Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Developing Creative Thinking

The webinar organized by Pearson and hosted by Antonia Clare (co-author of SpeakOut) was quite informative and useful.

Apparently according to a research conducted by a US organization IQ level increased by 10% from generation to generation as well as creativity. However, it was discovered that this continued until 1990 and then the level of creativity in children started to decline. This was thought to be a result of educational system. Thus nowadays we are facing a creativity crisis.

What shall we, as teachers, do to make our learners creative? Antonia suggests shifting responsibility for learning back to our learners by motivating them to fully engage in the process of their own learning. Antonia offered quite a few tips on how to do this.

First of all, what is creative thinking?

Antonia shared Alvino's (1990) ideas:

1. fluency (generating lots of ideas)
2. flexibility (ability to shift perspective, variety of ideas)
3. elaboration (building on existing ideas)
4. originality (coming up with something new)

How creative thinking compares to critical thinking?

Creative Thinking 
Critical Thinking
generating ideas
lateral thinking 
idea generation

suspended judgement
many alternatives
vertical thinking
an answer

So how can we encourage creativity? We should provide our learners with a framework to colour it in (even if they colour over the lines. If we allow our learners to think outside the box they are used to, they will be able to become more creative than they are.

The first activity Antonia suggested is called 6 word stories.
Students are given some sample stories that are made up of 6 words and are asked to identify themselves with some of the stories. Then they can work on their own stories.
Samples suggested were:
Found true love. Married somebody else.
Ditched the map. Found better route.
Engulfed in work. Expelled from friendlist.
Evening. Excess vodka. Morning. Excess inertia.

The second idea is to use WritingExercises which is a site that generates the first line of a story and then students can work in pairs and write the story. It is important to set a word limit to make the task manageable for our learners.

Another idea is to use 5 Card Stories, which a site that randomly selects 5 pictures from Flickr and students can be asked to create a story using based on all the pictures selected by the website.

Giving half proverbs to students and asking them to finish the proverbs and to think of events in their lives that prove or disprove the proverbs is another option for encouraging creative thinking in our learners.

One more suggestion is to ask our learners to think of 5 memorable events in their lives that they would like to make into a film and take notes. Then students can work in pairs and tell their partners about their ideas for the film.

Two other activities involve senses. One is to ask students to think of emotions (or first they can look at some pictures and guess what emotions people are feeling) and to write a poem about that emotion.
_ _ emotion_ _ is like...
It tastes like...
It smells like...
It sounds like...
And it feels like...

The other one is to ask our learners to think back to their childhood and remember any particular smells that remind them of their childhood. Then they can talk about the stage of their life with which the smell is associated. Antonia suggested using TalkingMemories website as an extension to this last task.

Another idea is to use BBC Travel to read or watch articles/videos called "One perfect day in...". Students can read or watch the story of a traveller and then record their own "One perfect day" story on Voxopop.

Our leraner can also choose pictures from ELT Pictures that represent themselves and tell a story of who they are using the pictures they selected or, alternatively, other students in the class will have to look at the pictures their mates selected and try to guess what their peers wanted to tell.

Finally, Antonia shared a ScoopIt page that she created for this presentation.

I really enjoyed this webinar and am looking forward to more webinars organized by Pearson.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Virtual Round Table - How to conduct a spicy webinar

Heike Philp also held a webinar about how to present online. Actually Heike gave 20 tips but as some of the tips were the same as Joe McVeigh's (see my previous post), I decided to to share only the ones that are different.

Here's the list that I ended up with:

1. Don't panic. (Panic doesn't help, just makes things seem worse than they are).
2. Get yourself comfortable (Wear comfortable clothes: baggy jeans, slippers,  the presentation is online and nobody is going to see your legs or feet, unless you stand up and start walking around, which, hopefully, you won't) :)
3. Take technical glitches with humour.
4. Even if your children get involved, don't let them overtake the course of presentation).
5. Smile (A gloomy face may scare the participants).
6. Always have a contingency plan, and not just one!
7. Don't smoke or eat during the webinar.
8. Use attractive images (no nudity though!)
9. Use thought-provoking images but don't shock the participants.
10. Converse - DON"T lecture.
11. Acknowledge what your participants have typed in the chat box (by reading it or replying to it by using their names)
12. Write up key points in the 'note' area.
13. Leave time for questions.
14. Wrap up leaving your contact details.
15. Follow the 10-20-30 presentation rule by Guy Kawasaki.

Good luck with your webinar!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Virtual Round Table - Improving Your Virtual Presentation

Joe McVeigh gave a presentation on how to conduct a successful webinar. He is such a great presenter himself that all I wanted to do was to hear more from him.

