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Reflection on Milton (2004): From parrots to puppet masters: Fostering creative and authentic language use with online tools

At the beginning of the article, Milton addresses some problems of EFL teaching in Asian countries, such as imitative practices, repeated memorization, unnatural learning materials. To avoid this exam-oriented teaching and learning situation, Milton designed an online EFL course system to deliver course and manage students’ language learning, helping teachers create a more meaningful and authentic language learning activities. The systems incorporates a lot of tools for language leaning. Four of them are described in the article:

Asynchronous Voice Messaging
This tool is used for students’ speaking practice. Teacher and students communicate with each other through leaving recorded messages posted on Web pages, like an “oral discussion forum”. Students were more involved and felt more confidence, compare to the traditional face-to-face conversation practice in classrooms.

Word Neighbors
This is “a discovery-based lexical lookup tool”, a self-reliant learning tool for students to look up any word or phrase selected from the writing context. Students can use the tool to proofreading and learn new words by themselves.

Mark My Words
This is a marking tool to enhance teachers’ feedbacks, which solves the problem of the inexistence of teachers’ feedback guidance and helps teacher save much time when commenting on students’ writing. A pre-defined comment is provided automatically by the tool based on an online grammar/ writing guide.

Scripting tool
Students can use this tool to create role plays for animated characters online. The dialogues written by students will be presented by these characters, whose voices are synthesized by the computer, so that students can listen the dialogues. Dialogues written in this activity are more authentic and natural.

I’m very impressed by these online tools designed by the author, which are very user-friendly and interesting. Students can be highly motivated in language learning by using these tools. The system and tools are designed for promoting a communicative-oriented and student-centered EFL teaching. Students can learn English for use rather than passing examinations. And the online communication introduced in the first tool can help decrease students’ anxiety and encourage students who are too shy to speak English in the classroom. The Word Neighbors tool can foster a self-learning habit for students. Mark My Words can also serve as a self-learning tool. Besides, it provides a guidance and can lighten teachers’ work load. I like the last online role play tool the most. First, the animated characters can definitely attract students’ attention. Second, students would be proud and motivated to have these online characters act out the conversation written by themselves. Lastly, this kind of informal writing, conversations of daily life, would be more beneficial to students’ communicative competence, including pragmatic competence, social competence, etc.

I agree with the author’s opinion that online activities can “extend and enhance” the traditional classroom learning experience, but not replace them. The internet provides plenty of resources which are easily to access to. Why not refuse it? Teachers should not blind their minds and restrict them into a closed classroom. Keep your mind and knowledge updated, so that your students can benefit.
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Session 8: FOSTERING LEARNER AUTONOMY IN ENGLISH FOR SCIENCE: A COLLABORATIVE DIGITAL VIDEO PROJECT IN A TECHNOLOGICAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

This article conducts a research to explore whether and in what ways the technological learning environment promotes autonomous language learning. A digital video project was implemented in an English for Science and Technology (EST) course at an English-medium university in Hong Kong. The project has three steps: planning, construction, and sharing of the scientific documentaries. Students were asked to work on their science project in groups of three. Their process of experiment need the help of IT tools, for example, searching background information needs online resources, presenting their experimental result in a video and sharing on YouTube. The evaluation draws on the questionnaires, group interviews, and Weblog comments from the students. Positive results are found in perspectives of motivation, authenticity, independent learning, teamwork, peer-teaching, and reflection on learning. Students benefit a lot from the digital video project. The study provides a possible teaching approach to develop students’ automatical learning.

The study provides a good example to employ new technology in second language learning class, which encourages and inspires me a lot. Transferring the result of a project into video can not only motivate students but also develop their creativity. The digital video is an multimodal artifact outcome consists of images, movies, music, and audio narration. It’s more flexible to collect ideas. Sometimes, students’ creativity can shock us by using ICTs. And the form of group work foster their collaborative learning. Unlike traditional teaching approaches, in this digital video project, students work together, acting as different roles: “researcher, field-worker, script-writer, director, actor, camera-operator, and editor”. During the process, they automatically learn knowledge by doing self research as well as help correct their peers’ work. All of them are involved in the project.

I think a project invoving new technology is a challenge to teachers, too. The teacher should master such new technologies first, which needs a systematical teachers’ training. I think if the teacher wants to try such project in an English classroom, s/he needs to carefully plan the project according to his/her students’ and the English classroom’s conditions. The process of the project takes several weeks, and the teacher must lead the students complete the project step by step, carefully and patiently. I know the outcome is beneficial to students’ English progression, but I doubt whether it is practical to promote such project in Chinese secondary schools. It’s possible to take it in colleges I think. Nevertheless, I’ve always supported the use of IT in English classrooms. I like the following quotation from the article:

  “ as 21st century digital citizens, they regarded to be important to master. It seems likely that students perceived the digital video task as useful because they are themselves very aware of the ways in which communication practices are evolving in the digital age to rely more on multimodal content. We argue that in light of these developing communication practices, there is a need to rethink the scope of the language curriculum in order to include the construction of multimodal texts”
  
  I think PBL and CALL should be promoted in language classroom, the language learning process would be more fun and meaningful.

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Review on session 6:L2 Literacy and the Design of the Self:A Case Study of a Teenager Writing on the Internet

This article studies how communities on the Internet helps L2 literacy use and development and form learners’ identity. The case study here examined how a Chinese immigrant teenager Almon make great progress in English learning when he employed the internet in his life. In this case, Almon has his own homepages of a famous Japanese pop singer and build a online community with a list of community members from all over the world who share and exchange information about this Japanese singer in his homepages. He built this personal web site by self-learning with the help of an international server-GeoCities, which provides not only a the virtual base and many other online help resources, but also an opportunity to build a social or cultural community. Before he made the website, he was totally frustrated about learning English and even depressed about his life. But “visible improvement” was seen after he involved the internet into his life and his learning and became confident again about his future.

