Saturday, December 28, 2013

The '11 Challenge' Post

I wonder why the '11 Challenge' started around Christmas time - maybe we have more free time to take the challenge. 

Here are the 5 rules for tagging or perhaps tag blogging or blog tagging.

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.

2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has asked you.
4. List 11 bloggers. You cannot nominate those bloggers who have nominated you.
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you have nominated to answer. 

Task 1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.

I have been tagged by my dear friends Debora Tebovich and Sanja Bozinovic.

Task 2. 11 Random facts about me.

1. I only like shopping for books, DVDs and computers.
2. I really dislike cold weather.
3. Because I dislike the smell of beer, I mix it with Sprite to drink it and many people laugh at me when I do that.
4. I love my first cup of coffee in the morning.
5. I love Doctor Who and Torchwood series and can watch the same episodes over and over again.
6. When I was 4 years old I fell into a lake and nearly drowned. Since then I am afraid of water and never learned to swim.
7. I can play the piano.
8. I love reading detective stories and at the moment my favourite writer is James Patterson.
9. I love Chinese food and can cook it too.
10. I don't watch TV at all. To watch the programs in point 5 I buy the DVDs.
11. I dislike crowds and during public holidays I don't go out. Being in a crowd makes feel dizzy.

Task 3. Answer the questions put forward to you by the nominating blogger.

Answers to Debora's questions
1.   How often do you feel exposed to dilemmas as an Educator? How do you work them out?
Every so often. My response to a dilemma largely depends on what the problem is. If, for example, some of my students are lagging behind, I try to understand the reason and address it.
2.   What plants and flowers do you have at home?
I have quite a few plants at home but, to be honest, I don't know what they are called. One of my colleagues keeps on giving them to me and I look after them, but haven't even tried to find out what they are.
3.   Have you ever got stuck in an elevator?
Yes, I have. This was a very long time ago. This was 20 or 22 years ago. I got stuck in the lift with two of my friends and before the 'rescue team' arrived, we had spent the time doing homework. I thought it was fun. :)
4.   What is that lovely childhood memory that comes to you every once in a while?
My mum decorating a cake with oranges and tangerines and me secretly eating them off the cake.
5.   If English is not your mother tongue, do you ever need to read subtitles when you watch a movie in English?
I did before, like about 10 years ago. Now I don't need subtitles mainly because the main language of communication for me is English.
6.   What makes you laugh?
Many things and situations. I actually like laughing and can find something funny in everything.
7.   If you could spend a year focusing on research, what would you research? Why?
What effect online/blended learning might have on children diagnosed with so called ADHD. I still doubt the existence of such a thing and I would like to know if these children could cope with learning better in an online mode.
8.   How do you keep track of your digital files?
I save them in Google docs, Dropbox and Diigo.
9.   When was the last time you danced?
On 25 December we were celebrating Christmas in the office. I put some music on and we danced a bit before our lessons started.
10.    Who do you admire and why?
There isn't just one person I admire. I admire those who don't give up if they encounter problems and try to make a difference. Perhaps because I myself don't give up, I dislike it when people break without even trying to do something. 
11.    Are you good at setting goals? Do you follow a certain process to set your goals?
I think I am usually good at setting goal, although I can be too ambitious sometimes, especially when it comes to doing various courses. I might sometimes choose to take more courses than I can actually handle and then try to complete them. There is n certain process, I think I mainly just prioritize the important ones.

Answer's to Sanja's questions (I might be cheating here by answering two bloggers' questions, but  I am trying to save time :) )
1. What are you going to do differently in the new year (at least during the first month)?
I am not sure how successful I am going to be but I am planning to get enough sleep. 
2. If you could get a free ticket to any destination in the world, where would you like to go?
To South America - if I get a free ticket to one of the South American countries, I can make my own way to the others. I would really love to go to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, etc.
3. If you could choose to live all year in one season, would yo choose winter or summer?
I would definitely choose summer, I really dislike winter and the cold weather that goes with it. 
4. What do you find hardest to teach your students?
Assimilated sounds. They find it hard to understand why sounds change, etc.
5. What do you like about the space you teach (your classroom)?
I think my classroom is welcoming and I really like everything about it. I also like the fact that I don't share it with anyone and can design it the way I like.
6. Which is the most important quality you look for in a community of practice you belong to?
The most important quality for me would be the openness of the community members and the readiness to share and cooperate. This is how we develop as teachers, I think.
7. If you weren't a teacher, what would you do?
Not really sure, but perhaps a lawyer as this was my childhood dream.
8. What is the best way to share what you learn about teaching?
Through blogging and Facebook group. 
9. What do you never go to work without?
I don't have to take anything to work, to be honest, as I have everything I need in my classroom. 
10. Can you think about and share one thing that people usually don't know about the part of the world where you live?
The capital city, Yerevan, although very small, has three micro-climates: it might be snowing in the north of the city, raining in the central part and sunny and warm in the south.
11. If Santa was to bring you only one gadget you can use for teaching or in your free time, what would you wish for?
Lenovo Yoga 11 IdeaPad - I have fallen in love with it, although I don't really need one.

Task 4. Nominate 11 bloggers

1. Dora Bozanic
2. Rose Youssef
3. Hakan Senturk
4. Merve Oflaz
5. Elvina Castillo
6. Adam Simpson
7. Silvia Heshiki
8. Sara Rodriguez Arias
9. Kristina Smith
10. Ana Rivas
11. Claudia Carrill

Task 5. Ask 11 Questions.

