lunes, 11 de enero de 2010

Social Networking 2009: A WebConference

Social networking is an important and invaluable concept in our modern society and especially for the language classroom. It encourages the development of social and communication skills and all you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Through the creation of networks and online communities the ESL student can share all kinds of knowledge while practicing the language.

AVEALMEC and ARCALL are two Latin-American associations whose purpose is promoting the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the language classroom. As they state in their website,

“They have joined forces to organize this first regional event to help spread the word on the role of ICT in the language classroom. This first conference will focus on social networks and their potential to create Communities of Practice to share, communicate without barriers and enhance the teaching-learning process in the language classroom.”

This conference had guest speakers from Canada, the US, Cyprus, the UK, Brazil, Israel, Argentina and Venezuela. Their presentations proposed an alternative understanding of how information available on the net sparks connections, thus creating new information and a different ways of learning. In their own words, this first online conference also served as a bonding experience to keep close communication among language teachers in different parts of the world.

I attended three of the twelve workshops and I have to say that I learned so much I went and watch the recordings of the others. There are incredible ways to motivate students and yourself, the teacher. Sometimes, teaching the same book, the same lesson, the same way over and over again gets so boring... It was nice to know I did not have to go into that sickening routine. There are so many choices you will never get bored again. I chose the three workshops I liked the most and this is what they were about:

Ed Tech and Social Networking by Ronaldo Junior Lima and Erika Cruvinel

Ronaldo Junior Lima and Erika Cruvinel work as Ed Tech Monitors in Brazil. Ed Tech stands for educational Technology, which is the study and practice of facilitating and improving performance by using and managing technological processes and resources. They basically create and manage materials and activities through the use of technology for educational purposes. They also help students and teachers make good use of technology in the language classroom, online courses and computer labs.

Networking means working together as a group with one common goal. As Ronaldo Lima points out, if you think of a net, you see that nets are formed by nodes and all nodes are connected forming a whole. So that is what networking implies: connecting for individual and group interests.

Lima and Cruvinel presented many different platforms through which networks can be formed and how they were able to achieve this. First, they affirm that getting peolpe to participate and contribute was hard to do. They had created a blog on 2006 and it wasn’t until 2008 that they started to be joined by more and more contributors. They now have a wiki with 108 members/contributors uploading and sharing materials. They also joined twitter with several teachers who tweet about teaching, materials, videos, etc.

Erika Cruvinel suggests different Communities of Practice where teachers can learn from other teachers, form networks and keep up with the new technologies. These are the links:


They then presented examples of networking with students, of how being online with your work can trigger positive connections and how students can interact with other students and even teachers from all over the world. This promotes student participation since they see that their work is not only read by their teacher but by people from around the world, and that they are not just doing homework but they are having fun doing it. And we teachers know how important motivation is, right?

Flickr: Design that Connnects by Carla Arena

Flickr is my substitute for the old flash cards” Carla Arena

Carla Arena is an Ed Tech supervisor also from Brazil. She sees Flickr as more that an image sharing platform. According to Carla, Flickr is about telling your own story, about your own narrative, and about telling others who you are. It was one of the first Web 2.0 platforms and it´s power lies in the fact that it relies on its users and their interactions. It is created and fed by their relationships and their connections.

However, it is no so used by teachers which is a waste of it huge potential for education, since it is a perfect place for learning about cultures, diversity, creating conversations and sharing more than images with other people in the world.

These are Carla Arena´s ideas for using Flickr for language practice:

- Commenting on other people´s images which can result in an interesting conversation.
- Posting your own pictures, describing them and interacting with those who comment.
- Using Flickr instead of flash cards (for teachers).
- Using Flickr to learn about culture and diversity.
- Adding notes on an image and commenting as a classroom on specific details of an image.
- Using Flickr’s slideshows in your blog.
- Creating a gallery on a specific topic.
- Practicing basic vocabulary though tagging details in your images.

Connectivism and Social Networking by George Siemens

George Siemens is a Canadian writer and researcher on learning networks, technology and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. His presentation marks a sort of introduction to the use of new technologies in education. According to him, our education system is built on assumptions and paradigms that are being challenged and questioned by the new technologies and forms of communication. For instance, what is the role of the classroom today? Is it really necessary to have a physical space when we can make use of the digital world? Or, what is the role of the teacher? Traditionally, the teacher is treated as an expert or specialist on a certain topic. However, now more than ever information and knowledge is being shared and created at a very fast pace. Then how does a single person process so much? Then, Siemens proposes the question of whether teachers and experts could be substituted by communities of knowledge or networks in today´s connected world.

Siemens dwells on the concept of “conectedness”, what it does for us and how it is a part of being human. Today, more than ever before, we have opportunities to being connected and therefore to having access to knowledge. Siemens affirms that it is through such connections that learning takes or should take place, because as a community with a shared interest, humans make sense and manage ideas that otherwise exist separately.