Joe's tips are:
1. Don't try to include everything in your talk
2. Engage with your audience: ask them questions and have polls, e.g. find out which part of the world your listeners are from
3. Prepare your presentation and practise it in advance
4. Do something unexpected (to keep your audience awake)
5. Use good body language and eye contact (this is especially important in a webinar)
6. Don't read your speech. Although you can look at the screen of your computer, it is better to follow the chat box rather your own notes
7. Put your camera at your eye level so that your audience can see your face and eyes not details of your nose or forehead
8. Be yourself (whatever that means for you)
9. Get a good microphone (stand-alone) and a pair of earbuds (with headsets you will look like a DJ)
10. Don't be boring (don't bore your audience)
11. Don't talk too fast (this is easy to do if you are nervous)
12. Keep to the time indicated previously (time management is a very important skill)
13. Use visuals effectively
14. Do not put too much information on one slide (a big text puts people off reading it)
15. Use good lighting (have light/lamps on/by both sides of your desk)
16. Make sure the font size you use makes your slides readable (Joe uses font size 16)
17. It is useful to have a moderator who will share the links presented, keep an eye on the questions from your audience and will put all that and the key points of the presentation in the 'note' area
18. Use Flickr or FreeDigitalPhotos to find pictures for your presentation (check the copyright for pictures you choose and acknowledge the photographer or add the link to the photo in a less obtrusive place of the image itself)

Joe also recommended some books and sites to us:

Garr Reynolds's books PresentationZen and The Naked Presenter and his website.

The Virtual Presenter - the website and the book by Roger Courville


Brain Rules for Presenters

Friday, April 20, 2012

Workshop at British Council Armenia

Although I had been worried about this workshop, everything went well and the feedback was positive.

For the workshop I chose the topic of Gamification which is an area I am really interested in at the moment. As a friend and colleague suggested, I created a blog for the teachers to which I posted the links to the games that we worked with during the session with some comments.

I thought that making teachers come to the idea that computer games can be beneficially used in teaching themselves was a good idea. I started off by asking them to discuss the games they play with their learners in the classroom and how they benefit from them. Next I asked them to think of the differences between games children play now and played in the past. This brought the conversation to computer games which was what I needed. Only one of the participants said that there is no interaction in the games now and this was also good because I could give the example of my son who plays computer games with people from around the world and to achieve a goal they need to cooperate and discuss their moves via Skype. This convinced the participant.

I only introduced one game (Enercities) to them and we discussed the lesson plan for it together. Then I put the teachers into 3 groups and assigned different games to each group and they were asked to discuss and come up with a lesson plan for their games. Next each group presented their lesson plan, while the other two groups followed the game screenshots and shared their ideas.

Overall, I was really happy with the outcome because the teachers had 4 game lesson plans ready to use and were full of ideas how else they could use the games and how to adapt these games to various levels.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Virtual Round Table

The 5th Virtual Round Table is to start on Friday this week. I am really looking froward to it especially that I know that my network colleagues are participating too. It is a three-day conference hosted by Heike Philip. She is doing such a wonderful job for us all.

Having looked at the schedule I started going through the same torment as with IATEFL. I would like to listen to all the sessions but they are at the same time, so I suppose I will have to choose one and then listen to the other ones. It's also going to be streamed live. Quite a big thing really.

Will be blogging about it Friday to Sunday! :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Workshop Preparation

Every time I am asked to organize a workshop I start reflecting upon the previous one trying to understand what was good or bad in order to make it better. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Sometimes I just think that it depends on the willingness of teachers to accept ideas especially when they come from someone younger than themselves.

This time I thought of getting my colleagues ideas about what a good workshop is.

My dear friends I would very much appreciate it if you could share your ideas about what makes a workshop a good one or a bad one. What would you like to see and not to see in a workshop.

If we discuss this then perhaps it will help not only me but some of you who also host workshops in their jobs.

All ideas will be highly appreciated. :)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Wallwisher

As a parting gift Elvina created a Wallwisher, where we all posted our virtual presents.

After a while the wall started looking really nice and full of presents.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

End-of-course Questions

These are Elvina's answers to our questions.

"These are some of the questions shared so far. They would make a famtastic FAQ section! ;)

What am I going to do with the experience I 've gained from doing this course? Where and when can I get an opportunity to practise moderating a course?
I agree with Anna. In the meantime, being online and becoming familiar with different web 2.0 tools may help a lot. Setting up a blog or a wiki for class purposes will keep you involved with interacting online with your students and will give you the chance to tune in, connect, share, weave, summarize. All key elements in e-moderation!

