Each episode is a combination of real-action video with language teaching and practice, focused on developing communicative skills. The language is presented in small bitesize chunks… Learners are encouraged to practice and to speak out loud to the characters they encounter. - BBC
I have been spending quite a bit of time using BBC’s language learning program that I began once I decided upon learning Spanish for my learning project for EC&I 831. This week I would like to share a little bit about it with you and also formally recommend it to other classmates who chose to learn a language for their learning project, or who are simply interested in language learning.
The BBC offers their interactive program in several languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, German, Greek, Portuguese and Chinese. Of course, I have been engaging with the Spanish program, entitled Mi Vida Loca, which happened to be the 2009 winner of Interactive Innovation in the British academy of Television Craft Awards. The interactive video program consists of 22 episodes that are divided into specific topics. The videos make you feel like you are a part of the action.
Each episode has a narrator on the side that introduces the story and also quizzes you throughout the episode on your knowledge. Through the course of the lesson, you engage with the interactive video/story that brings you into the action. Below you can watch what the first episode looked like:
Each episode is also accompanied with supplementary materials that include the key vocabulary, an explanation of the grammar structures, and extra practice.
The site even discusses how this program can be used in the classroom and they have a site dedicated to Teaching with Mi Vida Loca. The site says, “If you have the right set-up, such as an interactive whiteboard or a projector with speakers, you could use it for whole class teaching… If you don't have access to a computers or whiteboard, then Mi Vida Loca can be used as homework to either prepare for or reinforce classwork.” While I’ve never taught a language class, I could see how this program could be integrated into the classroom, particularly through role playing.
I’m now almost half way through the program. I am definitely enjoying it, but one thing I struggle with is that the program is only offered in European Spanish and not Latin Spanish. My learning project is focused on Latin Spanish, so sometimes I find myself missing some of the words, as the accent is considerably different on certain letters i.e. the “c” is pronounced as “th” in the program, while “c” is pronounced as “s” in Latin Spanish. That being said, I’ve adapted to this and just listen more carefully. I can definitely say the program has enhanced my vocabulary, which is key if I want to improve my Spanish speaking.
Does it have to be one or the other? I believe there is a time and place for both...
In today’s increasingly digital age, young (and not-so-young) have a plethora of digital networking tools at their fingertips. Felicity Duncan, in her article Why Many Kids are Leaving Social Networks, discusses how many teens are increasingly picking up more intimate networking tools such as group texting, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
Duncan highlights three main reasons for this increase in more intimate networking tools. What follows in my insight on each of these reasons.
If we feel the need to perform a “perfect” identity, we risk silencing non-dominant ideas. A pre-service teacher might be hesitant to discuss “touchy” subjects like racism online, fearing future repercussions from principals or parents. A depressed teenager might fear that discussing her mental health will make her seem weak or “crazy” to potential friends or teachers or employers and thus not get the support she needs. If we become mired in the collapsed context of the Internet and worry that our every digital act might someday be scrutinized by someone, somewhere, the scope of what we can “safely” discuss online is incredibly narrow… - Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt
Duncan then explores the implications that moving from broadcasting to narrowcasting has on business and the public sphere. One thing she mentions is that “parents who may be accustomed to monitoring at least some proportion of their children’s online lives may find themselves increasingly shut out.” I only partially agree with this statement. While I think it is definitely important to connect with your child online, I would hope that the monitoring of their child’s online life isn’t restricted to online monitoring. What I mean by this is that parents MUST talk to their children about what they are up to BOTH offline AND online. We can’t rely on digital tools alone to monitor the online lives of our youth. We can never diminish the value of talking and being actively engaged in our children’s (digital and non-digital) lives.