The problems that education is facing will find solutions in individuals interacting with each other in meaningful ways to tackle meaningful problems. Siemens goes on to say that we cannot rely only on experts anymore; we should rely on social interactions instead. This could affect the whole education system.

This could have a great impact on the whole system of education. It is true that a problem cannot be solved by one single person but by the intervention of several people. These people, however, need guidance and orientation to become a whole. Therefore, Siemens closes by stating that social networks will not replace teachers. Instead, the learning process needs to be an interactive one in which all the individuals involved learn from one another and in which the teacher nothing but a part of the network.

martes, 17 de noviembre de 2009

My experience in Second Life

Hi y'all.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to experience Second Life, a virtual environment for live interaction. Second Life is a bit more advanced than regular chatrooms. It´s like Counter Strike meets Habbo Hotel and Msn Messenger. It is actually really fun because you get to interact with people all over the world, be whoever you want and do almost anything you want. For instance, the Avatar (that's the character you create to interact with other users, a representation of yourself) can have any from you want. Did you always dream with being a tall chinese lady, you've got it. Say you want to be an elf or a vampire, just get the appropriate avatar an you are ready to go.

Second Life can be used for language practice since you can use your microphone for live interaction. However, since it requires a high speed connection, a lot of RAM and installing, I do not see it as practical as other resources such as Twitter, blogs and even Facebook.

I had fun anyway. Here are some other snapshots:

martes, 27 de octubre de 2009

lunes, 26 de octubre de 2009


The term blogs has been in circulation since 1997 when enthusiast Jorn Barger decided to rename his website, Robot Wisdom, as a ‘weblog’, soon afterwards abbreviated to ‘blog’. Consequently, terms such as ‘blogger’, ‘to blog’… have become part of the vocabulary employed by users…
(Murray & Hourigan, 2008, p. 82)

To blog or blogging basically mean writing about things you want to write about in a sort of public online diary. In a matter of ten years or so, blogs have become viral. Everyone has something to say and since the most important blogging platforms, such as blogger and wordpress, offer free hosting service everyone can say it.

Why blogging?

Why not? People can have a blog like this one and talk about just one topic, like I do. You can have a blog about your life which includes all the things that happen to you. Many people use their blogs as a means to relax by expressing their opinions and thoughts, getting things out of their system. What is curious is that other people may find those things worth reading and following, so they will even subscribe to the blog, read and comment every time there is a new post. Crazy world huh?
Also, blogs like this one are easy to create, they’re free, you get published in a click, interaction among bloggers is easy, new mobile technologies make access even easier, and, if you use it with your students, it can take practice and learning out of the classroom.

The fun part of blogging

Say you have a hobby and you start blogging about it. When writing on a specific topic, however, you are forced to do research, even if your research starts with a Wikipedia search. With time, you start looking for better sources. Without even noticing, you are studying and learning about this topic without having anyone forcing you to do so. You find other bloggers who share your hobby, and this is how networks and communities of knowledge are born. People who share an interest and knowledge about specific things get together and start sharing. They latter may become sort of online authorities in that topic. Can you think of the use this could have in your teaching? Can you think of the implications for language learning?

I love things that have the potential of being fun, especially because you do them for the sake of it. However, creating interesting content that will generate comments and interaction is not easy. So, it would be advisable for you to go through some training before using blogs with your students. This way, you both can get the most out of the tool.

In the end, students will feel more motivated if they are writing for a bigger audience than their language teacher (Dippold, 2009). Imagine having them writing about their hobbies, favorite band, art, photography (you can photoblog), even politics or religion (if they want to) and interacting with people around the world in the language you are teaching them. What a great way to learn and practice. Don’t you think? I know people who even make a living out of blogging. Who knows where doing things for fun might take you and your Ss?


Dippold, D. 2009. Peer feedback through blogs: Student and teacher perceptions in an advanced german class. ReCALL 21, 1 (Jan. 2009), 18-36. DOI=

Murray, L. and Hourigan, T. 2008. Blogs for specific purposes: Expressivist or socio-cognitivist approach?. ReCALL 20, 1 (Jan. 2008), 82-97. DOI=


Murray, L. and Hourigan, T. 2008. Blogs for specific purposes: Expressivist or socio-cognitivist approach?. ReCALL 20, 1 (Jan. 2008), 82-97. DOI=

lunes, 19 de octubre de 2009

Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0

There was a time when the internet was static and dull. There were a few interesting websites with good content and nice shockwave animations and pictures. Most, however, were full of heavy animated gif images that were not even closely related to the content that was being presented. Going on the internet was basically the same as reading a book, almost no images, no movement and almost no interaction.

