5 minutes of Feedly | EFLtalks

feedly.png

I did a 10×10 (10 slides over 10 minutes) presentation at yesterday’s EFLtalks Business event. It was a lot of fun and some of the other speakers were very interesting. I particularly enjoyed Rob Szabo and Pete Sharma’s talks.

I talked about how I use a news aggregator app called Feedly with Business English and ESP learners. I work with a lot of professionals from technology and consulting organisations in India. A recurring need they experience is engaging in small talk with their global stakeholders because their conversations tend to be extremely transactional – focused almost solely on project deliverables.

The EFL perception of small talk is that it’s about things like the weather and the weekend. But in business in general and in consulting in particular, small talk is often about what’s happening in your industry. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your credibility and expertise, develop a good working relationship and potentially deepen customer accounts because you might be able to cross-sell services in future. So, there are clearly benefits to this kind of small talk to both the individual and the organisation.

My learners find talking about what’s happening in their industry and the business world challenging because they rarely read. Continuing professional development doesn’t exist and information flows in a top down manner in training programmes and through communication from leadership. They’re often subscribed to role-based emails that curate articles but these tend to be full of internal thought leadership (read propaganda) which can give people a flawed view of developments in their sector.

Feedly aggregates updates from different sites. So once you’ve done the initial legwork of populating and organising your ‘feeds’, it becomes an easy way of reviewing what’s happening in your industry as well as parallel sectors. In this presentation, I’ve suggested some activities using Feedly which mirror the sorts of tasks people do at work. By incorporating tasks that get learners to use Feedly on their phones or laptops, they develop the habit of staying on top what’s happening in the business world in a way that’s quick and efficient.

Here’s a slightly modified version of the presentation I used for the EFLTalks Business event.

You can find out more about EFLtalks from its site (it’s temporarily offline), its YouTube channel and Facebook group.  Alternatively, you could also connect with its founder, Rob Howard.

Advertisements

Going paperless with OneNote

OneNote

Over the weekend, I presented at a professional development event in Chennai – Perspectives in Business English Training – hosted by ELTAI BESIG and Ethiraj College. We had Evan Frendo from IATEFL BESIG as our keynote speaker. Here’s a summary of my presentation on going paperless with OneNote.


I started exploring OneNote a few years ago in response to some conclusions I arrived at after reflecting on my ESP courses.

  • We use too much paper in Business English and ESP courses: the difference between the volume of paper handouts we use and the amount of paper that’s used in a large digitally driven organisation has only become more pronounced over the years. I recall walking past a series of meeting rooms with glass walls to the one that I was training in at the end of the corridor for an in-company workshop. All the other rooms were filled with people busy on their laptops, smartphones and at the whiteboard. I don’t think there was a single piece of paper in any of them. My room was the only one swamped by paper handouts.
  • Our courses don’t reflect the realities of the workplace and workplace communication: whether it’s in terms of the amount of paper we use, or the limited way in which we use technology, Business English and ESP courses are often divorced from how communication occurs in the workplace. Evan Frendo in a BESIG webinar once spoke about the tendency for teachers to ask students to stand and deliver presentations when the great majority of presentations at work are delivered sitting down and often over the phone.
  • Even millenials or digital natives need support with using technology meaningfully and resourcefully at work: we assume that young people are on top of tech. This isn’t necessarily true particularly when it comes to mapping the affordances of digital tools that are available at work to their communicative needs.
  • Texts within courses and training programs don’t reflect the multimodal nature of texts at work: coursebook texts are quite different than the range of texts that working professionals encounter which include multiple genres within a single text type, data, images, infographics, video, audio, hyperlinks, embedded social media, all of which are underscored by intertextuality (how texts connect and speak to each other).
  • Written tasks at work are often collaborative but written tasks in the classroom are usually done individually: I can’t generalize and say this is true for everyone. Certainly, when I think of a typical email writing task on my courses, I don’t usually set it up as pair or group work. But even emails are often written collaboratively by teams in meetings – not to mention other sorts of documents such as presentations, proposals and reports which often have multiple authors.