Another implication that Duncan cites is the increase of group text and Snapchat (and the perceived exodus of young people from broadcast social media) will decrease the opportunity for new ideas to enter their networks. While Duncan has a very good point here, I would argue that we can’t rely on social media alone to expose us to new ideas that challenge our current beliefs, as those tools, too, have algorithms that can, to some degree, satisfy our filter bubble as well. Furthermore, people may only friend and follow others with similar interests and beliefs… or block or turn off notifications that misalign with their personal beliefs. What I am getting at is that narrow/partisan views aren’t caused by intimate networks like Snapchat and iMessage… what they are caused by is a lack of skill in developing one's open and critical lens. Navigating the World Wide Web (as well as televised, radio, print, blogs, Ted Talks, etc) requires this open and critical lens, and can also allow us broaden our exposure to new ideas and challenge our current beliefs. Yes, we have social media (which I am a definite advocate of), and it does create a “powerful and open public sphere, in which ideas could spread and networks of political action could form”; but that being said, if youth are never taught or granted opportunity on HOW to leverage social media TO spread ideas and network with others for action, then it is not Snapchat nor iMessage that is the culprit. This is why we must cultivate contemporary skills in our youth, preparing them for the world before them and not the world that was once before us.
Duncan also discusses that broadcast social media has turned into merely consumption for teens. Again, I have to wonder if this is a result of what has been modelled for them and a lack of purposeful opportunity both at school and at home to move beyond consumption and into creation. That being said, I think we have to be careful about this idea that consumption is inherently bad. The key is BALANCE. If we don’t at least consume a little, how are we to create? We need to build upon the ideas of others, and we do that by first consuming their ideas. For example, each week in this class, we are consuming… we read articles, watch videos, and attend a 1.5 hour virtual meeting… these things INSPIRE us to create blog posts, videos, etc. Classmate, Logan Petlack, is a great example of this, as, through his consumption of this information, was inspired to create a Snapchat story the next day at school. If we do not engage in the consumption process, our creation process is likely to be less informed. Another example is the whole remix culture; from consumption comes an incredible amount of new creativity inspired by the creativity of others. Again, it is all about balance; if students are more concerned with keeping up the Kardashians than keeping up with the wider public and political sphere, there is a problem. We (as educators, parents, and society) need to empower youth to take interest, broaden their [dare I say it] consumption, and inspire creation.
Ultimately, there is a time and place for networking through broadcast social media and through narrowcasting social media. Some stories are more suited for an intimate audience, while others can inspire a larger audience. If educators, parents, and society can educate about and model appropriate and effective use, perhaps we can empower youth to capitalize on the benefits of both modes of networking, to both serve themselves and others.
For a comparison of broadcasting and narrowcasting, click here to view an infographic on Flickr.
I write this post from the fifth floor of the Regina General Hospital on the Neurology ward. How quickly life can change. When February began I was a healthy person, enjoying life, and very happy as a wife, mother, teacher and grad student. Then, Sunday, February 8th struck with a vengeance. On that day, I began to have the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. I confidently make that statement as someone who went through a very difficult childbirth my with my now 3 year-old daughter. I was promptly admitted to the hospital and am currently under the care of a great neurologist, Dr. Rehman. I have received the diagnosis of Trigeminal Neuralgia, which is known to be one of the most excruciating pains known to humanity. For a professional explanation you can watch the video below:
While my future is a big question mark at this point in time, as doctors continue to develop a plan for pain management (and possible pain elimination through surgery), presently I am taking anti-convulsive (anti-seizure) medication and heavy narcotics to manage the pain. As a high achiever, I have been very worried about my two graduate-level courses I am taking this semester, but I feel fortunate to have such kind and understanding professors like Alec Couros, Katia Hildebrandt, and Fr. John Meehan, who are willing to work with me and my condition to see me succeed. Thank you... my gratitude is beyond what I can adequately express.
While the pain has no words, the most difficult part of this whole ordeal has been being away from my daughter. Going days on end without hugging her is the greatest pain of all. That being said, I am eternally grateful that my parents in Moose Jaw have been able to take her and care for her while my husband, Luis, balances his busy job and spending time with me in the hospital. Although I continue to be very weak, to demonstrate progress on my learning project this week, I decided to make it both practical and personal. As you have read in my previous posts, I am extremely self-conscious about speaking in Spanish. This week (maybe it's the drugs that the nurses are putting in my IV that gave me a confidence boost), I decided to read some picture books to my little girl. While I read to my daughter every night, I have never read to her in Spanish... ever. This is a big step for me. Coincidentally, the literature on language-learning also promotes reading children's books as a way to increase fluency. What you see below is a video of me reading bedtime stories to my little girl, as I am unable to be there in person to read them to her. Please forgive my delayed/slurred speech... some of it is the Spanish and some of it is the pain medication. My parents tell me that my daughter continues to watch the video on repeat, which melts my heart. I continue to be amazed by the way technology can bring people together and enhance relationships.
