Tuesday, April 25, 2006

IELTS and PBWikis and Wikispaces

One of my projects at the moment is to explore IELTS from an ICT perspective. I have created an IELTS blog http://ieltsblog.blogspot.com which I shall use to collect information and links.

I have, fortunately, just discovered the wonderful world of wikis - http://pbwiki.com/ and http://wikispaces.com - and hope to publish my IELTS research on a wiki. I'm trying out both wiki sites (http://ielts.pbwiki.com and http://ielts.wikispaces.com/), but eventually I'll choose just one of them. If anyone is interested in contributing, please contact me.

First impressions - pbwikis look better but wikispaces are easier to use and they seem to offer blog integration. More later...

Friday, April 21, 2006

Camino and Bloglines; Firefox and Google Reader

Blogger was having some publishing problems. We haven't had many posts on the class blogs recently... perhaps this was the problem. Anyway, this morning everything seems back to normal and some new posts have arrived.

Tuesday morning. I first tried to post this yesterday... Time for a quick run through of some of the software I'm currently using.

I have been using Firefox (http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/) for a long time now and have been more than happy with its performance and look (esp. with 'Black Japan'). Now, as I'm using a Mac (OS X) at home, I'm trying out Camino (http://www.caminobrowser.org/) (v.1). It's very pretty, very quick, but doesn't have any native extensions (you can get third-party ones) and you can't have those useful buttons on the toolbar ('del.icio.us', 'live bookmarking'), but feels really nice on a mac. I'm looking forward to version 1.1... I've just added a 'Get Camino' Button to show my support; doing this I noticed that my adsense buttons and adverts which show when I use IE or Firefox don't show when I use Camino!
I have just discovered that it's a simple check in the Camino Preferences causing the problem. Under the Web Features pane just uncheck Block web advertising and adsense and other ads will show up.

I'm using a web-based feed reader as I use a mac at home and a pc at work - bloglines. I've also just set up a Google Reader account.

Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com) - If you have more than one blog, this is great for keeping track of them. Everytime someone posts, you are alerted and can read the post from bloglines rather than having to go to all of your blogs. Very useful when y0u have a number of student blogs. I find Bloglines very easy to use, though it isn't always clear how to perform slightly more complex operations, like importing other blogliner's feeds into your own account. This is how to do it:

1) Find a blogliner's list of feeds you find interesting. The URL is http://www.bloglines.com/public/username. My public feeds, for example, are here: http://www.bloglines.com/public/antonelloway

2) At the foot of the page, you will see 'Export Subscriptions'. Click on this and an OPML file opens. This is the page you need to save onto your computer. In practice, it makes things easier if you open the OPML file in a new window (i.e. right click on 'Export Subscriptions') and then save the file onto your desktop.

3) From your own bloglines account, click on 'Edit' and then on 'Import Subscriptions' (under 'Extras' at the bottom of the page).

4) Browse for your OPML file (on the desktop if you saved it there).

5) Click 'Import'.

6) All the feeds will appear. Unfortunately, there isn't, as far as I know, any way to steer the feeds into a particular folder before importing, so they arrive as just a long list of feeds. However, once imported, you can manually move them around. There's a great bloglines tutorial available: Link

Google Reader (http://www.google.com/reader) - at the moment this is very unfriendly for people with a large number of feeds. You can't delete mass subscriptions, but have to unsubscribe one by one, which takes hours. Also, you can't clear the 'Read' items; in bloglines you can mark with one click all items as read and they disappear, whereas in Google, they just stay there, nagging at you. I find this particularly annoying. Even now, after clearing manually over 200 subscriptions, the left pane is overloaded with feeds for me to read.

In the meantime, until I have explored OPML editors (a basic text editor is horrible for this), I'm just bookmarking other people's public public subscriptions rather than adding their feeds to my own account.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dekita Exchange

Course Information Page

We have two class blogs which we use for blogging about ourselves and for posting homework.
  • students’ geographical location - Ho chi Minh City, Vietnam
  • beginning/end of course - end of March to end of May 2006
  • links to student weblogs or equivalent interactive work -
    1. http://eicuib1000classblog.blogspot.com (the morning class)
    2. http://eicuib1955classblog.blogspot.com (the evening class)

Nice-to-have information:

  • students’ age and their competency in English - from 18 to 50, upper-intermediate (CEF B2)
  • number of class sessions per week - 2 x 2 hours a week


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Week 4

About to begin week 4 of the course and we've been blogging for three weeks now. Many, many posts and comments last week. With almost 3o members it's actually quite difficult to keep track of the posts, and it's particularly difficult as both classes said they wanted to have corrections posted as comments on their posts. I wonder how useful it is to comment like this. Do they go back and read them? I haven't seen any redrafts, but they do thank me for my (limited) comments...

So far, it seems to be a popular tool. The students are certainly writing more than they would normally write and are also getting to know each other. Both classes enjoy a good dynamic. At the end of the course I'll give the classes a short questionnaire, 'To blog or not to blog?' perhaps...

I have just posted a short text thanking members for their posts and inviting the class to blog about the May holiday - EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Happy Blogging! Happy Holiday!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Week 3

There's been a lot more activity this week. Both classes, but particularly the morning class, have contributed numerous posts and comments and two students have even uploaded pitures: EICUIB1000 Class Blog: sharing your pics... and EICUIB1955 Class Blog: Hi everybody.

