Saturday, May 25, 2013

Does txting mk u crazy?

As a specialist in linguistics, I teach a class that deals with the nature of language and language change. In the first chapter, there's a true/false question that says something like: "People use language less correctly today than they did 50 years ago." A lot of students will say that the statement is true, for a number of reasons. So one of my objectives for the course is to demonstrate that one of the most fascinating aspects about language is that it changes constantly. If it's not changing, that means it's a dead language, because human languages change naturally.  As a related principle, I want them to know that language change does not equal language deterioration.

That's why I think this video is so interesting. It does a great job of pointing out that humans have always complained about language deterioration, and also makes a case for cognitive benefits that arise from being bilingual and bidialectal, and makes a good case for texting having evolved into its own dialect.

So how can you use this information in your classroom?  Each language has its own texting lingo, and thankfully for us old folks, nice people offer texting dictionaries online. So for Spanish, here's one dictionary. This will depend on your own personal tolerance for mobile devices in class, and your school's mobile device policy. But if they have their phones with them, why not tell them that they can only text in the target language during class?  If all students have phones with texting, make an activity designed around that. You'll actually be helping them develop their brains instead of contributing to the deterioration of the language, lol. :)

Know links to dictionaries in other languages? Leave them in the comments! Thank you!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ditch the textbook for skills classes

This isn't really applicable to K-12 language instructors, but for higher ed instructors teaching conversation or composition (or reading or listening skills, if those are offerings at your institution), this is a great way to increase student engagement.

Here's what I mean. These are the topics I'm interested in: bilingual education, language acquisition, language policy, language and technology. The second time I taught composition, I found articles in a variety of genres addressing the same topic: language policy in the Basque Country. I thought it was fascinating, but most of my students didn't read any of the articles because they didn't care about the topic, so they didn't get the point or the benefit of having models in different genres.

When I was considering what I wanted to do for my conversation class this past semester, I thought about my goals for the course: I wanted students to talk (in Spanish).  I looked into some textbooks, but I didn't think the content would be interesting to many students.  So on the first day of class, I asked students to write down what subjects they liked to talk about. I took all of their lists and put them into a spreadsheet and worked through them during the course of the semester (I also tallied the number of times a topic was suggested in order to get a sense for more popular topics). Some of them were too specific to be useful as discussion topics for the whole class, but frequently could be generalized to a broader topic (many students wanted to talk about a specific career, which was easily broadened to talking about careers in general).

What does this have to do with technology? I got all of my materials from the internet, which meant that all discussion topics were current, and since the students decided what they were going to talk about, they were more invested in talking. To localize discussion topics even more, on Mondays, each table (3-4 students) decided what topic they wanted to discuss on Wednesday. They each had to find an article in Spanish, read it, post the link to their group's discussion board on Blackboard (by Tuesday at midnight), and on Wednesday, each person summarized their article for the group. Then a group leader (different every week) summarized the content of the articles for the class. In addition to increasing student engagement, this had the added benefit of giving students informal (ungraded) presentation practice every week.

A number of students noted in their final reflections (recordings, because it was a conversation class) that they really enjoyed having the freedom to choose what they wanted to talk about, and that it made it much easier to participate because they were interested in the topic. (As a side benefit, it tends to increase instructor popularity, because students appreciate not having to buy a book for your class!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

I just read this article on harnessing mobile technology in the classroom, and as my post title implies, I agree. I just finished teaching two sections of advanced conversation (in Spanish) this semester, and every student had a laptop, tablet or smart phone (or some combination of those).

One way to incorporate this technology is to incorporate anonymous polls. In a conversation class, many students are reluctant to discuss or give an opinion on a polemic issue. One way to break the ice is to use an anonymous poll, using a site like Poll Everywhere. This is one example of a question that I posed to the class.

While there are several polling platforms that allow text message responses, Poll Everywhere has a free account option that allows up to 40 responses per poll, and an unlimited number of polls/classes. There are other paid account options at educational pricing, including the option to have your school purchase a system-wide license. Other sites include SMSPoll (free account includes 15 votes per poll) and Top Hat Monocle (free account includes 30 votes per poll, and has a one course limit).

Once you've created an account in Poll Everywhere, it's easy to set up your first poll. Just click the "Create Poll" button and enter your question (and answer choices if applicable). Once you've created the poll, there are a number of ways you can distribute it. Since I use PowerPoint for all of my classes, I use the option "Download as Slide". However, you could also embed it in a Blackboard announcement (or assignment, or anywhere else in Blackboard or another Learning Management System) using "Share and Publish" and selecting the "Blog or Webpage" option. This option will generate the code you need to embed the poll in the page. (Coming soon: Video on how to embed content into a web page by using the "Edit HTML" feature in blogs and other websites.)

There are a number of ways that students can respond, including using a laptop or tablet and navigating to the webpage, responding via text message, responding via Twitter, and responding via a private link. Choose how you want students to respond, and then start the poll. If you want them to be able to respond on the web, make sure to click the button circled below.
Make sure to start the poll, and click the circled button if you want students to be able answer on the web.
Here's what a live embedded poll looks like:

To respond, students can text an answer code to 37607, or go to the website . As soon as they respond, the chart changes to reflect the response. Feel free to try it if you want!

I usually use this at the beginning of a discussion, especially if I anticipate that it may be difficult to get students to give their opinions. This lets them know that they're not alone, whatever their opinion is, and has helped get past the awkwardness of discussing controversial topics.

Do you have other suggestions for how to use anonymous polling? Leave a comment, or submit a tech tip!