Issuu

With the venue of the Internet, we often feel we’ve seen it all. It might by my lack of imagination, but it seems to me as if there are websites for everything, from music editing to apps creation, and that it must be pretty hard to come up with the next big thing online. Damn Zuckerberg… However, as I was surfing through the web to find new ideas for my ESL teaching class, I stumbled upon a very inspiring new platformIssuu­. Issuu is an online sharing community, an endless source of new information, but solely it is a platform that enables you to create an incredibly looking magazine out of your old PDFs.

Indeed, Issuu is a free online platform, also available for Ipad, on which you can read, publish, distribute, print and share your magazine via the Web and the social medias. While creating and editing a magazine might sound incredibly puzzling, they made it very simple. You simply upload a PDF version of your document, select the frame and look you wish to use and it will automatically tranfer to the desired format. Then you can play around with the fronts, the margins and titles. To make you article visually appealing, you can easily add pictures, graphics and scribbles.

As far as teaching implications are going, one can set up a WebQuest and ask you students to create an short Issuu magazine on a given subject. For instance, with high school students about to graduate and go to college, you can ask them to organize a magazine discussing the different branches of their future specialization in College. Let’s say one goes to nursing school, the content of their magazine would touch upon matters such as the different subcategories of nursing, the issues and problematic surrounding it, the values of the profession, research and so on. I would be a very interesting way for them to reinvest their language skills and apply them to something that’s useful as well and meaningful to them.

Here are other ideas:
Create an online magazine about historical, scientific, or literary events or people
Compile creative writing activities and publish as a literary magazine
Students can create an electronic portfolio of their artwork or writing
Publish instructions and handouts for assignments for student access
Create “how-to” guides for technology you use in class
Upload a copy of your syllabus and post a link on your class webpage, blog or wiki

If you wish to simply learn more about new teaching methods and the field of education in general, you can also skim through in the education section of Issuu. Moreover, there are even dozens of online L.E.S.s available on this platforms.

As cool as blogging is, I really think Issuu will grow significantly in the next few years, particularly because of its versatility, its interface and the blooming community that is starting to grow around it.

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Skype Opens up the Learning Experience

I was introduced to Skype some 6 years ago. At the time, I was involved in a long distance relationship with a charming Californian girl studying ballet in Rome, Italy. Thanks to Skype, the the Atlantic ocean and the 4000 miles in between our home weren’t preventing us to have a little talk before going to bed. Only the language barrier was left to overcome. However, as I recently offered myself to teach French to a few American College students in the Area of Seattle, I quickly had to consider the means I could use to teach with such a great distance between me and and my students. My first reflex was to look if Skype could suit my needs, and I was glad to discover this free software had gotten even more to offer.  

Indeed, Skype has significantly evolved.

Originally, you could use Skype to call another user and use your the camera of your computer to film simultaneously your discussion. Pretty much like a computer version of what people of the 60’s thought telephones would be like by the year two-thousand. You could also, and still can, email, send text messages and call from your computer to a telephone for the ridiculously low price of about 1 cent a minute. But now, it’s even more. With its new branch, Skype Education enables the teacher to open up his classroom to the world, to share, connect and communicate with other professionals in the field.

Their Website in wonderfully conceived. With Webpages for pretty much every school subject, Skype Education offers a wide variety of readily available lessons. If you’re an ESL teacher just like me, you can record your lessons on Skype and make them available from anywhere for your students. Moreover, because oral interaction is always better, you can obviously have a one on one conversation with your student to explain certain notions, help her practice or simply answer her questions. You can also video-conference with as many as 25 people, basically a whole class where each students are in the comfort of their own living room. I can also be used as a forum for students to practice with native speakers. In certain areas, rare are the opportunities to have an authentic engaging discussion with a native speaker of the language you’re learning, with Skype it’s readily accessible for free. Opportunities to use Skype in the classroom are as diverse as they are enriching for the students.

With the great improvements made by Skype in the last few years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see its popularity growing considerably in the near future. Beside the potential it holds in terms of its diversity of classroom activities, one of Skype’s greatest strengths is that it takes the learning experience outside of the classroom and it globalizes it. For students of a generation that are used to use technology on a daily basis, enabling them to connect with others for free is a wonderful opportunity for them to widen their horizons while developing their proficiency in L2.