But it was a specific event that led me to OneNote. Four years ago, I was teaching a course that focused on improving communication in meetings and it also included some on-the-job coaching. One of the outcomes we focused on was getting learners to produce useful minutes/notes during the meeting. I got them to watch a lot of videos and participate in simulations, and write up minutes on flipcharts with colourful markers. By the end of the course, the walls of the room were covered with rainbow coloured ‘minutes’ in large writing. I was feeling very pleased with myself.

Later that week I found myself observing a meeting with three of these learners. It also included some attendees who’d joined in telephonically as well as a client who’d been dialed in. Interestingly, all three of my learners were taking notes in different ways. The first was using the Notepad application on his laptop. Notepad has no text wrap or formatting so he was essentially writing one long sentence across his screen. The second learner had an Outlook message open and he was typing the notes directly as an email. He even had all the attendees’ and the client’s email addresses filled in the To: field; presumably to send the notes the minute the meeting got over. The third learner didn’t have his laptop with him. Instead, he was writing in a physical notebook. Halfway through the meeting, the second learner suddenly put up his hands and started to apologise profusely – he’d accidentally sent the email with half-written barely understandable notes to everyone. He then went to his Sent items folder and opened the message, and started writing in it again! And all this while, his colleagues continued to make their own notes and the other virtual attendees were conceivably making their own notes.

I saw a need and a opportunity – and a definite gap in the way I was approaching course design and delivery. I needed to

  • Make in-class tasks more authentic
  • Mirror real life tech use
  • Build digital literacy along with language and soft skills
  • Allow for collaboration
  • Reflect the multimodal nature of work.

My research took me to OneNote, a relatively unknown application in the Microsoft suite. OneNote comes bundled with Microsoft Office which means a lot of people already have access to a licensed version without realising it. It’s certainly on most work systems that have Microsoft Office. OneNote also has a free app for mobiles and tablets although it restricts you to a maximum of 500 notes.

Initially, I only focused on getting my learners to use OneNote to take meeting notes. But I soon discovered what a versatile tool it is. It lets you record audio, draw, research, organise, and collaborate among other things. One of my favourite features is Insert stickers which lets you personalize stickers and use them to give quick feedback for written work. I also like the web-clipper which is a button that gets added to your browser and is an easy way to collect links, articles etc. This can be really useful for web quests with a bit of learner training. The best part is that it’s easy to share a Notebook with your learners and get them to work collaboratively on it either using the OneNote mobile app or on their laptops.

You’ll find more ideas in this presentation which is a slightly modified version of the slides I used for the session.

OneNote also has an additional Class Notebook add-in which is specifically designed for education with lots of useful tools. Unfortunately, this version is only available for people who have Microsoft Office for Education which in turn is only available to those in the formal education sector.

Kialo for the classroom | edtech

Kialo 5.png

I hate ads on Twitter but then again I wouldn’t have got to know about Kialo were it not for their pushy advertising. You’ve probably seen them (and perhaps dismissed them as well). Kialo claims to be a civilised alternative to Twitter; its tagline is ’empowering reason’. Well that remains to be seen.

But it’s got some features that immediately lend themselves to classroom application.

This is how it works. There are a number of questions (not sure if the existing ones are supplied by the platform or by users but you can start your own discussion) which users can respond to by contributing pros and cons like this topical one on gun control in the US.

Kialo classroom 1.png

When you click on the plus sign next to Pros or Cons, you get to enter your own claim in a box. The interesting feature here is that Kialo checks for duplicate claims that have already been introduced into this argument. Notice the strategic use of words like ‘claim’ and ‘suggest’. Kialo 2.png

You can vote on claims and also add comments. As the argument expands, users may generate pros and cons for pros and cons and as you navigate the ‘hierachy’ of the argument, it starts branching. For example, This argument on veganism has branched off into off into a related but separate topic.

Kialo 3.png

Another interesting feature is that all new discussions are private by default – so you can invite users using their Kialo usernames or email IDs to participate in the discussion. You can also, of course, make the discussion public.

