Monday, October 1, 2012

CEP 811 MERLOT evaluation post

Finding resources in MERLOT for use in my courses is not particularly easy.  First of all, there isn’t a category that accurately matches my teaching situation. The closest category I can find is ESL under World Languages.  This may seem appropriate since I teach English courses to non-native speakers.  However, teaching of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) is often loosely split into English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL).  The former generally means that English is the main language of the general environment in which the instruction takes place and learners must use it in their daily life.  For example, students in the USA who are not native speakers of English would be considered ESL learners.  In contrast, EFL generally refers to learning of English in an environment where it is not the first language and perhaps not widely used, and it is often taught as an academic subject. My own setting is an EFL setting.  I teach English courses which are breadth requirements for students in a Japanese university and none of the approximately 250 students that I currently teach are English majors.  One example of how this difference manifests itself is in looking for writing resources.  I could find several resources such as online writing labs and downloadable worksheets but they are geared for a much higher proficiency level than that of my students.

Secondly, doing a search can be somewhat complicated.  Let me give an example of trying to find resources in one of my main areas of interest: reading instruction.  The first step I took was to go through several links, finally drilling into the ESL resources area, and then did a search for the keyword “reading” from within there.  It returned only one resource, which, from reading at the description, actually seemed to be a content-based unit not focused on reading skills. In addition, it is a broken link with no access to the actual materials anyway. Using an advanced search inputting “reading” into a variety of fields returned six resources, but four were for other languages and one was a journal.  Though the one remaining resource is geared towards younger learners in an ESL environment, I thought I would have a look at it.  However, I am unable to actually run it on my computer; I get an error message that I need to be connected to the Internet even though I am connected.  So, I went back into advanced search, and I found that I had to go through several searches to be able to actually choose ESL as a category again.  Once I did that, though, I managed to get 31 resources listed in the results.  Most of these seem to be only partially related to reading and as I checked through them I found one I thought I might want to come back to later to look at again so I saved it to a collection.  However, in this process I lost my search results and had to use a combination of my browsing history and re-creation of what I had done to get back to them.  While I did manage to find a couple resources for evaluation and potential use, it was quite a convoluted process doing so.

Ultimately, for this assignment I decided to review a website called English Language Centre Study Zone, located here:  This site was created by the English Language Centre of the University of Victoria, New Zeeland.  It is geared towards adult learners of English, and has five levels.  It attracted me because it had reading exercises and the lower levels were consistent with many of my students’ proficiency levels.

First of all, I would like to address the quality of content.  Language teaching, when compared to many other academic disciplines, is much more focused on skill building than what is traditionally referred to as content.  The structures and vocabulary, and perhaps the cultural background, of a language could be seen as content, but it is fairly common within TESOL to aim to give learners skills and support in managing their own language learning and use effectively.  That said, over the five levels, this resource presents students with a variety of practice exercises and some limited instruction, all of the types of which are commonly used within TESOL.  On the site there are two distinct types of readings, referred to there as either reading or themed reading.  The regular reading passages offer multiple choice comprehension questions, vocabulary previewing, gap fills, restructuring the story, and guided summary writing.  The two uppermost levels offer the themed reading passages, which have much greater variety of exercises, including various previewing and reviewing activities and critical thinking exercises.  As a resource in support of this particular educational program, the content seems quite appropriate and is pedagogically sound.  Where I would say it falls somewhat short is in the limited number of readings and exercises available.  At the lowest level there are only two reading passages, and a total of only 18 of the regular reading passages spread over four levels.  The fourth level also has a themed reading and the top level has only the themed reading.

Secondly, I would like to address another drawback, which is related to its potential effectiveness.  While students could use it for their own practice, it does not really represent a stand-alone instructional tool.  Not only is there the issue of the limited amount of practice it allows, there is also the fact that there is almost no explanation, description, or demonstration of skills or content; it is almost exclusively practice exercises.  There are brief descriptions of scanning and skimming in exercises in the highest level only, and which I think are meant merely as reminders to learners who have had previous classroom instruction in these strategies.  Since the specific target learners are ESL students receiving instruction in the English Language Centre in Victoria, use of this may be effectively scaffolded within that environment and the learning objectives are likely more clear than just on the website.  Furthermore, as is, this website has some drawbacks for more general use and applicability.  As mentioned, the number of readings are limited.  There also appears to be no functionality for new users adding new readings and exercises, which I believe would greatly enhance its usefulness to TESOL instructors and learners.  At this point it can only be used as a limited practice tool.