When building the site, Almon collected resources from J-pop music, magazines, TV programs and other Web sites on J-pop music and particular singers. In this process, I think he has practiced reading skill and critical evaluation skill unintentionally. There are rich contents in his website, including text, music, links to other sites,videos and pictures. His nickname Mr. Children indicates one of his identities as a J-pop fan. He designed this website as his own possession “my homepage” and acted as an expert and helper in the J-pop community. I think this identity construction helps a lot in rebuilding his confidence. When he wrote in his website and online chatted with his peers in the community, he designed for himself as an English user not an outsider as he felt he was before, in the English speaking country. Almon constructed new social networks of a transnational group of Asian peers. In the whole process of acquiring and reproducing J-pop information and interacting with other peers, Almon actively involved in and used English as the medium language. Maybe the English he used is limited in J-pop culture and informal, but he involved himself in a global English-speaking community and learned how to communicate online appropriately in English.

The situation is similar to the last case study in the article…: a Chinese girl called Nanako found her way of learning English by participating in a fanfiction website and creating her different identities as a supportive fan of anime, a popular author of several series of fanfiction stories, and an expert in Asian culture. Both of these two case indicate that the online networks have a positive influence on learners’ language improvement. Learners benefit a lot from their personal cognitive development, to the social relationship construction, from the language skill’s training to the formation of an automatic learning habit. The more I read about the success of promoting CALL in language learning, the more eager I want to try it to help the students. I really want to know whether it is effective in a Chinese speaking country and Chinese culture. I hope CALL and other new pedagogies can get support from various circles of society. I see huge challenges in front of me. =_=`

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‘Language, Culture, and Identity in Online Fanfiction’

  This article talks about how networked technologies and fan culture help a young English learner Nanako, a immigrant in Canada from Shanghai China, develope her English skills. It is an interesting study which inquires the influence of popular culture on te online literacy of ELL because few researches have been done in this area.
  
  It was difficult for Nanako to participate in the English speaking society at first for she didn’t speak any English before she moved to Canada until she found some web for anime and became an avid reader of fanfiction. Her interest in Japanese anime helped her start to make progress on English learning. After two years’ involvement as a reader on the anime website, she joined Fanfiction.net and began to post her own fanfiction stories. She has been a very successful and popular author in this space. I think it is smart for Nanako to use Author’s Notes to directly communicate with her readers. At first, AN helped her a lot to build her identity as an anime fan, a non-native speaker of English and a new writer. So, her readers helped her improve her English as well as being supporters. Another point that impresses me is that she mixes her first language Mandarin and some Japanese with the English text stories. She brings her cultural background to her writing. The use of multiple languages win her support and admiration form the readers. She built her identity as an expert in Mandarin by translating and explaining the Chinese text and expressions to the readers. And later on, she even tries to achieve a deeper perspective- writing stories of rich histories of China and Japan to make her readers be aware these two cultures, which is of more meanings and values. This writing process provides more opportunity for her to learn more about Chinese culture and history.

  Over years, from an ELL, Nanako becomes a welcomed author in fanfiction.net who introduces her own culture and language to fan readers across the globe. This online fan community really provides her a supportive and meaningful place to develop linguistically, socially and culturally. My concern is that whether Chinese English learners can achieve her success in learning English by participating in popular culture communities. As Nanako is an immigrant in Canada, she has the need to learn English in that environment. So she joined a English based fan community of anime. And I think she is not a common case in this area, for most fans are readers not a successful and popular writer. But for learners who stay in China, do they have the same motivation and passion in learning language through fan clubs on the internet? Because you know, there are also many Chinese fanfiction websites which are enough to satisfy their needs for anime and fanfiction. I think it is possible that we can use popular culture and network technology to help Chinese students learn English. But I wonder how to make use of it as there are so many distractions in fan communities. I will find the answer after tonight’s lesson.

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Online teaching and learning: My experience

First, I’d like to share a little bit about my 1-year teaching experience applying new literacy because the course recalls my memory about it.

Although English teaching in secondary schools in Mainland China hasn’t involved so many digital technologies, at least many schools equip the classroom with a computer and a projector. And I find the technology equipment very helpful to assist my teaching. Young teachers use PPT a lot when having a class because more resources are available with the help of the computer. Except the text, which by the way saving a lot of time to pre-prepare the teaching materials in the PPT instead of writing on the blackboard, the teaching courseware includes images, music, video clips, and links to other websites. Students are more motivated and concentrated in this kind of class. And I find the interaction between the teacher and students through the PPT is more active and efficient. But unfortunately, so far, I haven’t given students tasks or homeworks which need computer or online learning. I think it’s a challenge for teenagers might be easily distracted by online games if they are asked to do their homework on the Internet. What do you think? Do you think it’s a good idea to set online tasks or homeworks for Chinese students? For me, I think we should have a try. And to make it practicable, teachers need to word hard on designing the task which may attract students’ attention and train their learning skills as well.

As for my online learning experience, I started to own my first computer when I entered college. Before that, I thought computers were for entertainment and may distract my attention on study. But in college, except books, the computer is all my learning resource. It provides inexhaustible materials on training my speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, like the English version news report, English movies, radios, journals, novels, etc. which can be easily accessed to. We exchanged ideas with our professors and peers through e-mails or other tools and shared resources in some inner networks or platforms.Since then, I don’t think I can live without the computer or the Internet. And what I said in first week’s course, I want to learn something new from this new literacy course. I’ve caught some ideas and look forward to more in the following weeks.

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