What do you think CPs ( those who are assessed as Successful) should do to get an opportunity to do a moderating job ?
It is very useful that you start from the fact that only participants who successfully complete the course, are asked to e-moderate TeachingEnglish courses. Then, you just have to be patient. Successful participants´ names are entered in a database and then, when courses are programmed for each country/region, names are chosen from that database. And this is linked to Anna´s query, during first courses, new moderators are assigned with a  mentor, whose job is basically to support them.

What can I do to motivate the CPs, especially till the end of the course?
I would ask back. What would keep you motivated till the end of an online course? My answers would be: engaging tasks and good communication throughout the course. What would be your answer?
I quite doubt the quality of online learning. Not all the CPs are really interested in online learning for some reasons, which may affect the motivation. What do you think about the quality of online learning? 
That is very valid. If we consider that people have different learning styles, for some online learning might not be a first choice to keep motivation high. I strongly believe that online learning can have high quality, provided there is enough interest, engagement and commitment to the course, shown by all the parties involved. Would love to hear the group´s opinions on this.
'How can I adapt and apply what I have learned in reality?' In case a blended approach (between online and face-to-face learning) is used, how can I act out the roles of a moderator?
Good question! Localising online learning/moderating is a must. We need to consider how the standarised course matches the reality that we are dealing with. B-learning will just give you the chance to combine the beauties of F2F learning and the e-moderator roles. Keep in mind, though, the need to keep open all the communication channels, so that you can detect where/what you need to adapt.
How can moderators manage time to perform their roles efficiently? (In my country situation, it could be usually the case that most of recruited moderators would be those with other offline professional duties)
Most moderators have other offline professional duties. This course should have made you aware of the need of having good time management skills. I guess the wiki in this unit will help the group share some tips for this. Mine would be: “Find your magical time… and make it happen at least 5 days a week, if not the 7!”
Is it necessary for the local BC to recruit a mentor who can understand the working context of moderators in that country in order to sort out their problems efficiently?
Usually, mentors are assigned by the central office. Bear in mind that the mentor is not a co-moderator, so it´s not a “full-time” commitment with the course you´ll be moderating. Mentors can only spend 1 hour per week in supporting you, so you´ll need to have a clear idea of your doubts/weakness, so that you can use this time efficiently. This reminds me of a quality that Dave mentioned in a forum in Unit 5: “self-awareness”."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Thinking about the course you are most likely to moderate on, how important is assessment likely to be?

I have no idea what courses I am going to moderate on if any. There was no discussion of the kind. 

However, I can say that if participants know that they are assessed, they take part more actively. And it doesn't really matter what nationality they are. From the EVO courses that I take I can see that there are teachers who do the courses because they want to learn and there are the ones who, as soon as they find out that there is no certificate at the end of the course, withdraw. So you may start a course with 150 participants and finish it off with just 10-15 at most.

For a certificate to be issued some kind of assessment is needed (if it is not just a certificate of attendance/participation). 

I think that assessment is important for a CP to work on the course but what is actually assessed may vary from course to course. And apart from this the person would actually like to know how s/he has done on the course. Isn't it the same in f2f classes? We do not assess all our learners similarly, do we? If a person is doing a course in academic writing, we don't assess the learner's speaking skills. But if a person is doing a course in General or Business English then we also assess the person's speaking. 

I think the same is true for online classes. A participant doing a course in Learning Technologies should be assessed on how s/he can use and incorporate Web 2.0 tools in his/her lessons or what the person can actually do with the tools. Whereas for a person taking the TKT course would be more important to focus on general teaching skills, such as how to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. and also on how to write a lesson plan.

Overall, I think that assessment is important but different skills should be assessed on each course.

Privacy Online

Data protection and online privacy are actually quite serious issues here in Armenia. In many cases the problem is that people do not really think that whatever they post online even in a private conversation stays online for a very long time if not forever and can be retrieved if need be.

As some of my e-moderator peers have suggested in the forum, it would be good to start the course with a discussion about online privacy to see what CPs know about it or about its protection and then ask them to collaborate on a wiki to compile a list of rules f do's and dont's of online activity.

During their forum discussion as a moderator could guide them and add some points if the group cannot come up with ideas or post some links to articles about online data protection to give them some more ideas for discussion so that later while working on the wiki the CPs don't have trouble adding points for do's and dont's. 

This activity can be done in groups as well, where some participants have to write the rules for good practice and the other group will have to write points for bad practice. 

But actually now that I think about it the main problem could be the antivirus that CPs have on their computers. I have noticed a lot that people buy an antivirus program for one year only and then continue using it forever because they think that even if the antivirus doesn't update anymore, it can still find and neutralize viruses. Their computers crash and they lose a lot of documents and then blame the antivirus software for that but not the fact that it was out of date as a result of their decision. 