Thirdly, I would like to address the ease of use.  First of all, for all of the regular reading exercises the appearance and navigation are consistent, distinct, and fairly attractive.  There is always a colorful banner across the top with a breadcrumb trail all the way back to the home page.  There are also clear buttons for moving forward or back through the questions or on to the next exercise.  Unfortunately, this is lost in the themed reading pages.  Once you click a link to a themed reading you are presented with a list of text-only links in outline form.  Once inside the exercises there are sometimes attractive visuals, but the banner is no longer present and the pages are primarily text.  The navigation buttons are also different and inconsistent, don’t generally include a “home” button, and can be counter-intuitive (e.g. “next exercise” on the left and “go back to contents” on the right).  In the regular readings, there is feedback to users.  For example, a countdown clock is displayed during exercises that have a time limit, whether an answer is correct or not appears, the number of completed and total questions for a passage get displayed, and sometimes hints as to why an answer is incorrect or points to a particular area to look for the correct information are presented.  The material does not require a lot of documentation or instruction on how to use it, and for the target users it seems likely to be very familiar and easy to use.  However, as a public resource it is not particularly flexible as content cannot be added nor edited. The site also seems somewhat visually attractive at times, but could be improved in this respect with increased visual support of the content and more interesting feedback pop-ups.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Personal Learning Reflection

Today I would like to post on my learning over the last few weeks in CEP 810.  Early in this course I created a plan which included some objectives for improving my personal technology skills and possibilities for using my new skills.  I would like to address my progress towards these goals specifically, my ongoing goals, and other areas of growth during this course.

One of the objectives I set out was become familiar and proficient with the various productivity tools offered by Google and to at least familiarize myself with some alternatives.  During the past few weeks I have made quite a bit of use of these resources.  While I would still describe myself as “becoming proficient” rather than “fully proficient”, I have become both much more aware of the choices and limitations in the Google family of applications and more comfortable using them.  Both for this class and for some projects outside of this class I have begun using Google Docs regularly for collaborative work, including collectively creating minutes during an online meeting and other real-time co-editing.  For an upcoming conference, I learned how we could use Google Doc forms to accept and manage paper submissions.  I have also learned how to use Google+ Hangout to have an online meeting and did so as part of some publication work.  I set up new gmail accounts to help me manage my professional communications, and then to help me manage my various email accounts I learned about and started using Thunderbird (from Mozilla, not Google).  This latter one, besides managing several accounts from one mail client, has one particularly helpful additional feature for me of reminding you to attach documents when you have written that you would but still haven’t!  Back to Google, I have also learned to use the calendar, YouTube, Blogger, and Reader.

The latter two Google applications are tied directly into the other two objectives I set, becoming efficient at online information gathering and becoming adept at setting up and administering a blog and website.  Similarly to the first goal, I feel I have made significant progress but still have much more to learn.  I am now able to subscribe to and sort through RSS feeds, something completely new to me.  I am also now able to use diigo for keeping track of and sorting information I have found online.  Related to gathering information efficiently, I also set a wider and ongoing objective of establishing a wider community of practice.  Accessing diigo, the MACUL Space, the ISTE site, and even learning to use Twitter have given me more tools to continue work on this objective.  As for administering a blog and website, while I have learned to use Blogger to set up and maintain this blog, and have learned how to have multiple contributors, and have even set up a basic website, I still feel like I have just scratched the surface of possibilities for both of these.  For example, one of the other SIGs for this course gave me a good introduction to the possibilities of using Moodle, which might be quite good for much of what I would like to do.  However, I do feel confident enough that I could now set up online spaces to help with classes I will be teaching in the future and learn to do more as I go.

Turning to other elements of my learning in this course, I think that one aspect of this course was that just proceeding through the various learning tasks in an online environment gave me a better sense of the possibilities than just sitting through a lecture or reading a book about it might have.  I was engaged in actually doing what I was learning about and it reinforced an old adage that the best way to learn to do something is by doing it.  I felt that the way this course was delivered provided both excellent scaffolding and great opportunities for individual growth.  One negative to this mode of delivery however was that when I got swamped with some unexpected work in the last couple weeks of the course, it was unfortunately much easier to not go online because I was too busy than it probably would have been to choose not to prepare for and go to a scheduled, face-to-face class meeting.  This let me get further and further behind in the course and left me scrambling to catch up at the end.  Overall, however, the combination of the flexibility and the hands-on nature built into the online mode were quite good for me.