1. What is your favourite book genre?
2. Which film have you seen many times and can still watch again? Why?
3. If you could choose any country to move to, which country would you choose and why?
4. What's your favourite drink? How often do you drink it?
5. Which English language course book do you like most and why?
6. Which web-based tool do you like most and why?
7. What's the most difficult for you in your job?
8. What's your favourite place in your town/city? Is there any place you dislike?
9. If you could change one thing in your house/flat, what would you change and why?
10. What's your favourite dish? Can you cook it yourself?
11. What don't you have enough time for?

I look forward to your replies!!! :)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Web-Based Podcasting Tools

There are different options for creating podcasts, with Audacity being perhaps one of the most popular ones. But because the software looks a bit too complicated, I usually opt for web-based tools available for free.

There are many things an educator can use podcasts for. I mainly use podcasts for various speaking activities as the main aim and listening as the subsidiary aim. This allows my students to practise their speaking skills even more. They can tell stories, or continue each other's stories, etc.

In this blog post, I would like to share some of my favourite podcast tools with you.

AudioPal is the only tool that is interactive, i.e. if an AudioPal recording is embedded into a site, it starts playing automatically as soon as the site loads. So a greeting message or a site introduction message could be perfect. It also allows you to record your message by phone which is a nice option if your mic isn't working very well.

No registration is required and the tool is easy to use. It has record-by-phone, text-to-message, record or upload an MP3 options.

I think the screenshot is pretty self-explanatory.

Chirbit - this site has some nice options: apart from the usual click-to-record to create a podcast option or upload option, it also allows users to convert a Youtube video into a podcast (Chirbit, as it is called on the site) and you can also convert text to audio just like with AudioPal.

It actually takes a very short time to turn a yotube video into a podcast which then can be embedded into a blog or any other site. There is a commenting option, which can be used with students to discuss a Youtube-to-Chirbit talk. Chribits can also be transcribed something that my students enjoy doing. They say that this improves their listening skills and concentration.

Here is an example of a Youtube video turned into a Chirbit.

PodOmatic works more or less the same as the previous ones. With the free account you get 500MB of storage and 15GB of bandwidth a month. So not too bad.

There are many options for sharing the recordings: you can embed the podcast into a blog or a wiki, you can send it to someone's email address, you can share it on many social networking sites. The episodes can aslo be downloaded. So if you are worried about storage, you can just download the episode and then delete it from your podomatic page.

You can also follow other educators and use their recordings, with their permission of course.

Vocaroo - this one is probably the easiest to use. All you need is to go to the website and you are ready to record or upload an audio message.

As you can see, the tool is pretty easy to use. just Click to Record and start speaking.

After you have finished recording, you can listen to it and save or if you dislike it, you can re-record. Then all you need to do is to click save and then you get the options seen on the screenshot below.

You can share the recording, email it to the person it is intended for or simply download it.

The best thing about Vocaroo is that the recordings on the site are not searchable so we don't have to worry too much about privacy.

Voxopop - This tool is the same as the other ones but it is also different in that it is really good for group discussions. A teacher creates a talkgroup and invites students to take part. This could be a discussion of a burning issue or a piece of breaking news. Learners listen to what their teacher has to say, then in the same group they record their own opinions and listen to each other's ideas. Here again we have integrated skills practice: listening and speaking. If the students are required to read the news before they can take part, then they also improve their reading skills.

This is what a talkgroup looks like.

I myself use this tool a lot with my IELTS students. They record their replies and then I record my feedback in the same talkgroup. This makes it easier for each student to track their progress and not get lost in lots of different links.

There are only two drawbacks: 1. the talkgroups are not embeddable, and 2. you do not receive notifications about new posts; you have to log in every day to see if there is anything new or not. Even so, I really like Voxopop. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Web-Based Collaborative Whiteboards

Some of my Pre-Intermediate adult students told me the other day that there are some grammar points that they would like to revise with me because they couldn't understand them on their own. Not to spend class time on this (we have been given only 62 hours to cover a level), I started looking for web-based whiteboards. I tested some that I found and invited my students to join the online lesson. This was in the evening and everyone was at home, so it was easy for them not to think about work and concentrate on the lesson. I used 3 of the tools to compare and share with you plus 2 extra ones to look at.

1. DrawVille - this is a very simple tool and doesn't require registration. All you need to do is to type in your name and click on Start Drawing. Once you are in, you can send the link to people you want to join the lesson and wait for their names to appear in the 'users' list. There is also a chat room which I used to answer my student's questions. (For this lesson I invited 1 student because he was the only one who had questions about adjectives and adverbs.)
At the end of the session the whiteboard looked like this:

While I was typing in the explanation, my student used a black marker to draw my attention to points that he wanted clarification for or examples of. We also used the chat room to discuss what was being explained. Here's a screenshot of some parts of the chat.

My student really enjoyed the lesson and the whiteboard and to experiment with it he wrote 'Thank you' in a circle, which you can see at the bottom of the whiteboard. To save the lesson we both clicked on "Export drawing surface", which allows saving the surface in JPEG. Now if need be, I can upload or share the lesson with other students in the future.

