VoiceThread’s Great Promises

It’s now common knowledge that technological tools, software and programs have taken the classroom learning experience to another level. The students of today’s generation have never lived in a world without the Internet, unlike most of us teachers, and it significantly forged their interests and learning strategies. With respects to one’s teaching style and preferences , it’s undoubtable that progress from teacher-centred, archaic grammar teaching methods need to be done. Fortunately, ICTs await for us.

Among the mist of new technologies available to a teacher, one can be a little overwhelmed. The lack of experience, support or inspiration might soon cause conflict with the best intentions. A good place to start for someone who wishes to integrate ITCs in the classroom is to start with VoiceThread. VoiceThread is a platform on the Web 2.0 designed to help user collaborate, communicate, create and share content online. One of its main advantage over the other similar platforms, is that it provides an easy to use collaborative environment for learners.  VoiceThread allows its users to post images, documents (word, excel, power point) and even videos and arrange them into a slide show. Moreover, the students will record their voice over their presentation, thus covering the speech production part of an evaluation. On her side, the teacher can add comments to each slide and leave vocal or even video recorded feedback. They can make the VoiceThread public, if for instance they want to emphasize a sense of community and exchange among the students, or simply private for individual evaluations. 

One of VoiceThread’s best assets is its flexibility. Having used it in my field, ESL teaching, I quickly realized it can ben applied to any subject and to practically any group size. Here are a few instances.

Language art: When covering different theme, era or genres in literature, an experienced teacher could ask her students to go online and select a series of images that are representative of the Victorian era for instance. To take this a step further, you could ask them to comment verbally their pictures, or videos, and create links between the content seen in class the their references. 

Culture and ESL teaching: If an ESL teacher wants to raise his students awareness of the various cultures composing the world English-speaking community, he could ask them to visually represent the customs, pop culture and habits of the Scottish or the Kiwis per say. With a relatively exhaustive research online, students can learn more about sub-categories  composing the foreign culture while increasing their proficiency in English. 

Before concluding, it’s important to remind ourself that using ICTs, and in this case VoiceThread, is known to promote student engagement, increase motivation and eventually enhance the benefits of the learning experience for all students. That is not to say that ICTs should be use in all contexts, but it is time to start thinking of active ways in which we could bring these useful tools into the classroom to diversify the learning experience, make it more interactive and finally adapt our teaching to the students’ interests. 

If you enjoyed learning more about VoiceThread, I suggest you read or watch some of the following links. 

 

VoiceThread Website: http://voicethread.com

VoiceThread for education: http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com

7 things to know about VoiceThread: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7050.pdf

Comment a Voicethread: http://anglais.spip.ac-rouen.fr/spip.php?article191

Using VoiceThread: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U1wlRrKyyk

 

 

Interactive White Board in the Classroom

Although interactive white boards (IWB) have been around since 1991, they only recently became a central component of the 21st century classroom. Combining a dry eraser white board, with a LCD projector connected to a computer, the device is the corner stone of a blooming world wide industry of a US1.5 billion dollars. While an estimate of one in every seven classes has a IWB around the world, the government of Québec insured that every public school in the province had one, if not every classroom. But how exactly do IWBs change the classroom? Are they just a trend, or do they really hold the key for a greater, more interactive way of learning? 

Firstly, IWBs are devices that facilitate the use of new medias in the classroom. Hooked up on a computer, it gives direct access of internet in the classroom, which is nothing new in itself, but its display on a screen opens the door for a world of readily accessible resources such as youtube, viméo, pinterest, prezi and countless more. Beside the various softwares already available on the computer, IWBs companies created their own repertoire of softwares, thus diversifying the teaching methods and giving them a new twist. For instance, when teaching math, a teacher has access of readily accessible rulers, calculator and measuring instruments. It also became easy to correct an homework in class. Instead of the good old overhead, the teacher can simply screen a PDF version of the homework and ask students to come to the board and write down their answer with the appropriate IWB pen. Basic multiple answer choices, polling option and sophisticated clickers are among the incredible variety of resources this device holds, and a great deal of websites now present L.E.S. based on its use, notwithstanding all the youtube tutorials

Now, that’s the big deal isn’t it? Well, yes and no. On the one hand, IWB actually are incredible tool. They do offer outstanding possibilities and facilitate greatly the presentation of new content. Moreover, with today’s students, brining new technologies and aiming for high interactivity quickly became essential for any teacher that doesn’t want to be left behind for his archaic methods. However, as some research suggest that the use of IWB affect significantly the classroom dynamic, the students’ motivation and foremost the interactivity at the beginning of its introduction into a new classroom, its effect wears off relatively quickly. Indeed, of the the main argument in favour of the IWB, its positive effect on students’ motivation, is said to wear off once the students are used the new device. Its usefulness isn’t contested, but accordingly once the students got over the excitement created by the renewal, motivation come back to normal.