I think that one of the most important concepts I encountered in this course is that technology is just another tool and the creative ways we can come up with for applying the technological tools we have at hand to fostering greater learning opportunities is what is important.  The TPACK concept, that posits that good teachers make use of a combination of technological (T), pedagogical (P), and content (C) knowledge (K) in order to teach effectively provided a useful way of looking at how developing and using these skills is important for Education.  I was also exposed for the first time to the ISTE NETS standards for students, teachers and administrators.  While these standards aren’t clearly encouraged in my teaching context, I still think they are useful concepts and I hope to find ways to apply them both in my classrooms and in faculty development settings.

Finally, I would like to address my continuing goals beyond this course.  Rather than having come up with new goals, I think I see moving forward to continue on the specific objectives noted above and the wider goals I had also set for beyond this course.  As set out in my growth plan, I would like to build stronger and wider connections in my areas of teaching practice.  I think this will be an ongoing goal which I will always be able to improve upon.  However, I am already starting to use the tools provided in this course to help with this.  I also hope to share some of these tools and, as mentioned above, standards with my colleagues in the future, thereby strengthening my contribution to the education community.  Finally, while I have not been teaching much during the bulk of this course, our new academic year is about to start in Japan and I will be taking on several new courses in a new position.  I look forward to starting to apply some of the skills and techniques I have picked up in this class in these courses.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Creative Commons Post (Part 2)

Okay, so I've managed to get Safari up and running using the hotel's ISP, and have been able to actually look through images both on flickr directly and through the Creative Commons search function.  I found that the latter was better for finding CC licensed work because even though I went to flickrCC to search, it returned items not licensed.  Going from the CC site was more reliable in that respect.  What I was searching for was an image of Bellevue College.  The reason behind this was two-fold.  One, that is where I am actually visiting with my students at the moment.  Two, I thought I might be able to find images of Bellevue that I could use to introduce the college to students in the future and that we might use on our college's website.  I found one that I loved, but was not licensed and since I don't know that using it here would be a transformative use, I have chosen to err on the side of caution and not use it.  Besides which, the point of this exercise was to find one that was clearly licensed.  This image was nearly as good, and is offered under a CC attribution license.
Photo Attribution:
Original Image: "R_L_Building Panorama-2.jpg" © July 21, 2010 by Bellevue College, uploaded Feb. 19, 2012 from flickr.
Used under a Creative Commons Attribution license:

I also was able to add and license a couple images to my own flickr account.  I experimented with loading an image, licensing it at Creative Commons, and applying the license afterwards as well as licensing through flickr directly so that I would learn how to do both.  Flickr has allowed me to set up a blanket preference so that any photo I upload falls under the license.  That is convenient, and it also does not prevent me from doing a more or less restrictive option on individual images should I desire.  Anyway, this photo may be useful for anyone wanting to teach about Japanese gardens, temple gardens, stone lanterns, reflections, and so on but for me it is really just an example of one of the things I love about life in Japan - places and moments like where and when I took this photo.
Photo Attribution:
Original Image: "Light in a Garden" © by Thomas E. Bieri, available at flickr licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
What to do you think, would you like to visit there?

Creative Commons Post (Part 1)

One thing I found very interesting in both the Teachers Teaching Teachers talk with Peter Jaszi ( and the best practices reading ( was that fair use in practice is actually open to a lot wider use than just in an educational setting, and that it can apply to educational uses beyond just a strictly educational setting such as a brick and mortar classroom.  I appreciated learning something about the guidelines by which to make my own assessments, such as whether one’s use of copyrighted material is for a different purpose and different audience (thereby not harming the copyright holder financially) and if you’ve used appropriate portions.  While the chart we were provided a link to was appealing to me in being pretty straightforward, it was also surprising to learn the standards outlined in it for the most part have no real legal standing, and may actually be much more restrictive than fair use allows in many instances. 