2. The next tool is Scriblink which again doesn't require registration. You only need to run Java on your computer and the whiteboard loads immediately. This tool has a chat room too. It also has maths formulas so it might be of interest to maths teachers too. There are options for grids and image upload, which is quite useful. I think I can simply make a screenshot of a piece of writing sent by a student, upload it to the whiteboard as image, invite a student to the session and go over mistakes in the writing task. Because this tool has 5 whiteboards in 1, I can also use the other ones to explain grammar in which that particular student made the most mistakes.

I used this tool to explain Present Continuous.

The save option here only sends a link to your mailbox from which you can later access the lesson. So I just took a screenshot of the lesson, to be able to upload or share it.

3. The third one is CoSketch a multi-user online whiteboard. It doesn't require registration and all you need to do is click 'Create new sketch' and you are ready to start. There is a chat room, and it can be hidden if need be. This site is also connected to Google Maps which makes it possible to teach Geography as well. It is easy to write/type or draw on the map. Thus it can also be used for giving directions from one place to another in one city. For a sample map, I created this one:

Exporting is disabled for maps, but a screenshot solves this problem.

However, what I used this tool for was just an English language lesson. But here I asked my students to match normal and strong adjectives by drawing lines.

The board then can be saved as an embeddable image. However, I just made a screenshot of the board again to save it as a JPEG file. This one is also a very nice and useful tool.

4. One of the extras is Twiddla. The reason why I put it into extras is that it doesn't have many options for the free account. However, on the website it says that after registering, if you send an email to them from an .edu account (or similar), they will provide you with the Pro account for free, which is really nice. The tool is the only one among the ones I have had a look at that has a webconferencing (voice communication) option. It also has mathematical formulas and 2 different grid options. The board can be saved as an image and then re-used. Twiddla is really worth looking at.

5. The last one is Scribblar but I didn't test it, because it seems that the free version doesn't allow a lot of freedom. However, you might find it useful.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Free Captioning Tools

Captioning tools allow uploading images and adding speech bubbles to them. I think using this tool can add a lot of fun to lessons, especially when we want our learners to create and/or tell a story.

One option would be to find images on the internet that could somehow fit into one story and then ask learners in groups to add speech bubbles to each image. Then they could compare their stories and vote for the best one.

Another option could be to ask learners to bring their own digital photos (these could be holiday photos, family photos, etc). Learners could work with their peers' photos and add speech bubbles to them.

I am sure each teacher will come up with more lesson ideas and I would love to hear/read your ideas.

Anyway, down to the tools. To test the tools I decided to use my own photo with a simple "Hello!" message.

The first tool I would like to talk about is Speechable.
The tool is free but requires registration. However, it takes only seconds to register and you can either upload an image from your computer or type in the URL to the image you want to be uploaded. When the image is uploaded you can doodle (draw/write) on it, add a speech bubble or just add a text. For doodling there is a great selection of colours, The text box can be moved around the image and placed anywhere you like and the writing can be in any colour. For speech bubbles you can choose among four types of bubbles, size and colour of text. After saving the image, you can go back to it to edit it. There doesn't seem to be an embed code, but by right-clicking the image you can save it onto your computer. Options for sharing in social networking sites are all in place.

The second one is SuperLame and it is a lot of fun to use.
This tool doesn't require registration and is free. The best thing about it is that it has an onboarding (guidance) system. A little arrow at  the top of the screen guides you through the process of creating the captions. It also has an option for adding what it calls 'Sound FX' and I just added all the possible sounds on offer to my image to let you see what you can have. The options for sharing here are either to email the image or to save it. But I don't think this a big problem. As long as you can save it as an image, you can upload it wherever you like.

The third one is DIYDespair
This one also doesn't require registration and is free. All the options are on the right-hand side of the image screen. However, this one doesn't have the fancy options of the previous one. The title and the captions can only go under the image and not onto it. But still, I think, some older learners may find the tool enjoyable. All the available options can be seen on the image below. 

The fourth site is Motivator
The name is the opposite of the third (Motivator vs Demotivator) one but it functions in the same way. No registration is required and it is free to use. But there are too many adverts on the website, so I don't think it is very good for children in case they click on the links advertised. The options are again next to the image screen and the captions can only be placed under the image not on it. In terms of sharing, it is again either email to a friend or download. 

And the last tool is PimPamPum. It doesn't require registration and is free to use as all the other ones. However, I didn't create an image with this one because to create a caption you need to add images from Flickr and as I don't have any uploaded images on Flickr and didn't want to use other people's images, I decided to give it a miss. But as many of you may have accounts on Flickr, I thought I will share this one with you too. I found a sample caption for you to see what can be created with this tool. I like the fact that it allows creating slideshows which makes the storytelling even easier. I hope you like it too.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

IATEFL Interviews 10 April

Liverpool Online
I decided to spend the evening watching some of the interviews because there are quite a few that I haven't watched and I wanted to watch at least some of them.

The first interview I watched was with Jamie Keddie whom I really like for his enthusiasm and ideas. Jamie is also the author of a very good book called Images.

Jamie starts the interview by telling a story about a seal and a polar bear and actually because he didn't finish the story in his interview I got on his website and found the lesson plan and the video for it because I wanted to find out how the story ends. I assume that's the whole point of videotelling (a technique which combines traditional story telling with video): making the listener want to find out what happens next. I did!  Jamie's website has more lesson plans for any teacher interested in doing some videotelling in their lessons. The website Jamie recommends looking at at the end of his interview does have some interesting material.