I train trainers/teachers who run exam preparatory classes with a focus on IELTS – I can see some ways of using this tool for activities that introduce learners to skills required for Part 2 of the writing section. It has however broader application at the secondary and tertiary levels and may be useful in an EAP context.

Here are some ideas I noted down:

  • Set up a question as a private discussion and invite students to contribute to it as homework. Get them to respond to the claims of their peers.
  • Get learners to ask a new question as a public discussion on Kialo, observe how the argument evolves over the course of a week or two weeks, and then report back either in an oral presentation or in a written report/summary.
  • Ask learners to study the pros and cons in an existing argument on Kialo and write an argumentative essay. They could also focus on only the pros or the cons and write a persuasive piece.
  • Get learners to follow the links supplied by contributors and fact check the reliability of sources.
  • Run a mini debate, get learners to note down key points on the board and then ask them to review an existing argument on Kialo and see if these points have already been covered and what sort of counter-arguments and evidence has been suggested. This could become a speaking-to-reading-to-speaking lesson.
  • Ask learners to skim the pros and cons in an argument and report back on the prevailing view if there is one and how they came to this conclusion.
  • Get learners to make educated guesses about what claims might have been made in response to a question or a pro or con that sits under it.

The discussions currently hosted on Kialo are focused on topics relevant to the US. However as more users join, this might change.

Teaching Business English with Snapchat | Webinar summary

Image.jpg

I use a fairly wide range of social media tools but Snapchat isn’t among them (I just don’t get it) so I was intrigued by Shelly Terrell’s recent webinar on teaching Business English with Snapchat. There’s something wrong with the audio in the middle bit of the recording so I sort had to decipher it using the slides and an accompanying article.

The crux of Shelly’s case for using Snapchat with learners is that it’s very popular and the number four app download (According to Forbes, it has 160 million users and reaches a plurality of users in the 18-24 segment in the US) and the fact it has lots of features that allow users to focus on the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in a communicative way.

Snapchat features: adding friends, subscribing, photo chat, lenses, filters, stickers, draw, video chat, group chat, stories, snap map, custom stories, discover, our story

You can see where she’s going with this, but what about Business English? Shelly suggests that because Snapchat is international, learners can follow global events and look at snaps from people in a particular area and get insights. The example she shares involves studying non-verbal communication to get to know business stakeholders in Japan more effectively by exploring examples through people’s snaps.

She also believes that Snapchat promotes reading in segments with popular media channels like the Wired, Newsweek and Washington Post which apparently have interactive multimedia articles. Because of Snapchat’s format, media outlets are compelled to use small chunks of text with interactive images and video.

Some of the other benefits she cites include:

Learn from entrepreneurs

Study business culture in real time

Inside scoop on news and trends

Byte-sized authentic English

Understand the role personal branding

Connect with companies

Shelly references this article to suggest that following (some really obscure) business gurus on Snapchat might be a good idea but even the article introduces the topic by suggesting that well known business leaders like Elon Musk are unlikely to be on Snapchat. Some of the other things she suggests include how workplaces might be different, watching global conferences that business professionals you’ve followed may be sharing and exploring how organisations brand themselves on Snapchat. Shelly also touched on how HR Recruiters are using Snapchat to recruit potential employees – of course this is true for social media in general and not just Snapchat.

I tried to give Snapchat a go and attempted to follow some of the business-oriented media outlets such The Economist and WSJ that Shelly lists in her article.  I tried searching for these on Snapchat (which has an awful search function) but I couldn’t find most of them. So I tried looking for them in Google and adding them from there but this is the message I got:

Screenshot_20171018-111836

When I accessed the Discover feature within Snapchat, I got an extremely limited selection of generally tabloid-type media outlets to follow:

Screenshot_20171018-100223

I tried looking for Harvard Business Review, Strategy+Business, Deloitte, Bersin, Boston Consulting Group and Mckinsey but none of them seem to be on Snapchat. I did find a handle for Deloitte Singapore but it doesn’t look like it’s active.