A challenge I personally have with fair use doctrine is that it pertains to US copyright law whereas I teach in Japan, where laws are quite different.  We recently had quite a bit of debate within my institution about whether Japanese copyright law allowed us to use textbook passages for entrance test reading assessments (the answer seems to be yes if it is attributed) and if we were allowed to alter them by simplifying vocabulary or changing sentence structure (less clear if this is allowed or not).  An interesting issue that came up during this debate is that publishers actually seem to be happy to have their material used in this way, as it tends to result in more sales the next year because these tests are made public each year and then people use them as a guide for how to study.  While this may be true, I was thinking from a materials writer’s standpoint, and found it inappropriate that there was changing of structure to the point to sometimes alter meaning while simply attributing it to the original author and not acknowledging the alterations.

Another interesting thing in the talk was actually not really related to copyright at all but kind of a serendipitous discovery.  The last few minutes focused on something called “BrainyFlix”.  This was contest for students making videos to teach SAT vocabulary in an interesting way, one word in roughly one minute.  As the guys behind this described the idea, I thought, “Hey, I could use these for my students to study English words!”  I started thinking that not only could I have them watch the videos to learn vocabulary, but I could also get them to make their own.  Then, lo-and-behold, one of the other teachers in the conversation piped in that this sounded great for foreign language teaching.  I am pretty sure I found something to add to my toolbox of making my teaching more interesting as well as appealing to more varied learning styles!

I know one of the key elements of this assignment is embedding and citing a creative commons licensed image as well as licensing one of my own.  Unfortunately, I have run into a “technical difficulties” roadblock in this respect.  I am currently away from home, and am in Bellevue with my students.  While I had managed to do most of this session before having to leave to come here, and downloaded many of the materials to review on the bus and airplane rides, I did not get to the point of selecting an image or licensing one of my own.  I brought my MacBook (which I hadn’t used for a few months) with me to finish all that, as well as keep studying while I am here, forgetting that I have continually had problems with images, including maps, displaying in Firefox on this machine.  I have tried following various troubleshooting advice from Firefox and changing overall system preferences, to no avail.  I have also tried using Safari since getting here, but it seems to be unable to connect to the Internet for some reason.  So here I am stuck, unable for the moment to do this portion of the assignment, too jetlagged to come up with a creative solution, and with a deadline imminent.  So the best I can do is post this for now, and try to come back and add the other portions when I find a way around my technical problems.  More later…

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Learning Style Post

Growing up, and certainly once I started school, I have always been referred to as "smart", "a quick learner", and various other positive appellations regarding my intelligence.  I was already reading by the time I started school, and remember reading Orwell's "Animal Farm" when I was maybe in 1st or 2nd grade.  I read the whole thing, skipping some words I didn't know, asking about others, and followed the story fairly well.  Of course, it wasn't until many years later when I reread it that I understood it in more depth.  But the point is, while many of my peers were still sounding out words by phonics and had limited sight vocabulary, I was already pulling novels off the bookshelf and understanding the written representations of words I knew.  I don't think this was any great magic, or even that I was significantly more intelligent than my peers.  It was just that my mother had spent a lot of time with me in her lap reading together with me.  I think this gave me a leg-up in school, in which what Howard Gardner refers to as linguistic intelligence is (or at least was) emphasized.  I had a friend in growing up who was considered either stupid or lazy by many of his teachers.  In fact, I knew him to be really quick to grasp concepts if you talked about them, and also to have an incredible ability to sort out mechanical problems in a flash.  It turned out he had undiagnosed dyslexia and had always struggled to read and write, making much of the homework and tests we had extremely challenging.  Even into college, I sometimes felt I had something of an advantage over a lot of my peers.  I seemed to be able to read significantly faster than most of them, grasp things I read pretty quickly, and be able to write fairly well also.  I even remember distinctly in one history course feeling that it was really unfair because while I had friends who I knew had spent hours and hours over at least a week reading and reviewing for the final test who got Bs and Cs on the test, I got an A just from listening to all the lectures plus skimming the textbook the evening before the test.  When I was younger, I also had a pretty easy time grasping mathematics and basically never had math homework because I could finish it while the teacher was still helping others just to get the idea.  I was sometimes popular because I could help others understand math when they didn't get the teacher's explanation.  However, when I got to algebra and geometry, the concrete concepts were still pretty easy for me but more abstract things were harder to grasp.  I also really can't remember ever having gotten lost until well into adulthood, even though I often ventured into places I had never been.  Just like with the more concrete elements of geometry, spatial relationships between places and directions always seemed quite logical and easy to grasp.