Next interview I watched was with Jeremy Harmer and I love him a lot. Jeremy says that he is interested in finding out whether there is a relationship between the way people practise music and the way people practise a language. I also became interested in the question and did some Google searching. I found quite an interesting article which is written by Benny Lewis who asked about the similarity between language learning and learning to play a musical instrument on Twitter. Some of the replies are really interesting.

Jeremy Harmer refers to research which shows that the length of practice doesn't mean much if the practice is not deliberate, i.e. involving full concentration, problem solving, involvement and engagement. If we think of that then we may actually find that when we do something because we have to do it, we do not remember much of it later. This is the case with language learning in Armenia where many teachers ask their students to memorize texts which they do just to repeat the texts in the lesson but two days later they forget what it was that they memorized. Jeremy Harmer says that a little homework which would require problem-solving could benefit a learner more than a lot of homework which they would probably do while watching TV. I totally agree!

The last interview that I watched was with Vicky Saumell. She is a teacher who encourages the use of technology in learning. Vicky talks about getting learners work published online (wikis, blogs) and getting teachers and learners from other countries to comment on the published work so that learners know that there is going to be some interaction and their work will not go unnoticed. One project that she talked about sounded quite interesting - a type of videotelling but done by learners. I actually even found the wiki that Vicky was talking about. The amount of work that Vicky's students have done is impressive. Vicky also mentions online projects with other countries, the benefits of which I know from my own experience as we did one with a school in Uruguay last year and are doing another one with the same school in Uruguay and a school in Brazil this year.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Second Day of IATEFL Liverpool

Liverpool Onlinee
I started the day first by watching the interview with Deborah Healey who has arrived from the USA and this is her first time at IATEFL. I really enjoyed it because she was talking about use of technology and games in teaching. My cup of tea, really.

The basic point that I agree with is that teachers shouldn't tech the classroom without thinking about how their learners will benefit from it. We should have the learner in mind whenever we incorporate technology in the lesson plan. Nik Peachy actually asked a question that I always get asked by teachers: if learners play games, how do we teach grammar? As I have already discussed in my previous posts, we can teach many things through games: grammar, vocabulary, writing, speaking, etc.

At this point I was already getting the feeling that I was at IATEFL. Next, I watched David Crystal's plenary talk with 309 people online. Not too bad, is it? (I will not go into the plenary because by the time I decided what to blog about Graham Stanely already blogged about it). There must have been more people in Liverpool, but the online audience was also big. Unfortunately, I couldn't participate in the online chat, which was very lively, because I had some students writing tests and didn't want them to think that I was chatting and ignoring them, which might have been true.

Next thing to do was to get on Facebook to see what was going on. Some friends shared photos from presentations that they attended, some mentioned their own presentation. I wished them good luck. Marcos Benevides shared the link to Vicky Saumell's presentation which was very nice, because now I might even think that I was there as well as Hakan Senturk and Burcu Akyol.

Next I read our roving reporters Sanja Bozinovic, Branca Segvic and Addeh Hovassapian's reports on teh sessions they had attended and got a full feeling of being in Liverpool. Now I get down to teaching feeling completely happy. :) Later in the evening I know that I can watch some of the sessions and some more interviews, read more reports and see more photos. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

First Day of IATEFL Liverpool - Interview with Gavin Dudeney

Liverpool Online
The first day of IATEFL in Liverpool and I am on the IATEFL online website reading roving reporter's blog posts and watching some interviews. Actually you don't have to be in Liverpool to be able to enjoy the conference. I know that being there is better but not knowing anything at all is worse.

I was hoping to get away from my lessons to watch the livestream of LTSIG workshops but,unfortunately, I didn't manage to do so, which means that I will be watching the recording of the workshop. But that will do.

So the first interview I watched was with Gavin Dudeney. Gavin and his team are responsible for the online presence of IATEFL conferences and I have to say they are doing a great job. It only takes a second to log into Facebook and Twitter to know all the news related to IATEFL. It is easy to find out who is a presenter and which hotel they are staying in, where they are having lunch or what places of interest they are visiting. This sounds odd as one may think why someone would be interested in this, but, strangely enough, that gives you a feeling of being part of community and being present at the conference even when you are far away.

Gavin mentions that when 6 years ago they started the online part of IATEFL, everyone thought that people would stay at home and just watch it online, but I don't think this will ever happen. Gavin is right in saying that the face-to-face meeting with people who you know virtually or meet just once a year is a completely different experience. For those who couldn't go for whatever reason it is a good place to keep up with what is going on and still participate by posting comments or blogging about it. For those who did manage to go, it is a good place to organize meetings with friends after the conference as the conference hall is huge and you may actually be there for a week and never see somebody you know that is there.

Gavin also mentioned the book Digital Literacies that I have pre-ordered being on sale at the conference which actually made me want to be there just to get it because I will only get it by the end of May. But well, I suppose it is worth waiting for.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Word Cloud Generators

Word clouds have become quite popular tools for visualizing texts. Words in the cloud are single word tags, that show how frequently a word has been used in a text which is useful for understanding main ideas or concepts. Words that are bigger in size and thickness are the ones that are frequently seen in a text.

When we hear word cloud we mainly think of Wordle, but there are many more word cloud generators that could be better or worse than Wordle. So why not give them a try?