I personally think that IWBs are a giant leap towards the good direction. I gladly used it during my fourth practicum and it made my job much easier. For instance, correcting homework by simply screening it on the board, highlighting important part of a text, screening videos and whatnot offered me wonderful opportunities. But I wasn’t so comfortable with it. I new and used the device well, but I hated being stuck up front of the class. I was confined there and wished I could walk around AND use the smartboard. I wanted an AppleTv connected to my Ipad wish would have suited my teaching style much more.

This being said, what could at the same time enhance students’ motivation, the interactivity in class and offers easily accessible resources? Well, the use of tablets might. An elementary school in Beauce, Southern Québec, once had among the lowest rating in terms of students’ average. After raising a significant amount of money through donations and subventions from the government, the school board of this elementary took to bold decision of buying an Ipad for every students in the school. After a year of adjustment, the device was finally and sucessfully integrated to the classroom. According to the article, after only 3 years the students graduating from this elementary school were among the top 3 in the ministry test for the whole area of Beauce. Moreover, the general average of their students went up of 17% and the failing rate went down nearly 3%. Even though a deeper analysis of this topic is material for another blog entry, the article suggested that this device, along with the use of an IWB, might be the key to enhance students’ motivation, their autonomy in learning, to develop higher cognitive skills, to increase their level of reinvestment and to maximize the interactivity in the classroom.

Pinterest in the Classroom

In the mist of all the social networks offered on the Web, a teacher can wrongly underestimate the educational potential held by these endless resources. While different schools of thoughts have argued on both sides concerning the use of Facebook and Twitter in the classroom, it seems relevant to consider a new up and coming social media called “Pinterest“.

While the essence of “Pinterest” is similar to Facebook, connecting with people and sharing ideas, the platform through which it’s done offers a totally different experience for the user. On “Pinterest”, the focus isn’t solely on the users, their thoughts or their comments, it’s purpose is more in relation to their hobbies, interests and their willingness to connect with people with similar backgrounds. Accordingly, “Pinterest” users can deepens their interests, get inspiration and broaden their perspective on a wide variety of subjects.

Before getting any further with the possibilities “Pinterest” holds in the classroom, it seems worth it to explain briefly the way it works. As a social network platform, “Pinterest” allow it users to upload pictures, videos and other media content, therefore known as “Pins”, and arrange them in theme-related collections on a “board”. Once their boards are created, users can “repin” other users’ post, “like” and comments them and also share them via their Facebook or Twitter profile. It’s user friendly and it’s known to be very inspiring for anyone who wants to connect with people with similar interests.

Intrigued by this new trend, I went online, tried it, and decided to find out how this new platform could be used in the classroom. To start with, the first use that comes to my mind is educator using it to share their lesson plan. It’s an easy-to-use and highly interactive way to post links for further references. Arranging them by subjects and content, a teachers can give access to an incredible amounts of new information with just a few clicks. Moreover, an experienced educator could also create a “Pinterest” board for the group where all new assignments and announcements are made. Amongst themselves, teachers can use it to share new content, such as articles, videos and new resources, but also brainstorm about a new project. Concerning the students, the possibilities are almost endless. Students working on a group project can sometimes work independently and pin ideas on the board of their group to create a collage and leaves each others’ feedbacks and comments. Later on, this same page could also be used as a visual support during the oral presentation of their project. In a context where students are being exposed to new content and developing their opinion, they can use this platform to share their views and preferences in a given field, may it be art, cuisine or cinema. Here’s a link with suggestions concerning activities to do in the classroom.

One of “Pinterest’s” greatest advantages lie in its user-friendliness and its wide accessibility. It’s easy to share, manage and is highly interactive, thus creating a stimulating learning environment for the students. The sense of being an individual in a sharing community not only reinforces the cohesion and the dynamic of the group, but also increases the students’ intrinsic motivations and allows learning to take place amongst high order cognitive skills and outside the classroom.