If you wanted to talk to someone you logged on a chat room, where everyone said whatever they pleased and still, too much text. If you wanted someone to read the things you wrote, you had to send an e-mail to all your contacts (those were the days of mailing lists). If you wanted to watch a video, you had to wait a couple of hours (or days) until downloading was completed. If you wanted to use a webcam, you needed special software like ICQ or MS NetMeeting. Connections were slow and so was everything else. This was Web 1.0.

And then, one day we saw the first video directly loaded from the server to the website, not to your computer. The waiting days were almost over. These where the years of the RealPlayer streaming video. Things were a bit more interesting, but still it felt a lot like watching low-res TV. You could scream all you want at the TV, it wouldn’t answer back.

Along came dsl and faster Internet connections. We started using social networks like MySpace and Hi5 and the privacy days were over. If you wanted to say something to the world, you just did, and the world answered back. Then, we started using platforms that supported video, images, text and live interaction and we named it Web 2.0.

From here on, everything changed. Interactive, dynamic and live became keywords of the digital revolution. It was the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube era. Information came from anywhere, anytime. It could be true or not, but it would go around the world in seconds if posted in one of these three platforms. There was no need for a TV set or TV networks. If there was a cellphone or a camera around, you could see it happen, give your opinion and the whole world would answer back.

The future is now and it can be in the palm of your hand anywhere, anytime.
By the end of the 21st century’s first decade, we no longer ask someone if they are in Facebook, let alone if they have an e-mail address. We just assume everybody does. Who knows what's next.

In the era of Web 2.0, everybody blogs, everybody participates. You can be a part of anything. It is all about finding a niche and exploiting it to the maximum. There’s an audience for everybody.

So you teach English. Why not using the Internet and its limitless resources in improving you class? Web 2.0 offers dynamic, interactive and highly involving apps (short for applications) where the user/student is not just a reader but an active participant.

Say your students like making videos or writing about surfing. Video blogs, social networking sites such as MySpace and FaceBook, or student edited wikis, can be fed with student-created podcasts, vodcasts, pictures, texts, animations, designs and are all highly effective means to have your students do what they like while learning the language. You get them involved in their own education far more successfully than with the traditional photocopied handout.

Check the following websites and start interacting yourself.

And there are so many more. Try uploading a video to YouTube, post the link in Facebook and Twitter and wait a couple of days, even the worst videos get responses. You wouldn’t believe it.

Digital Literacy

lit·er·ate (l¹t“…r-¹t) adj. 1.a. Able to read and write. b. Knowledgeable or educated in several fields or a particular field. 2. Familiar with literature; literary. 3. Well-written; polished: a literate essay. --lit·er·ate n. 1. One who can read and write. 2. A well-informed, educated person. [Middle English litterate, from Latin litter³tus, from littera, letter. See LETTER.] --lit“er·ate·ly adv. --lit“er·ate·ness n.
—————————————————The American Heritage Dictionary

Literacy is a familiar term to any teacher or educator. It basically refers to being able to read and write. However, The AHD’s definition also includes ‘familiar with literature’ and ‘knowledgeable or educated in several fields’, in other words ‘a well-informed, educated person.’ Additionally, sometimes, the term functional illiteracy is used to refer to those who can read and write but only at a minimum level, which limits a person’s opportunities in terms of social situation and job opportunities.

In the last decade and out of the omnipresent use of Information and Communication Technologies (ITCs), on the other hand, a new kind of literacy has emerged: digital literacy. This kind of literacy is related to the ability to use technology to share, search and produce information and knowledge. It involves the use of computers, digital social networks, search engines, applications and hi-tech gadgets.

This type of illiteracy is closely related to access to technology, which is often very scarce in the lower segments of society, but it could also be related to age. In poor countries, for instance, most young people may grow up with a rough idea of what a computer does, or what the Internet is. But it could take years before they actually get to have their own or work with one. They are in some ways in a similar situation to those adults who grew up hearing about this incredible invention that was the computer and the Internet but it was not until five to ten years ago that they had the chance to work with it. If these two are to succeed in the modern world, they need to start working on their digital skills.

As with traditional literacy and illiteracy, digital illiteracy and literacy can be divided into levels or degrees. For instance, digital illiteracy could be understood from not even being able to turn on a computer to only being able to use a word processor and a search engine.

Now, I’ll propose some levels of literacy. Let’s see where we fit:

Complete digital illiterates are those who do not even set foot near a computer, let alone an Ipod or a smart phone. Sometimes they are also called technophobes. They see technology as a threat to their own life on earth. If they are left alone with a computer, they will suffer a nervous breakdown.

Functional digital illiterates are those who are able to turn on the computer, open a word processor and even send an e-mail to their friends. They, however, have the steps written down in a notebook they use only for this purpose (without it they would panic and start screaming for help). They are able to use technology to produce or communicate but at a very basic level. Let’s put it this way, if they had been able to do that twenty years ago, they would have been considered top-notch digital literates. Now, not so much.