1. Tagxedo 
The site doesn't require registration. You start by typing/pasting in a URL, or a twitter/ ID, a keyword in the news or RSS. Then you choose the shape, layout, font and theme and click 'submit'. After the word cloud has been generated, you see a panel with more editing choices. When you are happy with the cloud, you can save it as JPG or PNG in different sizes or simply share it on the web.

2. ABCya!
A nice tool which doesn't require registration. You simply type or paste in the text and it creates a word cloud. This site doesn't accept links to articles that you would like to create a word cloud of. There is no choice in shapes but layout, font and colour can be selected. The generated word cloud can be printed immediately or saved, but in this case don't forget to add what format you want the image to be saved as. for example, I just add .jpg after the name of the file to save it as JPG image. If no format is specified, the image doesn't open.

3. WordItOut
The site doesn't require registration but when you have finished creating your word cloud it asks for an email address to which a link to your word cloud is sent. You just click on the link and can either download the image or share on various social networking sites. There doesn't seem to be an embed code but a picture can be uploaded onto any site, so that doesn't really matter.
Font, colours and size can be customized, but there is no choice of shapes and the layout of word tags is only horizontal.

4. TagCrowd
This tool doesn't require registration either. Word clouds can be created by either typing/pasting in a text, pasting a URL or even uploading a file which is quite handy. However, the word cloud created cannot be customized: there is no choice in font, colour, layout or shape. All word tags are horizontal on white background and of different shades of blue. The word cloud can be saved as a PDF file, but not as a picture. It can be printed and HTML code is also provided (but it doesn't embed an image, just a list of words), to add a sample image I had to make a screenshot of the cloud.

5. Tagul
You have to register first before you can start creating word clouds, but this is not a long process. You are sent a password which you can change after logging in.
To create a word cloud, you can either enter the text you want or the URL of the text you need..Next thing to do is to choose appearance, font, colours and click 'Visualize". When  the image appears, you can manually edit tags to get rid of articles, modal or auxiliray verbs, etc. After saving the changes, you need to click on 'Grab and Share'. Here you can either download the image as a picture file, print, get the HTML code or the link.

6. ImageChef
ImageChef Word Mosaic -
You don't have to register with the website to be able to create word clouds. However, if you want to save your creations onto "My stuff", you should. The site allows creation of not only word clouds but also of visual poetry, banners, sketchpads, etc. Before you start creating a word mosaic, you can choose a shape, a background and word colour and font. You need to type or paste in a text (but a small one, it doesn't work with longer texts) and the word mosaic will be generated. You can choose the size of the image, you can share it on almost every social networking site, embed it and grab the link. By dragging the image onto your PC desktop, you can also save it as a picture file.

7. VocabGrabber
This is a very useful tool for language learners. It doesn't require registration. All you have to do is paste in a text and click 'Grab Vocabulary'. It creates a word cloud a screenshot of which can be seen on the left.

It also shows how many words have been found in the thesaurus and allows you to create a wordlist.

And the beauty of it is that the word cloud created is interactive. When you click on a word, the site creates a snapshot of a visual thesaurus for that word;

provides the definitions of the word;

and gives sample sentences with that word in them.

8. TagCloud
No registration required to use this site. You cannot type in a text, you only have to paste the URL to convert whatever is on the site into a word cloud. The result is a very nice looking flash word cloud that can be downloaded as a zip file. I have taken a screenshot of the cloud because it cannot be added to the blog as it is, i.e. a flash word cloud. It also provides an embed code, but it only comes up as a list of words as can be seen below.
learning resources blended approach face classroom instructional materials course time online addition used state blend students content higher

9. YouAreYourWords
The site doesn't require registration. All you have to do is to upload a picture whcih you want to be the background of your word cloud, then paste the text and choose colours from a limited range. You can also choose the font. You can then share your word cloud and/or download it as image. The product looks nice, but I am not so sure about its use in education as it is a bit difficult to read the text.

10. Wordle
This site doesn't require registration. The downside is the size of the embeded image - it is very small. To solve this problem, you can either click on 'print' and then save it as a PDF file, or, alternatively, you can make a screenshot of the image after saving it to the public gallery.
Another problem with this site is getting word tags using a link. If the site, the URL of which you have pasted into the bar, doesn't have Atom or RSS feed, Wordle cannot create a cloud. However, pasting in a text usually bypasses this problem.
Font, size, colours and word tag layout are customizable, but the shape cannot be selected.

And finally, a Slideshare user vreed17 has added a presentation with 40 ideas for word cloud use in education.

Forty Interesting Ways To Use Wordle In The C from Vreed17

Word Clouds generated using the article at PennState

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Critical Review

This post is a summary of the video lecture on how to write a critical review by Professor Comer. I have also found a few links that could be useful for the assignment completion.

The stages in writing, which are recursive and overlapping, are:

  • Pre-drafting - deciding what you are going to write and thinking about the project
  • Drafting -  writing actively
  • Revision - re-thinking what you have to write
  • Editing/Proof-Reading - polishing
At pre-drafting stage, many things can be helpful. You may choose to do one of the following:
  • reading,
  • researching, 
  • note-taking,
  • analyzing,
  • outlining,
  • discussing with others
  • planning.
.Revision stage  includes re-organizing, deleting, adding, re-thinking; and editing is all about checking writing for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, clarity and appropriate choice of vocabulary.