At the same time, I always felt at least awkward if not totally incompetent in physical education activities and even lots of physical play activities.  It wasn't only that I was smaller than most of my peers, but that I just didn't seem to have the control over my body that others showed.  I also think that my lack of confidence in my physical abilities helped contribute to this in something of a self-fulfilling prophecy feedback-loop, and I came to actively dislike these activities.  It didn't help that I proceeded to break bones and what not.  Another area I often felt like a fish out of water in was music.  I couldn't keep a tune in singing, and while my teachers were kind, my classmates were more willing to advise me before a performance things like, "just move your mouth and pretend you are singing."  I had a music teacher in elementary school I still remember today, somewhat unfortunately.  He was a somewhat cranky old guy who was clearly an immigrant, and why I remember him most of all is that he got so frustrated with my inability on the trumpet that he smacked the open end of it while I had the other end up to my lips, causing me no small amount of pain and embarrassment, and also to never try to play it again.  I would like to think that today he would be fired for abuse, but anyway..  I also remember in junior high school talking with a friend about a popular song, and not being able to follow what he was talking about as he described the parts of the different instruments.  To me it was all one united sound and I didn't even have a concept of the different instruments making different kinds of sounds.  Finally, while I proceeded to do well enough overall in school to end up in an academic magnet high school, once there one notable failure was Latin.  I had to take it twice to pass it, once again I encountered a European immigrant teacher whose methods were not conducive to my learning (lots of scolding and even whacking with a yardstick when one made a mistake).  The second time around a much kinder woman helped me eek my way through.  Once I reached college and had to take language there as well, I continued to have problems with it.  By virtue of living several years in another country, I am now fairly bilingual, but my progress has been slow and mostly down to being immersed in the language.

So, while I was often referred to as intelligent, when I first encountered multiple intelligences theory, it intuitively struck me as right on the button for describing the reality of abilities and learning.  It seemed from my experiences that different people have different abilities, that there are varying strengths and weaknesses in all of us, and that some of these are innate at least to some degree.  Since learning about that it has helped me in my own learning, as I started to become less critical of myself in areas that I didn't excel, and to not give up on things that didn't come so easily.  While I still am very unwilling to sing in front of people, even in a besotted karaoke session, in the area of physical activity, I took up flying-disc sports and persisted with one, Ultimate, to such an extent that I ended up being a member of a world champion team.

To turn a little more directly to this session's focus, I would like to mention the results of taking a couple of the MI assessments linked to for this class.  I opted to try a couple of the free ones.  The first one I did was "Assessment: Find Your Strengths!" at  The second was "Howard Gardner's Miltiple Intelligences" from  While this latter one had some more detailed descriptions of Gardner's MI model than in the session notes, I found the assessment less satisfying than the former.  This is because the results were merely presented as a numerical score for each intelligence type and no descriptors or explanation of what those scores might mean.  Also, I found that my scores seemed to be fairly similar, ranging from 22 for Bodily-Kinesthetic to 29 for Intrapersonal.  I am also not so sure that the types of statements actually lead to a true reflection of my learning strengths or weaknesses.  For example, on Musical I scored 25 though I believe that I have little ability in this area.  I think this is because some of the items were things like music is important to me or I like listening to music, both of which are true for me but which don't seem to reflect whether or not I have ability in music.  The first assessment I took provided a more descriptive report, and included suggestions for taking advantage of what were rated as my top 3 intelligences.  Interestingly, there were some significant contrasts between the two sets of results.  While Intrapersonal was top rated on both instruments and Linguistic was also pretty high on both, Bodily-Kinesthetic was smack in the middle on the literacyworks one as opposed to bottom on the other.  Also, on this one both Logical-Mathmatical and Musical were rated quite lowly.  Therefore, I do have some doubt about relying on these assessments.  Also, since my students are learners of English as a foreign or second language, these tests might be rather difficult to administer to them.  That said, I do think that the tasks and activities described in Gardner's Model for Linguistic and Intrapersonal do seem to fit with what I have been comfortable with and successful at in much of my learning to date, which does point to some validity of these assessments.

As for using this concept to inform my teaching, I do it already, though not in any of the really formalized ways suggested in the session readings.  I do try to incorporate a variety of activities, including doing some teacher-led stuff, some group activities while also giving students some time to work on their own, some things that involve physical activity, using music, giving students similar input both verbally and in written form, etc.  I even explicitly taught my students this past year about this idea of there being multiple intelligences, specifically the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic types, and encouraged them to try to use their strengths.  I am interested in maybe trying to adopt a more formal approach to teaching to different learning styles such as the learning cycle based on Kolb's model.