I’m not convinced that Snapchat can be used to teach Business English or if it can, it’s still early days because there isn’t enough business content available on it yet. I see Shelly’s point about the immediacy of Snapchat content but it’s too random and unpredictable – it’s not like following a thought leader on Linkedin or a hashtag on Twitter. However, I think some of the Snapchat activities Shelly shares might be fun and effective in a General English course.

  • The T sets up a class account and gets students to add stories to it.
  • Students keep a vocabulary journal – Shelly’s idea is that they’d save snaps with Business English phrases but I think the probability of coming across those sorts of snaps is quite low. It might work for lexical items in general though. I’d adapt this idea to have students use vocabulary they’ve learnt in class by creating a snap that demonstrates real life use.
  • Annotation: Students can annotate a snap such as an article from CNN with text, emoticons, media etc. This might be an interesting way for them to process and/or respond to a news item. However, Shelly’s example with CNN wouldn’t work for me because like almost everything else in the Discover feature, it’s not available in my region.

From a first mover perspective, there are some interesting ideas in this webinar but I’m not sure how practical they are at the present moment. There are other apps such as Instagram which have similar features and have a stronger presence from the business community.

Audio QR codes with Vocaroo | AR in the classroom

Vocaroo_QR_Code_s0Ci7OCZfTLS.jpg

QR codes are the most basic form of Augmented Reality (AR) and can be easily integrated into a wide range of classroom activities. Last year, I blogged about using QR codes to run a jigsaw caselet task. The premise of exercises like the jigsaw caselet is that we take a piece of written text and place parts of it within a QR code to reduce cognitive load, increase engagement, and allow the learner to store the text on his or her device for future reference. However, QR codes don’t need to only be about reading – you can also use it for listening. Here’s how:

Vocaroo qr code.png

Vocaroo is a site that allows users to do audio recordings in three steps.

  1. Access Vocaroo and select ‘Click to Record’. You may need to allow access to your microphone if you get a pop-up.

Vocaroo ELT.png

2. When you select stop, you’ll get the following screen.  Select ‘Click here to save >>’

Vocaroo ELT 2.png

3. You’ll get lots of options. Select ‘QR Code’.

QR Code elt 3

4. The site will then generate a QR code as a PNG file which you can save and print.

vocaroo qr code 2.png

When students use their devices to scan the code (using a QR Code reader/scanner), they’ll be directed to the URL that contains the audio recording.

ELT qr code mobile.png

Using audio QR codes in the classroom

Differentiation in listening activities 

Listening lessons generally entail having all the learners listen to an audio clip in a situation closely controlled by the teacher. By placing the audio clip or clips within QR codes, we can give control to the learners and they can listen to it on their own devices as many times as they need to and pausing where they want to. From an activity that’s done collectively, we can transform it into a genuinely individual exercise which the learner can adjust based on his or her needs.

This allows us to offer learners choices in listening activities. Borrowing from Agnes Orosz idea of ‘support’, ‘medium challenge’ and ‘extra challenge’, learners can be asked to select a listening activity based on the level of challenge and then complete it by scanning the associated QR code and listening to it on their phones.

Micro-listening

Listening using QR codes is particularly effective for raising awareness of features of connected speech and spoken discourse. Micro-listening activities can sometimes be painful in whole class settings. But by having each learner use headphones on their own devices, we can facilitate micro-listening in a more meaningful way.

Pronunciation

I’ve shared this technique with some teachers who have suggested that they would use it to teach the pronunciation of individual words. I don’t think that’s a good use of your time because there are lot of existing sites and dictionary apps where learners can look up and listen to the pronunciation of words. However, it might be more useful for highlighting sentence stress or intonation. Students practise saying some sentences to each other and then scan a QR code stuck on the wall to check if the intonation pattern they used was similar or different to the one embedded in the code.