But before one starts even thinking about writing a critical review, one needs to read whatever they are supposed to be reviewing critically.  The first thing to do is just to read the text to enjoy it, and then go back to it second or third time and do marginal annotations. One may want to circle the main idea and underline the significant concepts. The latter may be different depending on what the purpose of the writing is. It may also be useful to note down the key terms in the text. While reading one should also marginally annotate the questions and emotions (anger, confusion, etc) that arise during the reading process. One should also read carefully to identify any contradictions or ambiguity there might be in what the writer says throughout the text.

Professor Comer showed an example of marginal annotation which looked like this
Screenshot of Prof Comer's Video Tutorial
 Professor Comer also advises to pay attention to any questions posed by the writer because if the writer thought of asking that question, it was significant for him/her and readers should think about why that question was so significant to the writer. 

It may also be useful to talk about ideas with others to make it more generative and help yourself think more deeply about the text you are reading. The screenshot below shows what questions you may want to discuss

A Screenshot of a Video Tutorial explaining the discussion stage of the project.

Optional Reading
Writing a Critical Review, University of New South Wales
The Book Review or Article Critique, University of Toronto
Critical Reading Towards Critical Writing, University of Toronto
Active Reading, Open University UK
Active Reading Strategies, Princeton University
Writing a critical book review, Australian National University
Thompson Writing Program, Duke University
A Review of Online Learning
A Review of Alone Together
What makes a good critical review, Monash University

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Part 5 - Gamification Design

According to Prof. Kevin Werbach design thinking is a general approach to addressing challenges which is particularly useful in gamification. In recent years there have been a lot of discussions about the concept of design thinking and it has been stated that design thinking should be a process that businesses engage in for any purpose.

So what does design actually mean? Prof. Kevin Werbach gave us  his synthesis of different viewpoints of many people that highlights some of the major aspects of design thinking.
1. Design is purposive: it has a goal. It's not about making something beautiful or creating a process that does a certain thing. It's about trying to achieve some objective and everything in that process has to tie into that objective. And the design of a gamified system has to constantly refer back to achieving that goal.

2. Secondly, it's human-centred; it is designed around people. So it's about coming up with solutions for people, which means that we have to think about the experience people are going to have; real people who want to achieve something real in their lives. Design thinking is about pushing for the experience and keeping in mind what that experience actually looks like to people. We have to remember here that the experience of the player is not the same as the experience of the designer.

3. Third element of design thinking is balance. The idea is that we need to have a balance of algorithms and creativity to address people's experiential needs and not to miss opportunities for creativity and innovation because those tend to lie outside formulas. But we should also focus on what's in the middle: focusing on what we do when there is some data, but insufficient data to give us a clear structured algorithm. And this often involves abductive reasoning developed by Charles Sanders Peirce.  Essentially, this is about inference from insufficient information. So, we don't have enough information to reach a judgement but we've got a rough explanation; we start with the best explanation we've got and then we make an inference from there. So we try and jump from there and make that abductive leap using intuition but basing it on some kind of foundation.

4. Finally, design thinking is iterative, it inherently expects that we are not going to get it right the first time, but we are going to have to try, fail, learn and try again. Thus iteration means doing the same thing multiple times but improving over time through the process. So you start with a rough prototype, then you play test it by letting some real people actually try and play with it. You observe what the experience is like, how game mechanics works, how the rules work, etc, and based on that you iterate and improve.

Prof. Kevin Werbach and his colleague Dan Hunter have developed a 6-step process for implementing a gamified system + questions and tips we should bear in mind in order to develop a people-orientated ganified system:
Step 1 - Define your business objectives. What is this system designed to accomplish? What are its goals?
Step 2 - Delineate target behaviours. What is it that you want people to do? Gamification is about encouraging people to do certain things. Thus, you need to start out with an understanding of what those things are.
Step 3 - Describe your players. Who is going to use the system? What do they like? How can the sstem respond to the different kinds of player that you have.
Step 4 - Devise your activity loops. There are two types of loops that move the action in a gamified system forward. They are engagement loops and progression loops. This is where you structure the core micro and macro level game play aspects. (to be discussed in more detail)
Step 5 - Don't forget the fun. Fun is important. The system has to be engaging.
Step 6 - Deploy. Use the right tools for the right job. Use the right elements and the right structure. Put them into place in the gamified system.

The first step in the gamification design framework is to define business objectives. Now, business objectives can be about anything but not about players accumulating points and badges. These should be the goals that the gamified system is supposed to accomplish. Points and badges are the way the system works; they are the intermediate step that the system puts in front of the player. So what we need to think about here is what the ultimate goals are and what will define whether the system is a failure or a success. So how to catalogue business goals for a gamified system? Prof. Kevin Werbach offers a few concrete steps to take. Firstly, make a list of all the business or other (education or health) goals you want the system to achieve. List everything you can think of and be as specific as possible. Then rank the list: number the goals you mentioned according to to their importance, trade off the ones that are in conflict against the others that are really important to you. Next step is to cut out the ones that are not really your business objectives. You should be left with the most important goals, not the means to achieve something, like badges or points, which are part of game elements. Next get rid of everything that is not an ultimate business objective. Finally, justify each remaining objective. By doing this we generate a list but we also can start to see what needs to be resolved and what needs to be play-tested through the process as the system is designed.