Sorry for the short post this week, as I regain my strength, my posts will improve. Thank you for your understanding. I hope to get released from the hospital this week as well!
I'm happy to share that I have made more progress this week on my learning project! I continue to use Duolingo, and have now reached 46% fluency (according to the app). I'm not at all pretending to believe that this is an accurate measure, as there is no way I'm 46% fluent, but I don't pay attention to that... for me it's just about progress and documenting my learning. What I appreciate most about this app is the ease of doing a lesson here or there on my phone when I have time in my day... it doesn't require me sitting down for a set amount of time; I get to define when, where, and how I use it. My speed of progress on the app has slowed down as the lessons have become more and more difficult, but nevertheless, I continue to plug away. Why? Well, ultimately, I ask myself if the tool I am using is helping or hindering my personal learning. I can definitely say that it has expanded my vocabulary, so therefore, it is helping. That being said, I do not equate "helping" to be the same as "enriching". I personally choose to continue with the app in order to expand my vocabulary. Again, I stress that the numbers the app produces are not what's important, nor are they representative of my true learning journey. This app is but one small strategy in a gradually increasing mix that will support me in my journey towards Spanish fluency.
As per my original post on my learning project, I have taken on two more strategies to support my learning of the Spanish language: 1) setting the primary language as Spanish on all my digital devices, and 2) labelling things in my home to help build my vocabulary.
Changing my Devices to SPanish...
Below you can watch how I changed the language on my PC, MacBook, and iPhone from English to Spanish. I think this is a good strategy for me because I spend so much time on my devices, that it's another way to immerse myself in the language. I will also note that both videos I made this week were made iniMovie using Spanish as the default language! It was tricky in spots (i.e. remembering what menu item was what), but I am proud that I managed to do it.
One thing that has always driven me bonkers about Spanish is the masculine and feminine aspect. What makes a table feminine?!? What makes a refrigerator masculine?!? Why?!? I decided to colour code all the items in my kitchen and living room to help me grasp the feminine/masculine head scratcher (knowing if the word is preceded by "la" or "el", "las" or "los", "una" or "un", etc)...
Although the video below is only 4 minutes, the time it took to look up each word, determine if it was masculine or feminine, sort the words, write the words on Post-its, memorize the words, and then post them around my home, took considerably longer than four minutes! In any case, I hope you enjoy my fun little Post-it video!
“Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on e-mail and social media”. A common question I’m often asked is: why should I blog, join social media, or even create a digital footprint? Some people doubt that their online presence matters and believe the cybersphere is already too abundant with information. Others think that online spaces have an impenetrable dominant voice, deeming online participation pointless.
Because Okolloh was thinking out loud, and because she had an audience of like-minded people, serendipity happened.
The story of Ory Okolloh disproves these notions that online presence doesn't matter. I am also reminded of the profound words of Mother Teresa, which I believe apply to the story of Okolloh and many others who have put their voice out there:
We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
The ocean truly is less without our drops. As Clive Thompson says, “The fact that so many of us are writing — sharing our ideas, good and bad, for the world to see — has changed the way we think… and that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.” This is why it is imperative that we, as teachers, provide opportunities for our students to develop their voice and media literacies so that they, too, can meaningfully participate in our connected world.
Thomson mentions that historically, literacy has been focused on "reading, not writing... consumption, not production." Dave Cormier elaborated on this during class on Tuesday night, saying that “knowing” has erroneously become “content”. In an age of digital communications, our role as educators is to transform this simple way of “knowing”. It is imperative that “knowing” be flexible, embracing of diverse ideas and perspectives, adept at making valuable connections between ideas, adaptable for changing ideas to fit new contexts, able to create new meaning… and most importantly, to be a complex, lifelong process wherein the “community becomes the curriculum”. If we believe in this way of “knowing”, we create fertile soil for rhizomatic learning to bloom.
Keeping with the theme of learning’s continuity with nature, I also came across an intriguing article in the New York Times this week, wherein a German forest ranger contends that trees have social networks as well. In some ways, we can look to trees as a model of learning in a globally connected world.
