Tag: British Council

My sophomore year as a teacher trainer | Reflections

Folks in my PLN have been asking me why I don’t seem to write anything about the teacher training projects I work on and whether it’s all top secret. For isn’t teacher training a potentially profound experience to reflect on?

Adi Rajan teacher trainer.jpg

I concur and I do reflect in a private learning journal. The briefing I’ve got is that I can discuss the work I do on these projects ‘in general’ but will need to avoid being ‘specific’ about anything, which sort of makes it challenging to craft anything insightful for public consumption.

The good news is that one of the projects I’m currently contributing to has a relatively public profile with lots of buzz on social media, so I thought I would share some ‘general’ information 😉

The projects are run by British Council India in partnership with Indian state governments and other institutional bodies. The focus is on improving teaching standards, learner experiences, and of course outcomes. The projects reach out to hundreds of thousands of teachers in state-run schools, and have an impact on the lives of millions of school going children from lower-income and rural families.

One of the projects I’m currently working on is called TEJAS. It’s a three year initiative in 9 districts of Maharashtra, India’s most industrialized state.  The project focuses on developing Teacher Activity Groups (TAGs) which are semi-formal, localised teacher meetings supported by coordinators (who I trained). The TAGs will ultimately run autonomously, facilitated by the teachers themselves who’ll select from a range of curated resources to explore in each meeting.

You can read more about this project at

You can have a look at the Storify feed for our first round of training in Nashik, Nagpur and Aurangabad:

You can follow the project and its activities on Twitter

Here’s a video that introduces the concept of TAGs to its target audience.

E-moderating Reflections Week 7 | Multimodal feedback

This post is a part of a series of posts I’m writing as a Reflective Journal task for the British Council’s eModeration course. We’re currently in the seventh week and this may be my final reflective post because the last week of the course is an introduction to the actual materials we’ll be teaching [and I’m not sure if the powers that be would be happy with me reflecting and possibly critiquing them 😉 ]. This week’s unit focused on interaction patterns, creative feedback, synchronous workshops, privacy issues, time management, and plagiarism.

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My peers on the course were really enthused by the individual audio feedback that the moderator shared for an assignment. Moodle has an inbuilt feature that allows you to record audio and video messages which could potentially be a way of going beyond the traditional text-based written feedback. While audio feedback is definitely a step-up from a written note, I think we can challenge ourselves to take advantage of technological affordances and provide learners with rich, multimodal feedback.

I use screencasting tools fairly often for sharing this kind of feedback. Most screencasting applications allow you to record your screen while you’re talking and making annotations or changes. Some tools also enable you to capture your video through your webcam as an inset image as well as adding captions, arrow, highlights, and quizzes during the production process.

In an online course, screencasting could be used for: 

  • Providing feedback on written work such as a Word document or PowerPoint presentation
  • Sharing feedback on spoken work such as a podcast or a video
  • Discussing contributions to online forums
  • Sharing inputs for work created through digital tools such as Prezi, Padlet or YouTube.

There are a couple of popular free tools you can use: 

I used a paid software called Camtasia which also enables you to create flipped classrooms and video based courses with quizzes. You can download a free trial and test it out for a month.

Be aware of the drawbacks: 

  • If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll do multiple takes and end up wasting a lot of time.
  • If you’re recording in a noisy area, then you might have a lot of background noise that gets recorded which may sound unprofessional.
  • The whole process of thinking about what you want to say, recording your screen while you share feedback, processing the video and then uploading it … takes lots of time.

The guru of screencasting is Russell Stannard and you might want to check out his site, Teacher Training Videos which has loads of great resources on how you can use screencasting with your learners.

Happy screencasting!

E-moderating Reflections Week 6 | Online Rapporteur

This post is a part of a series of posts I’m writing as a Reflective Journal task for the British Council’s eModeration course. We’re currently in the sixth week. This week’s unit focused on course adaptation, needs analysis, feedback and rapport.

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Picasso head

Last week, one of my peers on the course wrote about “an illusion of community” i.e., regardless of what the moderator does, we can’t really hope for anything more than “fly-by-night bonds” on an online course. You can’t compel course participants to establish a connect with each other. All you can really do is create the circumstances that might facilitate connections. While you might not have much control over peer to peer rapport, I think there’s quite a bit you can do as an online moderator to establish rapport with participants. Here are some ideas:

Don’t make it all about the syllabus 

  • Use fun tasks like ‘Create your own Picassohead’ (the image in this post) or ‘Create your own abstract expressionist artwork‘ to get participants to create a zany artwork and post it in a discussion forum for their peers to see.
  • Try to combine skills that you want to teach with creative expression. For example, if you’re teaching issues related to copyrighted images, get participants to explore Flickr Creative Commons and select a funny image which falls under a license that allows them to share. Ask them to upload this to a course wiki with appropriate attribution.