Step two is to delineate target behaviours. This is what you want your players to do and it is important again to be as specific as possible. And again you need to figure out what the success metrics are. In other words, what will tell you that the gamification project was a success, what will let you decide that you achieved the goals. If there are any conflicting points, do the same as with business objectives - rank them. Finally, decide what the analytics are. What are the ways of measuring the path towards the success metrics by virtue of the activity on those target behaviours. There is a variety of different analytics to use. For example, DAU (daily average users) and MAU (monthly average users) And this is a ratio of these two numbers. The ration can tell you how engaging your site is and how many returning users there are. The second analityic is called Virality. This is the rate at which people refer their friends to your site and those come t see it. Finally, another one is virtual economy. And this is about how much activity is happening on your site, what the level of usage is and how much interaction there is. So, all of this tells us a lot about how the system is operating.

The third step is to describe your players. The basic starting point will be to learn about players' age, where they are from, income level, etc. This would be useful for marketing strategy. Psychographics can be useful here too. What do you know about their behaviour? What do they like to buy?  However, this will differ depending on who the gamified system is for: your employees or customers. But a very important aspect to learn about your players is what exactly motivates them. As a starting point what can be said about the different types of motivations that the players have? This is important because as it has been said before gamification involves motivation. Finding out what motivates players can help to create a system which will allow various forms of accomplishments. So, how to define different kinds of players in a gamified system? A solid starting point here would be Bartle's Player Type.
Screenshot taken from Players who suit MUDs

When Richard A. Bartle was studying early multi-user dungeons, he discovered certain recurrent patterns and four broad types that he could fit players into. Although the model is debatable, it has proven to be very durable. Players may be one or two of the types depending on a system. They may also change category/type from game to game.
  • Achievers - want to overcome obstacles, to achieve something, probably get recognition for their achievements;
  • Explorers - want to interact with the world, want to see what is possible within the system, want to explore and try out;
  • Socializers - want to interact with other players (as opposed to interaction with the world), want to be in teams, want to chat, want to be part of community, for them social experience is more important than achievements;
  • Killers - they don't just want to win, they want to destroy other players, they want to impose themselves on other people, want to be in control of the situation, want to feel that they are the ones that keep the group alive. 
So, it's important to think about how these categories can be applied to any kind of situation that is going to be gamified.

Now to the next step: Activity Loops. Loops here are structures that are repetitive, recursive, branching off in different directions. Prof Werbach looked at two types of activity loops: Engagement Loops and Progression Loops. "Engagement loops operate at micro level - individual user actions. Progression loops operate at macro level - broader structures of activity throughout the course of he game." The engagement loop is about giving the player some reason to be motivated enough to take an action. If the motivation isn't strong enough to lead to action, another motivator will come up until the user takes an action. As soon as the player starts doing something, they get immediate feedback, because it is important to give a clear feedback (points or badges, for example) to what the player is doing. Seeing the level of their achievement can in itself become a motivator. This is why it is a loop. The action produces feedback, the feedback becomes a form of motivation, the motivation leads to more actions. A gamified system should be designed in a way that the loop takes place. And a well-designed gamified system will keep that process moving so that each piece reinforces the other pieces.

A gamified system also moves forward through so-called progression loops. Basically, these are the steps that a player needs to take to get from start to finish. But because the whole journey may seem too overwhelming and even scary to the player, the journey has to be broken down into smaller parts: challenges, completing which the player will eventually get to the finish line. So, this is one kind of progression loop where the player moves from start to finish through intermediate steps which are designed in a way that the player has a sense of relative ease of individual steps; the player has a sense that each task is doable and achievable. The player can see the next step and the ultimate goal seems more within reach which can also motivate.

Another way to think of progression loops is as a player's evolution in the game, the player's development from a newbie/novice to a master. This is typically done through rising and falling action. So the first step is onboarding: the process of getting the players to the point where they know how to play the basics of the game on their own, preferably within the game itself. Then they start moving up to a higher level and at some point they need to have a rest. If the difficulty of challenges constantly increases, it might be too challenging to complete the steps and get to finish. Players need a break, an easier task to complete after some difficult ones. Basically, the difficulty level should go up and down, up and down and then they can get a really hard task, typically called boss fight, which is a demarcation point of getting to the next level or segment of the game. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate mastery over that part of the game. After boos fight, players should get some more rest and continue their journey. The challenges should, of course, vary not to make the game boring.

So, a well-designed gamification system will have a well-structured engagement loops that ensure that feedback pushes towards motivation which pushes towards action, etc. It will also have well-structured progression loops which get the player from the early easy stage to the hardest stage of mastery through a set of processes that allow them to progress through the game.

The final elements of Prof Werbach's gamification framework are fun and deployment of appropriate tools. It turns out that it is easy to lose sight of fun element in a gamified system, especially if there is a heavy focus on PBLs (points, badges and leaderboards). This doesn't mean that PBLs cannot be fun, but because they are external motivators, they might not be fun at all times. A gamified system needs to be a bit more engaging than that. It should possibly have some puzzles, problems, surprises, etc. It should try to address different types of fun that players would be interested in. I talked about the types of fun in a previous post.