Every voice, every idea matters, even if the audience is small. The audience effect is a facinating phenomenon. I created a dragontape (below) of a few quotes that I think illustrate the importance of moving from consumers to creators and sharing our ideas with an authentic audience:
As Adam Bellow says in the clip above, students are infinitely more motivated when sharing their ideas with an authentic audience, as opposed to a single audience: teacher. In fact, there is research to prove that there is a significant shift in performance when students know others are watching, as it compels them to pay greater attention, and consequently, learn more. Furthermore, an authentic audience can take us out of ourfilter bubbles because it can clarify thinking.; as Thompson says, "It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing." What's more is that the audience effect does not necessitate a large audience:
The cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million.
When I began to flatten my classroom walls, I truly grasped this idea. The audience does not need to be massive to be authentic, nor to have an impact. During the past couple weeks, I have realized this all over again. A teacher approached me before Christmas to chat about her upcoming unit in Grade 2: sending and receiving messages. In past years, her students would get designated a pen-pal from across the hall, and they would exchange letters (messages) back and forth. This year she was looking to enhance this unit by incorporating 21st century literacies. Enter FlipGrid! We decided to extend communication beyond the school walls as well, by connecting with Grade 9 classroom in the city. Although the audience is small (two classrooms who can see each other’s collection of messages), the teacher has already observed a significant difference in the quality of the messages and student motivation. When I went to the high school to help the Grade 9 students get started in responding to the messages from their Grade 2 e-pals, I was in absolute awe at how excited and motivated the students were... they genuinely care about the project! An "authentic audience", along with meaningful BYOT, enhanced the students’ engagement and sense of empowerment. You might be wondering how this can relate to Christian Ethics for the Grade 9s… The students are exchanging messages back and for the entire month of February and a portion of March, three times per week. Each week, the Grade 2's will receive a Christian challenge from their Grade 9 e-pal, and the subsequent messages will involve dialogue about faith and service, as well as getting to know their e-pal on personal level. Using digital communication, students (as young as 7 years old) are learning how to connect and communicate with authentic audiences in online spaces, in positive ways. This activity integrates some the knowledge and skills of the Ministry’s Digital Citizenship Continuum as well. I am so excited to be supporting this project and I am looking forward to watching it unfold. I have included two videos below (using just the audio), where you can hear the initial message from one of the Grade 2 students, and the response from their Grade 9 e-pal. I have also included the Grade 2 outcomes that we are targeting.
The project may seem small... however, if students are not afforded opportunities in school to use digital technologies in positive ways, to authentically connect with others, and to develop their voice, then I contend that we have failed to set them up for lifelong learning and success outside of school walls.
The above story is tragic, indeed. Because Duchesne was young, he really had no way to get his ideas out there. Now, with digital technologies, young people CAN get their ideas out there, and are able to have a voice in a way they once could not. We need to embrace this new reality and what it affords our learners. It is largely up to educators to develop students' capacity to authentically connect with others, share their ideas, invite response, and collaboratively create new ideas, because students are not digital natives.
But it's not only students who need to get connected and share ideas... in today's globally connected world, all educators must as well. "When inventive people aren’t aware of what others are working on, the pace of innovation slows." Just consider for a moment the impact that this slowing pace of innovation (as a result of disconnected teachers) can have on education. As Clive Thompson says, "Failed networks kill ideas, but successful ones trigger them." The impact is profound.
Ideas flourish and multiply for those educators who are making efforts to build their PLNs. It is imperative that teachers get connected; and this is what our EC&I 831 course with Alec and Katia is empowering us to do. So... back to those questions at the beginning of my post: why should I blog, join social media, or even create a digital footprint?... because the Internet is now "the world’s most powerful engine for putting heads together"... and we MUST use this powerful engine to connect minds if we are to provide the best possible education for youth today and tomorrow. Ultimately, as Michael Drennan reminds us, "schools are for preparation to enter a wide world of possibility."
Our world is connected in ways that were once inconceivable. Digital technology and social networking is transforming the way we learn, and consequently, transforming the role of the teacher. While some teachers may feel as if their role is becoming obsolete, I would argue that our role is now more critical than ever... it just looks different.
