activities and materials by type. There are, for example, sections on parts of speech, vocabulary, handouts which can be adapted for multiple level learners. For example, this activity can be recycled for intermediate/ upper intermediate users of English by replacing the present vocabulary items with more complex ones:board-game-follow. One problem I found with this website, however, is that it includes links to materials that are copyright which, again, may not be fully accessible to us as teachers. Finally, the website http://betsylavolette.com/?page_id=5 includes some interesting activities which, again, may be tailored to the needs of students of different proficiency levels. For example, this vocabulary activity on geographical locations: hawaiian-tourism can be re-used as an integrated activity that targets reading and writing skills. These materials are, in my point of view, the most beneficial to use in an ESL classroom which have the label of Creative Commons License. I searched for videos, but didn’t come across anything interesting. I’m afraid, comparing these resources to those that are protected by copyright, you’ll find a real gap in both the variety and quality of teaching materials offered. I’ve in mind websites like onestopenglish.com or azargrammar.com which have free resources to be used by teachers, but they do not have the logo of creative Commons License. I’m not sure whether using any of them in our classrooms violates copyright law. This is a question which we as teachers need to find an answer for.
This post is accessible on padlet.com; I choose this website to share my ideas because I found it the easiest to use. Honestly, I tried Scoop.it, but it didn’t work for some reason . Padlet gives you the chance to add as many postings as you want to your wall and to organize them the way you like.