Encourage participants to share of themselves 

  • Have an easily accessible open discussion forum where participants can chat and share things which may or may not have anything to do with the course. Ensure your presence from time to time in the forum, where you can add details about yourself to personalize your relationship with participants and appear … well more human (Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened in the eModeration course. There is an open forum but Moodle is structured such that it rests in one of the initial units and you know what they say about out of sight …).
  • Ask participants to post pictures of their weekend breakfast and/or share a recipe in the discussion forum. I got this ideas from Gollancz, a genre publisher from the UK who once hosted a “breakfast share fest” on Pinterest.
  • Get participants to post a childhood picture of themselves or their family.
  • Or have them create a list that describes their morning or weekend routine. And for all of these tasks, make sure you share your own images, lists, recipes and whatnot.

Don’t shy away from Emoji

Our students humanize their digital experience with text speak, emoji, and selfies. When they are on their devices, they are part of a generation creating a universal language filled with nonverbal cues, fun, emotion, and culture. They are translating English into pictographs and abbreviations recognized and used by people around the world. They summarize, decode, translate, read, and write more than people ever could before the development of digital devices.

Shelly Terrell 

I think as instructors, we sometimes hesitate to use emoji but as Shelly poignantly points out, those little figures really do make a difference in humanising the digital experience 🙂 Moderators ought to use emoji purposefully in their own course communication and guide participants to follow their example. Shelly’s page on Emoji is a great place to get helpful strategies.

Establish a culture of responsiveness 

It’s easy to get lost on an online course and when a participant’s ‘help me’ email is responded to after days, it can make them feel that they’re not valued and affect their perception of the moderator and engagement on the course. The issue of responsiveness becomes all the more difficult in forum discussions – you need to strike a balance between making your presence felt and getting participants to discuss a topic autonomously without too much intervention/input from you.

I get a sense that it’s easy to over-commit to online courses as a moderator because it feels like there isn’t relatively much work to do (you’re not physically present in a classroom for a predetermined period of time) so you might take on lots of concurrent projects … and then find that you’re unable to stay on top of queries and discussions.

One way to deal with email queries when you have other commitments is to set up an Out of Office (OOO) message with self-access resources for query resolution and troubleshooting (NB: the links in this example are all dummy URLs):

Thank you for your message. I’m currently teaching lessons through the day with limited access to my mails. Please expect a delay in my response.

For students enrolled in <course name>, please try to troubleshoot using any of the following solutions:

  • Locked out of your account? Watch this video for retrieving your password.
  • Unable to upload your document? Go through this ‘How to’ guide.
  • Not sure what you need to complete this week? Access the Unit letter.
  • Questions about this week’s tasks? Get support from your peers by posting your question in this forum.

If you are facing a different issue than the ones listed here, please wait for my response at 7PM IST.

Regards,

Adi

Demonstrate that you’re not infallible 

Hint to participants during synchronous and asynchronous interactions, that you too sometimes face technical issues or are overwhelmed by the complexity and non-intuitive nature of the online learning platform. However, show them how you stay resilient and persevere through all the issues, enjoying the overall experience.

Recall and link back

Weave and summarize participant inputs in discussion forums by explicitly acknowledging who contributed what but go beyond syllabus related comments to details participants may have shared about themselves. Incorporate these into future questions, comments, and posts.

That’s a really creative answer Rhea! I remember you sharing with us your love for art and all those painting classes you had attended. Did you get some of these ideas from that experience?

Image attribution: Image created using picassohead 

Upcoming MOOCs for ELT educators | Aug – Oct 2015

Give MOOCs a chance …

If you haven’t tried Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) yet, it’s time to try them now. Enroll and explore a course and see what it has to offer. If you find it interesting and relevant, commit to completing all the assignments and task because you’ll have a far richer, more fulfilling learning experience. I highly recommend Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (the week on Walt Whitman is oh so moving) and Web 2.0 tools which although meant for K12 teachers was a course that I got a loads of tips from. And if you have enrolled in MOOCs before but haven’t really been able to get yourself immersed in one, give them a chance. Each MOOC is different. The trick is to do no more than one at a time and spend the first week ‘auditing’ the course. Then, create reminders on your calendar for course milestones (some MOOC platforms offer a downloadable calendar) and keep at it!

MOOCs

All of the following courses are free.