A few reflection on this week:
  • Some students still have technical problems and with such a short course (8 weeks) it really does seem necessary to have an introductory, setting-up session. Also, the more students blog, the more questions they have about developing their blogging (using pictures, for example). Some students mistakenly created their own blogs instead of joining the class blog; with a longer course, I think it would be productive for students to have their own blogs and then be able to alert us on the class blog that they have been updated, for example, but on this course I was anxious to make at least the main blog active and thought that learner blogs might detract from the class blog.
  • The class blog seems to encourage students to make public their feelings, not only feelings about the class (Tina and 'games'), but feelings about themselves (see the postings by the two students above). I find this one of the most interesting aspects of the blog and seems a useful way to involve the quieter students.
  • Correcting writing - as we didn't set up learner blogs, the class blog is the only forum available for publishing written. I decided to comment briefly on each of the postings in terms of content only, but did comment (albeit briefly) on the accuracy of the homework posts. (See my post on both blogs - EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Thanks and comments and corrections.) I have asked the class to comment on this 'policy'. I can see three possible ways forward with a class blog in terms of correcting writing:
    • A class blog where everyone reads and comments on work, both in terms of content and language. Commenting so publically might have a negative effect on the amount of writing (an increase in anxiety, for example), but might actually focus students on producing accurate written work (reminding students that a blog is, after all, a public space).
    • An alternative practice would be to limit my comments to content only and have class correction sessions using work published on the blog.
    • Another approach would be to post and submit hard copies of homework assignments. I would correct the hard copy (in some fashion - could be peer correction, teacher correction, teacher comments, etc) and the student would be able to re-draft their original homework posts on the blog.
  • Redrafting. So far, as far as I am aware, no one has actually used the blog to re-draft any of their posts...perhaps now there are some comments on language there will be some redrafting next week.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

EICUIB1955 Class Blog: Tuesday News

And from the evening group the same story of technical difficulties. However, Ngoc published a post just before the lesson - EICUIB1955 Class Blog: ALOHA! - and I commented. I also gave this class some homework to do on the blog and said that I will bring a laptop next lesson to see if I can fix any problems. It is difficult though when you have so little time with a class and there's an added anxiety that not all students will appreciate spending so much time on what they might see as just 'technology'.

EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Tuesday News

A busy day today! Tina commented on one of my posts and I added a comment, personally, as it were - comments are ideal for short responses; I also published a post - EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Introductions, homework, age and games... - in an attempt to open the topic up to the class. One item Tina mentioned was games - she wanted more games, so I asked on the blog if others also wanted games and had a reply by way of comment from Tina and (later) Teresa. It's interesting when you receive feedback in this fashion, even if there lurks behind it a criticism!

There was also a post from Teresa, nicely communicative -
EICUIB1000 Class Blog: introduction

Today in class I suggested that part of the homework could be blogged and Tina has already posted her letter -
EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Homework for P.17
The question now is how to respond - the content or the grammar or both. Ideally I would have the students write and read themselves before I make any comment on form, but, of course, there aren't that many participants yet. On that subject, many students apparently did try to blog but ran into technical difficulties. It seems some are confused by the public and private views of the blog and try to create posts straight from the public view. I intend to take the laptop along next lesson and try to help. That some people are having problems suggests that there should in general be more input at the beginning of the course on how to blog.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Week 2

This is the beginning of week two of the class blog project. So far, to be honest, after the initial excitement of seeing an entry by a class member, I've lost some heart. Over the last week there has been little activity -

EICUIB1000 Class Blog - 4 members (not including myself) and 2 postings. All comments by myself
EICUIB1955 Class Blog - 3 members (as above) and 1 posting and 1 comment (by the student who posted)

I wonder why more people haven't posted and I also think it odd that more have joined than posted; I would think that once you've accepted and signed up to the blog, you might as well write a sentence or two.

The plan tomorow - not to be too heavy handed, but simply to talk to the class about why they did or didn't post and see if there is any more activity.

Adsense and other buttons

In the spirit of experiementing with templates (I hardly expect to gain money from this venture), I've added Adsense to the blog, which was fairly easy to set up: there's a link box at the top of the page, a search box at the foot and two buttons in the sidebar (adsense and firefox). I've also put some other buttons on the sidebar - blogger and bloglines.

EICUIB1955 Class Blog: Introductions - Huy Thach

EICUIB1955 Class Blog: Hi Every body

Another posting, this time from the evening class (19.55pm class). The writer also found time to leave me a comment on one of my postings too.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Introductions - Phung (Nancy)

EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Introductions - Phung (Nancy)

Another posting from the 1000 class (the 10.00am class), this time from Nancy. I expected to receive more 'traditional' introductions (using my model), but so far the postings have been very individual. Nancy's introduction is quite personally revealing - a surprising first post. I have left a comment for her. I hope other students start to read and post and comment soon.

Having students invited to a class blog, where the teacher is the administrator, gives the teacher a lot of control over the blog. I added to Nancy's posting, for instance, a title, so that the posts are easier to recognise (hope she doesn'tmind!).

Some technical assistance

I posted a little technical support for both classes.

EICUIB1000 Class Blog: Some technical assistance

EICUIB1955 Class Blog: Some technical assistance