"Learning is a continual process, lasting for a lifetime"; it does not stop once a piece of paper is handed to you during a graduation or convocation ceremony. Connectivism in a modern theory of learning that educators must embrace. As my classmate, Nathan Bromm stated, connectivism is the new lifelong learning. In order to learn authentically in our contemporary society (and be prepared for tomorrow), students need to be able to develop 21st century literacies, which include connecting and collaborating with others, as Howard Rheingold argues in his article. We, as teachers, have the opportunity to make a profound positive impact on the futures of our students if we choose to embrace this change... otherwise, we leave our students prepared for the future that once awaited us, but unprepared for the actual future that awaits them. This requires us to ditch the idea that learning is a transaction between the teacher and the student… it requires us to regard learning as the meaningful interaction between the student and their evolving Personal Learning Network… cultivating lifelong learners in a world where, as George Siemens points out, "Knowledge is growing exponentially… [and] the life of knowledge is now measured in months and years".
But how do we get their attention?!? As Rheingold states in his article, he used to feel as if attention was compromised when students were not looking at him while he was talking to them; but then he realized… "If I can't compete with the Internet for their attention, that's my problem." Not accepting this reality, schools (and even post-secondary institutions) have even gone so far as to ban technology in their classrooms because they think technology is inherently distracting. A Forbes article on the issue says that, "some professors feel they need to create engaging presentations to compete with technology for students’ attention." Does it have to be a competition? I do not believe so. We, as teachers, have had it engrained in our minds that in order to have students' attention and make learning meaningful, we need to be "engaging"… but this pedagogical mindset is flawed. George Couros talks about the importance of shifting from engagement to empowerment. I believe empowerment is what truly captures the "attention" of students.
A participatory culture of connected learners is empowerment. Rheingold's article illustrates that engagement is not the key to attention… nor is it the key to authentic learning. He, argues that a commitment to developing 21st Century literacies is the key to authentic learning. Rheingold, too, advocates for empowered learners, in saying "participating, even if it's no good and nobody cares, gives one a different sense of being in the world. When you participate, you become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you." I know people share concerns that there are dominant voices in online spaces; while that may be true, how will that ever change if we, as educators, don't do our part to change that status-quo? During my schooling, my voice went as far as the teacher's hand-in basket. Today, we have the opportunity to empower student voice. As for concerns about those students who live on the margins and may lack access to technology, that is even MORE reason for us to have them exercise their voice with the technology available to them at school. As Rheingold says, "The technologies that we have in our pockets today are powerful engines for participation… simply participating is a start." A "start" is all we need to influence change... and it is certainly the seed to have students discover they have a voice in the first place. This begins in schools... but if we don't embrace it, students will have a more resonant intellectual and creative life outside of school than inside it. Students deserve both environments to provide fertile soil for learning, and for those students who come from disadvantage, it is even more critical that schools are environments for rich intellectual and creative opportunities afforded by the capabilities of technological innovations and participatory culture. Furthermore, we need to enhance this participation to ignite collaboration, as "doing things together gives us more power than doing things alone." As my classmate, Vanessa, said, "Connectivity does not need to be the perpetrator; it can be a gift, but only if we do allow it be."
Lastly, just because we live in a networked society, we cannot make the erroneous assumption that since students were born in the age of digital innovation and possess these technologies, that they are digital natives. "No one is born a native speaker of 'digital' the way no one is born a native speaker of any language". Being on Facebook or Instagram does not in any way correlate to possessing essential 21st century skills for participatory and collaborative culture. The deceiving term of "digital natives" coerces comfort into knowledge, and those are two fundamentally different things. A better term for many youth would be what David White has termed "digital residents". You can watch an excellent video that Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt introduced to us last semester regarding the fallacy of digital natives and the more appropriate descriptor of digital residents. Twenty-first century skills must be cultivated in schools and educators must do their part to provide context, immersion and practice for students so that they will learn how to navigate our connected world and becoming authentic and particpatory lifelong learners.
Teacher & Tech Coach with Regina Catholic Schools. Passion for EdTech, 21st century student-centered pedagogy, connected learning & differentiated instruction. Grad student.