Review of 2 e-safety websites

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

e-safety

 

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The Digital Divide in Egyptian Educational Institutions

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:

dynamic classroom

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Open Education Resources for EFL Teachers

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:

Air Travel warm-up

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

 

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CELTA Week 5, evening 10

Clive, Sir

Evening 10 (Thurs 2012-02-09)

Teaching Practice TP2

I was teaching this evening. One of four trainees, each teaching 30 mins, 10 students, on the theme of air travel.  I was the first to go on.  I introduced the class with this clip, to set the tone and elicit the topic:

(Based on BBC comedy “The High Life” 1995)

I continued with a vocabulary section, and then two reading and talking parts.  I felt it all went reasonably well. I knew there were things I could have improved upon but in the debriefing session with the tutor I discovered that I’d missed a major trick – in the vocab section I could have had much more pair work.  The way I taught it was to put up an overhead with seven missing parts of words which the students had to guess and spell.  I filled them out while modelling…

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Creative Commons License EFL Materials

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. wikispaces

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:

FarmThumb

 

bag_full

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.

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Solving your difficulties as an EFL teacher – An #EFLproblems update

a wonderful blog for EFL teachers

Oxford University Press

Young stressed woman holding her head and yelling. The Professional Development team here at OUP is helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks right here on our blog.

Recently, we’ve posted the following blogs in response to teachers’ questions:

Each of these blogs was followed by a live Facebook chat with a member of the Professional Development team to discuss the topic further. Dozens of teachers have taken part in these chats to help them better understand how to deal with the issues we’ve addressed. Be sure to like our Facebook page to be reminded of upcoming live chats.

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#EFLproblems – Monitoring pair work

How to monitor pair work in EFL classrooms

Oxford University Press

Two men talkingWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week, Stacey Hughes responds to Susanna’s blog comment about monitoring pair work.

Susanna wrote:

I wonder what the best way is to monitor pair work effectively. I use pair work because it helps students get used to speaking; however, I am aware that they may be making a lot of mistakes which I don’t have the opportunity to correct. Not all students are willing or able to correct their partner’s errors. Have you any advice on how to ‘listen in’ to six pairs of speakers?”

Susanna’s question is a common one: we put our students in pairs to discuss a topic, but we can’t monitor what they are saying, so we don’t know if they are making mistakes that we need to correct.

To answer the question, we first need to establish why we…

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Academic Authenticity & Character Building

In a previous post I talked about how teaching students the concepts academic honesty and plagiarism should be done in a positive context. In other words, teachers should, in my opinion, do their best to associate the idea of academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism with a positive learning experience that students may retain for a lifetime. In this post, I’ll present some suggestions for teachers that may help in achieving this goal. The first problem you need to consider is how to introduce the idea to your students?  Would you write the word plagiarism on the board and start giving a lecture on the definition of the concept and its applications?  Or perhaps start with talking about the penalties to boost students’ feelings of fear and discomfort and then offer the solution, which is to avoid plagiarism and simply be “honest”?  Although I’ve personally known very good teachers and professors who follow these patterns in giving courses on academic writing and/or research, I believe that starting your session this way won’t help students learn about plagiarism. It is true that you, as a teacher, would have done your job: you have taught them about what the word “plagiarism” means and that being a plagiarist violates the university’s ethics. However, students have not learnt the message behind such a lesson; they haven’t learnt that being true to oneself should simply be a part of their own character; that academic honesty has many manifestations outside the academia: for example, in the workplace and at home with your own family.

A warmer or icebreaker to the lesson can be an example of a plagiarized painting or a song that quickly draws students’ attention to the manifestations of the concept in real life. I’ve thought of these two pictures below of a famous painting by Bob Dylan which turned out to be a “plagiarized” version of a well-known photo; the pictures can be found at: http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/bob-dylan-accused-of-plagiarism-ahead-of-hank-release

bob-dylan-plagiarism

You can ask your students, for example, what do they think of Dylan or any other painter/musician/ writer who follows his path? Do they respect him? Can they call him an “artist”?  What other names can they call him? You can even ask students to write on a piece of paper a list of all adjectives they can think of to describe such an act. At this point you can introduce the word plagiarism and its meaning. This activity can be followed by another question: what if Dylan had put an attribution to the photographer and said, for example, “I thank Leon Busy for allowing me to reproduce his photo in my painting?” Would your opinion of Dylan change? Why?

As for the types of plagiarism, I think a video or an on-line tutorial can be useful, as it will allow students to explore the full dimensions of the concept by themselves. You can check students’ understanding by giving them a short exercise or simply by asking them direct questions. By the end of the session the following ILOS (Intended Learning Outcomes) should have been achieved:

1. Students understand that academic integrity is not simply about passing “turntin”, but about gaining self-respect and the respect of others.

2. Students become aware of the different types of plagiarism and   their manifestations not only in academic contexts, but also in the real life situations.

3.  Students realize that academic honesty is not about spending nights rephrasing words or inserting quotation marks, but about bringing a bit of oneself to his/her own work,  about the uniqueness of one’s character and the distinctiveness of  one’s own experience and culture.

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How can we introduce the idea of plagiarism in our classrooms?

Most students in our schools and universities are not familiar with the concept of plagiarism and/or copyright.  Therefore, introducing the idea of academic integrity to learners is a challenge that most teachers face, particularly if the concept is uncommon or hardly emphasized in the learners’ earlier stages of education. Unfortunately, many teachers fall into the trap of the behaviorist learning model (of reward and punishment) in order to teach the idea. In other words, they start their lesson by showing their students the heavy academic penalties they will pay if they were caught plagiarizing or adopting other people’s ideas without proper referencing. While this approach seems reasonable in the way it highlights the serious consequences of violating academic ethics, it hardly helps students understand the real message behind such policies. By creating a negative atmosphere of threat and expulsion from school, students are intimidated by the concept of academic honesty and start thinking of it as a mere punishment tool. In my opinion, teachers should demonstrate to students the moral and intellectual values behind submitting authentic papers rather than copied ones. He/she should show their learners how creating one’s own piece of work is a source of both self-confidence and self-respect. Students, hence, learn to take pride in their own creation rather than passively depending on others. They also learn how their authentic work can be a source of inspiration to others who follow their path and choose the hard way of producing their own work instead of stealing it from others. Our learners can, hence, grow into productive and independent citizens who are capable of achieving success on personal, professional and intellectual levels.

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MOOCS and The Same Old Question: Can On-line Learning Replace the “Real” Classroom?

The idea of MOOCs or a massive open online course is really new to me. Yet, I find it extremely interesting and eye-opening. The fact that anyone can access a course at anytime from anywhere is definitely worth thinking of and investigating. I even joined a course in writing on Coursera at https://class.coursera.org/basicwriting-003/ to have firsthand experience of the concept of online learning. The idea has many advantages and can be appealing to almost any student who finds it difficult to join an educational institution or college.   Graduate students, like myself, those with disabilities, working mothers, people who are home bound for health reasons, and many others can now learn comfortably at their own place. Even younger students whom we call “slow learners” or those who feel nervous in the traditional classrooms, due to peer pressure for example, can benefit from such an idea. But the question that keeps nagging: can online courses replace traditional ones? Does the lack of face-to-face interaction with tutors and students negatively affect the learning process? And above all, do employers take a certificate or a degree obtained on-line as seriously as ones provided by  reputable universities? Again more questions that we, as educators, need to think thoroughly about.

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