Monday, February 6, 2012

RSS Reflection Post

After joining this course, CEP 810, I had to start using an RSS reader.  I had seen the little RSS buttons on many occasions but never really knew what they were.  Now I do!

If you look down at an earlier posting, you can see a screenshot of when I first set up my reader and then a couple of days later.  You can already see that I had added some more feeds during those couple of days, including one from a classmate's blog. Her blog, "When you can't afford student loans...go back to school" has provided some interesting reading, especially since we are in the same course and learning some of the same things.  It has been nice seeing a different perspective on these things.  Also, I posted to her blog.  For some reason I could not comment, but I was able to make my comment into a post, "Trying to Comment".

Here you can see a screen shot of my reader today:

In it, you can see I have added a couple more feeds, and I also got rid of one.  The one I got rid of was a news channel.  I found it was just simply too overwhelming, too many posts and not well organized, and I felt like I needed to read through them all.  I decided to take control and unsubscribe.  I am happier going to the BBC and Mlive websites directly when I want to read the news and selecting the stories there that I want to read.  Another kind of overwhelming one is related to new books online.  However, this one I don't really want to remove but I did decide I will look at it only when I have free-time and am looking for reading material for myself.  I also could envision if I have students reading at a fairly decent level, I could use this to help me suggest books they can read on their smartphones on the train, etc.  On the other side, the TESOL blog has only had one posting since I joined, Weblogged has had none, and ITSE has a fairly low volume.  The ITSE ones tend to be pretty informative and basically academic articles rather than blog entries or discussion postings.

The ones related to Extensive Reading have been fairly active and give me the most directly useful stuff for my work outside this class right now.  One is primarily discussions between teachers using and/or wanting to know about ER.  I've already encountered a few useful ideas and a couple links.  The BeeOasis one is mostly short passages for reading.  This would be a better one for my students to be subscribed to as they can get daily readings sent directly to them, and I could see using this site in my teaching next semester.  While the TechLearning feed would seem to be a fairly useful one for me on the face of it, it actually has only yielded an occasional interesting or directly useful post for me personally, such as the one the other day on teaching the parts of speech.  Most of the posts, however, are not applicable to my context, and I just scroll through the summaries.

I have mentioned ways I might use some of this in my own learning in passing, but let me make those a bit more explicit.  The ER sites give me useful ideas, answers to questions, classroom resources, and a place to make connections with other professionals with similar interests and concerns.  A couple of others support my learning in this class.  As for using RSS feeds with my students, besides the above mentioned one designed specifically for English learners, I could also see a class blog where the students and I all subscribe to the feed and can make posts about the class.  Also, this could be a tool to motivate some students to read more, by getting them to subscribe to a feed or two in areas of interest to them so that they are getting reading they might find intriguing delivered regularly.

(Not) Getting Things Done

This is kind of a delayed post, and not to make any excuses but before I delve into it, I just want to say I haven't been helped by feeling unwell the last few days.

So, we had a part of a session on a method for keeping track of all the things you need to do and working through them efficiently, while also freeing your mind from needing to keep track of it all.  This lesson was timely, in that I was having a lot of things to do come up (including the different elements of this course) and keep track of.  But it was also bad timing, in the sense that I felt I had too much on my plate to try to spend some time experimenting with a new method for managing my work flow.  In the past few days I have faced a busy work period, lots to do for this class, a period of deadlines for work in my professional association, and sudden unexpected employment opportunities.

As it turned out, at first I couldn't get to the document for this assignment, and then did get it after a couple of days.  Both in reading the session explanation, and the document, I felt that I already do most of this though with a couple of notable exceptions.  These are having a formally set weekly review time of it and having a long-term goal section clearly spelled out.  Another weakness I have is not having different elements in one unified area.  I do currently have a list (on paper) on my desktop (physical) at work where I have all the regularly recurring tasks (planning lesson X or Y, making and copying the weekly vocabulary quizzes, prepping materials for committee meetings, etc.).  These are laid out according to each day or days of the week I should be doing them, sometimes with smaller elements of a larger task listed out below it.  Then to the right are columns of check-boxes for each week to check items off as they are done.  Below this list is an area to write in different tasks that come up (which I can't do immediately when they come up) in pencil, allowing me to erase them when done and free up the space for new ones.  I review this every morning, and when I have completed a task and have time to work on something else.  For non-work tasks, I keep a list on my iPod Touch, which I manage in a similar way to the pencil part of the work list.  The biggest difficulties in this have been that my long-term tasks and my more immediate ones have been all lumped together and that I haven't set a consistent review time or system.  I plan to start building these elements in.  I have also been building in using online calendars and automatic reminders, but I am still less than satisfied given that in many cases I am not connected to the Internet where/when I want to add or check these items.