In this case participants could also be advised to at least download a free version of antivirus software which will at least be up-to-date although not as functional as its non-free edition. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Missing in Action

I have learnt a very important lesson today about how to encourage a participant, who hasn't logged onto the course, which has already been going on for a while.

1. The subject line should explain clearly what the recipient is going to read in the body of the email.
2. The tone or the style should be friendly and supportive not to be interpreted as hostile or rude.
3. The moderator should assume that the participant has not received the email with the log-on details and provide them again: URL, username, password and the course schedule.

Overall, the email that I have composed has not met the criteria. I only included a subject line and tried to make it sound as friendly as possible.

I think the email should have been something like this:

Subject: The X course has begun

Dear X,

I am AC the e-moderator of the course that you are registered for.

I have noticed that you have not logged onto the course and thought that you might not have received my previous email.

As the course participants have already started to get to know each other, I thought you might not want to miss it and am sending you the details again.

You can log onto the course at
Your username is: tomblack (lower case)
Your password is: yxyxyx23 (no space and you will be prompted to change your password when you just sign in)
The course schedule is attached.

If you are having trouble logging onto the course, please let me know and I will happily guide you through the process.

The course participants and I are looking forward to 'meeting' you online.

Kind regards,
Anna Conway

Lurking as I see it

Yourself (draft)
This course puts you in a slightly unusual position of being a course participant who is training to be a moderator. What factors would influence your opinion about lurking in a course you were moderating? What action, if any, would you take?

We have discussed 'lurking' a lot and we agreed that lurking was not the right word to use, that RoP sounded a lot better. I also read a blog post by Steve Wheeler.

I have thought a lot about what reasons some of my peers brought and I assume in many cases the reasons were from their own experience.

Nil: People might lurk because they are lacking confidence especially in writing skills as they know everyone will be reading. So they are afraid of making mistakes. Slow workers are also in danger of lurking because by the time they read and get acquainted with the tasks many of the participants would have completed their tasks.

MariusPeople may 'lurk' because they feel that they have nothing to add to a discussion, and because they don't see the point in simply repeating what someone has already said. Although, in fact repetition of a point might give some a sense of support for their views, and give more weight to their side of a discussion.

They might also be lurking because the have a more 'passive' learning style, and prefer to reflect on things more privately.

Bev: I think learning style is one of the  most important factors why people might lurk.  Just as in a class of students, face to face, there are different characters in a group of participants and different approaches to learning.  Some participants may need to listen (read) and process information before they can produce (write).
I also think it takes people  time to accustomise themselves to the medium,  if it is the first time they have experienced an online course. 
Another reason for lurking might be that a participant feels in awe of the wealth of experience of colleagues on the course and feels shy to make contributions.
Thuy Hang: I also think that "lurking" takes place when people are sometimes forgetful of their responsibility or they find their tasks not challenging enough.Each lurker has his/her own reasons for their participant inactivity once in a while
Phuong Dung:The only remaining reason for my post now is my personality as ‘it is more embarrassing to make public postings that have no value.’ (Klemm, 1998) As an adult learner, I am performing a very low level of risk-taking spirit and leaning on inactive learning style. 
Marie: Related to active participation in e-courses, I have had one idea on my mind: how is it influenced by various learning styles? I find this mode of communication mainly visual - how about auditive and kinaesthetic participants? May the specific character of the environment influence their participation? (Personally, I am mainly visual but need a lot of movement too and often leave the computer without responding when I see too many things I want to respond too - my energy gets so high, that I need to let out physically - and in the end I don't respond at all...).
I think my opinion would be influenced by how much of the course work the lurker actually does. If the person logs in and I see that s/he does the tasks, then I would try to find out why s/he doesn't post to forums and try to encourage the person by sending private messages and offering help and tips. I would also congratulate the person if s/he has posted anything.
I think if active participation is part of the course requirements then the person should be aware of this. This might make him start contributing to discussions. However, the person's privacy should be taken into account too. If the person participates in the study forums but doesn't want to say much in the social forum, then I think having found this out I wouldn't try to make the person participate. Everyone has the right to preserve their privacy and not to share much with anybody.
Another problem could be the size of the group. As Wheeler says the bigger the group the less participants contribute. In case of a big group I don't really think that one moderator will manage to send personal messages to everyone who doesn't participate.
 Another thing that Wheeler says in his post is that the same inactive participation can be observed in a f2f setting but it doesn't cause negative attitudes: everyone accepts the person's way of learning. But for some reason the same behaviour offends participants of an online course. Why could this be? Perhaps because in an online course we do not see the lurkers and don't know what they are doing exactly (not obviously moderators), but in real life when we see the person who just wants to learn by listening, we accept the fact readily.