The final step in the design process is to deploy appropriate tools. In my previous posts I have talked about the toolkit that Prof Werbach shared with us. There are about 30 tools to use and this shows the richness of the palette that a gamification designer has to work with. You can't design the system until you have asked all the right questions and come up with provisional answers and then, after this has been done, we still need to sit down and think about the different options and tools that can be used and then pick the most appropriate ones for the aim. After this we will have to play test the system, improve and play test again. The system will need more improvements until we have a system that works for real people.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

EDCMOOC - Artefact - Final Assignment

I have decided to embed my artefact on my blog as I have all my reflections for Digital Cultures and E-Learning here. This way I can keep everything in one place.

I am looking forward to your comments.

View on Prezi

Friday, February 22, 2013

Transhumanist values or are they?

The more I read and watch, the more questions I seem to have. 
While reading Transhumanist Values and Transhumanist Declaration, I kept on wondering whether we are going to become some form of a robot. Do we really want to be viewed as species that can be "remold in desirable ways"? I don't really think I want to. Why do we need to apply medicine and technology to overcome our basic biological limits? Aren't these limitations what makes us who we are? Are we trying to become superheroes or something? Isn't this going to create more problems for us than solve any? If we all start living longer or dying later (which is the same thing), where are we all going to be living? I am not really sure but, I think, transhumanism raises more questions than answers any. The idea of "uploading our consciousness onto computers and leaving our body behind" is terrifying.   
Now if we view Robbie in a transhumanist sense then we can say that it/he (nor sure which one) is more human than non-human. But is it/he really? So, it/he feels lonely, it/he misses his friends, it/he wants to 'die' on Earth (motherland). Does this make it/him human? It/He has a body of metal (basically, not made of meat) and a metal mind. Is this what we are going to become in the future? Robbie wasn't born, it/he was made/created - that already doesn't make it/him human, does it? It/He claims it/he made a choice of religion, but why would it/he choose religion? Possibly as a gratitude to its/his creator(s) who perhaps was(were) a Catholic? I don't believe that it/he could have made the choice consciously. The interesting part for me in the film was Robbie made-up world, where it/he invented friends of its/his kind and they together fix things and learn from each other. An AI understanding the importance of collaboration and learning from others - that's amazing! Not all humans understand that, so is Robbie better? 

                   Robbie - A Short Film By Neil Harvey from Neil Harvey on Vimeo.

Now Gumdrop is a bit different because she doesn't have the metallic voice of Robbie. If I was just listening to the film, not watching it, I would have thought that it was a human being being interviewed.

 Ok we may have new kind of species living around us, but I still wouldn't say that they are human beings. Well, for me they are not. We will have to learn to live with them and treat them fairly as stated in the Transhumanist Declaration. But will we be saying that they are human? Gumdrop is funny with a great sense of humour, but she is still a robot. I would like to befriend her, but I am afraid with the appearance of her species, many people would want to enslave them.

The next film actually made me depressed.

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.
As far as I understand, there are more problems with the idea of transhumanism in this video than solutions. "Nobody wants to be entirely organic (oh, really?!), or get old, or die". In my opinion, it is OK to use transplants if one lost a limb and needs a replacement to be mobile, but using artificial legs or arms because they are non-organic is beyond my understanding, I am  afraid. Are we going to make artificial 'spare parts' fashionable and continue the present trend of judging people by their possessions? But it is not simply some gadgets, it is going to be parts that people have installed? What is better about that?
It is interesting or depressing to see that even in this transhumanist vision of the world, there are still homeless and sick people who do not seem to have a hope for a better life. Does that mean that even in this new world we are not going to address these serious problems?
"...for whatever you can afford" - which, to me, means that not everybody is going to be able to afford these parts which will widen the gap between the poor and the rich even more. In addition, people in this society look horrifying and utterly unreal to me, so are the ones who decide not to have these implants (possibly because they want to be 'organic') going to become outcasts? That doesn't sound like an improvement, does it? Or is it just me?
The ability to "back up your memories and implant them back into new you" may be useful in education because many things that we learn at school are forgotten if not used and the ability to remember what you have learnt may be good. But that sounds very much like a computer which backs up the data to restore it if it crashes. If we are going to live forever, can't we study the same subject again?

Avatar Days - World of Warcraft has been one of the most popular  games for quite a while (it aparently surpassed 10mln registered users in 2011) and, I think, many people play it to escape the reality. One of the players actually says that he is the same in the game as in real life, but some others I think would choose to act differently from what they do in real life. The other players in this video talk about making decisions that they are unlikely to make in real life. So maybe this is what they want to experience and the game gives them that chance.
And it's not just that. There is also a mention of recognition and reward which are so rare in real life. And this is true. Games provide this opportunity thus making people want to play more and more. They also seem to allow people feel better about themselves. Although I am not really very keen on non-stop gaming, I think that playing a bit a day will not do any harm.
Jane McGonigal actually believes that if we play 3 hours a day, we may be able to make the world a better place. Her talk is really thought-provoking and she claims that it is possible to save the world by turning the task into a game.

I would also like to share Seth Priebatsch's talk because he talks about the application of game dynamics to life situations, such as schools. Accrding to him school is a game but it's not very well designed.

The game layer on the top of the world

I would like to believe that if well thought-out and thoroughly planned education will be possible to improve to cater to the needs of modern children by making it more desirable for them. I hope that it would also help to eradicate bullying  and stop favoritism. The system wouldn't favour one kid over the other. It would just give fair rewards and progression.