Integrating listening & reading 

A typical reading format we often use (or more accurately that coursebooks use) has several people sharing their ideas or experiences within captions next to their photographs. This could be made more multimodal by including a QR code that contains an audio recording of that person sharing some additional information. For example, students read about each person and answer an inference question and then listen to the recordings and validate their inferences.

Logistics

Unlike QR codes that have embedded text, audio QR codes require data services from the user’s mobile service provider of WiFi access.  Unless you’re using QR codes for pronunciation activities, it would make sense for students to use their headphones while they do the listening activities to avoid disturbing each other. This shouldn’t be too much of a challenge because students tend to carry their head or earphones around. Students need to download a QR Code Reader or Scanner to scan the codes. There are hundreds available in iTunes and the Google Play Store but some are plagued by ads. For android, I really like QR Code Reader by Scan which scans quickly and doesn’t have any ads.

Socrative SAQs | Formative assessments

Socrative.jpg

Lately, I’ve been using Socrative for formative assessments. While Kahoot is engaging and brings gamification into the classroom, it’s sometimes good to run a quiet student-paced assessment which Socrative enables you to do. The other advantage that Socrative has over Kahoot is that it offers multiple question types within the same test and it’s got multiple choice questions (MCQs), true or false and short answer questions (SAQs).

I like interspersing brief Socrative based interactions through lessons. Students get instant feedback and I can track their progress – and everything is happening on their own devices (using the Socrative Student App). It’s also a useful affordance to have the ability to capture longer responses from the students using the SAQ feature and when coupled with automated assessment, it’s potentially a very powerful tool

I’m going to be focusing on my experiences with using SAQs in this post.

Socrative question type.png

What really excited me about the SAQ feature was that you could automate grading by feeding in a targeted response. This works well with:

  • Form based gap-fill for grammar items
  • Missing word exercises for vocabulary items such as collocations.

You can add as many correct answers as you’d like but this is where there’s a catch. The responses are case sensitive which you could perhaps proactively address by supplying different permutations like I’ve done in this example. However, if students leave a space before or after the word or have a typo, then they’ll get marked incorrect by the system. These kind of errors are unavoidable when students are typing responses on their mobiles.

Socrative short answer.png

I haven’t really faced an issue with automated validation for gap fills but with exercise types that require students to type an entire sentence, it’s been really challenging. For instance, at a recent Business English lesson where we explored ways of reducing wordiness in emails, students were required to reword a sentence. I had two alternatives for the correct answers ‘We want to successfully implement this initiative’ with/without terminal punctuation. We’d just looked at masked verbs and how to uncover them as a way of reducing wordiness.

Socrative challenges

Here are the responses I got from the students:

Socrative responses.png

One of the students wrote “we want to successfully implement this initiative” but because the first letter wasn’t capitalised, she got it wrong. The next closest to my targeted response was “we want to implement this initiative successfully” but because I didn’t have it my list, she got it wrong! In a subsequent question, the rubric was really explicit but nevertheless, most of the students got it wrong on the system although their response was possibly correct.

There’s no easy solution to this. Plugging in every single permutation of an answer (including with and without punctuation & capitalisation) is mind-numbing. I could eliminate the correct response option (Socrative lets you do that) and have that question graded manually but that’s something I wanted to avoid and was in fact one of my principal reasons for using Socrative.

Until I figure this out, I’ll have to convert these exercises into MCQs which of course makes them a lot less challenging. The other option is to give feedback in a whole class discussion as I did when I discovered that the whole test was going awry.

Text Inflator | Make your text wordier

Text inflator.jpg

Why would you use an online tool that makes your text wordier, right?  But there is possibly an instructional use waiting to be exploited. The text inflator injects unnecessary adjectives such as basically, essentially and literally along with multi-word phrases such as for all intents and purposes.

I reckon this site could be used in Business English and ESP contexts to get learners to explore how their writing might become unnecessarily wordy and it’s kinda fun. It could also be interesting in creative writing courses.

Text inflator.png

Pumping up the desperation metre can, however, render the text incoherent.

Here’s the link and don’t forget to read the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.