New Technologies in a Student Centered Classroom: The Next Logical Step

I think most of you will agree when I say that on a socio-economical level, one of the sole purpose of education is to prepare the next generation for the needs of tomorrow’s society. Accordingly, the way the classroom is organized currently was meant to suit the needs of a society that has now relatively evolved. Some people say today’s educational system is broken and frankly I don’t quite agree. It’s actually wonderfully designed, but we need to readjust it to better suit the interest, the needs and the goals of today’s students. In other words, we need to use technology to slowly switch from a teacher centred to a student centred classroom. Here’s a practical example of what I mean.

Given the proper support, students of this current generation can accomplish an awful lot TIC. They simply grew up with it. When I recently set up a travel blog project with some of my core secondary five students, I was surprised at how little technical support I had to offer, only guidance throughout the project was necessary. The project, concluding the unit 3 of Finishing Touch untitled “Road Trip”, was for them to plan a week-long road trip from Vancouver to California. They had to go online and plan everything, from the car renting to acommodation and activities. For each day, they needed to have a blog entry explaining everything they did and comment their experience and they would be evaluated on the relevance of their research, the accuracy of the language use and overall presentation of the project. It would end with a brief in-class presentation in team. This project turned out to be a great success in many ways. For the first time, students were actually working efficiently in team and were constantly on task and using the L2 during their teamwork. They were intrigued, interesting, deeply involved and their final products, their blog and their presentation, were of great quality. It was quite a different experience for me as well, bit of a break from the more lethargic, teacher centred classroom I usually lead. This is exactly what I had in mind when I wanted to use technology to shift from a teacher focused to a student centred classroom.

It might not seem like reinventing the wheel, but these slight changes in the classroom style are greatly beneficial. Firstly, my role as a teacher has changed significantly. Instead of being the sole transmitter of knowledge, I was acting as a reference and a supporter of the students’ learning experience. My job was to guide them, inspire them, help them enhance their resourcefulness. Consequently the learning style is also much different. It has become an autonomous learning experience, a longer-lasting learning experience. Something else to be considered is the significant increase in motivation among students. Given high-interest topics, such as the “Road Trip” project, students’ motivation is significantly increased because they can actually relate to the concepts, the goals and the concrete applications underlying it.

Yes indeed, a certain level of adjustment is necessary from both the students and the teacher, but at the end of the day, you’ll all be winning. The advantages of the students’ side were covered briefly here-above, but as a teacher think about it. You ‘ll rarely have to give long lethargic lectures to a class of unmotivated students. Classroom management is different, one the students are on task, you simply need to supervise and support them. You’re voice will be rested, you’ll save yourself from these migraines you started having after a few periods and your class will be much easier to manage because students will actually be motivated to work. You don’t know much about new technologies? Well there are plenty of tutorials on youtube and there are always two or three geeks in a class that will be willing to have their 15 minutes of fame and help you! Believe me, motivation is undoubtedly the greatest of trigger for a positive spiral of interest and motivation leading to work well done.

This being said, wether or not you’re familiar with new technologies, it is imperative that we become more aware of the potential their use hold in the classroom. They hold the key to a new, more suitable classroom environment for today’s generation and denying it would not only lead to significant failures in our educational system, but to discrepancies between the academic formation of tomorrow’s generations and the needs of the job market in the near future.

For Evernotes

As a university student who recently made the bold and expensive move of buying an iPad, I had to rethink all of the logistic of my academic life. For instance, instead of going at the end of town to buy the books for my literature class, I simply started to buy their cheaper and easier to carry versions Ebook on Amazon.com. Same with the rest of the stuff I’ve been carrying in my heavy-loaded backpack, pens, pencils and notebooks have been replaced by just a few apps. For instance, one the app I used the most, both as an ESL teacher and as student, is Evernotes.

In a nutshell, Evernotes is a note-taking application that greatly facilitates the creation, the classification and the sharing of your notes. With this app, available for only 5$ on Apple Store, you can create different files for everyone of your classes, projects and documents. While basics Word options are available, such as different fronts, highlighting and colours, you can also instantly add a picure either from your library or one you’ve juste taken with your iPad. Pictures you can then add into your note page for your better understanding. The voice recording option comes useful when you want to record a lecture at a conference or from a teacher.