One way in which this lesson, combined with the one on documents, did serendipitously help me immediately was with the above mentioned employment opportunities.  I was suddenly made aware of a couple of openings for the coming academic year (starts April 1st in Japan), one of which I was aware might be available a year from now and intending to apply for at that time.  Since I had spent time on the resume update, that was pretty much ready to go.  In the GTD part, having been prompted to spend some time thinking about longer-term goals meant I was better prepared for writing a cover letter as well as preparing for an interview.

PC Maintenance & Security Post

I did the Internet Security lab in my CEP 810 class.  The most useful new thing I learned was a technique called "Google Guard" for checking if an email you've received is a scam or not.  This involves using google search and inputting the address of the the mail or the url of a link included.

Using the tutorials from Atomic Learning was less productive.  While I learned some things, such as about SSID and how to disable the broadcast mode to hide your home wi-fi, since I am a Macintosh user, the Windows-oriented tutorials were not as helpful as I hoped.

First, I chose to watch J.6 & J.7, Accessing wi-fi hotspots and wireless networks.  As mentioned above, the ability to hide your home wi-fi network was a useful technique I learned about.  Nothing really surprised me in these two tutorials.

Next, I went into D.6 & D.7, tutorials on installing and using Spybot.  However, as I watched these two tutorials it started to seem pretty clear this software was only for a Windows PC.  I decided to go into their website and check, and confirmed this.  I then looked at the list of tutorials related to Blocking and Killing Spyware & Adware and went to each website of the listed software and found all of it to be related to Windows.  On one hand, that is disappointing because I would like to learn about options for my computer.  On the other hand, I know part of this is that Macs have historically been less of a target and that is part of why there is less of a market for this kind of software.  Unfortunately, "less" doesn't egual "not" and so I still want to learn how to provide more of this protection for my own computers.

Anyone have any recommendations?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Social Networking Lab Post

Social networks seem to me to be an as yet untapped resource for me.  I have steadfastly avoided joining twitter so far, checked into facebook just to see what it was all about and didn't find it all that interesting and mostly time consuming if I was too keep it up properly.  Since that time, most of my family have made facebook pages and lately I have been thinking I should make one again if only to help me keep up to date with my relatives and let them hear from me without having to send each one an email.  I also see how it might be a way to connect with students, though it doesn 't seem to have nearly the following here in Japan as in the USA.  On the other hand, to some extent I still worry about privacy issues, and about mixing work/teaching me with family me.  I think I would actually have to maintain two different accounts, one oriented to friends and family and one to professional stuff.  I am actually not sure that the latter gives me significant enough benefit to warrant the time involved.

On the other hand, being part of a more specific online community like the MACUL space seems to have more merit.  It seems like it is a huge multiplier of people I can turn to with questions, for advice, and as I get more proficient myself, to give help to.  Interestingly, I was trying to figure out how to join a group on that space and couldn't.  I waffled between asking on the CEP Q&A forum (I checked and no one else had posted the same question) and on MACUL.  I looked for "help" or "FAQ" on the MACUL site, but finding neither and exhausting all the trial-and-error options I could think of, I decided to start a discussion in the group I wanted to join by asking the question of how to join.  Well, as it turns out, by requesting to start a discussion I was told I had to join first and prompted to join.  Viola, task accomplished.  Though there has to be some more direct way, I would think.

Also, the idea of building my own networks for classes seems fantastic.  It is basically what I have wanted to be able to do for a while, have the facebook-like and/or twitter-like model but with a closed, specific group.  Students can manage their own profiles, work on building the network, use it for class-oriented stuff, and then keep it/stay in it if they want even after the class ends.  I'll really be looking to use this kind of thing as I move forward.  I see it as helping manage communication between me and students outside of class time, a way to accept assignments and have them share projects with each other, and to increase the amount of time they have to interact using English.  I wish I had been aware of this three or four years ago, as it would have been absolutely great for the "homeroom" kind of class I have had for the past few years but will no longer have once I leave this position.  Still, I can envision using it in other types of classes as well.