Teaching

Exams

ESP 

EAP

  • Academic Integrity: Values, Skills, Action | Univ. of Auckland | FutureLearn | Aug 3 – Sep 3
  • A beginner’s guide to writing in English for university study | Univ. of Reading | FutureLearn | Sep 28 – Nov 5

Literature

Linguistics 

Business

Image attribution: One of my Learning Spots by Kent Manning | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A Summary of Russell Stannard’s talk at the British Council Mumbai

Russel StannardRarely do ELT celebs grace us back-of-beyonders with their presence and rarer still is a visit by someone who’s been making a difference in the lives of educators for yonks and not charging a dime for it. Although Russell Stannard’s talk titled ‘Tools that can really impact our teaching and learning’ at the British Council Mumbai was scheduled right in the middle of a weekday, I just knew I had to attend.

The audience seemed to (comme d’habitude) mostly comprise school teachers.  I tried to take some pictures but that is definitely not one of my strengths. Also Russell likes to dance while he’s talking; while it’s endearing, it didn’t make it any easier to get clear images. He spoke about three free tools: myBrainshark, Jing and Present.me.

I’m familiar with all three and use the first one extensively but Russell shared some nifty ideas for tweaking how you approach and use these tools. Here is a summary of his talk from earlier today:

1. myBrainshark

This is versatile tool that allows you to add audio narrations to documents. You upload your presentation and for each slide, record narration. So, you could ask Ss to record their voices as narration for their own slides and send it to the instructor or peers for feedback. This could be a good way for them to prepare for an important presentation. Teachers could also use myBrainshark for blended learning by getting Ss to go through concepts at home and using class time for processing.

The document that you upload could also be a picture. For example, you upload an image that’s connected to you in some way and then introduce yourself to your peers by recording the audio as a voice over for the image. Then share the brainshark with everyone before the course begins. You may need to demo how to use the tool in class. Alternatively, you can create a brainshark showing Ss how to use it.

For large classes, you can get Ss to create brainsharks in teams and as a part of group activities. It’s particularly useful for developing oral skills because you can get Ss to do the speaking activity at home in a way that enables you to give them feedback. Russell has used myBrainshark for teaching practice too, getting trainee teachers to reflect on lessons they have delivered. He suggested that oral reflections are often stronger than written ones. For example, in a teaching practice activity, Ss use some form of technology (his illustration used the erstwhile Wallwisher). The instructor then sends a presentation to them – each slide contains a reflection question. Ss then upload the deck to myBrainshark and record their responses to the questions on the slide.  Apparently, you can get a lot more information from Ss on their experiences working with the group or the activity.

The site is free but restricts users to 15 minute videos. You’ll need to sign up and it’s possible to limit access so only your Ss see their peers’ brainsharks. Russell also said that the tool is reliable and works effectively on slow connections as well.

2. Jing

This is a screen capture application that records what happens on your computer screen along with narration i.e. whatever you’re saying while you move your mouse around, click, highlight, type etc.

You can use it for video feedback or screen capture feedback i.e. a video of the teacher correcting the learner’s work. Russell initially did this with distance education Ss who would send him essays. He would then use Jing to create a video of his screen as he corrects the essay and provides feedback.

The feedback is both visual and aural  and it allows you to provider far richer feedback because writing as fast as you speak is next to impossible. You could also do video feedback with a blog. So you open up the URL and then highlight sections as you provide feedback.

Another useful application involves using Jing to do error correction and give the class collective feedback. During a lesson, you notice a pattern of errors and you make a note of it. You open up an MsWord document and write & talk about a grammar point while recording it on Jing. Then share it with Ss. It could also be used to give feedback on pronunciation. You list some words in an MsWord document, record yourself saying the words while marking stress.

These are teacher-led uses of Jing but you could also get Ss to use the application. For example, you give out an assignment which involves using Jing to talk about a famous person while their photo is up on the screen.  So you can do a lot of practice in class but then get Ss to go home and do their recordings.  Other Ss-led activities on Jing include:

  • Talking about a timeline
  • Discussing a website
  • Creating some training
  • Reflection
  • Talking about a picture
  • Commentary on a video
  • Telling a story

The completed screen capture video gets uploaded to the cloud (screencast.com). This is a Jing server in the US which has an upper limit of 2GB per user. Each video can’t be longer than 5 minutes which is alright because people can’t really listen to more than 5 minutes at a time.

3. Present.me 

This site lets you upload a presentation and then add your webcam so your video appears alongside the presentation, sort of like the video lectures in Coursera. This could be used with all the techniques discussed under myBrainshark except that you also have the additional video element; two students could interview each other based on questions in a presentation or the teacher records the lesson and posts it online.  You can’t download the videos and the site can sometimes be quite slow.

Here’s a link to Russell’s goldmine of a site.Russel Stannard 2