As an ESL teacher I also found quite a few interesting applications in education to this apps. For instance, when evaluating my students’ oral presentations, I would open a PDF version of my evaluation grid in Evernotes, and take note directly on it as they are presenting. I would open an evaluation grid that would then become my note-taking page for every single one of their presentations. Moreover, because I had the chance of having many iPads at my disposition, I would place one on everytable where they had their discussion and I would activate the recording via Evernotes. It would enable me to insure that the students were constantly interacting in English and allow me to listen back to some presentations whenever I wasn’t sure I had properly evaluated them. It would also prevent me from having to justify a bad grade to the parents, I had proof their kid hadn’t participate well enough during the oral interaction.         

But Evernotes I actually much more than that. As it is constantly growing, it’s becoming a platform similar to Google Drive, but for iPads and iPhones. It allows you to synchronize all of you notes from one of your device to another and facilitates their transfer to another person with the same apps. Although I’m aware that other similar apps are available on iStore, Evernotes is clearly fast growing and with the variety of tools and other apps it connects with, it opens a new world of possibilities waiting to be exploited.

With Google Drive, the Dog Can’t Eat your Homework anymore.

I recently realized the extend of the progression technology made during the time lapse of my college years. I started college in 2007, when Facebook was still something and about to become the next big thing, and along with the emergence of other online social medias, an incredibly variety of websites, online storing softwares and incredibly efficient devices. What actually triggered that “technological epiphany” was a very unfortunate computer breakdown. When my computer bailed on me in the middle of a semester, I had lost all of my Word Office tools and I needed to bounce back quickly.But in the meantime, the reason I had to give to my teacher for not turning in my homework on time was « A virus messed up my computer», a aka a modern equivalent of «the dog ate my homework». When I went online, on google, to find a free equivalent to Word Office to wrap up my essays, I found Google Drive almost instantly. It literally saved my academic life, spared my student budget from eating peanut butter for the months to come and significantly simplified the tasks to come.

Seeing how free of charge , easy-to-use and readily available Google Drive is, I decided to deepen my research and try to find ways in which I could include it into my teaching. But firstly, let us make sure we’re all on the same page. Google’s drive catchy phrase is “Keep everything, share everything”, and it summarizes it well. Google drive is an online platform gathering all the softwares of Word Office. Accordingly, you can create word documents, excel sheets, power point presentations as well as edit and organize your pictures and music. All of this for free, all you need is to create a google account. Beside these freely accessible functions, the beauty of Google Drive is that you can share them with your co-workers and you can all edit them simultaneously, as if working from the same computer. Believe me, that makes teamwork incredibly more productive. All you need to organize and share your documents is drag and drop and they’ll be accessible from any other device.

What about its use for education? Surprisingly enough, there isn’t much on the Web about the use of Google Drive, or at least whatever is out there is quite redundant. Firstly, as we all know that buying a license to use Word Office in a school is incredibly expensive, all of its components are all accessible for free via Google Doc. All the school needs are computers. To facilitate the exchanges and collaboration among the students, one can set up a WebQuest project where they would create a document and work simultaneously on it. On any given theme, such a project could not only have paper version, such as an outline, but also include a Power Point presentation involving online pictures and video during the oral presentation. All of which could be orchestrated via Google Drive. Looking for a simpler activity? Then work on some creative writting by putting them into teams of four, and ask them to open a Word document and write a 200 word long story by writting a sentence one after the other. Believe me, it’s a lot of fun and it gets them to work on their creative skills and English proficiency!

Without necessary being an inspiring tool to create new learning and evaluating new projects in the classroom, Google Drive is a worderful platform allowing both the teacher and the students, easily share, connect and store their information online. Its wide accessibility as well and its freeness make it an ideal tool to use in the classroom. As a facilitators to your studying and your teaching, with Google Drive even the excuse “my dog ate my homework” is not longer good..!

Multitasking Your Way on a Daily Basis

We’ve all been there, either in class, at work or on a date, well-focused and interested and then suddenly your phone vibrates.. Whether it’s a Tweet, a FB notification, an email from work or simply a text from your friend, the temptation is often too overwhelming to resist. But that’s alright, you’re an accomplished multitasker. After all, you’ve been answering your email while listening to a conference or listening to music while going through files forever and that never failed you. So you thought.