I think that for my peers (age-wise) that use some of these tools, it is probably mostly for things like I mentioned about using facebook for feeling more in touch with family, especially since many of us English-language educators live so far from where our families are.  I think more of the younger educators, 10 to 20 years younger than me especially, probably are more comfortable and familiar with this kind of networking and therefore more likely to adapt it for their classrooms as well as their own learning and professional development.  That certainly seems to be the case from anecdotal experience.

Next up, being busy and getting things done.

A fear for the older learner

While I am at it with the BBC, this article I read yesterday about "trendfear" describes one of my ongoing worries:
"The nagging anxiety at the back of the mind that you are missing out might be called "trendfear". "

I also particularly liked this bit he related:

"In an interview about the internet with the Sunday Times in 1999, Douglas Adams memorably satirised a common attitude towards new technology and trends.
Everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal, suggested Adams. Anything created between birth and the age of 30 is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it.
But whatever is invented after you've turned 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it -until it's been around for about 10 years, when it gradually turns out to be all right really."
 From: Trendfear: Do you ever feel you're being left behind?, ,

For me, I think I probably stretched the second phase closer to 40, but I've also had a healthy dose of skepticism blended in since well before my 30s.

Blended Reading

"Blended Learning" is something of a catchphrase for people in my professional circle these days.  If you are not familiar with the term, they are referring to blending platforms for providing language learning opportunities.  In other words, combining traditional classroom instruction with online learning. 

In my own daily life I have been noticing how my reading has been changing.  Not only that I can read books electronically, or have printed versions delivered to my doorstep by ordering them online, but also the changing options for what I read and why I read.  I also enjoy relaxing in front of the television, including watching informative programs on Discovery, The History Channel, Animal Planet, and so on.  While it used to be that I would make a choice to read or watch TV, or maybe have the TV on as "background noise" while focusing on reading, lately watching TV with my iPod at hand seems to prompt me to read things.  Something comes up in a program, even a drama, and I decide I want to know more about it.  I do a Google search right then and there and read more about it while watching, during commercials, or right after the program.  Sometimes it is a simple "fact check" and other times it is to learn something more in depth.  Sometimes it takes me off on other tangents.  Sometimes I end up ordering a related book.  Sometimes it is the other way around, where reading leads me to other media.  For example, the video that is sometimes embedded in the reading for the CEP class I am taking now.  Or how reading about the history of a band in preparing a lesson leads me to download a song or even a video and enjoy it.

I have been wondering how this kind of blending of media might be incorporated into my language teaching, and specifically into motivating my students to read more and give them more autonomy in their learning.  Today I came across an interesting video article, Fiction gets technology makeover, on the BBC website that presents something called "transmedia" which is sort of the kind of potential I was vaguely imagining, though in this case purely as entertainment.  For both readers and reading educators, you may find this article interesting.  To avoid copyright infringement, I will merely link to the article.  Should the BBC remove it before you see it or you not be able to access it, I am sorry.

BBC Click: Fiction gets technology makeover

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Here is a screenshot of my RSS feeds from Google Reader when I made it:

I have already added some things, as well.  Not as much time as I'd like to go through the content.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Web Page vs. Blog Post

I think the main differences between a traditional web page and a blog are the potential for a high level of interactivity in blogs and also that content in a blog should constantly be being added while a traditional web site has set content that is only revised when some specific information noted there (e.g. opening times of a business) is changed.  A blog is typically more interactive in that has frequent additions and it allows followers to comment on things others have posted.  I think you could draw a rough analogy to a web site being like a broadcast lecture which goes out one-way to listeners while a blog could be more like a radio call-in show with listeners able to join in with questions and comments.
Well, let my first post be about frustration.  I spent the last couple of hours creating a site in Google Sites via my MSU account, thinking I could do my blog there.  I can, but I can't.  Certainly I can do posts and links and what not.  However, it seems to allow you to allow comments or not, but not to moderate comments if you allow them.  Also, I cannot set up a blogger account using my MSU-based account, which is another frustration.  Once I get this set up, I guess my next step will be to see if I can make this a link on that page.  Hopefully so!  Oh, and in just previewing this, blogger seems to decide that since my location is Japan, my site will have all the navigation buttons in Japanese in spite of me choosing English.  We'll see what I can do about that, too.