In-the-making Digital literates are those who have overcome many obstacles and are on their way to become fully digital literates. However, they have learned how to use many computer programs, applications and gadgets but in a step-by-step fashion. They rarely dare improvising in their use of the software and still have a long way to go in hardware management. For instance, you know you are an ItmDL if the only way you copy and paste is by going to the Edit menu, clicking on Copy, going to the place you want to paste and clicking Paste in the Edit menu again. Your motto is if it works this way already, why doing it any other way. You, however, still panic whenever you get a warning or when something does not work properly.

Digital literates have picked the accent, body language and culture of the digital natives. They have mastered the use of keyboard shortcuts, they don´t ever panic. They solve problems as they come out and sometimes outplay the natives in their knowledge of ITCs. Their skills though come from hard and conscious work on learning. They have invested good time, work and money in becoming fully literate. Digital literates are fit the modern digital world.

Why is it so necessary to develop digital skills?
Because, we are not alone in the world. While you may have experience and expertise in your own area, the first wave of digital natives was born about twenty years ago. And from that time to our time, there have been at least three or four more great harvests of these digital natives.

What is a digital native?

The term was coined by Marc Prensky who used in his work Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants published in 2001 (it can be easily found online). According to Prensky, a person who is born and raised in the midst of the digital revolution, nursed by video games, computer games and the Internet is a digital native and consequently everyone else is a digital immigrant. It is basically an analogy to native language speakers and non-native language speakers.

Think of our young students, whose parents only had time and means to raise one or two children and who had to work all day to make ends meet. These new generations grew up in big cities where there were not that many parks to play in or friends to play with. Who do you think their friends were?

Digital natives are able to quickly adapt to new software and software changes simply because these changes follow their own logics as primary users. A digital native thinks if (A+B)/D equals C, then C times B equals A+B, and (A+B)/C equals D and surprise, it works. Do they do it consciously? As it happens with language, most of the time they are not conscious of what they do. They just do it, which is why a native cannot teach unless they are trained to do so. And who knows more about teaching than us teachers?

This is why it is so important that teachers review their curricula, approaches and educational tools to include ICT use in their classroom and beyond their classroom whenever possible. Teaching through the use of new technologies does not mean forgetting all you know about teaching, it really means embracing a set of new and innovative tools that can help you improve your connection with students and their connection with each other and the world.

The new internet, the Web 2.0, has so much to offer that it would be a shame if you and your students missed it just because you are afraid of computers. Think of your computer as a window in your apartment. A window is not interesting in itself, what's interesting is what you are able to see through it.
A computer with no connection to the Internet is like having a wall right in front of your window. The Internet is the landscape, the birds, the mountains, the neighbors, their activities, or anything you think is interesting.
Good News
And there is good news: Web 2.0 is all about making new friends. Neighbors are screaming out what they are doing every second and inviting you to join them. So you can’t use a certain software. No problem; the guys @4A can help you. Internet 2.0 is like a huge hippie town in which everyone has something to say, show or share.
Come on! Don´t be scared and join us. Then, we can all become digitally literate teachers.

Welcome to D.I.Teachers!

My name is Jesús Bastidas (hereinafter “The Digitally Illiterate”) and this is my blog.

I created this space for two reasons. One, I had to. As part of the course I am taking on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), I had to create a blog through which I shared ideas, thoughts, findings and other things I’d learned. And two, since every day there is some new application or a new social network of some kind, and since information and knowledge travel faster than ever before, it becomes of major importance for us teachers to be up-to-date with both technology and knowledge.

As language teachers, we should be both trainers and entertainers. In my opinion, learning is easier if you learn while being amused, while getting involved. I just cannot focus if I am bored. Keeping the learner/audience pumped all the time, however, is a very hard thing to achieve and many times we do not succeed. This is when technology might come in handy.

It might not be them, it might be you
Whenever we teachers get together you can hear us complain about our students and how they just do not seem to have the slightest interest in learning anything from you. The problem, I think, is that we tend to forget our context in time, and more important, that we were students once.

We are in the midst of a communication revolution. Every day we are forced to process consciously or unconsciously thousands and thousands of messages. This, to my belief, is changing the way we see things. It is even changing the way we learn and how much time we are willing to invest in learning. Today´s learner does not behave the same way you and me did ten or even five years ago, especially if you are dealing with young learners who are used to do homework, listen to music, text message, and check their Facebook and Twitter friend’s status all at the same time and with relative accuracy. If you do not see the world through a hundred windows at a time, at least try it or they will surely log out on your class and more specifically they will log out on you: the digitally illiterate teacher.

So join me and other D.I.Teachers in this quest for digital knowledge that will keep us in our student´s trending topics.