As a side effect of the overly technological world in which we live, we all multitask to a certain extend. But are we really mindful of the repercussions it has our productivity? Firstly let us agree on what multitasking actually is. As defined in Psychology Today, you’re multitasking when you’re accomplishing two tasks simultaneously. Seems broad enough of a definition, but according the same website, there are two underlying conditions. The first one is that at least one of the tasks needs to be so well-learned that it is an automatism, like running or eating. The other condition is that they need to involve different types of brain processing. For instance, you could read while listing to classical music, or run while listening to a podcast because both activities are soliciting different areas of the brain. However, it is suggested in that same article that listening to music with lyrics in a language you master while reading in that same language severely impedes one’s understanding. Accordingly, if you’re a self-proclaimed multi-tasker because you recite Dante’s Inferno while reading its meta-analysis with the latest record of the Black Keys on, you might not get much out of it. Sad but true.

Upon reading several articles, I recently discovered that I was actually a ‘serial-tasker‘, and you might very well be on the same boat. Rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks, serial-tasker will rapidly shift from one to another. You’ll read a little, then go update your status on Facebook, go back to your readings before sending a quick text to you lover. You dive into something for a short time before stepping out briefly and getting back into it, and that’s incredibly counterproductive. Indeed some researches suggest that you brain needs a certain time to adapt to the new task and that by switching from one to another you lose an awful lot of time, cognitive energy and focus. They go as far as suggesting that it takes up to 40% more time to accomplish something than if you were single-tasking.

Now I could mention countless studies supporting the fact that multitasking, or serial-tasking’ and they would all lead to the same conclusions: less efficient, less productive, not as well-done. Consequently, even in a world filled with distractive new technologies, you need to single task. It doesn’t imply not to use technology, but reprogram your mind to focus, prioritize and commit to only one thing. When you’ll have focused on one thing for long enough, then you can reward yourself with a little facebooking or watch the newly released video of Lana Del Rey on youtube…

Apps for Teachers: TeacherTool vs TeacherKit

Ironically enough, I debated on blogging about the use of the Ipad in the classroom for a long time. Although using such device on a regular basis will always be a work in progress, the months of research I’ve invested got me to feel confident using it in the classroom as a teacher. Accordingly, my reluctance to write about is wasn’t merely based on my competency, but more on the fact that this post could go endlessly, in very various directions, and I wouldn’t even be close to summarize the opportunities that such a great device holds. 

Anyhow, for this post I intend to focus more of the various apps one could use to manage her classroom. When I first start as a teacher, I felt ready to go out there and teach. I felt like I had the teaching skills to popularize complex notions to my students and the strong will to captivate them. However I was terrified by all the logistics of the classroom. My head was already filled with mental notes as it was, I didn’t see how I could find more space to remember that I needed to verify Jimmy’s homework, to get Anna’s signature and to bring an extra copy of the homework for Sam who’s missing the next two classes. Although I eventually developed my own system, I must say that apps such as “Teacher Tool” and “Teacher Kit” helped my get everything together. 

Both apps (available on Itune on full and demo version) offer a wide range of tools for teacher of every level. Firstly, they allow you to create a classroom in which every student has a profile with categories such as remarks, reminders, marks, comments, student’s email, parents’ email and even a profile picture. Once you’ve created your class with a profile for every of your students, you can then arrange them in a sitting plan. A very useful way of remembering everyone’s name before the term hasn’t even started yet!

A very useful functionality I quickly discovered was to take the attendance with it.  To do so, you simply click on the students that are late or absent and once you’re finished it will automatically send an email with all of these informations to the secretary or even the parents. It also keeps tracks of the total of absence and stores it in the student’s profile. 

When comes the end of the term, it’s always a hassle to get all the results from your grade-book to the school’s website. With any of these two apps, although “Teacher Tool” works better for this, it becomes much easier. For every competency you have to evaluate, you can create subcategories for every evaluation and give them the total and the weight you wish. It will also automatically calculate your average, transfer the grade to A,B,C,D or E, and highlights students with difficulties. There’s also a comment section for every evaluation. 

In all honesty, even though both apps are great, “Teacher Tool” has much more to offer than “TeacherKit”. While in the grade book section “TeacherKit” doesn’t allow you to create distinct competencies in which you can enter the results of your evaluations, “Teacher Tool” does so amazingly well and offers great ramification of every grade you might have taken. Although I must admit “TeacherKit’s” user-friendliness keeps it nice and simple, one used to “Teacher Tool” functions will be able to gather all of his grade-books, comments, reminders and important messages in only one device. That makes me wonder how people managed before these apps came out!